Since we motorbiked our way through Vietnam, we were fortunate enough to stop in places that a lot of travellers sadly miss. One of these places was Da Nang in Central Vietnam. A lot of people skip Da Nang, using it only as a 1-night pit stop between the more popular Vietnam hotspots, Hoi An and Hue.
We spent 3 days in Da Nang and absolutely loved it. There were tonnes of cool things to do here and it was a really pretty place to visit. We actually hadn't known that it was the 3rd biggest city in Vietnam before arriving there, therefore we were pleasantly surprised with the crowds on the busy coast line and the bustling vendors that lined the streets.
1 - Marble Mountain
1 - Marble Mountains
As soon as you drive in to Da Nang, you notice the incredible mountains that provide constant background scenery to everything you look at. The Marble Mountains are a bunch of these limestone mountains, 5 to be precise, that are open for tourists to explore. There are lots of attractions to check out such as caves, tunnels, Buddhist Shrines, trails and viewpoints. The legend goes that the mountains were formed from the remains of egg shells that grew into the marble mountains. The egg shells came from a mystic dragon that laid eggs on the beach and gave birth to a lady who protects the city to this day, hence why the mountains are a place of worship for many local people. We climbed to the top of one of the view points, which was pretty gorgeous at the top, however we did have to push our way through a hoard of people to get a spot at the top!
We really enjoyed Marble Mountains, although it was a little bit too busy and was a bit much in regards to the sheer amount of tourists there. But, we accept that of the attraction is good then this is bound to be the case. It only costs 20,000 VND for entry too, so for under £1, we thought it provided a pretty good morning out! You can also either trek up a hell off a lot of stairs (like we did), or get a cool glass lift up to the top.
For the more adventurous, there is the option to abseil down the rock faces here as well. We saw a few people doing it and it looked awesome. However, we’re both experienced climbers so have abseiled a million times, but, if you haven’t, we’d definitely recommend it.
2 - Son Tra Peninsula (Chessboard Peak)
Next on the list for us was Son Tra Peninsula, which is a beautiful area in Da Nang that is full to the brim with amazing views and things to do. The Man Thai Fishing Village is first on most peoples list as it's the first pit-stop before the ascent of the hilly road. Getting here early is a great shout as you can watch the fishermen getting ready to go to sea at around 6-7am. However, we took the opposite route around the mountain so the fishing village was our last stop before we got home. At around 6pm, all of the fishing boats had come back from their days out at sea and were moored up in the harbour. It was literally one of the most beautiful views we had ever seen whilst travelling!
Upon the ascent up the road to the peak, you'll come across the tallest religious monument in the whole of Vietnam (cool, right?!) It's called the Linh Ung Pagoda and you cannot miss it! It's a large white marble lady that looks down on the village and the city below, protecting the people of Da Nang from wind and storms.
The drive itself is absolutely beautiful, it's basically Da Nangs' version of the Hai Van Pass. The road runs alongside the cliffs, with a sheer drop off on one side to the ocean and an upwards slope of vast jungle on the other. Keep an eye out for monkeys on the way round, we saw tonnes playing in the trees as we drove round!
Your next stop should be the giant Banyan Tree. It's an amazing sight and is estimated to be almost 1000 years old! The tree is an attraction not just for its age, but for its' roots which have grown into secondary trunks, that go to support the parts of the tree that have sprouted out from its very centre.
Continuing up to road (which becomes very, very steep at this point, so make sure you have gas and a good quality bike), you'll swing through monkey passage (mind the pun) keep an extra eye out for a Red Shanked Douc here! It's a rare monkey indeed! Carry on up and you'll hit Ban Co Peak, which is obviously the most visited tourist attraction on Son Tra Pensinsula. The view from the peak is literally stunning. We felt so privileged to see such an unbelievable panoramic view of the whole city. The other thing that is really cool at the peak is the marble statue of Confucius. The statue of the great philosopher is positioned at the back of a giant marble chessboard. You can sit at the opposing side of the chessboard and get the standard traveller photo of you playing chess against him! The statue is a tribute to the man himself who greatly influenced Eastern Culture as you see it today.
There’s tonnes of other things to explore on Son Tra Peninsula too, such as French and Spanish War Graves, a Black stone beach and another beautiful harbour.
