My weeklong vacation to Da Nang & Hoi An was a fitting reintroduction to traveling for me. After being stuck at home for so long, I wished hard that my first trip abroad would be a memorable one. I was certainly not let down! These cities in Central Vietnam never featured heavily on my radar before, but after this trip, all I want to do is go back—and soon!
Now I don’t want to make this introduction too long, so I will tell you straight up that I had an absolutely amazing and memorable time visiting both Da Nang & Hoi An. I decided to write this little “guide” based on our own itinerary, so before anything else, I want to throw out a little disclaimer: This is NOT going to be one of those formal and expert guides to places to visit in Da Nang & Hoi An. Rather, it is a personalized one based on my own experiences with the specific places we visited, with some facts plus my own thoughts and things I think one should take note of. This “guide” exists so that I may share my enthusiasm about the places we visited in Da Nang & Hoi An.
As a non-expert, I still tried to make this as accurate as possible with the facts available to me. If ever I miss anything, you are free to add to the information presented here, but please do it in a calm and respectful manner in the comments section below. My only goal here is to be of some help to anybody interested in traveling these same places, and not to pretend to be all-knowing just because I visited these places once. Hopefully someone will still end up finding this useful.
Table of Contents
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Places to Visit
- Food Trips
Frequently Asked Questions
I wanted to add this section because with my previous travel posts, I would often get private messages asking me questions like what dates we visited, or where we lived, etc. Rather than having to reply repeatedly one by one, I thought it would be easier for everyone if there would be one place to read all the information readily. (But of course you can still message me for specific questions not answered in this section.)
WHEN DID YOU VISIT DA NANG & HOI AN?
We visited from December 22nd to December 30th, 2022. The weather was mainly pleasant and cool, but it started becoming rainy towards the end of the trip. December is typhoon season in Central Vietnam so we expected and prepared for rains, but we were lucky as we did not experience particularly bad weather while here.
If visiting in December, it is a good idea to bring a raincoat/jacket with a hood, as well as an umbrella. If you don’t want to bring an umbrella in your luggage, most hotels will lend umbrellas to guests for free as long as they’re available. (You’ll want to bring an umbrella in the mornings as well to protect from the sun’s rays.) Jackets are also a good idea as it can get significantly chilly at night, especially when it’s windy outside. Average temperature during our trip was between 25°C and 18°C, but it can feel much hotter in the mornings when the sun is out and much colder in the evenings when the wind is blowing.
It’s a different story in Ba Na Hills however as the temperature there is somewhere around 10°C during December. You may want to dress more warmly on the day you visit. It can also get extremely foggy so you can’t exactly count on the sun for any extra warmth.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT DA NANG & HOI AN?
The general consensus for the best time to visit Central Vietnam is from April to August. While this is technically the summer season there, the weather is supposedly not too hot for outdoor activities. Personally, I liked the cool weather during our December trip so I would still encourage people to go on this month. However I will admit the rain can be a bit of a hassle when it starts really pouring and forces you to briefly pause your explorations on foot.
WHERE DID YOU LIVE?
While in Da Nang, we stayed at the Cozy Da Nang Boutique Hotel. I recommend this hotel a lot! It’s inexpensive, has good amenities, and has a decent breakfast spread. It’s also located near lots of cafes and restaurants, is a mere 10 to 15 minutes away from the airport by car, is a couple of blocks away from the Museum of Cham Sculpture, and also about 2km away from the Dragon Bridge and the beach. You can also easily reach many places via Grab from here, including a supermarket called GO! (previously Big C), as well as the Han Market.
As for Hoi An, I would recommend booking a hotel within walking distance of the Hoi An Old Town. There are a TON of options here depending on the price you are willing to pay. I will not write down the name of the hotel we stayed in because I did not like it very much. (You can ask me in private if you want.)
WHAT WAS YOUR MAIN MODE OF TRANSPORTATION?
We booked a driver and a tour guide for this trip, so we were driven around in a shuttle most of the day. During our free time, we either walked or took a Grab car. Taking a Grab car is pretty inexpensive here in Vietnam compared to most other countries, and 7 seaters are quite common so big groups need not fret.
