The city itself has neither the ambiance of Hanoi nor the hustle-bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, but has its share of sights and is close to the charms of Hoi An and the imperial capital of Hue, making it a popular vacation spot for those looking to explore the attractions of central Vietnam or soak up some sun while hanging out on the city’s beaches.
Introduction to Da Nang
The regions surrounding Da Nang (My Son, Quang Nam) were founded by the Cham Hindus perhaps 3,000 years ago, serving as the national capital and centre of the Hindu Champa Dynasty. Vietnamese invasions into the region in the 17th century significantly halted Cham development.
Given that Da Nang was the first point of colonial invasion, many vestiges of French architecture are present in the historic buildings.
Until relatively recently, Da Nang was somewhat hostile to foreigners, a consequence of the attitudes of those who controlled the provincial government. In the early 1990s, however, this changed, and since then the provincial (actually autonomous city) government has been enthusiastically pursuing foreign investment and infrastructure development. Da Nang has some of the best roads in the country. The coast road is at least four lanes from northern provincial boundary to southern provincial boundary. Compared to either Hanoi or HCMC, traffic in Da Nang is always relatively light, although huge trucks blast through every now and again and there are brief rush hours.
The city is often overlooked by tourists but it is one of the friendliest to backpackers in all of Vietnam. My Khe Beach, known to American GIs as China Beach, is now home to a small community of guesthouse owners, marble statue shops, and other various trades. Some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in Vietnam are found here, among some of the friendliest people. This is a must-stop for the budget traveller.
There are many remnants of the “American War” left over in Da Nang. During the war, many monuments and buildings were destroyed. On the way to My Khe Beach, the ruins of a military base remain in the form of helicopter hangars; however, these are now more easily spotted at the airport, which serves both civil and military flights.
The city has grown rapidly, and had a population of 1,046,876 in 2015. This growth had been outward and infill, but now there are high-rises going up. Development is visible and rapid; the city has expanded tremendously, and several multi-storey buildings and more beach resorts are under construction. This involves redevelopment of areas near the city beaches across the river, with whole blocks of old housing being razed, new roads paved, and luxurious villas constructed.
The downside to the very laid back, less serious and frenetic aspect of Da Nang is that even locals frequently complain that there is nothing to do except drink, which they do a lot. This is not really true: there is a zoo, a soccer stadium, many tennis courts, pool halls, several large modern discos/night clubs, the beaches, and Son Tra Peninsula. However, it is also true that coffee and beer drinking are the most common leisure activities of most local residents.
The hottest months of the year are Jun-Aug, when the temperature can go as high as 40°C, and it is very humid. There are usually tropical storms from Oct-Nov.
- Da Nang International Airport (located within the city, just 3 km southwest of the centre of Da Nang, a 10-minute trip at most). Is the smallest of Vietnam’s three international airports. There are frequent flights to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air and Jetstar Pacific, SilkAir and domestic service between Buon Ma Thuot, Dalat, Haiphong, Nha Trang and Pleiku and internationally Guangzhou, Seoul-Incheon, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai-Pudong, Siem Reap, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo-Narita. Aside from a money changer, airport amenities are rather minimal, although the airport is one of the country’s most modern. Compared to larger Vietnamese airports, Da Nang is a little bit laid back. Locals often arrive less than 30 minutes before their flights. There are also a couple of restaurants/coffee shops opposite the terminal, which offer more choice, if not lower prices, than inside the departure area.
Many visitors now choose to stay in Da Nang as it is considered as a gateway to Central Vietnam World Heritage Sites: Hoi An (25–30 min, USD15) or Hue (2 hr, USD40–45 depending on car size), My Son (1-1½ hr). The hotels and resorts in Da Nang have their own travel desks which offer some half day or a day trips to those destinations. The fixed-price taxi coupon system has regrettably disappeared and now you have to haggle with the drivers outside, who ask silly prices but can be negotiated down to the amounts above. Perhaps find a few others to share the cost. If going to a destination within or close to the city, ignore offers to set a price in advance and insist on use of the meter (drivers may only be willing to accept pre-set fares during holiday times, such as Tet). If you arrive on a late night flight, you may encounter an unscrupulous taxi driver who has a fast meter, but usually there are lots of taxis and companies such as Mai Linh, Taxi Xanh and Song Han that are reliable. Avoid Airport Taxi, especially at night. Average metered fares to the city centre should be around 70,000 dong. A safer but more expensive option, especially for late flight arrivals (some lowsomet airlines such as VietJet can delay a morning or evening flight to a midnight arriving flight), would be to hire a driver. Several travel agencies can be used for this. To Hoi An, a typical price is around 350,000 dong.
Travel by train to Da Nang
The Reunification Express makes a stop in Da Nang and takes around two to two and a half hours to Hue. Many taxis are available outside of the station. Scheduled arrival and departure times are loosely followed. If you just want to get to Hue, you can also take the local train which is slow (about four to four and a half hours from Da Nang to Hue, with several stops along the way; a car or taxi does it in two), but cheap (25,000 dong including a meal) and passes through some spectacular coastal scenery. Best to avoid the motorbike taxis outside the station as many times they are the same price or more than regular taxi.
