Da Nang, Vietnam, is a city often overlooked by the globetrotter. Once written off as just a provincial hub for transport to and from the UNESCO sites of Hue, Hoi An and the verdant Ba Na Hills, it's now changing its tone with speed. It spills into the ocean along the bustling strips of China Beach, where luxurious hotel resorts mingle with DJ-spinning clubs and pearly-white sands. It's bolstered by the mysterious religious shrines and legends of the Marble Mountains on the outskirts of the centre, not to mention the gorgeous ridges of Son Tra. And then, of course, there's the bucket list retreat of Hoi An – one of Vietnam's top draws, sat just a stone's throw down the road from the big city. LBW tours pass close by, which means you might just get a chance to indulge in some of these top activities…
1. Delve into the Marble Mountains
The mystical Marble Mountains have defined the skyline south of Da Nang for millennia. Lurching above the suburbs between Hoi An and the city, they are considered symbolic representation of the five elemental aspects of the world: water, wood, fire, gold and earth. Thuy Son, the water peak, is the largest of the lot, and comes topped with the enchanting outlines of the gilded Linh Ong Pagoda, not to mention cut-through by oodles of mysterious grottoes where ancient Buddhist and Hindu murals mark the walls. On the other peaks, there are plenty of other temples and shrines to explore, along with some seriously breathtaking viewpoints over China Beach and the city of Da Nang itself.
2. Scoot down to Hoi An
Okay, so it might seem a bit cheeky to add a whole other Vietnamese destination to this list of things to do in Da Nang, but Hoi An really is an exception worth making. Packed with pretty colonial French touches, Japanese-style bridges and winding canals, it's surely one of the most enchanting places in the country. What's more, the whole place is tagged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and the local food – a tasty meat-packed broth known as cao lầu – is simply to die for. It's just a short bus ride down the coast from Da Nang to beautiful Hoi An, so there are simply no excuses for missing out!
3. Visit the Lady Buddha of Da Nang
You'll find the glimmering whitewashed statue of the Lady Buddha of Da Nang nestled between the rugged rises of the Mable Mountains and the shimmering blues of the South China Sea. Looming a whopping 67 meters in total, the effigy has become a symbol of the city. It is hailed as the largest religious statue of its kind in the country, and plays host to 17 individual floors, each accessible on foot and dedicated to a different manifestation of the Buddha. The views are one of the top pulls – just wait for the sweeping panorama of China Beach and the city from the platforms up top!
4. Hit the beaches of Son Tra
The Son Tra Peninsular and the 670-meter-high mountain that crowns it can be seen from virtually every part of Da Nang. As it juts out into the deep blue swells of the South China Sea from the north-eastern edge of town, it offers up a patchwork of mist-topped ridges, macaque-spotted jungles and golden sands where luxurious villas hide on the banks. Head for the picture-perfect likes of Bai Bac, Tien Sa and Bai Nam for some of the most celebrated coves, and be sure to take the walking boots along for the wealth of hiking paths if you're the adventurous type.
5. Cable cars and French chateaux in the Ba Na Hills
On the eastern fringes of Da Nang city, where the rugged rises of the Truong Son Mountains creak upwards from the jungles, visitors will discover a swinging cable car that drifts into the clouds. The journey to the top of the peaks on the gondola promises to be an interesting one, because it's not only breathtaking views of the South China Sea and the Marble Mountains that unfold there. It's also a curious array of French-style colonial builds and one fantastical Chateaux castle that looks plucked straight from the scenes of Game of Thrones! Yep, all that in central Vietnam!
6. See the city changing on the Han riverfront
The great channels of the Han River cut right through the heart of Da Nang, coursing with mountain water as the drifts towards the salty swells of the South China Sea. In recent decades, the sun-kissed promenades that line the river here have become a veritable focal point of local life in the city. Bars and cafes, quirky art galleries and all-new shimmering high rises have popped up by the bucket load, creating an urban forest where the modern edge of this metropolis can be felt from morning until night. There are also some pretty parks to wander when it's time to unwind.
7. Taste your way through An Thuong
Whether it's lemongrass-infused Chinese stir fries, Vietnamese pho broths or international dishes you're after, you can rest assured that the lively clutch of blocks in the An Thuong area of Da Nang has you covered. Street sellers mingle with hip little American-style burger joints, the sizzling pans of street-side cooks issue five spice into the air, and there are plenty of tapas and cocktails to go around. It's the perfect place to end a day of lazing on nearby China Beach!
8. Take a trip to paradisiacal Cham Island
Hulking like a sleeping granite giant from the shimmering waters of the South China Sea, the rugged wonders of Cham Island are surely amongst the most gorgeous in all of Vietnam. They can be reached by bobbing longboat from the harbors of Da Nang in just 30 minutes, and offer up a medley of hidden, cliff-backed cloves, coastal hiking and pristine coral gardens for the divers. There are also even plans to build a couple of big hotels on Cham for those looking to escape the city for longer. Watch this space folks!
9. See the Dragon Bridge at night
The now-iconic Dragon Bridge of Da Nang is a relatively recent addition to the metropolis. It was first opened in 2009, intended as an elaborate and symbolic landmark come crossing on the Han River. It's fulfilled its role perfectly, drawing thousands of onlookers to the nearby promenades each evening with its fire displays and light shows. You can come and check out the flame-spewing dragon head, the water fountains and glowing neon under lights, all whilst sipping a cold one in the nearby beer houses that line the banks.
10. Kick back on China Beach
No trip to the sprawling city of Da Nang could possibly be complete without at least a short jaunt to the lengthy stretch of glowing golden sand that lines the city on its entire eastern edge. Known as China Beach (a nickname that was apparently started by American GIs in the Vietnam War), it's peppered with clusters of loungers and chic cocktail bars, and comes lapped by the ceaseless waves of a luke-warm ocean. Swimming opportunities abound here, there are plenty of bodyboard rentals (great for riding the occasional swell), and you can even join up to the charming sands closer to Hoi An in the south. Nice.
Of course, Vietnam's sixth-largest city has plenty more attractions up its sleeve. If you can think of any, we'd love to hear all about them in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you headed out to explore central Vietnam, its hills and UNESCO sites, be sure to check out our awesome tours.
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