Regarding walking, there’s really only one big thing you have to careful of in Vietnam: the motorbikes. They can be pretty unforgiving towards pedestrians, but the scenario here is a far-cry from the scary experience of crossing the streets in Ho Chi Minh. Some streets in Da Nang have countdown stoplights, but majority do not. The smaller streets do not have traffic lights at all so just be alert when crossing the street. Cross via the pedestrian lanes if you can help it.
Also, many sidewalks only have a small space to walk in as shops and street vendors set up their wares and carts there. As someone who grew up in Manila, I do not find it hard to walk around these kinds of streets and sidewalks at all. It could be different for others though, which is why I thought I’d mention it anyway.
If you happen to know how to ride a motorbike, all the better. You can rent one and use it to go around just as the locals do!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND BOOKING A GUIDE?
This topic is always “controversial”, but honestly it is not a requirement. In this case though, I will tell you I was pretty happy we booked a guide since it made it much easier to communicate with the locals, especially in the market. Not everyone is well-versed in English here in Da Nang and Hoi An, so sometimes it can be challenging.
Secondly, if you are pressed for time, a local guide can take you straight to the highlights of each location you visit. This is especially helpful when you visit sprawling locations like the Marble Mountain and Ba Na Hills. You can eliminate the risk of potentially wandering off in the wrong direction and spend more time appreciating the must-sees in each location.
Third, having a local guide tell us the history of each location felt more meaningful than merely reading the facts from a guidebook. Call me sentimental, but I personally felt a higher appreciation for the historical sites we visited because I could ask all the questions I wanted whenever I was curious about something, and our guide would actually take the time to give me a satisfying answer.
The local agency we engaged during this trip is called Vietnam Shore Excursions. The company is highly rated on Trip Advisor as well. We drafted our own itinerary and sent it to them so it’s fair to say we still had full control over the trip, we just had locals accompanying us throughout. The tour company and our tour guide also selected our lunch spots and mapped our Food Tour for us, so now I have a list of places I want to have meals at again when I go back on my own.
HOW LONG SHOULD WE STAY IN DA NANG & HOI AN?
Two to three days for EACH city is plenty of time to see lots of places! You can also reserve one whole day for Ba Na Hills if you want to really explore the place. You can do a lot within a week, though consider adding two extra days if you’re taking connecting flights. It’s likely your first day and last day will be all used up by all the airport procedures and flights.
We took it easy this time and decided not to pack our itinerary from morning to evening, but depending on the type of traveler you are, you can end up visiting more places than the ones I’ll be be sharing in this guide. In fact, you can also take detours to nearby cities like Hue if you’d like. However, if you want to go on a slower pace and slowly savor and enjoy your first taste of Da Nang & Hoi An, then the 10 places in this list are some very good options to start with!
WHERE CAN WE BUY SOUVENIRS IN DA NANG?
I recommend doing your shopping at Da Nang’s Han Market. Here you can negotiate prices with the sellers, although of course it’s always much easier with the help of a local. I tend to focus on buying food when I shop in other countries so most of my recommendations will involve food, but you can also buy clothes from Han Market, including customized áo dài. Da Nang & Hoi An are generally known to have skilled tailors so it’s a popular practice for tourists to have áo dài (Vietnamese national garment) made here.
Among the food items I recommend are of course ground coffee beans, coconut cookies, banh pia (durian mooncakes), and dried fruits. They have some truly amazing dried longgan here which rehydrates beautifully when boiled in water. We use it for fruit teas at home. Their roasted and flavored shelled almonds and roasted cashews are some of the best I have ever eaten in my life.
If you’re not a market person and prefer going to the supermarket, there is one in Da Nang called GO! (previously Big C). You can buy condiments, instant noodles, and other snacks here. There is also a HUGE selection of coffee products. We managed to purchase some really delicious instant coconut and durian coffees.
If you’re wondering why I only mentioned Da Nang here, it’s because we did not do any shopping in Hoi An. All our shopping was done in Da Nang, so unfortunately I do not have any suggestions for Hoi An.
