There are good reasons Da Nang is known as Vietnam’s "most liveable city" and it is well worth a visit and more to discover its manifold attractions.
These include the weather, the beaches, the resort, the feel of the city, the food, UNESCO heritage sites, the Golden Bridge, hidden caves and some elements of its night life.
Da Nang is the busiest tourist city in central Vietnam and it is used as a springboard to access three worldwide famous heritage sites – the Hue Imperial Capital, My Son Sanctuary and Hoi An Town.
The peak tourist season in Da Nang is between April and September when the weather is warm, the water is a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius, and one is motivated to engage in every outdoor activity – from walks along the beach to sports adventures.
This summer, Da Nang plans to shake off two years of relative isolation imposed by the Covid pandemic with a series of events – from street carnivals to international electronic music festivals.
Son Tra Peninsula, which covers more than 4,400 hectares (10,880 acres) and rises to 700 meters at its peak, acts as a natural shield for Da Nang.
From downtown Da Nang, a car ride to Son Tra costs VND120,000-150,000 ($5.17-6.47). Or one can rent a motorbike for VND100,000-170,000 per day and ride along the coastal Hoang Sa Road.
A visual and spiritual highlight of the peninsula is the Linh Ung Pagoda which has a 67-meter-high statue of Bodhisattva Guanyin standing on a lotus and overlooking the sea with one hand praying and the other one holding a pitcher of nectar.
Legend has it that a Buddha idol drifted downstream to the region and ran aground on a sandy embankment in the 19th century during the reign of King Minh Mang, the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam’s last royal family (1802-1945).
Local fishermen thought it was a good omen and built a small pagoda to worship the statue. During the Vietnam War, the pagoda and the Buddha statue were almost totally destroyed.
"I am not a Buddhist but find peace and tranquility when visiting the pagoda on Son Tra Peninsula. You get nice views from here and the Buddha can be seen all along the beach. Watch out for the monkeys, they will steal anything," said Chris from Australia who visited Da Nang last April.
Lynxchan from Singapore said it was a very scenic ride up the mountain to reach the Lady Buddha statue.
"Calm place to visit with amazing views of the Da Nang shoreline," he said.
Apart from spiritual highs, one can get to physical highs by booking a paragliding tour at the Danang Paragliding Club and flying over the famous Lady Buddha statue and enjoy panoramic views of the entire city.
The price for a 15-minute paragliding tour is around VND1.3 million per person.
From Son Tra Peninsula, a 45-minute motorbike ride along Vo Nguyen Giap Street gets one to the Marble Mountains with its network of caves, tunnels, towers and pagodas built by Mahayana Buddhists and the Nguyen Dynasty Kings.
There are half a dozen large caves hidden in the Marble Mountains, and many other small ones that are rarely visited.
Most of the caves are cool inside, with jungle plants and mossy walls and even small shrines to worship the Gods in Buddhism and Taoist rituals.
Huyen Khong, the largest of the caves, is a must-visit for Instagrammers. Its collapsed ceiling allows shafts of light to pierce the dark cavern, creating dramatic spotlights inside. It was once used as a secret base and later a field hospital for Vietnamese revolutionaries. Its jaw-dropping size seems unlikely from the entrance, but is large enough to house a massive stone Buddha and two shrines.
One of the shrines is dedicated to the god and goddess of match-making, and is a popular worship spot for singles.
Joline from the U.S., who visited Da Nang earlier this month, said the Marble Mountain was "a neat spot" to visit.
"We took the elevator up to the top to visit the caves. Each ticket is one way, so make sure to bring enough money for the trip up and back down. There are tons of vendors outside the entrance and their prices are reasonable if you want to buy a drink or a souvenir," he shared on Tripadvisor.
"The caves are certainly worth seeing. There are many steps once you’re up on the mountain, but it’s doable. One of the caves had a little climbing to do, but the rest were easier to navigate."
The entrance fee is VND40,000 and the elevator costs VND15,000 one-way.
