Da Nang has been asleep for 15 years, according to one tourism industry local. And while the city's cyclos still move along the leafy avenues at a sleepwalker's pace, there is definitely some stirring going on. Glossy new apartment complexes and shopping malls line the riverfront, where the scent of new paint seems to mingle with the salty harbour air. Some of the city's more important avenues have been widened, while buildings and hotels are continually being torn down and rebuilt, don't be surprised if you show up somewhere to check out a room, and find the lobby covered in scaffolding.
The name Da Nang will have a familiar ring to anyone acquainted with America's military action in Vietnam, as it was home to one fifth of all US service people, and a transit or R&R spot for most of the rest, making it one of the most occupied and heavily defended cities in South Vietnam. Eventually however it fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975 with hardly a bullet fired.
During the French colonial period, Da Nang was called Tourane , a name still used by some of the hotels in the city. The French also used it as a landing point during their war in Vietnam. When the French established a garrison on the nearby Son Tra peninsula (dubbed 'Monkey Mountain' by US troops) more soldiers died from disease building it than during the associated fighting. Today a small cemetery near Tien Sa Beach stands in their memory.
Most visitors who pass through Da Nang are on their way to Hoi An, one of Vietnam's premier tourist attractions. Those who linger are most likely seeking sun at gorgeous China Beach. There's more to Da Nang than just the beach, though. Da Nang boasts the excellent Cham Museum, which is a great primer for a visit to My Son further to the south. The city also has a large Cao Dai temple, a pleasant riverfront boulevard, and wide leafy boulevards. There are some good options for eating, drinking, and getting down in the evenings, which are likely to expand as the city does. The immediate area includes attractions like Marble Mountain, Monkey Mountain and the Ba Na Hill Station.
Many travelers who show up in Da Nang find the city dull and end up heading elsewhere. Perhaps this is because Da Nang is a more difficult city to visit than other spots in Vietnam you can't experience the best of it just by walking around and seeing what you find, as you can in Nha Trang or Hoi An. It's one spot where you really have to seek out the hidden corners, and some advanced preparation can truly enrich your experience.
Da Nang Orientation
The Han River flows north-south through Da Nang city, about 1.5 kms west of the ocean. The west bank is crowded with buildings, while the east is sort of a no-man's land with not much of interest to tourists, though there are several hotels along the river that offer good views and a quieter setting. Wherever you're staying in Da Nang it's at least 2 kms to My Khe beach it takes more than half an hour to walk there, and it's not all that pleasant, so think in terms of transport. It's 10 kms to either China Beach (Non Nuoc) to the south, or the tip of the Son Tra peninsula to the north.
The road along the west bank of the Han River is Bach Dang street one-way going north. Along it are a half dozen places to stay, which are desirable for their river views. Running parallel to Bach Dang is Tran Phu, to the west, which is a one-way road going south. Cheaper accommodation can be found here, as well as elsewhere throughout town, if you can sacrifice the river views.
As Tran Phu heads south it meets up with Bach Dang and then turns into Duong 2/9, "September 2nd Street," which commemorates the day in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh signed the Vietnamese version of the 'Declaration of Independence' , even though it was 30 years until actual independence, and even then, half the country wasn't so thrilled about the outcome. It's also the day Ho Chi Minh died in 1969. Duong 2/9 leads past the water park and eventually winds its way towards Hoi An.
Da Nang and My Khe beach are connected via three bridges over the Han River. The southernmost, the Tuyen Son, leads from the Da Nang watermark, east to the beach, letting out near the Furama Resort. Some locals call it 'the Furama Bridge'.
Just 1.2 kms to the north, there's a set of two bridges. The southernmost bridge, Nguyen Van Troi, was built by the US, and allows motorbikes only to cross. The bridge alongside it, Tan Thi Ly, was built by the French and allows heavy trucks to cross. They connect Duong 2/9, in the area of Bia Tulip and the Ho Chi Minh Museum, with My Khe Beach, letting out near Van Xuan restaurant and the My Khe 2 Hotel.
Another 1.2 kms further north is the main bridge, the Song Han. Le Duan, which cuts east-west through the centre of Da Nang, leads to the bridge and it's 2kms to the centre of My Khe Beach. There is a white, modernist sculpture on the beachfront here that makes for a good reference point. This is currently the northernmost bridge, and the one to take when heading to Tien Sa and the Son Tra Peninsula from Da Nang. To get to Tien Sa beach, take a left as you cross the Song Ha bridge from Da Nang. For Son Tra, drive all the way to the beach and take a left.
