VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

Central Vietnam

Demilitarised Zone - Dong Ha - Lao Bao - Quang Tri - Hue - Around Hue - Suoi Voi Bach Ma National Park - Lang Co Beach - Hai Van Pass Tunnel
Ba Na Hill Station - Suoi Mo - Danang - Around Danang - Hoi An - Around Hoi An My Son - Tra Kieu - Tam Ky

DANANG

IDD Code: (+84) 511
While most tourists neglect Vietnam's fourth-largest city in favour of nearby Hue and Hoi An, Danang has considerable charm in its own right. The economic powerhouse of central Vietnam, it combines the buzz of a bigger city with beautiful beaches and great restaurants. A lot of money has recently been poured into tree-lined boulevards, bridges and beachside resorts. Back in the heady days of the American War, Danang was referred to as the 'Saigon of the North'. This held a note of both praise and condemnation; like its big .southern sister, Danang was notable for its booming economy, fine restaurants, busy traffic and glittering shops. Entertaining the soldiers from the nearby American base was a profit able business - bars and prostitution were major industries, and that sleazy legacy lingers. Men travelling together or alone may find themselves (or more accurately, their-wallets) subjected to unwanted attention in even the ritziest of bars. Danang marks the northern limits of Vietnam's tropical zone and boasts a pleasant climate all year round.
History
Known during French colonial rule as Tou-rane, Danang succeeded Hoi An as the most important port in central Vietnam during the 19th century, and it remains the principal one for central Vietnam. In March 1975 Danang, the second- Largest city in South Vietnam, was the scene of utter chaos. Saigon government forces were ordered to abandon Hue, while Quang Ngai had fallen to the communists, cutting South Vietnam in two. Desperate civilians tried to flee the city. as some soldiers of the South Vietnamese army engaged in looting, pillage and rape. On 29 March 1975, two truckloads of communist guerrillas, more than half of them women. drove into what had been the most heavily defended city in South Vietnam and, without firing a shot, declared Danang liberated.
Orientation
Danang is on the western bank of the Han River. The city is part of a long, thin peninsula, at the northern tip of which is Nui Son Tra (called Monkey Mountain by US soldiers). China Beach and the Marble Mountains lie south of the city, and the Hai Van Pass overlooks Danang from the northwest.
MAPS
The Danang Tourist Map is a pocket sized foldout that is available for 8000d in bookshops and hotels in Danang and Hoi An.
Information
INTERNET ACCESS
There are internet cafes scattered all over Danang, including several by the river on Đ Bach Dang. Thy Nga ( 216 Đ Bach Dang; per hr 3000d) has a reasonably fast connection.
MEDICAL SERVICES
Danang Family Medical Practice ( tell: 582 700; 50-52 Đ Nguyen Van Linh) Set up like a mini hospital with in-patient facilities, this excellent practice has sister clinics in Hanoi and HCMC. This branch is run by an Australian doctor and the friendly staff speak excellent English.
Hospital C ( Benh Vien C; tell: 821 483; 122 Đ Haiphong) The most advanced of the four hospitals in town.
MONEY
Vietcombank ( tell:823 503; 140 Đ Le loi) The best place to change travellers cheques.
Vietcombank ATM ( Đ 177 Tran Phu) Outside the Bamboo Green Riverside.
POST
Main post office ( IS- 821 327; Đ Bach Dang) Near the Song Han bridge.
TRAVEL AGENCIES
Cuong Easy Ride's Tour (tell: 090-5173 903) A one-man operation offering day trips (around 240/000d) or longer tours on the back of his bike He’s a' friendly guy who speaks good English, has a spare helmet and doesn't drive like a maniac.
Dana Tours ( 76 ĐHung Vuong; Mon-Sat) Offers car rentals, boat trips, visa extensions and treks in nearby Ba
Na or Bach Ma.
Sights & Activities
MUSEUM OF CHAM SCULPTURE
The leading sight in Danang is the internationally renowned Museum of Cham Sculpture (Bao Tang Dieu Khac Champa Da Nang;cnr Đ Trung Nu Vuong & Đ Bach Dang; admission 30,000d;(7am-5pm). Founded in 1915 by the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, this collection is the finest of its kind in the world. Many ofthe sandstone carvings - including altars, lingas, garudas, Ganeshas, and
images of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu - are exquisitely detailed. Allow yourself at least a good hour to soak it up. The museum's artefacts, which date from the 7th to 15th centuries, were discovered at Dong Duong (Indrapura), Khuong My, My Son, Tra Kieu and other sites, mostly in Quang Nam and Danang provinces. The museum's rooms are named after the localities in which the objects displayed were found. A trilingual (Vietnamese, English and French) guidebook about the museum. Museum of Cham Sculpture - Danang, was written by its director, Tran Ky Phuong, who is Vietnam's most eminent scholar of Cham civilisation. The book provides excellent back-ground on the art of Champa and details on the museum's exhibits. It's usually on sale at the entrance. Guides (some better than others) wait at the entrance of the museum to offer their services, but agree on a price before you begin.
