When it comes to travel, each destination is ultimately known best for one thing. Whether it is Pisa’s Leaning Tower, Sydney’s Opera House, or the spring cherry blossoms of Japan, there seems to be one iconic visual or experience to associate with each city and region. From my view, the coastal city of Da Nang located in central Vietnam is good for one thing and one thing only; Its beaches. Okay, perhaps two; It has an international airport that provides convenient transit to many other Vietnamese destinations. While some may consider this appraisal somewhat harsh, after three nights in Da Nang I’m confident in my assessment. If you’re considering travelling to or through Da Nang, it’s worth reading on.
Da Nang is a city of bridges, growing rapidly with resort construction trying to redefine itself from transit hub to destination. The imperial city of Hue, rich with political history is a two hour drive North. In the other direction, the cultural gem of Hoi An is only 40 minutes South. Both are notable travel destinations, which absolutely merit a visit. Da Nang’s one million residents and hotel construction boom are left somewhere in an awkward middle ground. Though boasting a few temples and government buildings, some modern bridges and the beautiful Marble Mountains nearby, nothing really puts it on the international map so to say. That leaves the beaches, which, for as much as I sound like a negative Nancy, are actually quite striking.
Da Nang has 92 kilometres of coastline. There are roughly three separate beach areas of varying popularity and features:
The North part of Da Nang includes Xuan Thieu Beach (Red Beach) and Thanh Binh Beach (one kilometre long) facing Da Nang Bay. Both are offer incredible white sand, blue water and fewer tourists, but also lack many facilities. Best to prep your picnic basket or cooler for the day.
The Son Tra Area encompasses the eastern mountainous peninsula that divides the south and north areas of the city’s coastline. It includes smaller, near empty, albeit sometimes rockier, beaches such as Bai Con, Bai Nam, Bai Bac, Bai But, Bai Rang, and Tien Sa Beach. Day trips here are usually combined with visits to Linh Ung Pagoda or up to the top of Monkey Mountain to take in the view over the region. If you consider yourself a bird watcher, nature lover or fisherman, this is where you want to be.
The South part of Da Nang (actually across the Hàn River to the east of the downtown) encompasses Pham van Dong Beach, My Khe Beach, Bac My An Beach and finally, Non Nuoc Beach (China Beach) at the southernmost end. Collectively they span an impressive 30 kilometres, are in closest proximity to most accommodation in the city as well as beachfront dining options. Therefore it’s the busiest, but for the stretches of private beach in front of resorts along Non Nuoc.
The southern beaches are being transformed by a growing row of five star resorts. In December 2016, Four Seasons took over The Nam Hai, a 100 villa resort between Da Nang and Hoi An. Wyndham is constructing a 57 story condo-hotel complex set to open in 2018 that will house the tallest buildings in the city, bar none. Sheraton, Ariyana Beach Resort & Suites, and a half dozen other developments are also under construction, soon to call Da Nang home. They will join the existing Furama Resort Danang, Pullman Danang Beach Resort, and Hyatt Regency Danang Resort, among others, already situated on Non Nuoc. Then there’s the over 500 room Crowne Plaza Danang and InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort. Starting to understand? This very likely represents the greatest density of high end beach resorts anywhere in Vietnam. And they have all pretty much opened in the past six years.
Ultimately, if you consider yourself a bit of a beach bum, or are looking to take a high class break from flashpacking around Vietnam, this just might be your perfect weekend getaway. The beaches all get top marks for cleanliness, though the strong surf and resulting rip current of the South China Sea may make swimming in some areas a risky exercise. Whether you opt for the public stretches of beach or the private resort areas, plenty of lounge chair options abound. Not to mention the ability to enjoy a cold drink or two by the seaside. While scuba diving around nearby Chàm Islands is an option, it’s not the best Southeast Asia has to offer. There are a few options for jet ski rentals and the like, but broadly speaking, Da Nang is beaches, and beaches alone.