3 - Secret Beach
3 - Secret Beach
This was by far our highlight in Da Nang. Just off of the path on your way around marble mountain, there is a stop off for a secret beach, which definitely seems a secret as you arrive there and can only see the shrubbery which lines the downwards slope of the cliff. However... beneath this shrubbery is where you want to go! You start the mini trek down the slope at a little hole in the bushes, this takes you down a steep muddy path, underneath the trees until you reach light at the end of the passage. And voila! Le secret beach! The beach is beautiful and impossible to see from the road above, hence why it’s called a secret. We stayed here for a few hours, swimming, scrambling around the rocks and jumping off the cliff faces that stand on the right hand side of the beach front, right out in the sea (the furthest cliff on the right hand side, you can swim up to it and jump from the top) There’s a cave too on the right hand side, that goes from one side of the cliff face to the other. However, on our attempt through the cave, we realised that the wet bag we had at the time had a hole in, so we diverted the mission and swam back in a hurry (contents were ok, but make sure you have a decent wet bag if you plan to swim through!). Make sure you don’t miss out on Da Nang’s best kept secret beach!
Jac found out the name speaking with a local - the beach is called Ghềnh Bàng (you should be able to find it on google maps). I doubt maps will lead you directly there so its just down the road from it’s Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort. There'll be a little place to pull in and man with small house shop selling water and snacks.
4 - The Dragon Bridge (Cầu Rồng)
You can’t miss it in Da Nang, literally. It towers over the middle of the main highway in Da Nang (Han River at the Le Dinh Duong/Bach Dang traffic circle) which leads you to and from the city centre. The dragon winds along the entire length of the 666m bridge that sees thousands of vehicles pass over it everyday. The bridge was opened in 2013 as a celebration of the liberation of Da Nang. Amazingly, the bridge lights up every night in many different colours, illuminating the river below each night. On Saturdays and Sundays, there’s a special treat as it spits fire and water out of its mouth at 9pm!
5- Pham Van Dong Beach
This is the main beach that runs in between marble mountains and Son Tra. It’s the beach you will see from chessboard peak! The beach front is absolutely beautiful, with numerous little beach bars, fresh seafood restaurants and to-die-for clothes stores dotted alongside it. There are plenty of swanky studio apartments lined up along the beach too, so the option to stay in a room with a sea-view is always available! There are also a tonne of cool looking spas
We really did love Da Nang, as you can tell from the list above, there’s plenty to do and see and you get the bonus of doing that in a beautiful city, full of life and local people. If you have any questions, please drop us a comment in the link below!
What we Didn't... But Would Have Loved to do!
Neither myself or Jac like to steal photos from other blogs in order to claim that we've done a a lot more then we have because we can never give an honest opinion. However, what we will do is supply you with a list of other things you can do to save you the time having to do any extra research.
We were gutted we missed this but we just didn't have enough time. This is a collection of Hindu Temple remains dating back as early as the 4th Century A.D.
Da Nangs' equivalent to the London eye. We had also planned to do this but ended up crashing out that evening as we were exhausted from our day! You can see it in the background of the Dragon Bridge photo above.
Da Nang Museum
History museum, displaying a mix of cultural and military artefacts.
Bao Tang 3D Art in Paradise
These are popping up all over Asia and seem the craze at the moment. Having been to few I'd recommend it if you've not been. Essentially they are awesome pieces of 3D art that you can get involved with and take cool pictures! You do need a mate to take the photos though, or a massive selfie stick!!!!
The second time on our travels that we truly fell in love with a place was in Cat Ba, Vietnam. A boat trip away from the world famous Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba has so much to offer on what is a relatively small island. Hence, the reason why we loved it here! We had so much to do, but as always, in so little time. We spent 4 days in Cat Ba, but easily could have spent a week, although we were worried at first that we’d have to turn back because of the mad weather. Fortunately, the captain of the boat over to Cat Ba was a lunatic, so we hopped onto the boat and off into the stormy sea!
Below, is a list of the best activities this island has to offer, most of which we enjoyed ourselves.
1 - 30km National Park Hike (Solo) And Other Hiking
Yep, you read that right. There is a 30-36km hiking trail in Cat Ba and of course, we hiked it! I say 30-36km trail as we read online that it was supposed to be a 36km trail, 18km each way across Cat Ba National Park. However, on our tracking app, it logged our hike as 30km overall. Soooo, we're not sure if the app is wrong due to not tracking elevation properly or whether the previous blog posts are wrong and it's not really 36km. So, we'll settle for somewhere in between.
