In between my visits to Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, there was Da Nang. Da Nang is one of Central Vietnam’s major cities (the country’s fifth-largest city) and probably the most beautiful, with a fantastic coastline filled with beaches facing the South China sea and several prominent small mountains. Da Nang is also very close to several famous sites like Hoi An, a lovely historical trading town and a World Heritage Site just about 30 minutes away, and the My Son Champa temple ruins. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stay in Da Nang or visit Hoi An.
What I did have time for was two hours since my bus from Hue had arrived before 12 and my plane was departing in the midafternoon at 3.30pm. I was taking a flight from Da Nang and not Hue, since its airport was being upgraded and closed to civilian flights. As soon as the bus, filled with people going to Hoi An, dropped me off outside a travel agency, a taxi driver appeared at my side and I got into his car intending to go to the airport. Yet I figured since I had several hours ahead, maybe the driver could take me on a drive around town. On the drive into the city on the bus, I’d seen Da Nang’s coast and the sea, which was very scenic. The city itself was made up of mostly lowrise buildings and streets that didn’t have much traffic in complete contrast to Hanoi. There was a sleepy vibe similar to Hue, though Da Nang seemed more attractive. The driver offered to drive me to two mountains- Monkey Mountain and Marble Mountain- for US$30, but I decided to just go to Monkey Mountain for just US$20. In hindsight, this was probably too much, but I didn’t have much of a choice since I didn’t just want to spend hours in the airport doing nothing.
To get to Monkey Mountain, we first drove over a bridge to the coastal part of Da Nang, and passed a long stretch of lovely beach which the driver said was called China Beach. The Americans called it that, he told me, and I later realized this was the “China Beach” that an American Vietnam War TV show was named after, and which was a favorite for many American GIs. The beach was quite attractive, though it was virtually deserted with not a single tourist on the sand or swimming in the water. A few dozen fishing boats floated just off the shore at one point, most likely only used in the morning. Soon we passed the beach and reached a hill that faced the sea – Monkey Mountain. “There used to be monkeys, but now it’s hard to see them,” the driver said. There was a huge Guanyin statue on the hill that could be seen from far away and that was where the driver stopped. Guanyin is the Buddhist goddess of mercy (her name is similar in Vietnam) and coincidentally members of my family worship her. The Guanyin statue was on the grounds of a temple which was free to enter, but the main draw was the view which was very amazing. In the distance, there was the blue sea, bordered by white beaches and by buildings of the city.
After about 20 minutes there, the driver took me back to the city to the exact place where I’d asked him to take me on a drive, then charged me an extra US$5 to go to the airport (see my post Hustled in Hue). I didn’t exactly feel too good about this, but in hindsight it was forgivable. Da Nang’s airport was very new and attractive, which was surprising, given Hanoi’s underwhelming airport, and yet consistent with the city’s overall scenic location. I had a delicious bowl of noodles adorned with a huge chiplike object at a very nicely-adorned restaurant outside the checkin area, for a good price I should say, very unlike many airport restaurants (Hong Kong ahem). I also bought a big bag of plantain chips at a booth outside the checkin area, which I then saw for a cheaper price inside. Inside the waiting area, I saw a huge Qing-dynasty map of Southern China, which I’d first seen in Hue’s Citadel, with a caption saying that since it didn’t show the Spratly and Paracels, it proved that they didn’t belong to China then. The Vietnamese government sure does take this territorial dispute very seriously. Anyways other than this, my brief stay in this city with a beautiful coastline was pleasant enough.
The Guanyin statue as seen from the beach. This photo was actually taken from inside the taxi as we drove by.
I never actually stepped foot on the beach.
The “Dragon bridge,” one of several suspension bridges that led to the coastal part of the city.