We arrived in Danang to stunning coastal sights, driving along the curving beachfront and enjoying a rare ocean view. In our five months away, this was only the second time we’d seen the sea believe it or not. The first time was in Ha Long Bay, just a month ago, however there weren’t beaches as such there, just vast limestone outcrops that towered out of the sea. Spirits were high and we were looking forward to swimming in the ocean, eradicating our farmers’ tans on the beach and generally slobbing out on some sun beds. We checked into our hotel, perfectly located just a five minute walk from the beach, donned our swimwear and headed to the seafront. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around, however, our beach bumming was short lived.
We awoke the following morning to grey, ominous clouds. We remained optimistic and decided to rent a moped regardless, as any activity recommended in Danang involved driving there, and renting a moped was both cheaper than taxis and allowed much more freedom. We have become increasingly grateful for our knowledge of moped driving as it’s opened up so many options for us while travelling. Having the confidence and skill to hop on a bike has saved us a lot of money and allowed us to see a whole lot more. But the positive attitude wasn’t enough to sedate the looming black rainclouds above us.
The first task was finding somewhere for breakfast, but the moment we mounted the bike, the heavens opened. The rain was unlike anything we’d experienced since we arrived in Vietnam all those months ago in September. Typical. We had our waterproofs on, but the rain thrashed its way through the streets, making it impossible to drive with eyes open. We had no choice but to pull over at a café after 5 minutes of praying the bad weather would pass. We waited it out while we dried off, but the clouds persisted even when the rain eased and the idea of sitting on a soggy beach was not an appealing one.
The forecast was rain all day, so we decided to stay local for the day and took shelter in the Cham Museum. The museum houses the largest collection of Cham sculptures and artefacts. It was highly praised by Lonely Planet as one of the top activities in Danang. But for us, the 3-roomed museum was a little pitiful to say the least. There are more than 300 pieces on display, including altars, garudas, images of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, dating from the 5th and 15th centuries, but we felt we’d seen everything within ten minutes, as there was almost no information to explain the context of the pieces exhibited in the falling down building. We were banking on this museum to see us through at least an hour out of the rain. It was back to the drawing board. With the threat of torrential rain imminent, we made our way to another café for a leisurely lunch, giving us some time to catch up on photos and blog writing. Bad weather = lots of coffee breaks = shrinking budgets.
But the rain held off for long enough after lunch to allow us time to visit the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five marble and limestone hills, just south of Danang city. The five mountains represent the five elements; metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. We climbed to the summit, Mt. Thuy, and visited the several Buddhist sanctuaries within the mountains. The sea views were a little hazy, but it was good to be outside, making use of the hired moped, and seeing something other than the inside of a coffee shop. The area is famous for stone sculpture making but direct rock extraction from the mountains was recently banned. The mountains didn’t blow us away (figuratively speaking – literally speaking we were clutching on to the railings at the summit), considering this was also one of the most popular tourist sights in Danang, but it was more entertaining than our morning activities, not naming any names (*cough*Cham*cough*Museum*cough*).
Perhaps we’re being a little harsh on Danang, as we are well aware that if the sun had been shining we would have been more than happy to spend our entire visit here vegetating on the beach without any complaints. But in spite of this, we don’t think it’s worth the visit if you’re tight on time, considering the far superior locations just a stone’s throw from this city e.g. Hue and Hoi An. Danang, is the third largest city in Vietnam, situated on the coast of the eastern sea. It’s not at all walkable due its size, unlike the compact streets of Hue, and we felt that it lacked a little in character in comparison. During the American War, Danang was considered one of the busiest airports as it was utilised as a major air base by the South Vietnamese and United States. Fringed by mountains on one side, and the South China Sea on the other, Danang is growing rapidly in popularity with spectacular new bridges (yes, that was a compliment!) and high end hotels mushrooming in and around the city. China beach is booming with new hotels and resorts, and the area we were staying in certainly felt under development with empty seaside plots ready for building on.
One benefit of all this rain was spending an embarrassing amount of time in Thanh Tam bakery. This café doubles as a sheltered workshop promoting social interaction, networking and employment to young people with disabilities. It seems easy to stumble across these wonderful social enterprises in Asia. Most of the time we don’t seek them out, but enjoying affordable prices and delicious food, with the social enterprise aspect is an added bonus. After outstaying our welcome here, we went for a stroll along the beach and took some time to appreciate the beauty in the moody sea front views, reminding ourselves not to be so ungrateful and that actually, we’ve been very lucky with the weather while travelling.
On our last day, just as cabin fever was kicking in, we drove to Lady Buddha, the tallest Buddhist statue in Vietnam, located on the Son Tra Penninsula. The statue stands 67 metres tall (the equivalent of a 30-storey building) and is located at Linh Ung Pagoda overlooking the sea. While we didn’t get to witness the apparently fine white sands and turquoise waters below, it was still worth the drive up there.
We had hoped the clouds would have cleared enough by this point that we could continue on to Monkey Mountain, the most popular activity to do here in Danang (although this isn’t saying much). The mountain juts out into the sea like a giant pair of Mickey Mouse ears (so we’re told, but have no tangible evidence of this due to inconsiderate levels of cloud cover) and overlooks the bay of Danang. It was once used as a US Air Force and Marine base but the base has largely reverted to a jungle, although a modern radio tower has been built on the site, and the main attraction is the panoramic view from the top. We looked at the thick, unrelenting clouds that shrouded Monkey Mountain as well as the slippery roads and sensibly scored this one off the ever shrinking to do list.
Before we’re criticised for slating Danang completely, we will say that the city is worth visiting for a night IF your trip falls on a Saturday or Sunday. On the weekend at 9pm without fail, the most glorious bridge (Porridge has fallen in love with many bridges so far) we’ve seen in Asia, dubbed ‘Dragon Bridge’, spouts fire and water from it’s menacing metal-toothed mouth. It’s undeniably a beautiful piece of architecture that will perk up even the grumpiest, soggiest of travellers’ nights*
Dragon Bridge was constructed in 2009, slap bang in the middle of a six-lane road. The 666 meter long bridge crosses the Han River and there was quite a crowd gathered during the fire breathing merriment’s. Danang is at it’s best at night when it’s neon-lit cityscape can be fully appreciated.
All in all, Danang has been a teeny tiny anti-climax, except from the epic fire breathing bridge and the various cakes we sampled at the bakery (honestly, we were there so much that we may have fully funded one of the disadvantaged waiters’ training fees). We will journey onwards and upwards (actually 25km further south) to Hoi An as wrinkled, saturated prune-like individuals rather than the bronzed god/goddesses we had envisioned.
*While we have created the impression that we were miserable during our short time in Danang, we were actually quite content to mull around drinking coffee in the rain and the negative descriptions of the city may be exaggerated because we are comparing Danang to some of the most beautiful places Vietnam has to offer, therefore expectations are high.