Whether you like relaxing in a city or prefer everything a vibrant city has to offer, one of these two very different cities will satisfy any travel urge! Lose yourself in either of these cities for very different reasons.
Da Nang (Đà Nẵng)
The train from Nha Trang to Da Nang left at 13:26hrs and took about 10 hours to arrive. This is a spectacular journey and one that should not be missed!
The train track snakes through lush jungle on the western side with gorgeous sea views on the eastern side, whilst cutting through the hillside. It’s worthwhile paying the extra for a train journey as opposed to a bus for this leg, just to see these beautiful vistas.
Unfortunately, the train’s windows were oldish and dirty so not good for photographs (not to mention the rain). On that note, be aware that the photos advertising this train do the train justice. The advertisement makes you believe you’ll be on an upmarket train; I’ve been on worse!
The reason for stopping in Da Nang so long is I had a parcel arriving from the UK, which never arrived – “…them’s the breaks” as they say! But it is a relaxing city to just chill out in and especially as there’s no haggling here of any sort, so quite refreshing. Da Nang is a tourist-free (almost) destination so there’s not much English spoken, which doesn’t bother me but may bother other travellers.
The famous large metal Dragon Bridge on the Han River near the giant Ferris wheel is one of the main attractions in Da Nang. Very pretty to walk along the riverfront at night as the bridge lights’ constantly change colours. Apparently, at around 20:00hrs on a Sunday night the dragon blows fire and water but I didn’t see this as we left the Saturday.
Local tourists visit Da Nang for its beaches and restaurants. The food and clothes markets are worth visiting.
Stayed in Da Nang twice – once as an overnighter after arriving from Nha Trang at around 23:00hrs and a second time for 6 nights after arriving from Hội An.
- Cong Doan Thanh Binh Hotel (02 Ong Ich Khiem, Hai Chau District) – Considering this hotel is about USD$19/night for a clean double room, including a private bathroom and breakfast; it’s good value. Wi-fi works well in the room and at reception. The buffet breakfast is great with a large selection on offer. There’s even a new coffee machine to make your own coffee.
The 2kms from the centre may put some people off staying here. Unfortunately, we only stayed here 12 hours as our train from Nha Trang arrived quite late and we had to leave early the next morning for Hội An. About a half-hour’s walk with heavy packs from the station to the hotel so we arrived quite late but staff were still very friendly and polite. We wanted to stay here for a week on our return from Hội An as we liked it so much but sadly, the hotel was fully booked – sign of a good hotel! However, bus tickets to Hội An are expensive when booked from here; try elsewhere.
- Tien Thinh Hotel (446-448 Hoang Dieu St Hai Chau District) – Stayed here for 6 nights. Good value-for-money with very good service and very helpful staff; even helped me with my scanning and printing for free. Great rooms and good hot water but the wi-fi was a little flaky. The buffet-style breakfast is very good, which is served when many people are staying in the hotel, otherwise it’s A-La-Carte breakfast; also great.
Vietnam is the land of noodle soup or should that be…Vietnam is the land of food? It would take months to try every tasty variety of soup!
As you can imagine with any big SE Asian city, it doesn’t take long to run into food, whether it’s on streets, a cafe, or restaurant. Da Nang isn’t any different with dozens of street carts enticing you to delicious baguettes (Bánh mỳ Sài Gòn), fried bananas, noodles (Phở bò), fresh spring rolls (Gỏi cuốn & chả giò), grilled rice crackers (bánh tráng nướng), just to mention a splattering. And of course a selection of deserts! Apart from eating at the street carts, I’ve listed a couple of western-style cafes.
Tien Thinh Hotel (In-house restaurant)
- Decided to have a restaurant meal downstairs in the hotel, which was quite strange. As the only people in the restaurant (not even kitchen staff), I was surprised when the waiter appeared with a menu. We ordered from the menu but sure the food was bought outside of the restaurant as we heard the waiter get on his scooter and ride away (not a whisper in the kitchen, so we knew our meals were being purchased elsewhere).
About half an hour later, the scooter returned with our meals via the back door kitchen and now I heard the rustling of plastic bags – a dead giveaway! One plate was quite large and when we got the bill, the large plate was more than double the price than in the menu. The waiter took it upon himself to order a larger portion for us, as he believed the menu size was too small. A little annoyed, we paid the extra as the meal was delicious.
- Wonderlust Bakery & Coffee (101 Tran Phu Street, Hai Chau District) – Arguably the best cappuccinos in Da Nang at the cheapest prices; service is great and pastries are delicious. Free wi-fi here in a great ambiance décor. Met another older retired Australian guy who has been living in Da Nang for 5 years and he highly recommended a nightclub, think it is called Boyce Avenue where locals sing and play acoustic music. Apparently, the Vietnamese have wonderful voices and it was worthwhile listening to some at this nightclub; didn’t get the chance.