HO CHI MINH MUSEUM
There are three sections to the Ho Chi Minh Museum ( tell: 615 982; 3 Đ Nguyen Van Troi; admission free; 7-11am & 1.30-4.30pm) - a museum of military history in front of which US, Soviet and Chinese weaponry is displayed; a replica of Ho Chi Minh’s house in Hanoi (complete with a small lake); and, across the pond from the house, a museum solely about Uncle Ho. It's easy to tire of Vietnam's numerous military and Ho Chi Minh museums. This one isn't bad, but don't bother if you're visiting the larger incarnations in Hanoi or HCMC. The museum is 250m west of Đ Nui Thanh.
DANANG WATERPARK
The enormous water park ( adult/child 40,000/30.000d; 7.30am-6.30pm Wed-Mon) is lots of fun - and not just for kids - with slides, pools and the like. It's on the riverbank, 2km beyond the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
DANANG CATHEDRAL
Known to locals as Con Ga Church (Rooster Church) because of the weathercock on top of the steeple, the candy-pink Danang Cathedral ( Đ Tran Phu) was built for the city's French residents in 1923. Today it serves a Catholic community of 4000 - it's standing room only if you arrive late for Mass. Mass is usually held from Monday to SAT Turday at 5am and 5.30pm, and on Sunday at 5am, 6,15am, 7.30am, 3.30pm and 5pm,
CAO DAI TEMPLE
Built in 1956, Cao Dai Temple ( 63 Đ Haiphong;is the largest such structure outside the sect's headquarters in Tay Ninh. There arc 50.000 Cao Dai faithful in Quang Nam and Danang provinces - 20,000 in Danang itself, As with all Cao Dai temples, prayers are held four times a day: at 6am, noon, 6pm and midnight. The left-hand gate to the complex is for women; the right-hand gate for men. The doors to the sanctuary are similarly segregated, although priests of either gender use the central door. Behind the main altar sits an enormous globe with the Cao Dai 'divine eye' symbol on it. A sign reading van giao nhat ly (All religions have the same reason) hangs from the ceiling in front of the altar. Behind the gilded letters is a picture of the founders of five of the world's great religions. From left to right are Mohammed, Laotse (wearing Eastern Orthodox robes), Jesus (portrayed as he is in French icons), a Southeast Asian-looking Buddha and Confucius (looking as Chinese as could be). Portraits of early Cao Dai leaders, dressed in turbans and white robes, are displayed in the building behind the main sanctuary. Ngo Van Chieu, the founder of Cao Daism, is shown standing, wearing a pointed white turban and a long white robe with blue markings.
PAGODAS
Built in 1936, Phap Lam Pagoda (tell: 823 870;57400ng Ich Khiem) has in its grounds a brass statue of Dia Tang (the King of Hell), a large yellow Happy Buddha and a giant pink Buddha with a swastika (a common Buddhist symbol) on his chest. A massive new pagoda was being built here at the time of research.
Pho Da Nang Pagoda ( tell: 826 094; 340 Đ Phan Chu Trinh) was built in 1923 in a traditional architectural configuration. Local people participate actively in the pagoda's lively religious life.
Sleeping
Compared with the bargains to be found in Hoi An and Hue, rooms are expensive Dan - ang is more used to catering to business-people than tourists. However, the explosion of hotel construction does hold the promise of falling prices in the future. For informa¬tion on accommodation just across the river at My Khe Beach.
BUDGET
Minh Travel Hotel (105 Đ Tran Phu; rUS$3-9;) This tiny place is developing a reputation among super-budget travellers for the friendliness and honesty of its owners and its rock-bottom prices. The cheapest rooms are like prison cells (no air-con and a basic shared bathroom), but the others offer more creature comforts.
Hoa Sen Hotel (Tell: 829 000; fax 829 001; 119-123 Đ Hung Vuong; r 200,000d;) Close to the train station, this is a tidy budget option, although some rooms are windowless and dark. They re brightened somewhat by large silk flowers.
Phu An Hotel ( 29 Đ Nguyen Van Linh;
r US$13-15;) Apart from some bad air-brushed portraits, this spotless new hotel on a busy street is a tasteful and comfortable option.
Bao Ngoc Hotel (48 Đ Phan Chu Trinh; rUS$15-16;) With an inexplicable kiwi logo and excessively floral sheets, this inner-city hotel offers good-value clean rooms.
Hoa Viet Hotel (Tell: 840 111; fax 840 242; 8 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; r US$16-17;) This well-priced new joint near the river has attractive, clean rooms.
