Tourist Limbo: Caught Between Hoi An and Da Nang, Vietnam

China Beach, Danang, Vietnam
China Beach. You can rent a chair for 20,000d/$1 for the day… don’t pay until the end of the day though, or the women will sell your chair to someone else when you go for lunch.

The Story

We thought about skipping Da Nang, Vietnam but decided against it. It was a good decision. Our first train ride in Vietnam was a pleasant one. We took train SE1 (70,000d/$3.30) departing Hue at 8:02am and, one Scrabble game later, we arrived in Da Nang around 10:45am.

Most tourists stay in Hoi An and take a taxi from the Da Nang bus station. You shouldn’t pay more than 300,000d/$14.20 for the taxi. Keep your eyes open for other tourists willing to share a ride with you. We stayed at Hoa’s Place, which was half-way to Hoi An, and we were lucky enough to find someone who was willing to split a taxi ride with us (100,000d/$4.75 for our portion)

Hoa’s Place (US$7 fan/US$9 AC) is was a friendly, family run, budget guest house (it is now a homestay). Hoa is an extremely personable man and will make you feel at home the moment you arrive. We looked at a couple of rooms, which were very basic, and found that the rooms above the restaurant are much nicer than those in the other building, so make sure you take a look at both. We were only a two-minute walk from China Beach and a five-minute walk to Marble Mountain.

View from our balcony at Hoa's Place
South China Sea view from our balcony at Hoa’s Place.
We rented a motorcycle from Hoa’s neighbour for US$3/day and drove to the UNESCO World Heritage protected city, Hoi An. Due to the fact that the city avoided the destruction wreaked on most Vietnamese cities by the war, it is a well-preserved example of a traditional trading port with buildings dating from the 15th to 19th centuries. Hoi An is undeniably beautiful with its winding alleyways, European-style buildings, and canals.
Hoi An CanalUNESCO World Heritage protected city in Vietnam
The Japanese Bridge in Hoi An.
Underlying all this beauty, is a cut-throat business mentality. Everyone is trying to sell you something by shoving it in your face and not taking no for an answer. Nobody really wants to help you. If you ask for directions or advice, you get the old, “I help you, you help me,” while they swiftly pull a tour brochure out of their pocket. We experienced this business tactic while looking for Cao Lau (a traditional Hoi An noodle dish) in the market. A woman asked us what we were looking for and showed us where we could buy prepared food. With the slickness of an oil salesman, she pulled the “I help you, now you help me,” and told us to come to her tailor shop a few market stalls down. We obliged and didn’t feel too pressured to buy anything, but felt a little dismayed. From this point on, we knew that we always had to be on our guard when someone spoke to us in the street. If we did speak to a local, we were always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Hoi An, Vietnam Market
The busy Hoi An market. A good place to stop for food.
Hoi An is pretty. But seriously, how many tailor shops does one town need? After only a few hours, we retreated to Da Nang.

I’ve since been back to Hoi An and learned to love it, visit our new Budget Guide to Hoi An, Vietnam for tips

Although Da Nang is a much bigger city, it felt less chaotic than Hoi An. Before arriving we talked to a local from Hue who told us not to go to Da Nang as it was “just a normal Vietnamese city”, but that’s exactly what we were looking for. We spent most of the day riding the motorcycle around the busy streets (mainly because we were lost) taking on giant roundabouts and unpredictable traffic lights, while weaving around cars and other slower vehicles. We also sat on a couch for the first time in two-and-a-half months in an air-conditioned cafe while sipping on Vietnamese coffee and watching the world go by. Heaven.

Da Nang Bridge, Vietnam
One of the many beautiful bridges in Da Nang.

Although Hoi An has prettier sights, we found Da Nang to be a realistic slice of Vietnamese life and more interesting. We decided to try to stay off the tourist trail by going to Quy Nhon next.

The Facts

Getting In and Out of Da Nang, Vietnam

Da Nang’s international airport serves almost all of Vietnam plus China, South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei and Japan. It’s about a 10 minute drive to downtown Da Nang, so a taxi shouldn’t be more than 100,000 VND. Make sure you get a taxi that uses the meter.

Sample Budget (for 2)

Bus from Quy Nhon: 320,000 VND ($14.33)
Hotel: 850,000 VND for 2 nights ($40)
Food: 360,000 VND for 2 lunches and 2 suppers ($16.13)
Coffee/Booze/Snacks: 100,000 VND ($4.50)
Train to Hue: 120,000 VND ($5.38)

Total: 1,750,000 VND ($78.40 or $19.60 each per day)

The train station in Da Nang is also close to the downtown. Taxi drivers may swarm and refuse to use their meters, but you should be able to find a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi that will stick to the meter. For train schedules, prices, and to book tickets the Vietnam National Railway has its own site that will actually show you the seats that are available, which is clutch if you are coming from Hue and you want a view of the ocean. If you want to go to Hoi An from the train station, you can save a large taxi fare by walking a block to where the yellow #1 bus stops (see map below). For 20,000 VND it will take you to Hoi An.

There are several bus companies in Da Nang that go as far as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. It’s best to book at a travel company, hotel, or bus office in the city. The bus station is far enough away that a taxi ride will cost you more than the travel company’s fee. Your next destination will likely be Hoi An or Hue, which you will have plenty of options for. If you are going to Hue, consider paying a bit more to take a bus along the Hai Van pass. It’s one of the most beautiful roads in Vietnam, but most buses will take the tunnel because it’s easier and quicker.

The Best Budget Hotel in Da Nang, Vietnam

The Funtastic Hostel has double rooms that are about $20/night. They have 2 locations: one downtown, and one by the beach. It’s a bit too much of a hostel vibe for us (specially when hotels are so cheap in Vietnam), but everything is new and the owner is a Da Nang legend. Check out her food website here. If you book directly though their site, you’ll avoid some booking fees from the ‘other guys’.

The Best Budget Restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam

Mi Quang is a must-try specialty of the Da Nang area. Arguably, the best mi quang in Da Nang is at Ba Vi – 166 Le Dinh Duong (see map below).

The Map – Da Nang, Vietnam

Next Stop Recommendation – Hue, Vietnam

It’s a no-brainer, Hue is just a few hours from Da Nang and it’s filled with great sights. In an ideal world, you would take the Hai Van Pass to Hue, but I’m currently unaware of any tours that take that route, unless you want to pay $50 for a private car. I guess if you can get 4 people together it’s worth the money, but taking the train also offers views that will blow your freaking mind. Trains leave Da Nang at 3:02AM, 6:22AM, 8:35AM, 12:46PM, and 2:13PM. The ride takes 3-4 hours and costs around 60-70,000 VND for a soft seat with AC. Use the official railway website to book your tickets and you’ll be able to pick your seat (take the right side of the train for an ocean view).

Budget Guide to Hue, Vietnam