The hike goes all the way through Cat Ba national park... And back. There is a shorter option to this trail which is to hike 18km to a boat port at the end of the trail. Where you can pay to ride the boat and be dropped back to the peer in town. However, Jac and I wanted to do the whole 36km so we decided to just walk the whole way back instead! It also didn't help that we had left our motorbike parked at the entrance to the national park, so we couldn't even catch the boat if we wanted to!
It was a tough, yet truly amazing hike, we had to make our way through thick jungle, scramble over sharp rocks and clamber up and over 3 mountains.... Then, we had to do it all over again on the way back! The trees and the leaves around us were absolutely crazy, some of the leaves were literally bigger than me! We reached the boat port after around 4 hours and oh my gosh, it was so stunning. Crystal clear waters sat beneath towering mountains in either side and it was isolated, there was literally nobody there. Eagles were hunting in the sky above us... And they near enough attacked the drone at one point so we had to land it! We sat and ate our lunch of noodles and tinned pork in a zip-lock bag (sort-of nice when you are hungry!) on top of the wall, overlooking the water. It was literally the best lunch-time view we had ever seen.
A lady from the port tried to call us over to get us to pay for our ticket for the boat, but we shook our heads and started walking back. You may shake your head and think why on earth would we walk back the same way we’d come. Well we thought the same thing but actually, it’s quite a shock when you realise how much amazing scenery you miss by only walking one way. Getting home, yes there were some biggggg blisters and some sweaty, red faces, some achy legs and exhausted bodies, but we were so, so happy to have done it! Any way that you choose to do the trial is fantastic, however, for a total challenge and possibly one of the best days you'll have whilst travelling, put this hike on your list!
If 18/ 36km seems a bit much for you, there are also a number of other hikes through Cat Ba national park. Theres one that is quite popular that takes you to the top of mountain with some stunning views from a look out tower. We did this the day before and loved it. This hike is around 5km in total.
2 - Hospital Cave and Trung Trang Cave
As with other mountainous areas in North Vietnam, you'll bet your bottom dollar that there is a load of caves to explore here too. The hospital cave is stooped in history, it was used to protect Vietnamese Soldiers from bombings and served as a hospital during the war. Trung Trang Cave was really cool. It's a natural cave just before the entrance to Cat Ba National Park. There's quite a long pathway that goes all the way through, it's not very adventurous as it's all been flattened and laid out for you, but you still get to duck and dodge the stalactites as you go through! We found lots of little openings inside that we tried to explore, all of them lead to sweet nothing but bring a head torch with you, just in case you might find another one!
3 - Canon Fort
Canon Fort is a great spot to visit if you want to catch a bit the history that comes with Cat Ba Island, with the added bonus of a stunning view. On reaching the top of the hill (which isn't toooo steep, but steep enough that you should probably wear trainers), we saw the most unbelievable panoramic view of Cat Ba, which featured the ever-green jungle covered hills towering above the vibrant fisherman's village, all topped off with the beauty of the sea in the distance. Built in 1942 by the French, Canon Fort had the function of protecting Cat Ba's and ultimately Vietnams' sea front. Three canons were pulled up to the top of the 177m hill by military personal, and assembled at the peak. The canons remain at the top of the hill today, as well as the bullet casings, compasses and gauges, all stored in their original positions. It's a really interesting place to go and visit. The entrance to the fort is 40,000VND per person and is around a 40 minute walk up a big hill from Cat Ba Town. If you're feeling lazy, rent a motorbike and drive up! You can drive and park within a 10 minute walk from the top
4 - Rock Climbing
So after a long stint in Vietnam, unable to Rock Climb as it's actually been made illegal (apparently, although we're unsure whether this is true or not) , we finally found a place that allows you to climb - Cat Ba! Cat Ba Climbing in the main town (25 Nui Ngoc, TT) offers gear rental and rock climbing excursions tours on the ever-beautiful cliff faces that surround the island. Most rock-climbing takes place at The Hive in Butterfly Valley (a stunning hidden gem in Cat Ba, even if you aren't a climber, you should take a trip here anyway, it's beautiful!), which has some great climbs for all levels. Unfortunately, we couldn't go rock climbing as most of our days spent in Cat Ba were spent alongside some pretty heavy bouts of rain :(. If the weathers different when you are then, make sure to book onto a tour or rent some gear yourself, seeing as it's probably the only place in Vietnam to climb!
