Da Nang; Da Nang City: Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang; Getting to Da Nang; Da Nang’s Beaches; China Beach, Da Nang; My Khe Beach, Da Nang; Da Nang, beach resort; White sand beaches of Da Nang; The Marble Mountains of Da Nang; Da Nang’s Marble Mountains; Ngu Hanh Son, the five elements mountains; Da Nang’s Linh Ung Buddhist Temple.
Although strictly speaking not a location off the beaten track Da Nang is, in terms of the number of foreigners going there compared to other locations in Vietnam, a less travelled route. For those who choose to make their way to this slightly out of the way location, Hoi An seems to be their ultimate destination with minimal exploration of the immediate surrounds of Da Nang being undertaken before heading 30 kilometres south to the iconic historical city. For those willing to spend a bit more time around Da Nang you will, as I was to quickly find out, be pleasantly surprised.
Situated roughly in the middle of the country the sea-side resort town is by road transportation standards in Vietnam a fairly arduous and lengthy bus ride from either Saigon or Hanoi. At just on 871 kilometres (or a 16 hour bus ride) the 1 hour and 15 minute flight from the southern capital makes more sense, particularly if you’re on a tight schedule. Airfares with local budget carriers, such as Vietjet and Jet Star, can be had for as little as USD 100 for the round trip. For more in depth details on travel options to Da Nang, check out Wikitravel’s page on Da Nang: http://wikitravel.org/en/Danang
Da Nang’s airport – which also happens to be Vietnam’s 3rd international air terminal – is located near the city environs and a 15 minute taxi ride will soon have you pulling up at a hotel lining the long strip of pristine beach. A good accommodation option along the beach is the reasonably priced Diamond Sea Hotel: http://www.diamondseahotel.com/ At the time of writing this report (April 2015) the Diamond Sea had been open for business barely three months previously and at approx. USD 60 per night was certainly great value with it’s convenient location to the beach and nearby attractions. The roof top pool, and outdoor bar, provides a great view of the coastline to the north and south of the hotel. The coastal strip is actually separated from the main city area by a river which parallels the coast-line.
As is there want for creating impressive engineering infrastructure the Viet’s have built three large bridges across the wide expanse of this water course to connect the beachside suburbs with the city centre. Unlike Saigon with its narrow, congested streets and laneways Da Nang’s roadways are something akin to palatial boulevards with the six lane thoroughfares, which link to the three bridges, almost empty of traffic in comparison. Driving in Vietnam has never been more relaxing. Getting around Da Nang is easy enough as there seems to be no shortage of metered taxi’s cruising the beach strip. For those with more of a do-it-yourself approach to sightseeing, motorbike rentals are easy enough to arrange through hotel staff. Prices for daily motorbike hire seem to average out at about 200,000 VN Dong (10 USD) per day. Due to the fact that Da Nang’s attractions are spread out and often at the outskirts of the city, a rented motorbike provides a relatively inexpensive and convenient means of getting about.
Marble Mountains: Ngu Hanh Son (five elements mountains)
There are a number of worthwhile attractions to visit, just a few kilometres from the city centre, and one of the more popular is the impressive site known as “The Marble Mountains.” Situated just 9 kilometres south of the city, the Marble Mountains are an easy half day trip for those wanting to experience a rather unique Vietnamese religious site. According to readily available sources (Wikipedia) providing information about The Marble Mountains, the site comprises of five peaks of varying sizes. While this might be true it is actually only one, Thuy Son (mountain of water), which tourists can access. Thuy Son is the largest peak and is the only one properly developed for sightseeing. To get to the site it’s simply a matter of taking the beach road south and following the signage to the very foot of Thuy Son. For a small fee (20,000 VND) your motorbike can be parked at one of the nearby restaurants for the duration of your tour of the site. The trail around the top of the peak can be accessed by a fairly lengthy stairway (165 steps) or, for those wanting to conserve energy levels, there’s the recently added service lift to the top.
The trail around the top of the peak is actually a series of cement footpaths joining each cave. There is a main path running east to west, with side trails branching off to the various caves and grottos which make up the site. As the footpath leads away from the lift a there is an uninterrupted view to the south which takes in the other, smaller peaks and residential surrounds. As the trail zig-zags through the rough terrain it soon becomes obvious the peaks are aptly named and a closer inspection of the rock formations reveals the entire stratum is indeed formed by marble. In some places where the rock surfaces are worn smooth, green, blue and white coloration can be seen. As mentioned, there is a pronounced religious tone to the site which comprises of a series of small pagoda’s and Buddha statues with the most interesting tucked into a labyrinth of small caves and grotto’s. Directions to each cave are well signposted and there’s a general direction to follow which eventually takes you to the final, and most impressive, site at the western end of the mountain. The first location is a dual grotto containing an upright Buddha statue and a small concrete pagoda. There is a narrow entrance way, behind the pagoda at the top of the eastern end access stairway, which leads into the inner and outer grottos. Both caves are illuminated by holes in the roof so there’s no need to carry hand held lights. The inner cave has a small pagoda built within where many of the local population can be seen lighting incense sticks and preying to deities for good fortune. The outer grotto is smaller and houses an upright Buddha statue carved from the marble rock surrounding it. This location tends to get quite crowded as it is the first to be seen if one ascends the mountain by the entry stairway. If you use the lift you’ll need to come down a stairway, from the main trail, and then ascend back up it to carry on to the other caves.
