(Written by Her)
The halfway point between Saigon in the South and Hanoi in the North, Da Nang has a laid back feel, with long wide roads, white sandy beaches and the friendliest people we’ve met so far. A port city on the South China Sea, Da Nang is considerably wealthier than Saigon; cars are more widespread, houses are more securely built and public spaces are pretty. However, given its close proximity (within 100km) of major UNESCO heritage sites, Da Nang is often bypassed by tourists on the way to more well-known attractions.
We decided to spend four days in Da Nang, not much in the grand scheme of things yet surprising long according to the locals who always looked inquisitively at us – asking ‘why not go to Hoi An or Hué? What will you do here? In fact, we had no trouble filling our days. Over the course of our stay we hit all the notable landmarks and few off the beaten track.
Although we were slightly annoyed about having to pay the 'tourist price', it was a nice little museum housing large Cham sculpture from the 4th to 10th Centuries excavated by a Polish guy no less! The Cham people are an ethnic minority who migrated from Borneo and left many legacies across Vietnam including sites like My Son. The sculptures are huge and incredibly detailed but the English descriptions leave a lot to be desired. Many of the voice overs seem to end with "this symbol may mean [insert guess here] but we are not certain on any meaning". Needless to say I got a little bored and had some fun with my selfie stick!
Cao Dai Temple
We were both very excited to visit the largest Cao Dai temple in central Vietnam. We removed our shoes and entered the empty temple only to meet a student monk who was more than willing to practice his English and tell us all about Caodaism. The religion was founded by a French civil servant in 1921 who received a vision of the divine eye (a symbol of the faith and present behind every Cao Dai alter). Caodaism draws heavily (or one could say cherry picks) from other major religions such as Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, seeking to unify all religions and bring mankind together.
(Below) Numerous religions symbols adorn the outside of the building and above the alter is a decorative plaque that reads “all religions have the same reason”.
Wanting to follow in the footsteps of Michael Palin, the marble mountains, more specifically marble mountain (Thuy Son is the only mountain accessible to tourists) was on our list of must dos. We rocked up at 7am, more than ready to scale the 156 giant, jagged steps carved into the rock face all the way to the summit. We weren't quite prepared for what was ahead. The base of the mountain was full of vendors shouting over each other to get the attention of the seemingly ONLY white people in the vicinity. We politely said “we’ll be back later” not realizing that this meant they would literally hunt us down!
The caves dotted throughout the mountain were once home to a Viet Cong hospital. They now house Buddhist and Hindu temples, adorned with multiple alters, burning incense and ‘happy Buddha’ statues. During the war, the caves were blasted by bombs, leaving them with large craters in the roof where sun streams in, creating a calm, spiritual atmosphere.
China Beach (My Khé)
Running for 20 miles along the coast from Da Nang to Hoi An, China beach is cited as one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Of both tourist and military significance, American troops were sent here for some rest and relaxation during the war and it was they who christened the area “China Beach”.
When you arrive in Da Nang, you are almost sure to spend half your day crossing the Han River. From any crossing point, the most colourful structure on the horizon has to be the Dragon Bridge. Designed by a group of American Architects, the bridge was opened just recently (2013), and holds six lanes of traffic. The locals are very proud of the impressive structure that spans more than 2,000 ft. While we got time to appreciate the bridge itself, we missed it changing colours at night and blowing fire and water on Sundays - like all good Dragons do.
Perhaps because the locals were less familiar with tourists than in some more trodden places, they were all keen to talk to us and practice their English. We made a new friend in Wayan who gave Cian a ride back to the hotel on the back of her motorbike! She also did well to sell him some marble from the base of marble mountain (a Turtle for a long life, and an Elephant for strength) made by her parents from Marble dust they imported from China! The Vietnamese government recently banned rock extraction from the mountain realising that they could make more from Marble mountain as a tourist attraction than by cutting into the rock to make huge marble statues. Overall, it was the people that were the most endearing about Da Nang, hugely helpful, enterprising and above all things memorable.