5 - Kayaking And Other Water Sports
One of the many reasons we love Cat Ba! There is so many water sporting activities to have a go at, which are all made amazing as the mountains and the sea that surround Cat Ba island serve as your playground. We rented out a kayak from our hostel for $21 per day/each. The company picked us up at our hostel and dropped us off at the harbour where we were put on a private speed boat to the floating restaurant where the kayaks were kept in the beautiful La Ha Bay. We took a double kayak out for he day and were allowed to roam free around the mountainous bay. Apparently, there were a few caves to kayak through around here but we only managed to find one! Which in essence wasn't even really a cave, it was actually just a hole in one of the mountain faces that led into another bay! Although, this was our favourite part as we kayaked into this bay.
It was so, so beautiful and so silent away from all the fishing boats and floating houses that we had just kayaked around. Jac even managed to get the drone up (from the Kayak might I add, risky business or what! We were very impressed with him after this, haha!) and film it all from above. It was one of the best days we had in Cat Ba, we would definitely recommend! Other company's offer excursion days with activities such as snorkelling, cliff jumping and kayaking, so you'll never be short of things to do whilst you are there.
6 - Ha Long Bay
A lot of people say no trip to North Vietnam would be complete without a trip to Ha Long Bay. Well... We skipped it. Not to say that we wouldn't have liked to see the world renown bay, but it was just unfortunate that the heavens chose to open their floodgates on the day we were supposed to go. Ha Long Bay is recognised all over the world for its beautiful mountain islets, scattered all over the ocean, providing one of the most spectacular views known to man. It's a Natural Wonder and has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage listing for exactly that reason. You'll see tours to Ha Long Bay plastered over every ticket office/hostel in Cat Ba, which we saw to cost around $25-30 for a day trip. However, we heard from many that it had become quite the tourist trap, with too many big crowds and a lot of rubbish to follow. We supposed you are going to get this when something is so renown, however we felt happy enough with the beauty we had seen in Cat Ba during our hike and kayaking trip, so we weren't too upset to give it a miss! We also spent time Kayaking in La Ha Bay which as you can see from our photos I just as amazing as Ha Long Bay (but without the price tag and much more rustic!)
7 - Monkey Island
Another favourite in Cat Ba is a trip to the good, old Monkey Island. As the crow flies, it's around 1km from Cat Ba and can be easily travelled to by boat, taking just 10 minutes. Thousands of tourists flock here every year to admire the beauty of the landscape, yet also to catch a glimpse of some cheeky little monkeys! Several dozen monkeys are located on the island as locals bring them here for living. It's blue waters and white sandy beaches provide the perfect playground for the mischievous monkeys. However, some of the monkeys have become rather hit and miss when it comes to tourists. Our friend was actually scratched by a monkey at monkey beach when he was trying to give it a banana. We have guessed that many of the monkeys will have become more and more hostile, being that so many tourists abuse the privilege of seeing them by giving them beer and other inappropriate offerings. The best advise we can give is to go empty handed and do not attempt to feed or pet the monkeys, just have a wonder and enjoy the sight of them in their natural environment (But like us, chances are you still will)
And when you are finished with all this...
8 - Try Your Hand at Downing 5 Beers in 5 Minutes!
HNightlife in Cat Ba is definitely lively, the bars are constantly over-flowing with tourists, night after night. Most of the bars have happy hour deals throughout the night and will even let you take charge of the music by allowing people use of We had such a good night dancing away to our own music, which is sooo much better instead than the cheesy pop music we usually hear everywhere else (honestly, if we hear one more dance mic of Jason Derulo or Rihanna, we're going to go wild haha!). However, if you are up for a challenge, or perhaps a just a very drunk over-confident decision, you should have a go at the Oasis Bar Beer Challenge. Always up for a challenge, Jac gave it a go. The challenge is to drink 5 beers in under 5 minutes, for the chance of winning you and your friends five jugs of alcohol. Proud to announce - Jac absolutely smashed the challenge in 3 minutes! He was very, very drunk after mind and took a trip to the toilet, but he smashed it nonetheless! HERO!
So, that's Cat Ba and why we love it! There are so many things to do here, so hopefully you'll put it on your itinerary for many more reasons now, other than just to see the mighty Ha Long Bay!
All Gone Rogue x