Occasionally it crosses my mind how weird it is to do what we do, and by that I mean write our opinions of a specific destination that is also (mostly) new to us, expecting friends and strangers and yes, even you, dearest reader, to find it useful. I mean really, you could simply book a ticket to Da Nang, Vietnam, and ask the first local you meet on the street what it is you should actually be doing there, and you’d likely get way more interesting suggestions. In fact I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.
Barring the most obvious issue with doing this in Vietnam, however – here’s where I assume your fluency in Vietnamese, like mine, rests comfortably on a level somewhere between nonexistent and hideous crap – there’s also the fact that a random person on the street, without knowing you personally, would have NO idea what the hell you wanted out of a trip to Da Nang. Did you come to get a sunburn and learn how to surf? See a dragon bridge shoot fire? Play repeated games of dodge-your-death on a motorbike? Who’s to say! Least of all a total rando on the street.
Another issue is that people who live in touristy destinations – I wouldn’t call Da Nang touristy yet, but it’s doing its damnedest to get there – often aren’t the best source of information for how to vacation in that same location, as tourists are almost always on a way more extravagant budget and way stricter timeframe than any local you could hope to meet.
My whole point of this rant, I think, is to say that while I hope you find our travel guide to Da Nang useful, I’ll gladly settle for entertaining. I can live with entertaining.
Dang Ol’ Dang: One Week in Da Nang, Vietnam
First up, if you plan on bringing a drone into Vietnam to get a sweet shot of that damn hand bridge groping the Instagram of every travel account in 2018, save yourself the trouble and forget it. Making classic travel mistake #57, we failed to research whether or not bringing a drone into Vietnam was even allowed – it is, but you need to pay a fee and get a permit prior to your arrival – and got ours confiscated at Da Nang International Airport. Oops. Thankfully we were flying out of the same airport on our way back to Thailand, so it was a simple issue of Peter getting lightly scolded in Vietnamese and filling out a form to reclaim the drone before leaving the country.
Where to Stay in Da Nang
Budget to Mid-Range Option: Lys Spa Hotel & Apartment
Located only a 5 minute walk from Da Nang’s most popular beach, My Khe, Lys Spa Hotel & Apartment is a sweet option for those of you looking for convenience slash class on a budget. With an assortment of City & Sea View Studio Apartments to choose from – the Sea View rooms are worth the tiny added splurge – the perk of this property is that each room includes a basic kitchen area and washing machine, and includes everything you need for a laid back Da Nang experience, from cold A/C to comfy beds to onsite massage services. At approximately $20 – $28 USD per night, it’s a steal, though I could have done without the part where I unknowingly slathered my entire body with the whitening body wash provided in the shower.
Because the property is primarily used as a spa – there are only 7 rooms in total, and the rest are used as massage rooms – it unsurprisingly also smells fairly fantastic, and stays pretty quiet despite being located in a happening part of town. You can easily walk to everything you need – the beach, tons of restaurants, rooftop bars, not-so-bougie bars, ATMs, shops, you name it – and they offer motorbike rentals (including must-wear helmets) directly from the property should you decide to venture out on your own.
Peter, breaking his usual routine of baffling refusal, even decided to get his very first massage of life! Yes, that’s right. We may have lived in Bali and Thailand, the well-reputed land(s) of inexpensive massages, but the Hot Stone Massage at Lys Spa was the straw that stroked the boyfriend’s back. Conclusion? I, as usual, loved it, as there is almost always nothing to dislike about a talented massage therapist doing her thing while I space out for an hour. Peter… well, I’ll just say he needs more practice in the fine art of Treat Yo’Self relaxation tactics.
Ball Out Option: Di Lusso Boutique Hotel
For those of you on who want to begin or end your Da Nang experience on a high note, the Di Lusso, a gorgeous boutique hotel directly facing Da Nang’s Hàn River, is a gem and a half. A classy little bar and dining area on the ground floor sets the scene, and from there it just gets better.
The view from our Riverview Suite was outstanding, especially at night once all the neon lights were in full effect, and anytime I’m currently unable to fall sleep in my rock hard bed with ill-fitting sheets back in Thailand, I picture this bed and try the ever-failing trick of mental transportation directly back to its unsurpassed coziness.