Places to Visit in Da Nang & Hoi An
1. Son Tra Peninsula’s Linh Ung Pagoda, Da Nang
Cutting an impressive figure in the distance, the Lady Buddha Statue of Da Nang is one of the most famous icons of the city. Known as the Tuong Phat Ba Quan Am (Statue of the Goddess of Mercy) among locals, the statue stands on a hill 639 meters above sea level. It’s located within the Son Tra Peninsula’s 20-hectare Linh Ung Pagoda complex. This pagoda is the largest one in Da Nang.
The words ‘linh ung‘ literally translate to: ‘wishes answered miraculously‘. This name was chosen to represent the belief that people who pray sincerely in this pagoda will have their wishes granted. As one of the three Linh Ung Pagodas that form a “triangle of protection” for Da Nang, there is a fascinating local myth behind this particular one: During the reign of Emperor Minh Mang of the Nguyen Dynasty, a Lady Buddha statue drifted to the shore of the Son Tra Peninsula. Believing that this was a good omen, the local fishermen decided to enshrine the statue.
After this, the locals began to notice that the sea seemed calmer and the storms visited the island less, making life much easier for fisherfolk and residents of Da Nang. They renamed the beach area where the statue was found as Bai But (‘The land of Buddha’) in honor of the Buddha’s benevolence. Taking it a step further, they decided to construct a larger temple compound in earnest, gathering donations and the like.
Construction began in 2004, and after 6 years, the pagoda was completed. (FYI: The Vietnamese refer to Buddhist temples as pagodas for easier identification.) The architectural design of the pagoda is a combination of contemporary and traditional Vietnamese style, echoing how its inauguration marked the emergence of Buddhism in Vietnam in the 21st century.
While the Linh Ung Pagoda is home to many lovely structures, the Lady Buddha statue is certainly the most prominent and most visited attraction within. It stands at a height of 67 meters (equivalent to a 30-story building!), and is sculpted entirely out of marble. Seeing it in pictures is one thing, but in person, one will be able to appreciate the intricate details of the statue even more.
You may have noticed in the first photo that one hand of the Lady Buddha statue is poised in prayer, while the other holds a pitcher of nectar in an act of blessing. Atop its head is a 2-meter Great Buddha statue, while at its foot is a foundation in the shape of an open lotus 35 meters in diameter. The Lady Buddha is not only a statue however; within it is a 17-story temple that houses 21 Buddhas in different expressions and postures.
As patron saint of the fisherfolk, the Lady Buddha regularly receives prayers asking for protection from storms, as well as blessings for a fruitful expedition out at sea. However, the size of it also allows it to act as a beacon so that anyone who somehow gets lost at sea can find their way home. One can easily spot the statue from the beach and from certain points of Da Nang after all.
- Visiting the Linh Ung Pagoda at the Son Tra Peninsula is free of charge. Donations dropped in any of the money boxes within the complex is appreciated but it is not a requirement at all.
- For anyone who wishes to enter the prayer halls themselves, a strict dress code is implemented. No one in clothes that show off too much skin will be allowed in unless they cover up. Shoes must also be removed but wearing of socks is allowed.
- There are many monkeys in this area, so be cautious with your belongings. The monkeys are not afraid of approaching people, going so far as to engage in a tug-of-war to steal bags they perceive to have food inside! Visitors are highly discouraged from feeding the monkeys as this will develop in them a habit of taking food from humans rather than hunting for it themselves.
- Check out the exact location of the Ling Ung Pagoda HERE.
- For more in-depth articles about this location, check these ones out by LaddyBuddha.org & Central Vietnam Guide
2. Marble Mountains, Da Nang
The Marble Mountains is a group of five marble and limestone peaks located to the south of Da Nang City. In 1825, Emperor Minh Mang of the Nguyen Dynasty named this mountain complex Ngu Hanh Son (Five Elements Mountain). Each mountain was named after one of the five elements of Eastern philosophy: metal (Kim Son), water (Thuy Son), fire (Hoa Son), wood (Moc Son), and earth (Tho Son). These names– along with the significance of the Marble Mountains both as a historical treasure and natural wonder to the people of Central Vietnam– have remained sacred to the Vietnamese for centuries.
