The jump off point to many natural, historical and cultural attractions in Central Vietnam, Da Nang has been a well-kept secret amongst visitors – until now.
Words: Joey Gan Photography: Chua Siew Ching
When the offer to visit Da Nang first came about, my initial reaction was joy swiftly followed by bewilderment. I knew almost nothing about this place except that it had once been the host city of a beauty pageant. I asked my friends about it and they gladly yapped away about Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City instead. Da Nang? They had never heard of it and tried steering the conversation back to the other two cities.
From their experiences in Vietnam, I began to draw a picture of a gazillion motorbikes on the streets – a melee of honking bikes, chaotic traffic and pedestrians dashing across streets for dear life. This bedlam was ingrained in my mind and I braced for the impending chaos in Da Nang as well.
Discovering Da Nang
When I arrived in Da Nang city, there were hardly any vehicles whizzing by, let alone a gazillion motorbikes. There were a few around with the occasional honking, but on the whole, the riders were well-behaved and cruised at moderate speeds. This was nothing like I had imagined Da Nang to be.
The largest city in Central Vietnam, Da Nang is well connected by air, sea and road. During the Vietnam War, Da Nang served as an airbase for both Vietnamese and US air forces. Scars from the past still remain but that hasn’t stopped Da Nang from becoming a commercial and education hub in Central Vietnam. It is also fast becoming a holiday destination.
Additionally, due to its strategic location, Da Nang connects visitors to the country’s three UNESCO Heritage Sites: My Son Sanctuary, Hoi An Ancient Town, and the Complex of Hue Monuments. Within Da Nang, the Marble Mountains, China Beach and Non Nuoc stone-carving village are popular attractions that link Da Nang’s past to its present.
My first stop in Da Nang was Marble Mountains, located in Ngu Hanh Son ward, south of Da Nang city. This cluster of marble and limestone hills has five peaks, each named after one of the five elements of the universe according to Oriental philosophy: Thuy Son (Water Peak), Moc Son (Metal Peak), Tho Son (Earth Peak), Moc Son (Wood Peak), and Hoa Son (Fire Peak).
I decided on Thuy Son, it being the main attraction near Non Nuoc village. The only way to the peak is via 156 stone steps, located in different parts of the hill that lead to a few pagodas, a cave temple and watchtowers.
The cave temple, Huyen Khong Cave, stood out as the most interesting attraction. My guide, who incidentally was also named Huyen, explained the caves chequered past that extends all the way to the Vietnam War. According to Huyen, the cave was used as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers. I looked down from the cave entrance and imagined all the injured bodies lying on the damp floor. I surveyed the chilly surrounding with a heavy heart, my eyes fixed on the damp wall surface, the only remaining witness of the painful past.
The cave is now a Buddhist temple. After paying my respects, I moved on to Vong Hai Dai Watchtower at the top of Thuy Son to take in the serene landscape, with the South China Sea in the distance. I rounded up my visit in Thuy Son with a stroll to Non Nouc village, a settlement at the foothill that thrives on stone carving, a profession that’s been practiced for the past 300 years. Here, sculptures as tall as a seven-foot Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) statue, or as small as a marble chess set are on sale.
*Admission to Thuy Son is USD1 or VND20,000.