Da Nang is the fourth largest city in Vietnam and also the first place we had visited in Vietnam with a beach. In recent years Da Nang, along with some other coastal cities such a Nha Trang, have become a popular destination for Russian tourists. As such there is a lot of infrastructure in place to support these holiday makers and this is visible as soon as you arrive in the city, with the rows of tall hotels lining the beach, as well as lots of pubs/ bars and western cuisine on offer, due to this it did instantly feel more ‘resort like’ than many of the other places we had visited in Vietnam
The main reason that Shaun and I had come come to Danang was to do the Hai Van Pass with our friends Jayce and Mackenzie who we met in Sapa (remember them?), more on that later. Whilst i’m aware Danang has a lot to offer aside from the Hai Van Pass, I must admit that before heading there we hadn’t really made any plans to see or do anything other than this.
So when I came to write up about our time in Da Nang, I struggled a little, I had hardly any pictures or video footage and my diary entries were very thin. My initial response to this was disappointment, firstly because I didn’t have much to write about and secondly because I felt that perhaps we hadn’t made the most of our time here. However, after thinking about it for a little while I remembered that this is just a reality of travelling over an extended period of time, not every day or destination, is jam packed! It’s simply not possible both financially and physically, it can be exhausting!
I really struggled with this when we first went away, I had this constant feeling that I had to be doing and seeing more (I also feel like this in life generally too) and after a couple of weeks you realise that you are going to be away for a long time and some days all you will do is get breakfast, do your laundry and read a book, and that’s fine. However, this wasn’t something I’d seen other travellers sharing very much, for obvious reasons, because when people ask about your trip, of course you’re going to tell them about all the amazing things you saw and did, not the boring days where you hardly got up to anything.
Anyway, due to a mixture of different circumstances which included;
- Not having a detailed plan or ‘bucket list’ for Danang
- Staying near the beach
- Just completing two back to back night buses
I have quite a funny/ not funny story about the night buses, when we initially entered Vietnam, we did so on a 2 week free visa, after a couple of days we decided 2 weeks was not going to be long enough and wanted to extend to a 1 month visa to allow us to stay in the country a little longer. However, it’s quite difficult to do this when you are already in the country. So after researching and speaking to our hotel concierge for advice, we had to pay way over the odds to fast track the process and go to a very small suspect looking office in a back street in Hanoi, where we handed our passports over to a Vietnamese lady who acted as our guarantor and said she would process our visas for us. We were told the visa’s would take a week to process, not wanting to waste time, we decided to keep travelling down south while we waited and then go all the way back to Hanoi pick up our passports and visas and then continue our journey South. This meant we had to get a night bus from Phong Nha to Hanoi, which got in to the capital city around 5am, sit outside the suspicious looking office waiting for it open (meanwhile, I was having a breakdown about how stupid we had been to leave our passports with random people while we went on a jolly down the other side of the country) we then collected our passports and visa (thankfully) and had to spend the rest of the day walking around the city as we didn’t have any accommodation, in the evening we jumped on another night bus from Hanoi to Da Nang. Obviously, I would not recommend this method, I think what we learned from this was even if you have an inkling you may want to spend longer at a destination than your ‘free visa’ will allow, just get the visa in case! Especially if you have a very loose route planned which is variable, it’s better to be safe than sorry and it’s much cheaper and less stressful than trying to arrange it mid trip.
It was safe to say that by the time we arrived in Da Nang I was emotionally and physically drained. Taking into consideration all of the factors listed above, Da Nang was a the perfect place for some ‘down time’. Here is what we got up to:
My Khe Beach
Shaun and I spent our first afternoon visiting the beach, we hired sun loungers and bought some beers from a beach bar. This was the most ‘holiday vibes’ I had felt since being in Vietnam, perhaps because this experience was the most similar to one of our typical beach holidays.