The Golden Bridge on Ba Na Hills Resort in the Truong Son mountain range, 150 meters long and 12.8 meters wide, became a popular tourism symbol and garnered global attention from international media soon after it opened to tourists in 2018.
The only way to reach the bridge is with a cable car ride to the top of Sun World Ba Na Hills.
The ride takes around 20 minutes from the bottom station to the top of Ba Na Hills, and it allows spectacular views of Da Nang’s coastline and surrounding mountains.
The sight of the curved golden bridge held up by two stone hands, which are in fact constructed with fibreglass and wire mesh positioned around steel supports, is one to remember.
Many foreign tourists enjoyed the cable car rides and the bridge because the air is very fresh and cool.
My Khe Beach
The 10-km long beach running from the base of the Son Tra Peninsula to the Marble Mountains catapulted to global fame when Australian newspaper The Sunday Herald Sun listed it among Asia's 10 most beautiful beaches in 2012.
The beach still offers a laidback atmosphere and a perfect getaway with its sparkling blue waters and white sands.
It also offers some exciting times, like a parasailing experience that costs VND500,000 ($22) for a 15-minute ride.
A large number of water sports operators can be found directly on public beaches in the city offering banana boats, water skiing, wakeboarding, parasailing, jet skiing, windsurfing and kayaking.
Nam O fishing village
Situated in Lien Chieu District around three kilometers from the foot of the Hai Van Pass, Nam O is one of Vietnam’s oldest and most famous fish-sauce making villages with a history of more than 400 years.
More than 100 households here make 50,000 liters of the sauce every year.
Black anchovy is their main raw material. A kilogram of the fish can produce half a liter of sauce.
Hai Van Pass
Australian travel magazine Lonely Planet has named the Hai Van Pass among seven best road trips in Vietnam
Running between Thua Thien-Hue Province and Da Nang City, it cuts through the Bach Ma mountain range - a part of the Truong Son range skirting the sea.
Its name, which literally means "cloud sea," refers to the mists that frequently rise from the ocean, reducing visibility.
From Da Nang City, follow Nguyen Tat Thanh Street to Nguyen Luong Bang Street then cross Nam O Bridge and keep going straight to the foot of Hai Van Pass.
From here, drive about 10 kilometers to reach the peak.
While the pass officially ends at Lang Co Bay below, most travelers will continue on the road another hour or so to the former imperial town of Hue.
However, one thing travelers should keep in mind is to slow down should visibility reduce to hazardous levels.
"Just wow for the super views of the city and sea from the top of Hai Van Pass. We rented a motorbike and drove to the pass through hilly and curvy roads... it was worth seeing the panoramic view from the top," said Prasadi from Sri Lanka on Tripadvisor.
Night city tour
Unlike Hanoi and HCMC, Vietnam’s two biggest metropolises that have busy nightlife spots, Da Nang is less noisy and has poor night-time activities, except a cluster of bars and pubs.
A few addresses for those wishing to enliven the night with music, blink lights and cheers are Brilliant Top Bar on Bach Dang Street, Chicland Lounge on Vo Nguyen Giap Street, The Craftsman Cocktail Bar on Phan Tu Street, Poolside Bar on Truong Sa Street and Sky36 on Bach Dang Street.
A night cruise tour along the iconic Han River is another option.
The boat takes guests from the tourist pier down the Han River where lighting systems make several bridges glow bright shining under the colorful lights at night.
A helicopter tour offered by the Northern Helicopter Company departs from the Nuoc Man Airport in Ngu Hanh Son District. It offeres aerial views of the Marble Mountains, Son Tra Penissula, Linh Ung Pagoda, the Dragon Bridge and Han River. It costs VND2.14 million per person for a 12-minute journey VND22.34 million for a group of four for a 30 minute copter ride.
Alex Castaneda from the U.S. said it "was a wonderful flight. I could see Da Nang from new, high angles. When flying over Linh Ung Pagoda, I felt like a fluttering butterfly," he told VnExpress.
Mi Quang (Quang-style noodles), a dish that originated in Quang Nam Province that borders Da Nang, is served widely, from street-side stalls to fancy restaurants.