According to the legend of the aboriginal Cham people of this area, long ago a dragon had once laid an egg here. When the egg hatched, it was not a baby dragon that came out but a beautiful girl. Meanwhile, the egg shell broke into 5 pieces and became the five magical mountains of the Ngu Hanh Son.
During the French occupation of Vietnam, several French archaeologists discovered the marble-rich soil here and thus named it Marble Mountains. The name stuck through even the bleakest moments of Vietnam’s history, as these mountains featured heavily during the Vietnam War as well.
Among the five peaks of the Marble Mountain, only Mt. Thuy is accessible to tourists. It is one of the highest and most beautiful of the mountains, housing a mind-blowing network of grottoes and pagodas. Some of them are ancient mysteries, but most of them are now well-maintained pagodas and shrines. Some of the grottoes feature large statues that look as though they were placed there, when in fact they were carved right out of the caves! There is another Linh Ung Pagoda here as well.
For me, the highlight of this area is the Huyen Khong Cave. It is one of the largest and perhaps the most uniquely structured caves in the Marble Mountains. There are holes on the ceiling of the cave (the biggest one caused by an American bomb, ironically) that permit shafts of sunlight in. When the sunlight is particularly strong it makes it look as if spotlights are trained on the Buddha statue inside. I saw this only in pictures, because when we were there it was a gray day so the sunlight wasn’t strong enough to create this effect. Nonetheless, I thought the cave was still pretty impressive.
This particular cave also has quite a lot of historical value to the Vietnamese. During the Vietnam War, it was used as a secret base for local revolutionary officers to plan military strategies. It was then transformed into a field hospital to treat injured soldiers. Beyond the natural beauty the Marble Mountains bring, and the spiritual peace the pagodas bestow, one cannot simply come and forget the other tragic stories that occurred here. It’s quite a place to visit, to be sure.
Despite having to do a lot of walking and stair-climbing here, I honestly felt that the journey to see the sights and stories hidden within the Marble Mountains was well worth it. I even recommend taking time to climb up to very steep staircase to the highest observation deck of Mt Thuy. The view was just breathtaking up there! It’s where I was able to get the panorama shot five photos above.
- The entrance fee for the Marble Mountains is 40,000 VND, and the elevator to the middle level/main pagoda of Mt. Thuy is an optional 15,000 VND for a round-trip.
- Mt. Thuy is open from 7 AM to 5.30 PM every day.
- Think carefully before deciding to explore these mountains. If you have any health issues or knee issues and the like, it might not be a good idea to go all the way to the top of the mountain. Remember there will be HUNDREDS of rocky steps you will need to climb to see most of the big grottoes and caves, and then afterwards there is also the issue of having to go down another set of steps. If you are not able to make the trek, stay around the vicinity of Marble Mountain’s Linh Ung Pagoda, which can be reached via elevator. (From the ground to the pagoda alone by foot is 108 steps already, however the elevator only reaches up to this point.)
- Wear good solid shoes with non-slippery soles when visiting here. Remember you will be climbing HUNDREDS of uneven steps! The shoes don’t necessarily need to be hiking shoes but it will certainly help; especially if you plan on shimmying in through the small hole at Heaven’s Cave to reach one of the higher vantage points of Mt. Thuy! Definitely DO NOT WEAR SLIPPERS. The non-slip aspect of the shoes will help a lot if it suddenly rains.
- Marble products are the specialty handicraft product in this area. If interested to buy to decorate your home, there are several workshops owned by different families across the street from the Marble Mountains. You may want to have a look.
- Check out the exact location of the Marble Mountains HERE.
- For more in-depth articles about this location, check these ones out by You In Da Nang and Central Vietnam Guide
3. Sun World Ba Na Hills, Da Nang
Riding the cable car over the lush Truong San Mountain Range, it’s almost hard to believe this resort exists right in the middle of all that seemingly untouched greenery. In fact, seeing the structures of Ba Na Hills take shape in the distance on a very foggy day made me wonder for a moment if I was looking at some sort of mirage.
