Vietnam’s coastal towns of Da Nang and Hoi An are some of its lesser-known tourist attractions. While admittedly the ancient village of Hoi An is famous for being a Unesco heritage site, the larger area surrounding it and the beach-filled coastline up towards Da Nang are some of the best-kept secrets of Vietnam.
For the most part, Da Nang is a large metropolis with an uninviting, busy and polluted city centre. However, it’s gifted with a fortunate geographical advantage in the form of a river dividing the main city centre from a beautiful strip of land that serves as a beachside haven. A mix of fancy and affordable hotels stretch for miles along white sand beaches from the Son Tra mountain in the North all the way down to idyllic ‘An Bang’ beach in the South.
Da Nang benefits from a comfortable mix of local and expat influences, with a string of excellent traditional seafood restaurants lining the beachfront up north. The south has a stronger foreign influence in the form of informal western-style beach bars and fancy, upmarket resorts.
Son Tra and The Lady Buddha
Son Tra mountain dominates an outcrop of land that forms a natural border and defines the northernmost reaches of Da Nang. Here, amongst the traditional Vietnamese architecture of Linh Ung Pagoda, you can find the famous ‘Lady Buddha’ – the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam at 30-storeys high. The statue is so tall it can be seen from anywhere in Da Nang, and from the hill upon which it sits the entire city is visible – all the way down to the extraordinary Marble Mountains in the South.
The Marble Mountains can only be described as bizarre beyond imagination. Carved deep within two imposing marble outcrops, jutting from the flat and coastal landscape, is a maze of caverns. These are decorated with cult-like adornments – sculptures and artworks that would instil a deep sense of unease in even the most hardened of souls. The structures are part of ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes which depict the suffering of souls banished to hell.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can also take a lift or walk up to the top of the mountain, where you will discover some pagodas and be rewarded with a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire area.
Ba Na Hills
Ba Na Hills is a hill station consisting of a collection of botanical gardens, a wax museum and a faux-French village built high up on a mountain overlooking Da Nang. The station is accessible by one of the longest cable cars in the world, at 5801m. It features daily performances of both traditional and European music and dance and hosts a number of restaurants with cuisine from around the world.
The high altitude can cause the weather to get a bit chilly, so additional warm clothing is advisable. Due to the size and number of things to see, it’s worth spending a night at the fabulous (and affordable) Mercure Hotel. This will also afford you the opportunity to experience the moody nighttime atmosphere as the village becomes engulfed in a thick mist.
The Dragon Bridge
Da Nangs Dragon Bridge is the most beautiful and ornate of the many bridges that cross the Han River. Completed in 2013 by an American engineering firm, it supports six lanes of traffic and spans 666m. Every Saturday and Sunday evening at 9 pm you can relax on the eastern shore of the river and watch the ‘dragon’ breathe fire and water from its nostrils.
Entertainment and Accommodation
For evening entertainment notable stalwarts of the music scene include The Village – a fabulous live music venue on My Khe beach, and Minsk Bar – a very relaxed Rasta-themed bar just off the beachfront on Ngo Thi Si street. This area, An Thuong, is generally considered to be the expat and tourist area of Da Nang and is loaded with accommodation for all tastes – ranging from budget backpacker hostels to 5-star hotels and resorts. For some excellent rooftop swimming pools, check out A La Carte and The Queen’s Finger hotels.
Ten kilometres south of Da Nang you will find the ancient Unesco heritage village of Hoi An, a world away from the bustling city of Da Nang. Hoi An town is primarily inland and focused around the Thu Bon River, but also stretches west and includes the nearby beaches of Cua Dai and Cam An.
Hoi An is colloquially known as ‘Lantern Town’ due to the prevalence of the beautiful, multi-coloured Chinese lanterns that adorn every building and street. Adding to this visual feast is architecture unlike anything you will see elsewhere in Vietnam, with heavy influence from both ancient Chinese and colonial French styles.
Its heritage status means it’s one of the best examples of a well-preserved 19th-century Vietnamese trading port. The streets abound with many timber-framed buildings, old wooden bridges, traditional riverboats and ornate monuments.
The Japanese Covered Bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in town. Dating from the 18th century, it’s a small, wooden pedestrian-only bridge featuring traditional carvings and a small museum depicting its history.
Accommodation and Food
Hoi An is awash with some of the finest cuisine you will find anywhere in the country, and its street food is world-renowned.
Cao Lau, a pork and noodle dish, is arguably its most famous and consists of ingredients only found in Hoi An, including Cham island noodles and local organic vegetables. It is such a speciality that the dish can hardly be found anywhere else in Vietnam!
Mi Quang is another popular dish and can be accompanied by any range of meat, including chicken, pork, prawns or fish. Like Cao Lau, it’s a noodle dish, but it’s the range of spices, roast peanuts, fresh herbs and sesame rice crackers that make it special.
To have your taste buds tantalised check out local eateries Tuan Cafe, Nahn’s Kitchen, The Hoianian and The Claypot. For more western-inspired dishes head to White Marble, Herbs and Spices or the amazing Greek restaurant MIX. It serves what is quite possibly the best Greek food you will find outside of Greece.
Accommodation in Hoi An won’t leave you wanting. While less focused on the backpacker crowd, there is still a good selection of cheap hostels around. These include The Sunflower, Leo Leo Hostel and the slightly more upmarket Hoi An Backpackers in Cam Chau, near the beach. Quality hotels abound, ranging from affordable but fancy 3-star options to opulent 5-star resorts like the Anantara.
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