Da Nang to Hanoi
- Train SE2: Depart 12:06, Arrive 04:02 next day
- Train SE4: Depart 14:42, Arrive 05:00 next day
- Train SE6: Depart 10:34, Arrive 04:45 next day
- Train SE8: Depart 23:27, Arrive 15:28 next day
Da Nang to Hue
- Train SE2: Depart 12:06, Arrive 14:43
- Train SE4: Depart 14:42, Arrive 17:06
- Train SE6: Depart 10:34, Arrive 13:21
- Train SE8: Depart 23:27, Arrive 15:28
Da Nang to Nha Trang
- Train SE1: Depart 10:46, Arrive 22:28
- Train SE3: Depart 10:24, Arrive 22:03
- Train SE5: Depart 09:11, Arrive 19:40
- Train SE7: Depart 21:56, Arrive 07:37 next day
Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City
- Train SE1: Depart 10:46, Arrive 04:10 next day
- Train SE3: Depart 13:24, Arrive 05:00 next day
- Train SE5: Depart 09:11, Arrive 04:40 next day
- Train SE7: Depart 21:56, Arrive 15:05 next day
Da Nang is in the middle of the country, roughly speaking equidistant from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. It’s possible to hire a car and drive yourself, but as Vietnamese traffic in general is chaotic and dangerous, foreign visitors and locals usually hire a car with a driver.
Several bus-pass services (incl. “Sinh Cafe” and “Cuc Tung”) make stops in Da Nang, and can be taken from either Hue or Hoi An or further in either direction. From Hue the trip takes about three hours with one refreshment stop on the way (50,000 dong). The bus uses the tunnel so does not go over the spectacular pass between Da Nang and Hue.
From Hoi An, you can take the local bus to Da Nang, it is a yellow bus route number 01 that has “Hoi An – Da Nang” sign along the front window. Fare is 16,000 VND, see information in Hoi An#By bus for stop locations and to avoid getting scammed on the fare. Buses run roughly every 20 min during the day and take about 45-55 min to get from Hoi An to Da Nang.
Travel by Train in Vietnam
Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1,723 km (1,071 mi) trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major tourism destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It’s a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are travelling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.
Air conditioned soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available–they’ve simply been bought by another reseller). Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of passengers and class. However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station–a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer. Tickets can be returned before departure for a 10% fee. There is also an official Vietnamese Railways website, which has an English version and accepts payments by international bank cards.
Be cautious when using a travel agent to purchase your train tickets, since there is nothing printed on the ticket saying the class you are booked in. As of July 2019 tickets (now termed ‘boarding passes’) do indicate the class of ticket.
This results in a common scam with private travel agents where you will pay them to book a soft-sleeper ticket, they then book you a cheaper hard-sleeper ticket, and you don’t know you’ve been scammed until you board the train and your berths are in the lower class.
By then with the train on the verge of departing it is too late to go back to the scamming agent to demand compensation. With the new boarding passes this scam is less of an issue although buying your ticket directly from the train station remains the best option.
In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with a bus service from Lao Cai to the tourism destination of Sa Pa).
Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least 2 weeks in advance.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke try to book a seat in the middle of the carriage as people smoke in the areas at the end of each carriage and the doors are often left open.
Historical Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884.
Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French influencing Vietnamese cuisine.
After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II, the Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh continued the war of independence against the French. The last Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 with a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at the 17th parallel, with a communist-led North supported by the Soviet Union, and Ngô Đình Diệm establishing a capitalist regime and declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South supported by the United States.
South Vietnam would be plagued by numerous domestic problems, including corruption, nepotism and electoral fraud. Diệm, who was a Roman Catholic, enacted laws that discriminated against the Buddhist majority in favor of the Catholic minority, which led to the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức self-immolating in protest at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963.
US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew during the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the South Vietnamese government.
This escalated into the dispatch of 500,000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War in the West (the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War). What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and U.S. armed forces withdrew following a cease-fire agreement in 1973.
Two years later, on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s Presidential Palace in Saigon and the war ended. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55,000 Americans were killed. Vietnam’s war against the United States was one of many that they have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history.
Most of the nation’s population was born after 1975. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese are admirers of American culture.
After unifying the country, the communist government proceeded to root out the remaining capitalist elements in the south. Many business owners were killed while others, known as the boat people, became refugees and attempted to escape to Western countries, resulting in the establishment of Vietnamese communities in the United States of America, Australia and Canada.
The ethnic Chinese, long resented by the ethnic Vietnamese for their perceived economic clout, were particularly hard-hit by the purges.
Following the collapse of the state-run economy, the government implemented market-oriented reforms and introduced capitalist elements in 1986 with a policy known as đổi mới. This policy has proved highly successful, as it spurred impressive economic growth and infrastructure development.
Discriminatory laws against the remaining ethnic Chinese were repealed, and many have used their business acumen to contribute greatly to the revitalization of the Vietnamese economy, also regaining some of their previous economic dominance in the process.
In recent times, some former refugees or their descendants, most of whom were raised and educated in the West, have also returned to Vietnam in order to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
Today, Vietnam is widely considered to be one of the rising stars of ASEAN with a young population and vibrant economy.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Saigon
In general, Saigon is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.
Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they’ve either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work.
Usually they’ll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you’re from they’ll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country.
You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You’ll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level ~USD20-70. The hotel will remind you that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable.
Don’t hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you’re having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it’s done by people on motorbikes. It’s easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.
Don’t buy sim card before the immigration at the airport, they will charge you $10 for a sim card. After immigration and baggage area, you can find sim card booth. They sell sim card for $6 only.
Don’t buy coconut more than ~USD2, real-price is ~USD0.5. If you are forced, call police: +84 8 3829 7643, +84 8 38299835.
A favourite trick is for the vendors to strike up a conversation with you, let you hold the carrying-stick, take a picture, and while you’re distracted open a coconut for you that you really didn’t ask for.
Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they’ll approach men acting like they’re up to normal prostitute business, but they are to pickpocket.
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