HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Da Nang, or motorbike heaven

The view from our hotel. That's the Son Tra peninsula.

The rough South China Sea.
Alright, I'm finally starting to write about my trip to central Vietnam. My college friend Anthony is in town for a visit, and last Thursday we flew up to Da Nang and also visited Hoi An and Hue. I'll discuss those two cities in later posts.

Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam, and it sits on the South China Sea about 370 miles north of Saigon. Those of you that are around my parent's age may recognize the name: the first American combat troops to enter the country arrived at a beach just north of the city, and a major airbase was eventually built there. Today, that base serves as the city's airport, replete with old military buildings that serve as a reminder of what happened here 40 years ago. Today, Da Nang is largely a business city, with few tourist attractions on offer. The main draw is the beaches, which we planned to enjoy.

We checked in at Jimmy Hotel (there is no missing "the", it's just called Jimmy. Also, it is located on Morrison Street, so we combined the names and started singing songs by The Doors everytime we walked outside.) and walked over to the beach. Unfortunately, the water was very rough and very cold, and it looked like rain was on the way. With the beach looking miserable and little else to do, we resigned ourselves to the fact that our day in Da Nang would be pretty boring.

Or so we thought. With the rain holding off we went downstairs and asked to rent two of the complimentary bicycles. The receptionist informed us that "There is a problem with the bicycles: they don't work." Why yes, that would be a problem. The other option was to rent motorbikes, which we hadn't planned on doing until later in the trip. But, with nothing else to do, we rented two motos and cruised onto the coastal road leading to the Son Tra pensinsula.
What followed was an exhilarating ride around half of of the peninsula on a road that had everything: sudden drops and climbs, blind corners, minimal traffic, an enormous statue of Shiva, and staggering views. Clouds obscured the summit and rolled down the mountain sides; dozens of fishing boats sat in the sea below, while others headed out for the daily catch; and small communities appeared out of nowhere amidst the dense jungle growth. As we drove on each view bested the previous one, and it became almost impossible to decide when to stop and take pictures or keep plowing on. Eventually we just drove along like idiots, mouths agape, simply saying "wow" at every new, amazing sight that unfurled in front of us.

When we decided to stop again we were awed by the sight of clouds cascading down the mountain like an avalanche of water vapor. Without realizing what those clouds signalled - rain - we decided that hell yea, we'll keep going!

The pictures don't do this view justice.

As soon as we mounted up the rain began, but we soldiered on until we reached a muddy stretch of road that was under construction, where we lost our nerve and turned around.

The drive back to the hotel, although wet, turned into one of those experiences that reminds you of why life is so good. We gradually picked up speed as we twisted and turned our way along the mountain road until we shot out onto the flat coastal road and gunned it. Anthony was driving like a madman; I've never seen him so happy before. We blasted along at...well, I have no idea what speed, because the speedometers on both bikes were broken, the rain pelting our corneas, all synapses firing in an exhilirating rush that left us giddy and somewhat delirious when we dropped our old but trusty bikes off at the hotel.

That two-hour drive illustrated exactly why I love this country so much. Without signing any paperwork, or even proving ourselves somewhat competent, we were able to drive off with two bikes and have an unforgettable experience. All for about $5.

Plus, the scenery was unlike anything I've ever seen before. My words and pictures, as usual, can't do Vietnam justice. It's one of those places you simply have to see to believe. I'll certainly never forget this day. A nightcap of crab meat soup, beef kebabs, and great beer didn't hurt, either. Our day in Da Nang was a great start to what was ultimately a great trip. Next up: Hue.


  1. Hi, Michael,
    Your trip is very interesting!
    Welcome to Danang city!
    If you want to visit more attracting sites in Danang city, you can visit this page:
    In Vietnam, we never call South China beach, steadily, we often call Danang Beach, or East Sea.
    I think Hue city is one of the most exciting destination in Central Vietnam. Hope you have nice tours!
    Would you like to exchange link?
    Best wishes,

  2. That huge statue isn't Shiva. It's the 'lady bhudda' I think she's an amalgamation of old land worship and the bhuddisim.

    She's a maternal, protective figure, represents the land of Vietnam. That particular statue is gesturing over the fishing grounds outside Da Nang. Since it was completed there hasn't been a major storm. Since that was only a year ago, it's a reputation that might disappear come September. Still pretty awesome.

  3. I realized it wasn't Shiva afterwards, forgot to go back and change it. Didn't know about the storms though, interesting.