As my plane descended through a thick layer of clouds toward the city, I began shuffling excitedly through the list of things to do in Da Nang I’d written in my mind. Unfortunately, however, it took only a few minutes on the ground at Da Nang’s modern-looking airport to shake me back into the present moment.
Emphasis on “looking”: Shiny facade or not, the operations of Vietnam‘s immigration services were as slow and dysfunctional as they’d been nine years earlier, the last time I’d set foot in the country. At some point—specifically, just after queueing for half an hour and being told I was in the wrong line—I would’ve traded seeing every single one of the Da Nang attractions for a ticket back to Bangkok.
Somehow, I ended up making it through the mess in just over an hour, which meant not only that I’d get to ascend Ba Na Hill and says my prayers at Da Nang Cathedral, but also that I’d get to travel from Da Nang to Hue and Hoi An. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—I already made that mistake once.
Where to Stay in Da Nang
My friend WeiLe (whom you might remember from my trip to Guilin back in March) was waiting for me on the other side of town, and I was eager to meet him to begin tackling my list of things to do in Da Nang. I told him to hop in a Grab and meet me in front of my hotel, where we’d hop in a different car and make our way far to the west of the city center.
As far as the hotel in question…well, I’m torn. Da Nang Boutique Hotel has a reputation as one of the best hotels in Da Nang, but I had serious reservations about its location (close to the airport and train station, far from everything else) and the competence of some of its staff members. I’d briefly considered staying at Konoha Boutique Villa or Vinpearl Condotel—you should, too.
My Favorite Things to Do in Da Nang
Ba Na Hills
WeiLe was more excited to go to Ba Na Hills than I was, though I believe we both went there with the same goal in mind: To get an Insta-worthy shot of the so-called “Golden Bridge.” Though I enjoyed some aspects of the experience more than I expected, I generally found Ba Na Hills to be a hot mess—and not just because of the various fake European structures. The entire experience consisted, more or less, of waiting in successive queues; to make matters worse, someone stole about a million Vietnamese dong out of my pocket.
WeiLe had arrived in Da Nang a few days before me, and had gone out drinking the night before I arrived. As a result, though we’d both listed the Marble Mountains among our things to do in Da Nang, WeiLe simply didn’t have the energy to accompany me there following our return to the city. As far as what I thought about the complex? I’m not sure the unbearable sweat in which I broke out on the way up to the top was worth the view I enjoyed from there, even if I was happy I had an outlet to work off our heavy lunch of bánh xèo.
Da Nang Cathedral
While Marble Mountain Da Nang had not necessarily been all that, other attractions exceeded my expectations. First among them was the salmon-colored Da Nang Cathedral, which I visited on Sunday morning just before meeting WeiLe for breakfast. The only better than watching a mass take place in Vietnamese was seeing the parking lot full of motorbikes just beyond the last row of the congregation. I’d also enjoyed the nearby Con Market, though I didn’t visit it until after I returned from Hoi An and Hue.
Linh Ung Pagoda
Speaking of places I didn’t visit until my second swing through the city, I largely avoided the Da Nang beach and nearby attractions until just before I departed last Thursday morning. This not only included the busy sands of My Khe Beach, which at turns (albeit relatively rare ones) reminded me of Rio de Janeiro, but Chua Linh Ung, a pagoda far to the north of Da Nang’s city center that’s home to the largest standing Buddha statue in Vietnam.
Dragon Bridge wasn’t the last of the things to do in Da Nang WeiLe and I did together, chronologically, but our walk across it is one of the ones I remember most fondly. This was in spite of the fact that literally thousands of tourists crowded it, blocking our way almost completely as they waited for fireworks to go off over the Hàn River. Some people think this landmark is tacky or even ugly, but I find it a great way to say tạm biệt to any day in Da Nang.
When is the Best Time to Visit Da Nang?
The topic of when to visit Da Nang is one I know better than I’d like to. You see, prior to scoring a killer “mistake fare” on Cathay Pacific (which was my reason for being in Vietnam at this point in time in the first place), I’d planned to travel to Da Nang in November 2017, a trip that ultimately didn’t happen because a typhoon made landfall that weekend.
You see, while I had previously assumed that the Vietnam rainy season was similar to Thailand’s (which takes place from about May until October), it turns out this is only the case in the southern part of the country. Da Nang is the in the middle of its monsoon while much of the rest of Southeast Asia is dry, i.e. from November until April.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Da Nang?
The quantity of things to do in Da Nang, if we’re just talking about the city-proper, is only enough to occupy a couple of days. However, most travelers to this part of Vietnam end up visiting outlying destinations (namely, the French-colonial town of Hoi An and Hue, which was the capital of Vietnam during its Imperial period), which means that you could spend as long as a week in Da Nang and still have stones unturned.
To be sure, if you’re asking yourself how many days in Da Nang you should spend, that’s the question you need to answer: Are you just staying in the city, or do you plan to discover the region? Although Da Nang itself is far from a cosmopolitan world city, it’s the anchor of what is arguably Vietnam’s most eclectic and interesting metro area.
The Bottom Line
Although my trip started stressfully, I look back fondly at all the things to do in Da Nang—and outside the city as well. I particularly loved starting out in Da Nang with a close friend, exploring some of the city’s more mainstream attractions, then returning on my own to fill in the proverbial blanks.