The second cave on the trail, and probably the most difficult to access, is the Am Phu site. For those willing to crawl through narrow passages this cave eventually leads out to the very top of the mountain. The access stairway is roughly at the midpoint of the main east to west pathway and ascends almost directly opposite a drink vendor’s stall. For those feeling the heat of the day and in need of a thirst slaking drink, a green coconut at the vendor’s stall is highly recommended. Take a seat in the shade of the surrounding cliffs while the vendor goes to work opening your green coconut with a machete.
Am Phu cave is probably the least visited due to the relative difficulty of accessing the inner grotto. A ten meter ascending stairway leads to a narrow entry tunnel – but still with enough height to walk through – and then to a dimly lit outer chamber containing a Hindu style upright Buddha. Beyond this there’s a narrow passage way leading to the inner grotto. Access to it involves a short scramble up a slope of jumbled rocks before it eventually opens into the vertical spaciousness of the inner chamber. Holes in the roof of the chamber provide plenty of sunlit illumination within. Those willing to push on through the final restriction will be pleasantly surprised as the tight confines of the steep passageway lead out to a majestic view from the very top of the mountain. For those wishing to avoid a return trip back through Am Phu’s constricting passageways, there’s the easier option of a trail/stairway down the other side of the mountain. This leads back to the main pathway and the last two cave sites. There is a junction of pathways and aside from the trails to the last three caves there’s also one which takes you to the western end stairway and exit.
As mentioned there are three cave sites at this western end of the Thuy Son but the fact is two them are rather small and only worth a cursory visit before venturing on to the best cave on the mountain; the very impressive Huyen Khong. A small descending passageway eventually leads to large, spacious cavern housing a small pagoda to the right and a seated Buddha, in a small grotto, a few feet off the floor. The entire floor area has been covered with flat cement slabs to allow visitors an easy and comfortable walk around the interior. The highlight of a visitation is the shafts of sunlight which stream through holes in the cave roof providing a surreal mood and also making for some great photo opportunities. Midday is probably the most ideal time to catch the beams of sunlight piercing the darkness within the cave as the sun is at its zenith and obviously most penetrative position. If you are planning a visit try to time it so you enter Huyen Khong Cave just after 11 am and get into position for some truly memorable shots.
Linh Ung Buddhist Temple
Linh Ung Buddhist temple was built in 2010. The temple complex sits on the southern facing slope of son Tra peninsula and it’s most outstanding feature, the 67 meter tall statue of “Quan The Am,” is visible from several kilometres away. Getting to the temple/pagoda complex is easy enough; just follow the coastal (beach) road in the direction (North) of the statue. The beach road eventually ascends the lower slopes of the peninsular and as it winds around the coastal hills you will get an uninterrupted view out over the bay and beaches to the south. The Linh Ung Pagoda is well signposted. The main entrance to the site is on the left with a steep access road leading to a carpark at the base of a long flight of stairs to the entrance gate. For those wishing to get some morning photos I would recommend getting there before 9 am. By 10 am the tour busses begin arriving and the site becomes rather crowded. Alternatively, going later in the afternoon, or early evening, is also a good option as the lights which illuminate the statue are turned on at dusk.
Having done a morning and evening visit, on the same day, I would say that the evening is probably the more preferable. The heat and glare of the sun becomes fairly intense as the morning wears on. By late afternoon/early evening most of the tour busses have long departed and there seems to be a more restful ambience about the place. With the approaching dusk the glittering lights of Da Nang City colourful carpet to the southern horizon. With the fading of the colours of sunset the skies darken and much to the appreciation of those with the patience to wait around, the illuminating lights for “Quan The Am” statue are turned on – usually by 6.30 pm. Unnoticeable during the day, there is a green light in the middle of the statue’s forehead representing the “third eye.” Many, including myself, mistakenly thought the statue is of the Buddha. This is not the case. According to a local sightseer I spoke with, the statue is of Quan Am the compassionate.
Son Tra Mountain
Son Tra Peninsula, or to more exact, Son Tra Peak features a stunning view of the sea, the sky and the ocean. A visit to Linh Ung Pagoda can be doubled with a motorized ride through the paved roads of Son Tra Mountains including a stop at the mountaintop vantage point called Ban Co, which overlooks the entirety of Da Nang. There are actually two routes to Ban Co lookout. Continue on past Linh Ung Pagoda and the road will eventually lead to the Intercontinental Hotel Da Nang. From there, small paved trails wend across and through the peaks. There is signage but nothing in English so be prepared to double back if you feel you are going nowhere. The trails lead up through the jungle clad peaks and eventually bring you to the ridgeline from which there is a spectacular view of the surrounding seas and coastlines North and South. In fact, in the morning coolness, mist and clouds drift up and over the peaks and the silence is absolute. As point of recommendation, ensure your motorbike is fully fuelled up before venturing up this mountain some of the gradients are steep and fuel use is sure to increase with the extra revs needed to ascend; even more so if there are two of you on the bike.