Whilst we were at the beach and I was peacefully enjoying my book, we had perhaps one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. Whilst Shaun and I were sunbathing we had started to notice that various Vietnamese families were taking photos of us on the loungers (they were not being very discreet!) Whilst we didn’t really mind, we were very confused as to why they were taking pictures of us, I soon realised that we were the only non-Vietnamese people on the beach. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, we had been to lots of places during our trip where we were the only western people, but it had never drawn this much attention before.
However, things only got more bizzare, Shaun had decided to go for a swim in the sea and I was following close behind. As i’m approaching the water a Vietnamese lady catches my attention and she is making a gesture at me, I realise that shes making a ‘camera’ gesture and instantly think shes being kind and asking if I would like her to take a picture of Shaun and I together, to which I politely declined.
I had obviously misunderstood because a couple of seconds later a camera is thrust into my hand and this lady is pulling Shaun out of the sea!! She then makes the camera gesture to me again, and I finally clocked that she actually wanted a picture with Shaun this whole time! not knowing what else to do I click away on her camera, but before we can skulk off and return to our loungers, she is calling her family over from the loungers next to us so that the whole family can get a picture with him, and then take it in turns to have individual photos. Once Shaun had finished his photo shoot and we were driving back from the beach, we noticed families on the bikes next to us we were stopped at traffic and pointing at us, or instructing their young children to wave at us.
We had not experienced anything like that prior to going to Danang, Shaun is a pretty tall and wide guy, and stood next to most of the locals did look a cartoon character more than an actual person, a few people had commented on his size before, and he had even been told by at least seven or eight different people that he looked like Chris Pratt (a fact he will not let me forget) but nothing to this extent. We still don’t know why people seemed to be so fascinated whilst we were there and I have wondered from time to time what that family did with those pictures, could Shaun be in some families holiday photo album? who knows!
The morning that we were due to do the Hai Van pass, Shaun and I visited Han market because in true Shaun style, he had lost his sunglasses which as you can imagine are an essential item when going on a motor bike ride. The infamous ‘sunglasses’ were a point of much tension between Shaun and I, at this point of our trip Shaun had either lost or broken a pair of sunglasses every single week. Not only was this highly annoying but also not in our weekly budget!
In the interest of honesty and transparency, our experience of Han market was not that enjoyable. However, this was entirely due to the fact that we were frantically running around the market trying to find sunglasses before our bike ride and we were both trying to give each other the silent treatment (I was giving the silent treatment because I was furious Shaun had lost yet another pair of sunglasses, Shaun on the other hand, because he felt I was over-reacting to a pair of a lost sunglasses – not our finest moment, but a reality of travelling as a couple).
Alas, we did not find a pair of sunglasses in the market and had to go to a dedicated ‘glasses store’ but I was quite disappointed that we didn’t get to walk around the market at a leisurely pace and take it all in as it did look really amazing. The market has hundreds of stalls, set over two stories . The ground floor sells fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables and meat whilst the upper levels sells fabrics, appliances and cosmetics (but evidently not sunglasses lol!)
Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass is a 20-kilometre strip of road from Hue to Hoi An which is popular for a few different reasons, firstly, it’s a very scenic route to travel from two very popular traveller destinations (Hue to Hoi An) and it’s appearance on Top Gear in 2008.
There are multiple ways of doing the Hai Van pass, many people hire bikes and complete it themselves, some join organised tours in other vehicles such a jeeps, others take part in a bike tours where the company will take your luggage from Hue to Hoi An, which makes it an easy way to incorporate it into your route. However, due to Shaun only recently having learned to ride a bike, we didn’t want to spend too long on the bikes or pay to have our luggage transported separately, we had also pre-booked a few of our busses and so we already had a bus travelling that stretch of the country, which meant that it didn’t make sense to complete the whole drive when we had already organised transport for a big section of it.