Ba Na Hills gained worldwide attention after images of its Golden Bridge became viral on social media, however like most places in Vietnam, it also has quite the “colorful” history. Ba Na Hills did start out as a resort in 1919, but it was for the exclusive use of the French colonizers and their rich Vietnamese friends. Some historians believe it was the French who started calling the area Ba Na Hills thanks to the abundance of wild banana trees in the area.
Because of its altitude, Ba Na Hills became the perfect place to escape the summer weather of Vietnam. In fact, the French enjoyed staying up here so much they built a lot of villas and even built a wine cellar to store expensive wines imported from France. The cellar is one of the remaining original buildings from that time.
When the French left Vietnam at the end of World War II, this area was abandoned and left to rot. It wasn’t until 1998 that the company Sun World Sun Group decided to take charge of turning Ba Na Hills into an eco-resort / theme park that is open to everyone. They started by figuring out an easy and safe way to transport visitors, building the Ba Na Hills Cable Car with the help of top European companies.
Via cable car is the only way to get to and from the main resort proper, and to be honest, this was one of the smoothest cable car rides I’ve ever been on in my life. To put it more aptly, we gliding over the mountain range in a very sturdy, very well-made cabin that neither swung nor swayed. This was the longest cable car ride I’ve ever been on as well. Later on I found out that until recently this cable car held the record for the longest non-stop single track cable car. It held the record from 2013 but has now been outshined by another newer cable car system in another province of Vietnam.
I can honestly say I have never been to a place like Ba Na Hills before. It’s different from most theme parks I’ve ever been to in that it doesn’t feel as “compact” as, say, Disneyland and Universal Studios. What I mean is: When you’re in Disneyland or Universal, no matter which part of the park you’re in, you still feel and know that it’s part of one whole. The themes may be different per section but there’s this intangible unifying element to it– maybe because it’s got a lot of pop culture references we already know.
On the other hand, Ba Na Hills looks and feels as if several different places and structures were randomly taken from the ether and dropped into one vast area to coexist. Something about it feels disjointed, yet it’s a VERY weirdly captivating place. One moment I’m staring at a giant Buddha statue in a monastery (it’s a real monastery btw), the next I find myself lost within a garden maze. And then the next moment I’m exploring a dark cave of a wine cellar within an old European town, before I’m hopping onto a funicular to see a 4D movie in a castle. They also have an arcade and an indoor carnival of sorts. Basically it’s A LOT of things thrown into one area, and the best way to enjoy it is to not think about the reason behind the design too much and just go with it lol.
The best I can describe the experience of visiting Ba Na Hills is like being a character from an RPG, traversing the world map only to enter a new town that is completely different from the previous one. It might be whiplash-inducing to some, but clearly a lot of people find joy in visiting this place (and they even stay the night at the hotel here!) because Ba Na Hills is still expanding as I write this. There was a ton of construction going on during our visit!
Admittedly, the major highlight of Ba Na Hills is the Golden Bridge (aka Cau Vang). It looks like something out of… an RPG lol. It’s a stunning sight to be sure, but there’s also something esoteric about the way the hands are positioned. The head architect of the Golden Bridge wanted to showcase “the giant hands of God pulling a strip of gold out of the land”, and I honestly think this is a very exact description of what the bridge looks like to me as well.
Whatever your beliefs, the sight evokes such an otherworldly feeling. Weeks after visiting Ba Na Hills, both the Golden Bridge and the resort in general still have a lingering hold on my memory.
- Ba Na Hills is located 1500 meters above sea level, and so it can get chilly. During the colder seasons in Central Vietnam, temperatures can drop to 10°C so be prepared. It can also get very foggy up here.
- Ticket prices vary according to the package one wishes to avail. I recommend going for the ticket that includes the lunch buffet, because the food in the food hall is shockingly good, with a lot of variety, for a price that isn’t as high as you might expect. To get an idea of the choices, you can check out Klook’s tickets page.
- Check out the exact location of Sun World Ba Na Hills HERE.
- For more in-depth articles and suggested attractions to hit up first, check out these posts from Travel Begins At 40 and KKDay.