- Tous le Jours (Big C Supermarket) – We seek this chain out in new towns or cities, as it never disappoints for coffee and pastries. First experienced the delights of one of these cafes in Saigon.
Da Nang to Hội An
The Cong Doan Thanh Binh Hotel sold the bus ticket (150,000VND) to Hội An, which was double the cost of the return trip and not sure why. The uneventful trip follows the coastline south mostly, which is scenic, takes about 45 minutes, and the bus drops you off at the bus station.
Everyone loves vibrant Hội An and it’s not hard to see why. Whether you love an exotic Asian sunset cruise, a ‘blind massage’, to shop for silk, dive off Cham Island, swim off Cua Dai or An Bang beaches, a leisurely spa, or walk around colourful Hội An at night when subtly lit lanterns adorns every street and alleyway, Hội An has it all.
Custom-made suits and shoes are very popular here so if you need new work clothes, maybe indulge. Know your prices as these items are much pricier here than in other Vietnamese cities.
The Ancient City (Old Town) is the main drawcard, with gorgeous rustic 16th and 17th century buildings albeit now turned into tourist shops, but see past this and you’ll capture some lovely images. I prefer just to wonder around the alleyways, get lost, or stop and relax.
Hội An is very touristy and so, the “it’s ok to rip off the foreigners” attitude seems stronger here than in most Vietnamese cities, so far. For example, a Cyclo driver here charges around 300,000VND (USD$15) for a ride, which typically costs less than 20,000VND (USD$1) in other Vietnamese cities. The Old Town restaurants are very expensive, charging four times more than most restaurants but with only half a typical portion size.
Although Hội An is more typical of a Western tourist trap than other Vietnamese cities, local tourists in large numbers do still visit here; and it’s still a great city to experience.
The tourist scams abound in Hội An. There is not a charge to visit the Old City, so, watch the ‘official’ ticket vendors that ask you to buy a ticket. Unless you want to visit actual tourist building in the Old City, you don’t need to purchase a ticket.
Japanese Covered Bridge (West end of Tran Phu St) – Lovely to walk over and around the area but be careful as the ticket vendors at the bridge try to charge you to walk over the bridge. You should only pay to get into the room in the middle of the bridge.
Kế Cường Photo Gallery (43 Tran Phu St) – Free entry, is a good place to catch up on Dang Kế Cường’s local photographs that only a local is privleged to capture, as some of the areas he’s visited are not open to foreigners.
Quynh Nhan Homestay (59 Nguyen Tat Thanh) – Nothing is too much trouble for the staff here and they really make you feel at home. I had a lot of printing and scanning to organise and instead of sending me down the road to a shop, they did everything for me – very kind.
Apart from the very good and clean accommodation and at a good price, the breakfasts are delicious and fresh – a few selections to choose from. Wi-fi was OK in the room. The homestay is about a 15-minute easy walk to the Old City.
- Cocobox (94 le Loi) – The coffee here is very good and also a good price for this city – had many others in Hội An that were more expensive but of average quality. Didn’t eat here as it’s a little out of our budget but the home-baked cakes looked great! Good ambiance to relax, chill and watch the world go by; popular with foreign travellers.
- Before ‘N’ Now Bar Restaurant (51 Le Loi) – A great spot for delicious cakes and coffee (50,000VND) at reasonable prices; funky décor, great atmosphere, and you’ll experience good service.
Returning to Da Nang from Hội An
After miserable weather for 4 days in Hội An, resulting from the tail-end of a Philippine typhoon, decided to return to Da Nang. The homestay organised our bus back, which only cost 70,000VND (compared to the 150,000VND to get to Hội An).
Although I believe the Homestay did the right thing, I don’t think the organisers know that the Camel Tours Company provides a poor quality bus and the manic driving was dangerous (even for Vietnamese driving!). No customer service and rude staff, so, very happy it was only a 50-minute trip; bus was on its way to Hanoi overnight! Basically, the driver dumped us on the side of the road in Da Nang and we didn’t know where we were. The driver couldn’t get on the bus fast enough to continue driving to Hanoi.
Da Nang to Hue
After 6 days in Da Nang and still no parcel delivery, decided to head north again on a train trip(74,000VND) to Hue, which leaves at 12:46hrs. The train is supposed to travel along stunning coastline scenery, so should be a lovely trip! Also hoping that heading north will produce some dry weather…