We’re not big fans of tourist attractions in most cities. They’re usually really crowded, overpriced, and just downright tacky sometimes. Da Nang was no different, but sometimes you just have to see/do certain things when you’re visiting a particular spot. I mean, these spots do become popular for a reason. They might not be as awesome as TripAdvisor would have you believe, but some are entertaining enough. I still think eating is the best thing you can do in Da Nang, but here are a few other worthwhile things we did there.
Marble Mountains: These aren’t really mountains; they’re more like hills. The cluster of five hills is made up of marble and limestone and is a short ride by motorbike or taxi from Da Nang city center. You can explore the small caves, climb up one of the mountains, and then buy a giant marble statue of your favorite Buddha for a pittance! I read that they recently banned direct extraction from these mountains now that they’ve realized how quickly they are losing their valuable natural resources. These mountains and caves are fun to visit if you have no chance to see the bigger caves in Vietnam. The cost of admission is pretty low so it’s a good attraction for budget travelers too. There’s also an elevator to the top of one of the mountains for an extra cost. Who builds an elevator in a mountain? The Vietnamese do! We didn’t take it and you probably don’t need to either. It’s really not that bad of a climb. You can also see the product of these marble mountains if you walk along Bach Dang Street where they have oddly placed marble statues all along the street.
At a non-descript cafe on the side of a non-descript street in Da Nang, I sipped a cà phê sữa đá and thought of a recent conversation I had with my mother before leaving for Southeast Asia. I was having a coffee then as well, and I had mentioned that caffeine tends to keep me up at night if I have it too late in the day. My mother made an incredulous face and said, “That’s because you don’t work hard enough. If you work hard like your father and I do, you can fall asleep right away.” To me, that was a strange thing to say because my mother doesn’t work (and has never really worked), unless you call unnecessary clothes shopping a form of employment.*
So there we were in Da Nang, proving her point. We were getting tired of constantly bouncing from one place to another and the Southeast Asian heat followed us around, quietly beating us into submission. A friend in Saigon suggested Da Nang as a quiet place to hang our hats for a while so we trusted her. The city itself doesn’t look like anything special, and is as unassuming as they come. But look a little closer, and there is an empty, beautiful beach lining its eastern coast, a lush peninsula to the north and some damn good food.
We did the required touristy stuff like checking out the Bodhisattva of Mercy on Son Tra peninsula (we called her “The Lady”) and spending the day exploring the Marble Mountains. While both of these places were pretty interesting in their own ways, what we enjoyed doing the most was chilling by ourselves during the day and getting the more local experience with our new friends at night.
Beaching was very much on our list of priorities so we made a beeline for a private beach on My Khe. Well, not really a beeline, because we skirted around the main entrance to the hotel and entered through the side entrance to the beach like a couple of sketchy mofos… I guess we kind of are. Don’t get me started on privatizing beaches in these developing countries. We had lunch at an overpriced but decent restaurant next to the beach, soaked up the cleanliness of it all and pretended for a moment that we were guests of this overpriced resort.
Da Nang has been one of my favorite places for food in Vietnam. The food is varied with more complex flavors and less fish-sauce-based than Southern Vietnamese cuisine. Da Nang wasn’t in our original plans as we were researching a beach town in Vietnam, but we met a Couch Surfer in Saigon who suggested that we go to Da Nang instead of Nha Trang or Mui Ne. We’re so glad she pointed us to this city because if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s eating. The second thing we’re pretty damn good at is lazily lounging on a tropical beach all day. I’ll talk more about that in another post.
Seafood: Da Nang is a beach town which means you can get ridiculously fresh seafood and since it’s Vietnam you can get the ridiculously fresh seafood at ridiculously cheap prices. Seafood restaurants line the street across from beach and they are packed every night. These are your typical no-frills Vietnamese eateries with little plastic chairs and stainless steel tables, but the simply-prepared seafood is better than anything you’d pay 10x more for anywhere else. There are also large, well-lit, banquet-sized restaurants that serve seafood dishes for a higher price tag, but we didn’t try those places.