If you turn right (to the south) at the beach after crossing the Song Han Bridge, My An beach is 3.5 km south, Non Nuoc is 8 km, Ha My beach is 18km, An Bang beach is 21km, and Cua Dai beach, outside Hoi An, is 24km.
A fourth bridge, the Thuan Phuoc, is currently under construction, and will eventually connect Da Nang with Nam O beach and the bay of Da Nang. The project went over budget and after six years of effort work has ceased while they refinance. Optimistic estimates forecast the completion of the bridge some time in 2009, though with the frame of the bridge still hanging empty as of late 2008 that seems a little unlikely.
A word is in order about the names of beaches along the coast. Some reckon that everything from the Son Tra peninsula to the north, to Cua Dai beach to the south, is China Beach. But a convention has arisen of calling Non Nuoc, where Sandy Beach and Hoa's place are located, China Beach. If you say, China Beach to a xe-om, that's likely where they'll take you. This doesn't stop the Furama Resort from claiming they are also on China Beach, even though they are on My An Beach, 4.5 kilometers to the north. For organizational purposes, we've grouped all of the beaches under the general title of 'China Beach', then further divided accommodation by local names.
Da Nang's train station is located on Hai Phong St in the centre of town. The new bus station is on Dien Bien Phu, 2.5km north past the junction with highway 1A at the railroad crossing. Most maps still mark the old bus station, so don't make the mistake of heading there.
The Da Nang International Airport is located 2 km west of town, at the end of Nguyen Van Linh. To get to or from the airport, you'll need to take a taxi or a xe om. A metered taxi to or from the city centre should be around 65,000 VND, and another 5,000 VND across the river. If you're coming from the airport, take notice that your driver resets the meter when you get in as some will try to tack the previous passenger's charge onto your ride.
While most banks in town will handle foreign currency exchange, to cash traveler's cheques at no commission, head to the main branch of the Vietcombank on Le Loi. ATMs are widely available throughout Da Nang, but not all of them work for foreign accounts , here are some that do:
BIDV Bank: 40-42 Hung Vuong, corner of Tran Phu and 90 Nguyen Chi Thanh.
Incombank: 122 Hai Phong.
Techcom Bank: 124 Hai Phong.
Vietcombank: 68 Bach Dang, 140 Le Loi, 251 Ngo Quyen, 178 Tran Phu, 4B Tran Hung Dao.
The post office is located on Bach Dang Street right next to the Song Han Bridge.
There's a Vietnam Airlines and a Jetstar Pacific Airlines office on Tran Phu, just north of Le Duan.
Medical services are available at the Family Medical Practice on Nguyen Van Linh , they have a Western doctor on call and a multilingual staff. They work closely with most major insurers to prevent you having to go out of pocket for a visit, but if you don't have insurance, this is an expensive way to go. Try Hospital C or the new Da Nang Hospital, right next door to each other, on Hai Phong.
Internet is widely available in Da Nang, usually for less than 6,000 VND per hour. We found a good connection, computers with useful software, and good USB hook-ups for 5,000 VND per hour at Internet (that's the name!) on Phan Chu Trinh, a block and a half south of Le Duan.
As a note of caution, all telephone numbers in Da Nang have been changed to include a number '3' just after the area code. If you're trying to call a hotel or restaurant, but are having trouble getting through, make sure you've added the extra digit.
Da Nang Hospital: 124 Hai Phong, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3821 118.
Family Medical Practice: 50-02 Nguyen Van Linh, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3582 699 (24 hours), F: (0511) 3583 049. http://www.vietnammedicalpractice.com
Hospital C: 122 Hai Phong, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3821 483, 480
Internet: 02 Phan Chau Thrinh, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3832 896. Open daily, 08:00 to 22:00.
Main Post Office: 64 Bach Dang, just south of the Song Han Bridge, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3837 407, F: (0511) 3821 278.
Jetstar Pacific Airlines: 169 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3817 374, F: (0511) 3843 024.
Vietcom Bank: 140-142 Le Loi, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3812 564, F: (0511) 3826 062. Open daily, 07:30 - 11:00 and 13:00 - 16:30.
Vietnam Airlines: 35 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3811 111, F: (0511) 3832 759. Open Mon-Fri 07:00 - 11:00 and 13:30 - 17:00, Sat-Sun, holidays: 07:00 - 11:00 and 13:30 - 15:30.