Most people only pass through Da Nang on their way from the airport to the more popular Hoi An. This is a big mistake in my opinion – Da Nang is much less touristy than Hoi An and is the perfect place for some independent exploration by scooter! Those who stay in Da Nang for a day or two will find there’s a lot to discover in this modern city, including: rivers, mountains, sumptuous seafood, stunning stretches of deserted beach, laid-back or lively beachside bars and plenty of nightlife. Here are my top tips for what to see and do during your stay.
Lady Buddha, Monkey Mountain
Half-day exploration of Monkey Mountain by scooter/motorbike
Rent a motorbike/scooter (your accommodation can help with this) and go on a half day exploration of Monkey Mountain – this mountain is named after the monkeys that live on it. Back when the mountain was an American communications base during the war, the soldiers named it ‘Monkey Mountain’ due to common sightings of the Red-Shanked Douc monkey. Sadly, these monkeys are now an endangered species, it is estimated that there are only 200 or so left in the world.
The summit of Monkey Mountain is 693 meters above sea-level and has awesome views of Da Nang’s coastline. Stop about half way up at the huge Lady Buddha statue (free entry) to wander around the grounds and enjoy the views. Then feast on fresh seafood at Bay Ban restaurant which stands on stilts, directly over the sea in a stunning little bay. The turn off for this place is just after the Lady Buddha, on the right-hand side – you have to descend lots of steps to reach it, but it’s so worth it!
Bay Ban Seafood Restaurant, Son Tra, Da Nang
At Bay Ban you can get a huge hotpot that includes a big platter of seafood (crab, prawns, clams and fish) served with a generous amount of vegetables and noodles for 350,000vnd (about $15usd). It’s plenty for 2 people to share and for more people you can go for the bigger hotpot or add fried rice as a side.
It’s best that you avoid ordering seafood sold by the kilo, unless you’ve got a local with you, as communication can be hard (not much English is spoken by staff here) and you might end up paying a lot more than you expected!
After lunch, motor on up to the top of the mountain for more awesome views (you can’t go to the very top as there’s an army base here).
There’s also a small, secluded beach at the foot of Monkey Mountain (Son Tra Peninsula) that’s worth a stop. To get here, turn right at sign that says ‘Bai Nam-Son Tra’. There’s a restaurant on the beach where you can buy drinks, but don’t bother getting food here as it’s nothing special. There are plenty more secluded beaches dotted around the foot of this mountain – if you’re feeling adventurous seek them out!
Seafood Hotpot at Bay Ban
Explore Marble Mountain – Entry = 20,000 vnd if you take the steps (no need to pay for the elevator unless you are very unfit – climbing the many steps to the top is half the fun!).
Marble Mountain is a labyrinth of caves filled with Buddhist shrines and some lovely views. Beware of friendly locals who walk around with you pointing things out and giving information, they will expect a tip for this! Be sure to stop and have a drink along the way as it can get hot and tiring with all the steps – there are plenty of vendors selling cold drinks. Allow at least 1.5 hours for a visit here – there are many different levels that take a while to explore.
Hang-out at Hoa’s place
Hoa’s place is a very simple little beach-side shack opposite Marble Mountain, so it’s perfect for a stop before or after a visit there. It’s run by legendary local Hoa, and this guy is very interesting – he has so many stories from the war and he is a great source of local knowledge too. He is very popular with the local expats, so there’s often someone interesting to talk to here. Hoa’s place offers cold drinks, great spring rolls, simple home-cooked Vietnamese food and some decent western food (pancakes and burgers) – all served up with gorgeous sea-views.
Hoa’s is also one of the best places for surfing/body-boarding in the area and he rents out boards.
Chill out on My Khe Beach
There are plenty of quiet stretches of sand to put your towels down on, also you can hire cheap deckchairs and beds (around 20,000-40,000vnd each, set prices on signboard, no bartering). If you want fancier sunbeds and umbrellas, the nicest are in front of Holiday Beach Hotel (about $5 for the day), or Temple Bar (near Pham Vong Dong street).
Fire show at Dragon Bridge (free entry)
This bridge breathes fire and water on Sat and Sun at 9pm! Settle yourself in among locals on one of the tiny plastic stools laid all around and buy a couple of beers or coconuts to watch the short show (it only lasts about 5 minutes), then take a wander around by the riverside.
Bike the world-famous Hai Van pass (watch the Top Gear episode about it if you haven’t already!), if you’ve got time, carry on to the stunning and often deserted stretches of sand around Lang Co. Stop for great seafood at one of the stilt restaurants over the water (off Trinh To Tam street). It takes about 1.5 hours to reach Lang Co.