Thick, broad yellow rice noodles are served in red-orange turmeric sauce with a choice of pork, chicken, shrimp, quail eggs, mussel, and eel in a beef broth.
To increase flavors and textures, other ingredients like banh trang (sesame rice crackers), spring onion, basil, peanuts, coriander, lettuce and sliced banana flowers are added.
Some addresses to try this dish are Ms. Mua’s stall on Tran Binh Trong, Ngoc Chi stall on Hoang Dieu Street, Ms. Sau’s shop on Pham Quang Anh Street.
A serving costs VND10,000-45,000 ($0.43-1.94).
Be thui (barbequed veal) is as famous as Quang-style noodles in Da Nang as the dish also originated at the Mong Bridge in Dien Ban District of Quang Nam Province.
The sauce for this dish must be made from whole anchovies which are decanted. To this is added sugar, crushed chili and garlic with a little bit ginger and golden roasted sesame.
The dish is also served with organic herbs and vegetables from Tra Que village in Hoi An such as perilla, lettuce, mustard, sliced young banana, cilantro, basil, cinnamon and bean sprouts.
Put some slices of barbequed veal in the rice paper, wrap with vegetables, dip into spiced up fish sauce.
This treat can be enjoyed at 100 Dien Bien Phu or 895 Ngo Quyen Street.
A serving costs VND70,000-110,000.
Locals in the ancient fishing village of Nam O use fresh herring to create a raw fish salad, an iconic dish that no tourist should miss.
Although the dish can be made with sardine or anchovy, the dish tastes best with herring that has firm flesh.
Herring can be found in the Nam O area all year round and caught fresh every day. After catching the herring, fishermen clean the fish, remove the heads and fillet the flesh into bite-size pieces.
The dish is served with grilled rice paper and fresh herbs. Other than commonly found vegetables like lettuce, bean sprouts and banana flowers, Nam O villagers also use wild banana, mango, cucumber and star fruits that are thinly sliced.
The dish’s dipping sauce is made with boiled fish "juice," Nam O fish sauce, chillies, tapioca starch and monosodium glutamate.
A serving costs about VND80,000. This dish can be had at Ms. Hien’s stall on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, Ms. Thanh Huong’s stall on Nguyen Luong Bang Street and Ms. Hong’s stall on Huynh Thuc Khang Street.
Another specialty in Da Nang is rice paper rolls with pork and an assortment of herbs.
A serving that costs VND40,000 ($1.74) per person includes a plate of thin rice papers, boiled pork cut into medium-sized pieces and fresh raw vegetables including several kinds of lettuce, perilla, onion, cilantro, cucumber and thinly-sliced mango.
A small cup of mam nem (fermented seafood sauce) seasoned with chili garlic is the dipping sauce.
This dish can be had at the Con Market, which stands at the intersection of Hung Vuong and Ong Ich Khiem streets.
Luxury stay options in Da Nang are the InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort, Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa, Pullman, Furama Resort Danang, Four Points by Sheraton Danang, Novotel, Hilton, Fusion Suites and Danang Golden Bay Hotel at prices of VND1.2 million to 10 million a night.
For budget conscious tourists, Harmony Homestay, Phuc Thanh Luxury Hotel, Cani Beach House, Light House Hotel, Nguyen Gia Hotel and The Leaf Boutique are good options with prices ranging around VND500,000 a night.
Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air have direct flights to Da Nang every day. Return tickets cost around VND1.4 million from HCMC and VND1.6 million from Hanoi.
If you have time, a train ride that brings into view beautiful sceneries along coastal routes in central Vietnam is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially the section through Hai Van pass (when coming from the north).
One-way train tickets from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang cost VND600,000 to VND1.1 million.
One can also book the Vietage train service that has resumed operation from April after a long suspension due to Covid.
The train leaves Dieu Tri station in Quy Nhon at 5.30 p.m. and arrives at Da Nang station at 11 p.m. the same day.
Story by Hoang Phong