MIDRANGE
Binh Duong (Tell: 821930; fax 827 666; 32-34 Đ Tran Phu; r US$15-25;) Popular with longer-term stayers, the friendly staff at Binh Duong speak excellent English and some of the ample rooms have large comer bathtubs.
Our pick Dai A Hotel ( 51 Đ Yen Bay; r US$15-30;) The large Jesus painting and papal crown light fixture in the reception leave no doubt as to the religious affiliation of this establishment, close to the Catholic cathedral. The well-appointed rooms have free internet access, the staff are extremely helpful and there are some lovely views from the higher floors.
Bamboo Green Harbourside ( 177 Đ Tran Phu; r USS25-30, ste US$40;) In a good location opposite Danang Cathedral and near the river, many of the rooms have good views and breakfast is included in the prices.
Bamboo Green Riverside Hotel ( 68 Đ Bach Dang; r US$30-50:) Even the cheaper rooms have views, bathtubs and silk robes in this impressive place conveniently situated right by the Song Han Bridge.
Elegant Hotel ( 22A Đ Bach Dang; s US$25-60, d US$30-65; While the outside is less elegant than it once was, this riverside hotel has well-maintained, bright rooms and free wi-fi.
Eating
VIETNAMESE
Com Chay Chua Tinh Hoi ( 574 Đ Ong Ich Khiem; dishes from 3000d) Known for the best vegetarian food in town; it's just inside the entrance gate to the Phap Lam Pagoda.
Com Nieu (K254/2 Đ Hoang Dieu; dishes 10,000-40,000d) A local favourite tucked away off a lane, this is the place to try the local speciality hoanh thanh - a wonton-like combination of minced pork and shrimp served fried or steamed.
Au Lac (Tell: 611074; 4-6 Đ 2/9; dishes 25,000-70,000d; Time lunch & dinner) This stylish restaurant serving tasty Vietnamese dishes has an im-pressive outdoor dining area and a colourful bar.
Our pick Apsara ( 222 Đ Tran Phu; meals US$15; Time lunch & dinner) The best dining experience in Danang, Ap-sara has excellent food, great service, a good wine list and an atmospheric setting-with Cham-influenced decor and live traditional music. The cuisine flirts with Japanese and Chinese, but is mainly Vietnamese, with an emphasis on seafood,
INTERNATIONAL
Bread of Life (Tell: 893 456; 215 Đ Tran Phu; cakes/breakfast 10,000/20,000d; Time breakfast & lunch Mon-Sat) A great spot for a Western-style brekfast or a coffee and cake, this little cafe emplovs deaf staff and gives a percentage of profits to charity. They also screen movies in English every Wednesday.
Torino (Tell: 565124; 283 Đ Nguyen Chi Thanh; mains 40,000-90,000d; Time lunch & dinner Tue-Sun) This new authentically Italian restaurant serves excellent pasta, pizza and proper espresso, as well as more exotic dishes such as frogs and crocodile. The windowless dining room takes on a better vibe at night when it doubles as a jazz club.
Hana Kirn Dinh Restaurant (Tell: 830 024. 15 Đ Bach Dang; meals 90,000d;) Well located right on the river, this restaurant serves an interesting mix of Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean dishes, along with pizza and pasta.
Phi Lu Chinese Restaurant (Tell: 611 888 1-3 Đ 2/9; dishes 30,000-350,000d) A popular Chinese restaurant with three branches in Danang, this one has the most character - festooned with red lanterns at night. The food is excellent.
Drinking & Entertainment
Christie's Cool Spot (Tell: 824 040; 112 Đ Tran Phu) The downstairs bar is the place to meet US war veterans and join their debates about whether the Iraq war was even more or less pointless than Vietnam. What brings them back to Vietnam? Without taking a scientific survey, the answer seems to be the women. Christie's also serves Western comfort food, including pizza and roast chicken.
Tea Cafe Cung Dinh (Tell: 562 990; 112 Đ Yen Bay) It's amazing what a little mood lighting can do. This garden cafe set in a dreary car park becomes a fairyland at night, lit by red Chinese lanterns. It serves a range of exotic teas and delicious cakes.
Truc Ha 2 ( Tell: 562 498; K121/3 Đ Hoang Van Thu) This lush garden cafe hidden off a inner city laneway is an oasis of calm during the day - less so at night when the karaoke starts up.
Camel Club (Tell: 887 462; 16 Đ Ly Thuong kiet; admission 20,000d; Time 7pm-1am) This is where Dan-ang's beautiful people come for pricy drinks (from 30,000d) and heavy beats.
