A city of bridges and splendour
Da Nang is a name heard frequently but a place less visited.
But that was before the rapid boom of tourism made this peaceful coastal city, located in Central Vietnam, one of the most popular destinations among holidaymakers.
Today, Da Nang — identified by the Vietnamese government as a first-class city that plays a role in politics, economy and culture — enjoys more than 10 million visitors annually.
Among the explanations for its success were the opening of the US$154 million (5.2 billion baht) terminal at Da Nang International Airport and the meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders in 2017.
It brought not just global visitors but also immense economic expansion. Post-Covid Da Nang is driven by astronomical-scale land development and real estate — in the city centre, along the shoreline and up on the hills. Obviously, the boom in the hospitality industry has paved the way for new retail businesses and also gastronomic moves.
Da Nang during my four-day visit in March was a one-of-a-kind showcase of charming diversity.
A Buddhist pagoda at Marble Mountains near Non-Nuoc Beach.
Owing to its geographical position bordered by mountains to the west and the South China Sea to the east, the 1,156km² city is blessed with many different natural landscapes and a year-round tropical monsoon climate.
The weather can be sunny and dry one minute before becoming soaking wet with rain and intense humidity the next. The ocean, meanwhile, may be as calm and clear as a lagoon one day then windy with big waves for surfing pros.
Boasting a 60km coastline and several pristine white-sand beaches, Da Nang is unquestionably a heaven for family vacations.
Over the past couple of years, most of the city’s foreign visitors have come from South Korea. New infrastructure has been built to cater to the popularity of Korean tourists including 5-star international chain hotels, world-class convention centres and high-end shopping malls.
Among them is the mega-sized Sheraton Grand Danang Resort & Convention Center, the first Sheraton Grand Resort in Southeast Asia, on Non-Nuoc Beach. The expansive premises encompasses a 260-key hotel, whose rooms are specially angled towards the ocean and decked out with luxurious conservative decor, six restaurants and a bar, a state-of-the-art spa, a 3,300m² indoor function hall and private helipad.
Another accommodation option for a seafront escape is Danang Marriott Resort & Spa. The newly-rebranded and refurnished property with 200 suites and 39 villas offers a wide range of family-friendly facilities including four restaurants, five infinity pools, top-class wellness retreats and kids’ zones.
Activities offered by these seaside hotels include watersports, cooking classes, barista workshops and bicycle tours in the local area, especially the famous traditional stone carving village located at the foot of Marble Mountains.
For nature lovers, there are a few other places to be explored besides the beaches.
Not far from the ocean and very near to Da Nang downtown is Son Tra Mountain, aka “the Green Lung of Da Nang”. The 60km² foresty reserve is home to over 1,000 plant cultivars and 120 animal species at 700m above sea level.
Another hilly place worth checking out is the Marble Mountains, or “Five Elements” mountains, near Non-Nuoc Beach. It is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills, accessed through cave entrances and numerous tunnels, that house several Buddhist sanctuaries and beautiful statues.
For xenophile travellers, Da Nang is also within close proximity to Unesco Heritage landmarks including Hoi An Old Town and Hue Ancient Capital.
Contrasting Da Nang’s rather monotonous new-born city character, the multi-coloured town of Hoi An, which is just 20 minutes drive away, promises to add historical vibrancy to your trip.
Thanks to its wealth of local food, arts, crafts, markets, cafes and the river, Hoi An offers an atmospheric neighbourly vibe that was built around its well-preserved history. It definitely is a cultural attraction not to be missed.
The Sheraton Grand Danang Resort & Convention Center.
To say that all holidaymakers to Da Nang make it to Ba Na Hills might not be too exaggerated a claim.
A great example of investment to boost Da Nang tourism, Ba Na Hills is a European-themed recreational complex situated in the Trong Son Mountains, about 30km from the city.
A popular vacation spot of the French, complete with villas and a resort, back in the early 20th century, Ba Na Hills later fell into disrepair until it was developed into a theme park by one of the country’s largest real estate developers. The park is home to the Guinness World Record-holding Ba Na cable car, which is 5,801m in length and reaches an astonishing height of 1,368m. It is ranked by CNN as one of the 10 most impressive cable-car systems in the world.
Emerging amidst the cloud at the peak of the Ba Na Hills is Da Nang’s most famous attraction, the Golden Bridge.
The cultural town of Hoi An is just 20 minute's drive from Da Nang.
The 150m-long bridge features iconic supporting columns that mimic the shape of colossal, godlike hands. It is probably the most photographed site in Da Nang.
In the hilltop park, there is also a picturesque French village, a collection of mythological-inspired landscaped flower gardens, an amusement park with thrill rides, a 360-degree mega-cinema, indoor game arcades, many restaurants, a temple, a hotel and a golf course.
Back on the ground, Da Nang city centre boasts a beautiful dragon-structured suspension bridge, hence the name Dragon Bridge. Crossing the Han River, the six-lane bridge provides the shortest link between Da Nang International Airport to other main roads in the city. The celebratory bridge was designed to light up and “breathe” fire and water every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.
Business visitors can also find 5-star accommodation conveniently located in the bustling commercial district. Among the most popular is the 390-room Four Points by Sheraton Danang on a scenic arterial street just 6km from the airport.
Da Nang is also a destination for caffeine addicts and food connoisseurs. The city is a haven of cafes at sunrise and a seafood destination at sunset.
Mi quang, a rice noodle dish with meat, peanuts and fresh herb topping and the representative dish of Da Nang, can be found in many restaurants and street vendors throughout the city.
While Da Nang people seem to enjoy a slow-paced, conservative and rather nonchalant lifestyle, traffic in the city is as nerve-wracking as that of other big cities in the country.