Located on Vietnam’s central coast, Da Nang is one of the country’s largest cities and an important port town. With attractions such as My Khe Beach, the Marble Mountains, and a modern bridge built in the likeness of a fire-breathing dragon, Danang has a lot to offer the adventurous traveler.
When I arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam I was greeted with wet and chilly weather. The rains were heavy at times, hampering my ability to get out and explore as I typically do when arriving at a new destination. Although I attempted to make the best of it, It was a bit frustrating to say the least.
It was also the beginning of the Tết (Lunar New Year) celebration. Tết is a significant holiday in Vietnam that technically runs for about a week. However, my observations would indicate it typically runs a bit longer, maybe ten days or so.
This is a time when citizens all across Vietnam reunite with their families, eat, honor ancestors, pray for luck, and decorate the streets. The streets also become filled with the sound of karaoke. It’s all quite lovely really.
But there was a problem… well, at least for a foreigner like me. Almost all local businesses were closed for the holiday.
This fact, combined with the foul weather, meant my first two weeks in Da Nang Vietnam were, shall we say, less than optimal.
The beach wasn’t very enticing thanks to the weather. My dining was limited to mostly “western” options with a few exceptions. I was starting to worry that Da Nang wouldn’t be anything near the experience I was hoping for.
However, as the weather improved and the locals went back to their businesses, Da Nang transformed in a very good way. The streets, local eateries, and markets came alive.
I was very happy to find friendly merchants, great quality produce, and local treats throughout the markets.
and… it was finally time to go full-on with the Vietnamese grub.
First, the coffee.
I’d say Vietnam has one of the best coffee cultures of all the places I’ve visited in Southeast Asia so far. Well, that is if Da Nang and Hoi An are any indication.
There are plenty of coffee shops, both large and small, serving up everything from traditional egg coffee to cappuccinos. You can even get a slow-pour brew.
Egg coffee and coconut coffee are both delicious. However, my Western palate finds them to be too sweet for coffee. So, I just chalk them up as dessert and drink away.
The Pho and Mi Quang pictured below were some of my favorite dishes. I also enjoyed trying other traditional Vietnamese dishes such as Banh Xeo (Crispy pancake) and Nem Lui (Lemongrass Pork Skewers).
However, my favorite eating experience was having a street food breakfast of Banh Mi Op La.
Banh Mi Op La is two fried eggs with assorted meats that are served in a skillet with a baguette on the side.
It was good, but what made it great was the experience of sitting in a tiny plastic chair elbow-to-elbow with local folks on a street corner in Vietnam. It reminded me of the many great local breakfast experiences I enjoyed in Georgetown, Malaysia. Somehow food just tastes better in the right environment.
Soon after the weather improved, I headed for the beach.
I’m typically not impressed with city beaches, but My Khe Beach in Da Nang is the exception. It is a pleasant place to be. Palm tree-lined and beautiful sand throughout its length, it offers plenty of shade and opportunities to relax. It is also clean and well-maintained, something I find lacking in many Southeast Asia beach destinations.
There is also a beautiful promenade and small park-like areas where you can stroll, bike, or get a bite to eat from beach vendors.
I typically avoid sites that attract a lot of tourists. However, I do make exceptions for things like ancient ruins or cave temples as I find them adventurous and interesting.
With that said, I found the Marble Mountains to be an enjoyable experience. Located just south of Da Nang, they are a cluster of five limestone and marble mountains. Within the mountains are several Buddhist and Hindu grottos featuring statues and depictions of religious scenes carved from marble. It’s a very beautiful place to spend a few hours, but it can become a bit crowded at times.
On the other side of the city is The Lady Buddha. Located a just short distance from Da Nang city center, it is the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam. Perched on a hillside on Son Tra Peninsula, it is large enough to be seen from My Khe Beach in Da Nang. However, it is worth the short ride to see it up close.
Perhaps the most recognizable structure in Da Nang these days is the Dragon Bridge which spans the River Hàn. Opened to traffic on March 29, 2013, the bridge was designed and built in the shape of a dragon. It actually breathes fire and spews water every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at 9 pm. It is quite a sight to behold, especially from up close in the evenings.
Da Nang, Vietnam has a lot going for it. A beautiful beachfront, decent infrastructure, and great food. It also seems to be holding strong to its culture despite its rapid growth into a more modern city.
It is, however, not without its faults.
Da Nang appears to be going through some growing pains. Much of the construction of hi-rise buildings seems to have been halted, leaving abandoned shells of structures strewn throughout the beach side of town. There are also many empty lots that, unfortunately, have become magnets for trash. I initially assumed this was a result of the recent pandemic. However, I have been informed that it is also the result of poor planning as there were problems prior to the pandemic.
I have seen a lot of road improvements and some construction during my stay in Da Nang. Hopefully, these are signs that things will improve. I’m rooting for Da Nang as I mostly enjoyed my time there and can see myself returning.
In the meantime, I’ll have to rely on fond memories of street-side egg coffee and banh mi as the sweet sound of a distant karaoke song fills my mind.