Shopping
Han Market (Cho Han; cnr Đ Hung Vuong & Đ Tran Phu; Time 6am-9pm) is a fine place for a casual stroll or to shop in the evenings. The Con Market (Cho Con; Đ Ong Ich Khiem) is Danang's largest, but is mainly a daytime affair. If you're looking for a shimmering framed Ho Chi Minh portrait with a dock inset, or a plastic dragon that lights up and sings Old McDonald, check out the collection of kitsch stores near the corner of Đ Hung Vuong and Đ Phan Chu Trinh.
Getting There & Away AIR
During the American War, Danang had one of the busiest airports in the world. Now it settles for being the third busiest in Vietnam.
Pacific Airlines (Tell: 583 583; 35 Đ Nguyen Van Linn) Daily flights from Danang to HCMC and Hanoi. Vietnam Airlines (Tell: 821130; 35 Đ Tran Phu; Time 7-11am & 1.30-5pm Mon-Fri, 7.30-11am & 1.30-4,30pm Sat & Sun) Connects Danang with Hanoi, HCMC, Pleiku, Buon Ma Thuot Cam Ranh (Nha Trang) and Quy Nhon.
BUS
The large Danang intercity bus station (Tell: 821 265; 33 Đ Dien Bien Phu; Time Ticket office 7-11am & 1-5pm) is 3km west from the city centre. A metered taxi to the riverside will cost 50,000d. Buses leave for all major centres, including Dong Hoi (56,000d, five hours, six daily), Hue (40,000d, three hours, six daily), Quy Nhon (65,000d, six hours. 11 daily) and Kon Turn (85,000d. five hours, three daily). There are three weekly services to Savan-nakhet (240,000d, 14 hours), crossing the border at Lao Bao. Phone Nguyen Phuoc for bookings (Tell: 0913-412 442). Regular buses to Hoi An (8000d, one hour) depart from a local bus station 200m away from the intercity bus station. Foreigners tend to be overcharged, especially if you pick up the bus from street. Check the price before boarding and stand your ground. With an advance booking, Sinh Cafe (Tell: 0510-863 948) open-tour buses will pick up from outside the Cham museum twice a day en route to Hue (US$3,21/2 hours).
CAR & MOTORBIKE
The simplest way to get to Hoi An (30km) is to hire a car for around US$10 from a local travel agency, or a motorbike for around US$4 to US$6 from one of the guys on the street corners. For a slightly higher fee you can ask the driver to stop off and wait while you visit the Marble Mountains and China Beach. You can also reach My Son by motorbike (US$12) or car (US$32), with the option of being dropped off in Hoi An on the way back. Distances to major destinations from Danang include Hanoi (764km), Hue (108km) and HCMC (972km).
TRAIN
Danangs train station (Tell: 823 810; 202 Đ Haiphong) is served by all Reunification Express trains, with stops including Hue (40,000d, 21/2 to four hours, seven daily), Lang Co (13,000d, 11/2 to two hours, four daily), Quang Ngai
(47,000d, 2 1/2 four hours, six daily), Huy Hoa (153,000d, seven to 10 hours, five daiilv) and Nha Trang (203,000d, 8 1/2 to 12 1/2 hours, seven daily). The train ride to line is one of the best in the country - it's worth taking as an excur-sion in itself
FIGHTING TO FLEE
Almost the only fighting that took place as Danang fell was between South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians battling for space on flights and ships out of the city. On 27 March 1975 the president of World Airways, Ed Daly, ignored explicit US government orders and sent two 727s from Saigon to Danang to evacuate refugees. When the first plane landed, about a thousand desperate and panicked people mobbed the tarmac. Soldiers fired assault rifles at each other and at the plane as they tried to shove their way through the rear door. As the aircraft taxied down the runway trying to take off, people climbed up info the landing-gear wells and someone threw a hand grenade, damaging the right wing. Those who managed to fight their way aboard, kicking and punching aside anyone in their way, included over 200 soldiers. The only civilians on board were two women and one baby - and the baby was only there after being thrown aboard by its desperate mother, who was left on the tarmac. Several of the stowaways in the wheel wells couldn't hold on and, as the plane flew southward, TV cameras on the second 727 filmed them falling into the South China Sea.
Getting Around
TO/FROM THE AIRPORT
Danang's airport is just 2km west of the city centre, close enough to reach by xe om in 10 minutes (around 10,000d). A metered taxi to the centre costs about 20,000d.
CYCLO & XE OM
Danang has plenty of motorbike taxis and cylo drivers; take the usual caution and be prepared to bargain the fare. Trips around town shouldn't cost more than 10,000d to 15,000d. Be careful of xe om drivers at night offering to take you to bars/girls - you may find yourself heavied into parting with hundreds of dollars.
TAXI
Both Airport Taxi (Tell: 27 27 27) and VN Taxis (Tell: 52 52 52) provide modern vehicles with air-con and meters.