Da Nang, Our First Stop in Central Vietnam
We decided after having been in HCMC for so long that we needed a change and central Vietnam seemed to be the obvious choice. We extended our visas and set about planning the trip. After having looked into the transport options it became apparent again just how big this country is. An overnight train takes 17 hours between the two cities, and it is less than halfway up the country! So long on the train did not appeal to us and so we opted to fly for almost the same cost as a good overnight berth and a journey time of just over an hour. Marvellous!
Unfortunately, Air Asia does not have the same monopoly here as in other countries we’ve visited so we flew with Viet Jet. It was all good except we had to be a bit sneaky to uphold our ‘hand luggage only’ moto. Compared to Air Asia’s 8kg allowance plus an extra item Viet Jet only allows ONE item at no more than 7kg. This does not sound like much of a difference but we knew we would both be over. Talking to a few people a solution soon emerged – risky but apparently possible – checking in separately. So, I checked in with my main bag first, leaving my small red backpack with my laptop and camera (heaviest things) with Henry outside the airport and told the desk that he was running a little late. Weighing in at 7.2kg, I was allowed in and skirted around the outside back to meet him. We did a swap and he took his bag as is, minus the laptop. He scraped in just over the 7kg too, met me outside and we reorganised everything back into its usual place. We felt a bit naughty and that we could be stopped at anytime but we sailed through all the checkpoints after that, despite me very obviously having 2 bags.
The flight was quick and problem free. The plane was the same new Airbus sort as the Air Asia ones and we were still seated together. We landed in Da Nang in the middle of the afternoon, got a taxi for the short journey into town and found ourselves a hotel.
Da Nang is actually the third largest city (or 5th, depending on your sources) in Vietnam (after HCMC and the capital Hanoi) and is described by the travel website Travelfish as “little touristed.” This is certainly the case. There were not many hotels and restaurants in the main part of the city and after exploring during the afternoon and evening I think we had seen most of the bits we wanted to. The most attractive part of the main city is the riverfront at night.
There are wide boulevards where you can stroll along by the river and listen to some ‘relaxing’ local music being piped out through the lampposts while being mesmerised by the light show on the main bridge that thinks its in a disco.
After just one night there we decided to move to the other part of the city, over the bridge, to be close to one of the only reasons tourists seem to visit – the beautiful My Khe beach. The beach is also known as China Beach and was a major area for the Americans during the war. Many troops were stationed here and a deaf local man told us about the B52’s landing on the beach when he was a little boy (we think) by writing in the sand.
I was as keen as mustard for some beach action and a quick motorbike taxi landed us at quite a nice hotel in the middle of what can only be described as a giant building site. The area is not very attractive but many hotels are being built. It is a great example of an ‘up and coming’ destination.
Our hotel was just 2 minutes from the beach and we wasted no time in going to have a look. It was completely deserted! There were lifeguards on duty and when we tried to find some other life all we came across were fishermen with their little round boats. After seeing how many tourists are in other places in Vietnam I predict that soon enough this beach will be as busy as some of the other destinations but at the moment it is a very select few who visit. Those who do tend to come for a few hours on a coach trip and spend just a few minutes on the beach and then eat in one of the dozens of seafood places that line the beach road.
The beach is wide, clean and although the water was rough when we visited it seemed pretty clear. There are bored lifeguards all along the stretch and no hawkers what so ever. We stayed for 5 nights and had just a couple of days of proper sunny weather. On those days I was down there, listening to my podcasts and catching some rays. I did end up with a bit of a red back one day but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Henry was able to get some work done and all in all it was a relaxing break.
I had to go to the ATM one day and, as another example of how it is not quite a full blown tourist destination yet, I had to walk about 5km either way (I know that is not far but imagine it in almost 40° heat!) just to get cash out. I did stumble across this little inner city allotment on the way back where a lady was watering with these interesting watering cans and had a delicious ice coffee at a proper local place for the incredibly reasonable price of 20p.
After 5 days at the beach we were getting bored and organised one of our highlights of our time in Vietnam so far – an Easy Rider motorbike tour – to take us to our next destination of Hoi An. More on that in the next post!
Da Nang: 11th – 17th March 2013