Instead, we drove from Da nang to Lang Co and back, we had read that some of the most beautiful parts of the drive were located on this section of the pass and we could easily drive there and back in a couple of hours from our hostel in Da Nang, so this is what we opted for and we were really pleased with this decision.
Before we set off we met up with Jayce and Mackenzie to complete our biker gang before the drive. Slowly we left the city views behind and were up in the mountains looking over the sea. Thankfully, the drive itself was really easy, there wasn’t too much traffic and whilst the roads were winding to align with the shape of the mountain, none of the turns seemed too sharp or scary, we stopped off at a couple of view points along the way and before we knew it we could see Lang Co beach (Shaun instantly recognised it from the Top Gear episode) which was the end point for our section of the pass, we drove down the mountain and across the bridge into Lang Co village. We really struggled to find a way on to the beach and ended up having to climb over a barrier and walk 5 minutes across disused land which was a mixture of sand and debris, wood and trees, quite clearly not the typical tourist entrance to the beach! However, our efforts did pay off because when we finally made it onto the stretch of beach, we were the only ones there, for miles and miles as far as we could see, we were the only people there, until some time later we were joined by some locals who were fishing. Around this time we noticed an almighty thunder cloud over the mountain, not wanting to drive on wet slippery floor we packed up our stuff and set off on the drive back to Da Nang. We obviously got extremely lucky because when we made it across the bridge and back on to the mountain, the roads approaching the city were still damp and we could see the grey clouds and heavy rain behind us moving into the distance. Luckily it must have passed over as we were in Lang co and just missed us, all in all a successful trip! (minus the horrendous bike tans, where only the front of our legs caught the sun because our legs were bent, and the backs were still lily white).
The Dragon Bridge is as it sounds – a bridge with a dragon, over the Han River at Da Nang, it is the longest bridge in Vietnam and supports 6 lanes of traffic. At 9pm every Saturday and Sunday the impressive dragon sculpture spouts fire and water from its head near the Han River’s eastern bank. Shaun and I had read the view is best taken in from a nearby cafe or bar. We ended up at Seven Bridges which is a local brewing company/ bar. They had a great balcony on the top floor of the bar, which provided the perfect view of the bridge. We were so pleased to have stumbled across this place because the roads were absolutely rammed and we would have never been able to see the bridge properly from the ground. It’s also worth noting that the traffic before and after the display around the bridge is the craziest traffic I have ever seen, so if you do visit be prepared for this. We were wheel to wheel with other bikes and there were about 50 all circling a single roundabout trying to pull off into different lanes, with nobody having any real priority it was essentially a game of chicken and undoubtedly the most stressful driving experience we had during our South East Asia trip.
Food and Drink
The clue is in the name, a small burger diner located a couple of streets back from My Khe beach on An Thuong 4. An Thuong Quarter is an era that houses many different bars and restaurants. The burgers here are really good and served as a nice ‘cheat meal’ for me and Shaun when we fancied a break from Vietnamese cuisine, we rarely did this on our trip as one of the favourite parts of our trip is trying local cuisine, but every now and again it’s nice for the pallet to have some different flavours! Slightly more expensive than having traditional Vietnamese food, but worth the extra money in my opinion.
Also located a few streets back from the beach on An Thuong 2 is the filling station, the bar/ pub is open until the early hours of the morning. It has a mixture of outdoor and indoor seating, free wifi and a pool table. There is a really relaxed atmosphere and nice mixture of locals and expats.
Taco ngon is a small taco restaurant which is a Vietnamese and Mexican fusion, the brain child of a Taiwanese lady and her American husband. The restaurant itself is very small and unassuming with small picnic style tables. The menu is so innovative, they have clearly put a lot of effort into thinking about which ingredients will really compliment each other and create a unique dining experience. Shaun and I went with the expectation that we would have one taco but ended up having to try every single one on the menu (It was pretty small menu).
Considering our time in Da Nang was going to be ‘down time’ I still think we managed to see a fair bit of the city!