At around $150 USD per night, this hotel is worth every penny, especially when you consider that that amount in the States would likely only buy you two nights in a musty room at the Days Inn of your nearest major city. Pass.
An absolutely delicious breakfast is included in the price of the room, and the hotel owner and rest of the staff members – xin chào, Minh! – are as sweet as can be. The owner even invited us to sit down with him to share a glass of whiskey before personally driving us to see Da Nang’s famous Dragon Bridge. Amazing!
Da Nang Activities & Local Recommendations
You should probably know beforehand that traveling in Da Nang in August is a close second to soaking in a hot tub in Hell. Thankfully the ocean is nearby, beers on My Khe Beach are roughly $1 and a lounge chair in the shade only sets you back around $2.
While I find Da Nang to be a little odd in the sense that it’s filled with high rise hotels, most of which seemed to be empty during our stay, it’s also on the verge of being accurately described as gaudy. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t see that as a negative. I’m just saying it’s a surprise to see it in a country like Vietnam, where casinos and flashy rooftop bars seem a strange fit with the serene, natural beauty found only a few miles away in any other direction. It’s this kind of weirdness that I find quite charming about Da Nang, though. In fact I could even see living here, and I don’t say that lightly about places.
My first recommendation – and one which you’ll find in every single other travel guide about Da Nang, but I still can’t help but mention because it remains rather badass – is to visit Marble Mountains, located about a 10-15 minute (terrifying) scooter ride southeast of downtown.
Known as Ngu Hanh Son – or Five Element (metal, plant, water, soil and fire) Mountain – in Vietnamese, it costs less than $2 USD to visit the nearby sites, which mostly consist of stunning ancient pagodas, statues, caves (!!!), Hindu and Buddhist structures and sanctuaries, scenic walking paths, and miserably sweaty groups of hangry-looking fellow tourists.
While you do have to climb a rather steep set of stairs to reach the top, you may catch a break, like us, and visit it on a day when an imminent rainstorm mists you with the refreshing intensity of a godly sneeze. …I don’t know y’all, I said what I said.
A Reggae Bar, a Bahn Mi, Swing Dancing & Coconut Coffee
Lest you think Da Nang is devoid of anything delicious to eat or drink, you will be most pleased to find it is certainly not. On our very first night in town, after deciding to take a walk in search of a solid dinner spot, we stumbled upon a cute upstairs bar and restaurant called Cohibar just a few blocks away from the beach. While the food was nothing to write home about, the cocktail assortment was spot on and swing dance lessons, including adorable Vietnamese locals dancing their hearts out, was a welcome surprise. Dance is always one of the things I miss most when traveling and living in Asia – both doing it and watching it – so it was a treat to catch a little glimpse into weeknight partner dancing in a place like Da Nang.
At the end of the same block, we also discovered our favorite dive bar in Vietnam, the oh-so-loveable Minsk Bar. The polar opposite of anything fancy and refined, and thus my obvious choice for a street-side hangout spot, Minsk Bar is the place to go for a cold beer, occasional live music, a killer playlist in its absence, and a chat with a friendly staff member (Tao is the man!) or fellow passersby in the comfort of a bamboo stool or a former backseat of a car. There’s even a chicken who officially calls it home, and the odd rat or three who officially don’t. You’ve been warned.
Lastly, I want to thank the powers of Da Nang, because I have officially discovered the most delicious morning-time treat in the whole wide world: coconut coffee. Thanh Tam Coffee & Bakery, located about 150 steps from Minsk Bar, makes easily the best coconut coffee in the world, if not the galaxy (and beyond), and I salute them. Pair it with their assortment of $1 breakfast bahn mis and it’s game on for your new morning routine.
And that’s about it, y’all. I’d also like to add that Da Nang is supposedly a top notch place to do some secondhand shopping or get custom clothing made by a local tailor – more on that in our next post about Hoi An – and I did happen to get my hair successfully dyed, cut and styled for a whopping $36, but its real charm, at least for me, lies in the simple acts, like wandering the streets and having late night cups of cheap wine on the beach with good company. Dang ol’ dang, Da Nang… you’re pretty rad.