4. Museum of Cham Sculpture, Da Nang
A popular stop for history aficionados, the Museum of Cham Sculpture will give you a glimpse into the amazing works of art created by the ancient Champa people. The Champa were the major ethnic group living in Central and Southern Vietnam from 192 to around 1697, and in those years they managed to build and create plenty of amazing stone structures and terracotta sculptures. Sadly, many of these pieces were destroyed during the several wars that ravaged Vietnam, but what could be saved have been brought to this museum.
Interestingly enough, the museum was the idea of French archeologist Henri Parmentier of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient. The building was also designed by French architects using elements of Cham architecture, as suggested by Monsieur Parmentier. Currently, the museum houses over 300 displays arranged in 10 showrooms. It is known to have the world’s largest collection of well-preserved Cham sculptures and works.
If you’ve ever been to Cambodia, you might feel that the Cham art style is very similar to those you can find in the temples in Siem Reap. In the old days, a lot of Cham people also lived in Cambodia, so it was inevitable that they would share and borrow art styles from each other. I was as fascinated by the displays here as I was upon seeing Khmer works in Cambodia, and could not help but feel sad about how much was lost.
There are many displays here where the statues are lacking heads or limbs, and many still that look to have had chunks of them blown off by explosives. The relics here are but a small part of what remain from years of war and destruction in Vietnam, but they provide a good glimpse into the passionate love for the arts the ancient Cham people possessed.
Shockingly enough, almost all of the displays are not kept in glass cases. It is by no means an invitation to touch the relics, but if you think about it closely, how impressive is it that the ancient people would know how to build things that could last centuries with such limited tools? These sculptures still look amazingly sharp for their age; each curve and line evidence of the kind of devotion the Champa would give to their craft.
- The museum is open from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM, with a 2-hour lunch break from 11 AM to 1 PM. Ticket price is 60,000 VND per person.
- The museum provides an audio guide in Vietnamese, English, and French via its website. This guide also has a recommended tour sequence that will allow you to have a better appreciation for the displays. It can be accessed through http://chamaudio.com while inside the museum.
- If you prefer a human tour guide, the museum also provides this service for groups of 5 persons and above. However it needs to be arranged at least 3 days in advance, especially if English- or French- speaking guide is required.
- Check out the exact location of the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture HERE.
- For more in-depth articles about this location, check these ones out by Vin Pearl and Vietnam Discovery
5. Dragon Bridge, Da Nang
This 6-lane bridge has been one of the city’s major icons since 2013. Costing nearly USD 88 Million to build, it is 666 meters long, 37.5 meters wide, and designed like a dragon traversing across the waters of the Han River. It looks gorgeous in the evening, when the dragon is illuminated with different colored lights that reflect off the river’s surface.
Pushing the dragon theme further, the dragon at the head of the bridge also breathes fire and water every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at 9PM. You can view the fire-breathing dragon from multiple points, depending on how close and personal you want to be with it. Some people like to stand on one of the viewing decks on the Dragon Bridge itself, however if you stand too close, there’s a chance you’ll get wet once the dragon starts spraying water.
I actually preferred standing a distance away, from a vantage point where I can take a photo of the entire dragon as it breathes fire. I found myself a spot on the riverside plaza along D. Tran Hung Dao Street, though you can go as far as the DHC Marina or the Love Bridge if you wish. There are some attractions at the Marina you might want to visit prior to the dragon show.
Arriving at your viewing point of choice 20 minutes before 9PM is more than enough time to find a spot without feeling like you wasted way too much time waiting. (In fact, you can get away with arriving 5 minutes before 9 if you already know where you plan to stand.) The entire thing takes no more than 15 minutes, and you literally just watch the dragon breathe fire and spray water. That’s it.
While it’s not strictly a requirement, if you ever find yourself in Da Nang over the weekend, checking out this bridge doesn’t hurt. Some might consider this one of those “if you didn’t see it, were you really there?” kinds of things so I felt compelled to add it to this list.
- The bridge itself will be closed to traffic a few minutes before the show starts, so if you’re riding a car or motorcycle towards any of the viewing points, consider your timing.
- While viewing the fire show is entirely FREE, you can also do so while enjoying food and drinks in establishments that provide a good view of the bridge. Han River evening cruises also stop near the bridge when it’s time to watch the show.
The rest of the list is continued HERE.
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