According to one tourism industry local, Da Nang has been asleep for 15 years. And while the city's cyclos still move along the leafy avenues at a sleepwalker's pace, there is definitely some stirring going on. Glossy new apartment complexes and shopping malls line the riverfront, where the scent of new paint seems to mingle with the salty harbour air. Some of the city's more important avenues have been widened, while buildings and hotels are continually being torn down and rebuilt -- don't be surprised if you show up somewhere to check out a room, and find the lobby covered in scaffolding.
The name Da Nang will have a familiar ring to anyone acquainted with America's military action in Vietnam, as it was home to one fifth of all US servicepeople, and a transit or R&R spot for most of the rest, making it one of the most occupied -- and heavily defended -- cities in South Vietnam. Eventually however it fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975 with hardly a bullet fired.
During the French colonial period, Da Nang was called Tourane -- a name still used by some of the hotels in the city. The French also used it as a landing point during their war in Vietnam. When the French established a garrison on the nearby Son Tra peninsula (dubbed 'Monkey Mountain' by US troops) more soldiers died from disease building it than during the associated fighting. Today a small cemetery near Tien Sa Beach stands in their memory.
Most visitors who pass through Da Nang are on their way to Hoi An, one of Vietnam's premier tourist attractions. Those who linger are most likely seeking sun at gorgeous China Beach.
There's more to Da Nang than just the beach, though. Da Nang boasts the excellent Cham Museum, which is a great primer for a visit to My Son further to the south. The city also has a large Cao Dai temple, a pleasant riverfront boulevard, and wide leafy boulevards. There are some good options for eating, drinking, and getting down in the evenings, which are likely to expand as the city does. The immediate area includes attractions like Marble Mountain, Monkey Mountain and the Ba Na Hill Station.
Many travellers who show up in Da Nang find the city dull and end up heading elsewhere. Perhaps this is because Da Nang is a more difficult city to visit than other spots in Vietnam -- you can't experience the best of it just by walking around and seeing what you find, as you can in Nha Trang or Hoi An. It's one spot where you really have to seek out the hidden corners, and some advanced preparation can truly enrich your experience.
Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
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Da Not Miss this Place
Highly recommend a visit to Da Nang. The beaches are not too full, and not over-run with bungalows. Though you aren't likely to want to stay in the Casino/Resorts, if you focus on the areas near the public park where Pham Van Dong intersects with Hoang Sa you'll have a very quiet neighborhood and a five minute walk to a beach - along with close bars like Temple and Sunset that are visited by expats and english speaking locals. That and the neighborhood is largely composed of local communities centered on cafes run by friendly (often english speaking) older ladies.
Its a better base-camp to visit Hoi'an, as it isn't overurn with tourism and the proximity to the beach. With a motorbike rental getting into town for the bars on the west bank of the river is easy, and plenty of cheap good food - and the traffic is nothing on the west end of town, and minimal on the east side compared to cities like Hanoi and HCMC on the east side of the river. That and as I said, use the bike for a 20 minute day trip to Hoi'an and be happy you didn't stay there at higher prices and too many touts. The bike is also a great option for going up Monkey Mountain at the end of the Peninsula, where you can get a marvelous view of the area to really get your bearings on the place.
If you head there at the end of the wet season you'll probably get discounts on accommodation as well, while Hoi'an was overrun with people in January I was one of two guests at my nice hotel.
Relaxed, Beaches, Bars, Friendly Locals, and not overly touristy. I'm headed back soon - before all that goes away.
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By caseyprich (dabbler)
Written on 1st February, 2012 after a visit to Da Nang in January, 2012
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