Nicole wrote a post about the “hidden treasure” that was Danang after our first week there. For me, all the things she said still ring true and more. After spending over a month there, and having now been to Hoi An, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh as well, it’m convinced everyone should visit Danang.
It’s interesting, however, that others don’t seem to share the same enthusiasm for Danang. Many people skip it and go straight to Hoi An (a charming little village full of trinket and clothing venders about 30 minutes south). Some people raise their eyebrows when we tell them we were there for a whole month. Only the expats living there seemed to share the opinion that it was the best place in Vietnam. I guess the appeal of Danang is more for people with longer term stays in mind instead of a vacation destination.
Here’s some of the reasons I think Danang is one of the best places to visit or stay long term:
Unbelievable Value for Money
I recently wrote a more detailed cost comparison of our visits to Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam so far. But here’s a spoiler: Danang wins the value comparison… by far! In Danang you get better accommodations, better breakfasts, and good food for much, much less. It’s almost embarrassing how little we spent here. Our budget for the month was $2500CAD ($1800USD). We didn’t go too fancy, but we didn’t pinch pennies either. We stayed in very comforably hotels. We didn’t prepare any of our own meals. We also paid for 3 weeks of daycare, a full month motorbike rental, a $222+ visa renewal, and some Christmas gifts, and still came in under budget.
I think a family like ours, living here longer term, could easily rent a decent place with a housekeeper and never have to cook a single meal for around $1500CAD.
Beautiful, Long, Uncrowded Beach
Rae and I really enjoyed the beach here. The waves aren’t huge, but big enough that you’d see western dudes out there with surf boards occasionally. The sandy beach stretches from the mountains on one side and as far as the eye can see in the other direction. A huge white “Lady Buddha” overlooks the beach from the mountain. Nicole says this particular Buddha is known for keeping people safe in the ocean. There are very few people on the beach, just a few swimmers and barely any sunbathers.
If you go down to Hoi An (about 30 minutes south), where all the tourists flock, the beaches are much more crowded and not nearly as nice. I couldn’t figure out why, even if people do prefer to stay in Hoi An for its “charm,” more people don’t just jump on the bus up to Danang for their beach days. Anyway, I guess that’s a good thing, more beach for us.
Incredible Buffet Breakfasts
Getting up in the morning and immediately being confronted with the prospect of hunting down something to eat gets tiring. Staying at a hotel that includes breakfast changes the whole day.
Here in Danang, almost all the hotels offer breakfast and usually they are giant buffet breakfasts with a variety of Western, Vietnamese, and Chinese food, made-to-order eggs or noodles, fresh fruits, a selection of beverages, and of course sliced tomatoes and cucumbers (served with everything around here).
The breakfast at our cheapest hotel, Gold Coast, at 400,000 vnd (20USD) included a buffet breakfast for all 3 of us that rivaled the 100$/night stay at Singha Montra in Chiang Mai.
Great Mix of City and Small Beach Town Feel
Danang is a city of about a million people, which is big if you’re from a place like Canada. However, it’s very easy to figure out where everything is and you can easily switch between beach bum lifestyle and city life in a matter of minutes.
The city is split in 2 by a river. On one side of the river is the hustle and bustle, and the other side is the sleepier beach area. There are 8 bridges connecting the 2 sides of the city, which means there is a bridge every few kilometers. We stuck to hotels on the beach side, but crossed the bridge almost every day to work, eat, or explore.
By the way, several of the bridges are something to behold in themselves, especially the Dragon Bridge. The Dragon Bridge is shaped like a dragon (the world’s largest steel dragon in fact) that changes color ever few minutes at night and breaths fire and smoke at 9:00pm every Saturday and Sunday.
The Preview of Major Things to Come
When I visit tourist attractions I often find myself daydreaming about the time period when it was just being built. I fantasize about watching an artist building an extravagant sculpture and think about the person who commission the work and the reasons for doing so. Or walking around in the construction site for Disneyland when people were dreaming up the plans and the workers were making it a reality. Or laying on Waikiki Beach when behind you is gravely open fields and the concrete foundations of buildings that will soon create the skyline.
That’s what it feels like to be in Danang. When you visit the marble mountain, yes you’ll see the old crumbling stone structures, but you’ll also see artists out on wooden planks along edge of the mountain chiseling away at a new sprawling dragon feature. You can spend the night enjoying the rides at Asia Park, but you can also see all the darkened rides under construction from the top of the Farris wheel, or ride around back and see workers welding the last parts of the monorail and the brand new train sitting on top looking almost like it’s in shrink wrap. You can go down to the beach and sunbath on the sand in front of enormous empty lots and new hotels at various stages of construction. Even Bana Hills is just as much of a construction site as it is a busy mountaintop resort village and theme park.
