Vietnam is widely popular for tourist destinations like its capital city Hanoi and economic center Ho Chi Minh. But Da Nang, a city in central Vietnam has now become a thriving vacation spot.
From Hanoi, Da Nang is a one-hour flight. It’s a coastal city with beaches that can rival our turquoise waters and creamy white sand shores. It’s also known for its UNESCO World Heritage sites and a unique hillside theme park.
Because it has a large port, the first European traders and missionaries entered the country through Da Nang in the 17th century. During the Vietnam War, the Americans established a major military base here. Now it’s considered as one of the country’s most livable cities.
I flew in from Hanoi via VietJet Air. Going back, I took the Air Asia Da Nang-Manila flight but it had a layover in Kuala Lumpur. The airport is 10 minutes away from Da Nang downtown.
Transportation around Da Nang is via Grab and taxi. Hotels are mostly downtown, by the Han River or by the beachfront.
Vietnam no longer requires a negative COVID-19 test, nor a vaccination certificate.
Here are some of the best things to do in Da Nang.
Get lost in the magical SunWorld Ba Na Hills
This is Vietnam’s version of Disneyland. With a height of nearly 1,500 meters from sea level, it markets itself as “heaven on earth.” The beginning of the trip here is in itself quite an experience — a 20-minute ride on its record-breaking cable car. It holds the Guinness World record for the highest and longest non-stop single track cable car.
Ba Na Hills opened in 2013 but the area was first discovered by French colonists in the early 1900s. They built their villas on the hills to escape Vietnam’s hot weather. Some accounts say the name came from banana trees in the area. Others claim Ba Na Hills meant “my mountain,’ from the local language of the ethnic group there.
The Golden Bridge is part of a well-manicured and colorfully-designed Le Jardin D’Amour. The bridge was added only in 2018. Designers said it was made to look like “giant hands of God cradling a golden thread.”
Another main attraction in Ba Na Hills is the French Village. Here you can find popular Paris landmarks like the Moulin Rouge and the Notre Dame Cathedral. There’s also a giant Buddha statue, pagodas, and other temples.
For kids, there’s the Fantasy Park, said to be the largest indoor game zone in Vietnam. There’s even a Wax Museum inside. There are only a few rides but I particularly enjoyed the alpine coaster — it’s a single roller coaster which you control, with a breath-taking view of the hills.
From Da Nang downtown, it’s a 50-minute ride to Ba Na Hills. I booked a tour which included transportation, tickets and buffet lunch for 1,600,000 VND or ₱2,800.
Cool down at the beach
My Khe beach is considered by many as the best beach in Da Nang. I must admit it comes close to our beaches. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the downtown area where I stayed.
My Khe means “beautiful stream.” It first became popular when an American TV show featured soldiers on R&R there during the Vietnam War. The Americans called it “China Beach” because it is a part of the South China Sea.
I went in the morning and the beach was empty — which was good and bad. Good, because I had the beach all to myself. Bad, because it was super hot. I swam for a few minutes but the sun was so hot it hurt my skin.
Tourists usually flock to the beach in the afternoon, when most of the restaurants and bars are open. There are also some water sports you can do like surfing, jet skiing, and parasailing.
It’s free to go to My Khe Beach. You can rent lounge chairs from restaurants. But if you prefer to stay in the area, there are also a lot of beachfront luxury resorts available.
Explore the bridges around Han River
Da Nang is also called the ‘City of Bridges.’ Up to seven bridges were built on the Han River. I was particularly impressed with the Dragon Bridge. From afar it looks like a dragon flying over the river. At night it lights up into different colors, and on weekends there’s a “show” where the dragon breathes fire and water. Though I only witnessed this from the rooftop of my hotel. I would recommend going to the bridge itself, near the dragon’s head to see it closely. It only happens for a few seconds starting at 9 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, so make sure to book your trip to Da Nang on a weekend.
The Han River Bridge used to be the city’s iconic landmark before the Dragon Bridge was built in 2013. It was Vietnam’s first swing bridge. It swings and opens up at night to allow big ships to pass. Also as an attraction for tourists, on weekends the bridge swings from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.
You can also walk around the Love Bridge, a wooden pier where lovers can put padlocks to “seal” their love; the Tran Thi Ly Bridge and the Thuan Phuoc Bridge.
Journey back in time at the ancient city of Hoi An
The old town is probably one of the most Instagrammable places I’ve been to.
Hoi An is almost an hour away from Da Nang downtown. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port. Also for its mix of local and foreign influence (Chinese, Japanese, and European).
Hoi An is also known as the City of Lanterns and is even more magical at night when it is lit up by colorful silk lanterns. You can rent a boat for a sunset ride or pay for paper lanterns and release them on the river for good fortune.
Crowds from tour groups pack the old town at 4 p.m. onwards, so it’s recommended to go after lunch so you have more time to take pictures, and without photobomber tourists too.
It is free to walk around old town, but if you want to go inside historical buildings, ancient houses and museums, you need to get a ticket for 150,000 VND or ₱360.
If you have more time, you can also visit the Hoi An countryside and nearby beaches.
Enjoy local food other than Pho
The late great Anthony Bourdain would always gush about Vietnamese food in his shows. He described the bánh mì as a “symphony in a sandwich.” It’s a french baguette, with meats, pate, veggies, egg and sauces. I didn’t go to the one Bourdain went to. A Vietnamese friend suggested another stall which she says has better-tasting bánh mì and based on reviews online, many believe so too. Of course she wouldn’t be called the Bánh Mi Queen (Madam Khanh) for nothing! I ordered mixed bánh mì, with everything on it plus avocado coffee.
Cao lau is a dish that’s unique to Hoi an. That’s because the noodles are made with rice and soaked in water from the local Ba Le well. Then it is mixed with ash from trees found in Cham Island. It’s served with pork slices, fried pork fat, herbs and little broth.
Another must-eat in Da Nang, is Mi quang, which is like a cousin of Cao lau. The difference is the noodles. This one has flat rice noodles which are yellow because of turmeric flavoring. It is served with your choice of pork or shrimp or chicken, with just a little bit of broth, rice crackers, quail eggs, and peanuts. Separately, they would also give you a small plate of veggies and herbs. The one I ordered also came with fish sauce.
Vietnam is known for its flavorful and strong coffee. But since I’ve tasted a lot of different types of coffee in Hanoi, for this leg of my trip I asked the waiter at Cong Ca Phe what other drink he would recommend. He said coconut green rice smoothie. I ordered mine with chia seeds and pearls. This one is really good, very creamy and you don’t taste the rice at all.