If you want to get the most out of your travels to Da Nang I’ve got a few tips for you:
Where To Stay
There is, without a doubt, already an oversupply of accommodation options in Da Nang. Many small hotels open with introductory deals and after being busy for three to six months face severe financial pressure due to vacancy. As mentioned, the number of large resorts borders on gluttonous. While not great for long term economic prospects of the city, it does mean that deals are abundant for travellers. Simply checking Booking.com, Agoda.com or calling the larger resorts directly will yield some of the most affordable beach accommodation in Vietnam. We recommend staying as close to China Beach as possible, as the city is quite large and staying in the downtown core will require constant taxi rides.
Clean two and three star hotels set a couple of blocks off the beach can be had for $15-18 USD per night. Stepping up to $50-100 per night yields four star accommodation, some on the beach, with impressive pools and amenities. Five star beachfront properties start at $200. They go up to $1,000 USD per night if you really want to make a splash in the private pool of your multi-bedroom beachfront villa. Might this be excessive? Absolutely. But who are we to judge.
How To Get Around
Da Nang is one of the few relatively pedestrian friendly Vietnamese cities, built with wide sidewalks and a great boardwalk along the ocean. However, it’s quite spread out so travel on foot isn’t realistic. As of April 2017, Grab and Uber ride share programs are technically banned. That leaves travellers with traditional taxis (we suggest VinaSun and Mai Linh as most trustworthy) to cover the large distances within the city. Though the streets are wide, and traffic not doubt calmer than the likes of Saigon, it’s still not quite the place to “learn” how to ride a scooter. If you are well versed, rentals are cheap and a great option for getting around.
What To Eat
The food scene of Da Nang isn’t one for the record books, but it still has several gems if you know where to look. That’s where Da Nang Food Tour or Funtastic Da Nang Food Tour come in. Da Nang Food Tour in particular gets high marks for keeping group sizes small – they target a max of four to six people – and a flexible restaurant list that changes depending on the mood and preferences of both the guide and guests.
If you’re committed to DIY food discovery, local Vietnamese food writer Summer Le has a comprehensive 10 dish guide to the city. It comes complete with pictures, translations and addresses for the best restaurants where respective dishes are served. She also has impressive foodie city guides, restaurant reviews and recipes for numerous destinations and dishes across Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia.
Day Trips From Da Nang
If you’re looking for a day trip to the Marble Mountains, or need a break from the beach for any other reason, Looking Glass Jeep Tours is your go to. Run by an American veteran, Jeremy, and Vietnamese local, Tam, the highly customizable tours are well worth the (higher) price tag. Bring sunblock and as the jeeps are topless.
A visit to UNESCO World Heritage site Mỹ Sơn is a relatively easy one hour drive from Da Nang. The site, though much smaller than the famous ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, is actually older.
Only 40 minutes away, Hoi An is certainly an easy day trip. In fairness, it merits several days of exploration on its own, and has plenty of charming riverside accommodations, which eliminate the need to commute daily from Da Nang. Some tour companies such as Vespa Adventures or Grasshopper Adventures will arrange pick up for travellers staying in Da Nang who go on various trips around Hội An and central Vietnam with them.
When To Go
A visit during March yielded possibly perfect weather. Daytime highs reaching 26-29 degrees Celsius with strong ocean breezes and comfortable nightly temperatures dipping down to 18-21 degrees. Finally an excuse to wear a light sweater in Southeast Asia.
Given its central Vietnam location, Da Nang experiences a tropical monsoon climate. Summer months June to August have slightly higher temperatures, with decidedly lower temperatures hovering around 20 degrees December to February. Dry season kicks in January to August. Ultimately, February to April provide the ideal mix of warmer temperatures and are the driest. This travel window also ensures you miss the peak domestic travel months of May to August, which brings significant crowds.
Which Beach Is Best?
Mother nature graces Da Nang with several beaches of varying popularity. While all generally face East (meaning sunrise rather than sunset views), nearby accommodation, crowds and general beach vibes do vary considerably. The Da Nang Experience has the best comprehensive beach guide to the region here. For what it’s worth, I find the private resorts of Non Nuoc Beach (China Beach) offer the ideal quiet paradise. That is, as long as you’re savvy at managing your food and drink expenses with a strong happy hour game.
Da Nang Travel photos courtesy of Madeline Burch and Flickr contributors: Chris Hoare, Yu-Hsin Hung, N Yakanishi, Anh Dinh, Tetsushi Kimura and Christopher Crouzet.