I find myself having the reverse daydream here, imagining someone visiting 50 or 100 years from now and admiring that dragon along the side of marble mountain, or looking out at a sprawling skyline from the 20th floor of one of the many luxury beachside hotels.
Kids Playgrounds / Wonderlands
As a family with a 4-year-old, one of the main things we’ve appreciated on our trip is the indoor wonderlands for kids that can be found everywhere. However, Danang easily takes the cake so far for having the best of these at prices that allow it to be a regular activity. I remember when Nicole and Rae came back from the first one at Vincom Mall with minds blown from all the games, crafts, costume parties, makeover rooms, etc. I thought to myself “Shoot, they’ve found the Disneyland of Danang and done it without me.” But as we started to explore the city we found this was just one of many such places, and not even one of the biggest ones. In fact, Helio Center is an entire mall-sized complex dedicated to kids, and if you want a real “Disneyland of Danang” they’ve got that too (although only about 1/3 built so far) at Asia Park. The prices range from $3-8USD and give you plenty of time to wear your kid out. They are mostly brand new and sparkling clean, and often have more staff than kids (who will even play with your kids for you).
Friendliest People I’ve Met So Far
This sounds cliché. As travelers, I’m aware that we live in the hospitality bubble where most of the people we come into contact with are in the business of being nice. Indeed, they have the art of being friendly to sell stuff down to a science here and in Hoi An they will learn your name and go to great lengths to befriend just to sell you a 50 cent mango.
But despite this, I still have to say that people in this city have been exceptionally and genuinely friendly to us. The people at our favorite hotel, Finger Hotel, felt like real friends by the time we left. The people who owned the coworking space would come up with a sandwich for me at lunch and chat about life. Even just walking down the street I found myself surprised at how people would just help me out if I needed by doing stuff like lending me a phone to call an English speaker if I looked lost.
Yes, there is sometimes a commercial element to the friendliness and at first I was suspicious of it. But eventually I found that far more often than not, people here are not out to charm their way into your wallet, but are really just friendly and happy to see you enjoying their city.
And a few grips…
Excessive Horn Honking
The traffic here is pretty wild. In many cases the roads are not busy or sometimes completely empty, so that makes up for it a bit… but the thing that drives me nuts is the honking. Horn honking is bad in many other cities I’ve visited too, but here it is particularly excessive.
It takes a while to realize everyone is not mad at you, it’s just how they drive. They honk any time they pass someone, for example. Even if it’s a 6 lane highway and you’re the only 2 people on the road, if the guy behind you is about to pass, he’ll honk his horn repeatedly and for long stretches. In fact, some of the larger vehicles have horns that are like automatic weapons… one tap and it honks repeatedly at about a rate of like 10 honks per second. Sometimes a big semi-trucks will pass you and blow you almost clear off your motorbike.
It’s kind of embarrassing to complain about feeling ripped off when you’re paying $3 for dinner, but when just saw the last guy pay $1.50 it still has a way of getting under your skin. Overcharging doesn’t happen all the time, and when it does we’re talking about pocket change, but it does seem to be standard practice to charge foreigners more in small shops, food stalls, and restaurants.
Often times the price isn’t posted anywhere and you never know if the price they are giving you is the normal price. You may buy a fried banana one day and the price would be 2$, and the next day the same fried banana will be 1$. Or you’d watch the person in front of you pay 1$ and then you get charged double. We also couldn’t really figure out when was appropriate to bargain either. Having grown up in China, Nicole is used to this kind of system and would naturally negotiate when the prices seemed more than expected. However, often times her attempt to negotiate would just be met with disinterest and we’d find ourselves awkwardly walking away empty-handed over a matter of 50 cents.
Danang doesn’t get a lot of foreign travelers, and the people here don’t speak English as well as other places, so communication can sometimes be difficult. They will often act like they understand, but you’ll find out later that they actually had no idea what you were trying to tell them.
This is nothing unusual for me, and in a way I kind of like being an outsider. But Nicole hasn’t had much experience not being able to communicate with people and it wore her out a bit.
What made matters a little more stressful for Nicole is that almost everyone assumed she was Vietnamese and just spoke to her in Vietnamese. At times, they were very confused when she didn’t understand, and would just keep talking but louder. She says it felt really uncomfortable because on the surface Vietnam sometimes feels a lot like China, but there are differences hidden beneath the surface. I didn’t really feel the same stress, but I can see how if you’re used to fitting in, and you feel like you’re in a place where you should fit in, and you’re treated by everyone like you do fit in, it could start to get frustrating when you don’t.