Once Upon A Time In Da Nang


Da Nang is one of those places that has the weird magic of making people wish to return for more. As merely a tourist and an office-dweller in a crowded metropolis, I could only spend 3 days in Da Nang since time wasn’t something I have in great supply.

 

But boy how spectacular that 3-day journey was. The city was (and still is) fresh, clean with occasional breeze blowing in from the seas, the column of coconut trees’ shadows on the pavements during the day, night life, and that water & fire-breathing dragon bridge! (there’s more but we’ll get to this later)

 

I only regretted one thing though, and that is not trying the local food. But then it means I definitely will have to visit Da Nang again to do just that (which I did 2 years later). In a twist of fate, the experiences I had in this trip gave me the urge to pursue photography.

 

I didn’t have a proper camera at the time, so the photos here are seen through the lens of my old iPhone 4.

 

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A man jogging on the beach, 05:10 in the morning. I couldn’t capture much of the sand color due to a problem with my phone’s lighting focus.

Da Nang in the early hours of the day is truly magnificent. To grasp the full experience, you will need to be at the beach by at most 05:30 am. If you leave the hotel to visit the beach at later than 05:30 you will miss a lot. A lot.

 

What I did was waking up at 04:45, dressed myself in swimming gear and headed out. As a result I didn’t miss anything and drowned myself in the early morning hours of the jewel of central Vietnam.

 

The sea water was a bit chilling cold, the sun was barely rising from the mountains, and the beach was trying to blow my feet away with gusts and occasional strong waves. You could smell the sea the best if you wake up this early and sleep well the night before.

 

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In one of the most random moments ever, I was taking a picture of the opposite side of where the above jogging man was heading when this fellow sprinted right into the scene. I received some freezing splashes of water but my phone, miraculously, was still ok.
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05:20 – People exercising on the beach, with coconut bodyguards in the background! Those bar-shaped objects in the background are banners expressing the city’s efforts to be the cleanest, safest and most exciting city to live in Vietnam.

As long as you make your way toward the beach, not only you would feel the vibe of the city by the sea, but also the life of people who live there. I saw banners and propaganda posters on the beaches but, rather than being about politics or the government, they spread messages to motivate the people of Da Nang to always make the city the best place to live in Vietnam.

 

In fact, it actually is the best. I went to Singapore, the world’s cleanest city, in 2011 and this time in Da Nang, dare I say the level of cleanness is fairly comparable between the two cities. There was almost no trash on the roads, pavements or even on the beach. Those who litter will strictly be fined, much like in Singapore.

 

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A fisherman in a guffa-like boat returning to shore, 05:50

There are also loudspeakers on the beach that not only make announcements by the city administration, but also promote the spirit of the people of Da Nang to make the city the cleanest, safest and best city in Vietnam. You can already hear them by 06:00. It’s one of the details that gives the atmosphere of Da Nang a sense of uniqueness and unintentionally makes the city more lively, open and friendly as well.

 

After spending some time in the water, I returned to the hotel (a 3-minute walk away) at 06:50. There was barely a vehicle crossing by near my hotel, and the only noises I could hear were from the breeze and the chatter of people walking to the beach and back.

 

If you live away from loud urban cities in your country then you’ll definitely love this town. It does get a bit noisy at night, but since this is a major tourist city, it is understandable.

 

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08:40 – For 130,000 VND (roughly $5.7) you can rent a decent motorcycle to roam around. Recommended for young spirits who love to explore. This one I rented has a 115cc, 4-stroke engine that can more or less go uphill with two persons. By the way, the road in this photo is the one leading up to Son Tra Mountain in the background.

After finishing breakfast, I decided to check out the Son Tra Peninsula, located on which is Son Tra Mountain. But since I wanted to fully immerse myself in the experience, I decided to go by motorcycle so I could truly feel the atmosphere of the city. To do that, I rented an old Yamaha Jupiter (the one in the photo above) from the hotel for a full day. It cost just 130,000 VND and is quite easy to handle due to lower weight compared to other scooters and the low amount of traffic compared to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

 

You can check out my guide to renting motorcycles in Vietnam here.

 

Son Tra Peninsula is located at the north of the primary beach areas. Just find Vo Nguyen Giap road and simply go straight up north. I started my journey at 08:30, and went along the entire way from the beach areas to the mountains. It was almost like Miami: blue beach on one side and hotels, buildings on the other. It could be Miami of Asia itself, too, if you ask me.

 

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08:50 – I was so stunned by this sight that I had to stop by to take a photo. Industrialization, commercialization and agriculture blends so perfectly in this photo that words alone cannot describe how it feels to stand here witnessing all this scenery.

It was breathtakingly incredible scenery, something only Da Nang has. The cleanness made everything look better, too, unlike major tourist spots in the North that are rife with pollution.

 

It gets better once you start rolling into the mountainous road. Check this out:

 

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09:05 – One side is the sea, the other is the mountain. When taking this photo, I was still quite a distance away from the entrance to Linh Ung Pagoda, a popular destination located on the peninsula.
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09:15 – The city put up convex mirrors at sharp curves to warn drivers of incoming vehicles from the other lane. And that’s me in the mirror.

My 115cc motorcycle struggled a bit when going uphill, though. I had to shift between 1st and 2nd gear constantly to gain momentum to push it forward. It could have been worse with another person behind my back, but luckily there had been none. If you are to rent a motorcycle next time for a ride to Son Tra Peninsula, I would recommend renting a 150cc or above.

 

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09:20 – This photo could only show about 20% of what I saw when I was standing there taking it. In reality, you would possibly feel really small when you reach this point on your way. Paradise has never been so close.

I kept going a bit further until I saw the entrance to Linh Ung Pagoda. I forgot to tell you earlier that once you exit the urban areas of the city to go toward Son Tra Peninsula, you can already see a giant Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism) statue in the far distance. This statue, according to local legend, is roughly two centuries old, but the Pagoda in which it was located was erected only 13 years ago. It is the holiest and most sacred place in the city (well technically it’s not inside the city urban areas but still counts)

 

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I’m not too fond of taking pictures at holy places, but to give you an impression of how the statue looks like, I googled this one for you. Source: VGP News

I spent about 30 minutes walking around the Pagoda. There are a lot of other statues and shrines of worship inside, but since I’m not a fan of taking pictures at holy places I cannot show them here. Still, if you want to know more about it, click here.

 

I then started to go back to the hotel at 10:00. I really wanted to explore more further up the main road, but my motorcycle was at bingo fuel. Hence I must visit Da Nang again to explore more, right?

 

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18:10 – Two tallest buildings in Da Nang, from left to right: Da Nang City Administrative Center and Novotel 5-star luxury hotel, at dusk

I will conclude this part for now, but don’t worry, that’s not everything yet. In the next part I will tell you much more about other places you definitely can’t miss and some pretty decent food that I tasted in my 2nd visit to Da Nang.

 

See you next episode!

 

David Nguyen,

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