Da Nang is Vietnam’s fastest-growing city and is a major hub for digital nomads. The quickly transforming urban metropolis has everything a remote worker could possibly need–fast WiFi, incredible (and cheap) vegan food options, a strong coffee culture, affordable housing, easy transportation options with motorbike rentals and cheap Grab taxis, activities, and more. However, Da Nang isn’t the most exciting city to visit as a traveler. You really don’t need more than a day or two here to explore quirky sights and Buddhist religious monuments. before you head to Hoi An which is a zillion times more peaceful and beautiful. These are the best things to see, do, and eat in Da Nang.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN DA NANG
I was eager to visit Da Nang’s most famous sites but as I don’t know how to drive a motorbike I couldn’t go on my own. Fortunately, locally owned and operated Hoi An Express offers a tour that goes to both the White Lady Buddha and The Marble Mountains! My guide was very well informed about both locations and was able to tell me fascinating facts that I would have never learned had I gone to either location independently–however, you don’t need a guide to visit either place. But, I always think visiting with a local is a more meaningful experience!
PAY RESPECTS AT THE CHUA LINH UNG PAGODA
The first stop on the Hoi An Express tour was to the White Lady Buddha at the Chua Linh Ung Pagoda (Google Maps). The temple grounds are incredibly peaceful. Stroll around aimlessly and take in the beauty of the landscaped gardens, tiered pagoda, pristine reclining Buddha, and sweeping views of Da Nang.
I implore you to pay respects to the gigantic Bodhisattva of Mercy as she’s credited for protecting the expansive bay from being destroyed by typhoons. There hasn’t been a single natural disaster since she was erected in 2010. This location was chosen due to the folktale that once a Buddha statue was washed ashore nearby from the ocean–marking this place as sacred. For Vietnamese, this is a spot where heaven and earth meet in harmony. At 220 ft tall this is the tallest Lady Buddha in Vietnam–and quite possibly, the world. It was wonderful to gaze at her sheer size–I’m continuously moved how spirituality can be an inspiration to create such beautiful artifacts around the world. The Buddhist Goddess of Mercy is the protector of the ocean so fisherman come here to pray for bountiful catches full of fish. Can you see the tiny Buddha image on her crown? It’s possible to go up all 17 floors and see Buddha statues and take a look at unbelievable views of the surrounding jungle and sea.
There are several other impressive Buddha statues around the Chua Linh Ung Pagoda including a beautiful work of art that’s made from a single piece of black marble.
TAKE A SPIN AROUND THE SON TRA PENINSULA
If you’re brave enough to rent a motorbike or have a friend who’s a confident driver like I did, take a spin around the beautiful Son Tra Peninsula (Google Maps). The mountain that resides on the peninsula is 2,275 feet above sea level. There endless natural beauty to take in, beautiful hikes, and hidden beaches. The area is nicknamed Monkey Mountain as many primates live in the lush jungle. I didn’t see any–which is fine by me! I’ve had too many scary encounters with wild primates. If you’re keen to spot red-shanked douc langur book this 3-hour guided tour of the Son Tra Nature Reserve.
SEE THE LAUGHING BUDDHA AT CHUA BUU SAI SON
Where Da Nang meets the Son Tra Peninsula is the beautiful Chua Buu Dai Son temple (Google Maps). I’m shocked I never see this serene place on any Da Nang travel guides! It’s absolutely worth the visit with stunning Buddhist artwork and a lovely laughing Buddha statue.
LEARN ABOUT TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE FISHING BOATS
Between visits to the White Lady Buddha and the Marble Mountains with Hoi An Express, we made a pit stop to take in the beauty of the fishing boats in the Da Nang Bay. The traditional circular boats are used for catching sardines for Vietnam’s famous fish sauce.
Their odd shape traces back to an old law about taxes for regular sized boats–the round ones didn’t have to pay any taxes so local fisherman started to use bamboo to create circular vessels! It’s astonishing to see the juxtaposition of the various shapes and sizes of traditional boats against the looming skyscrapers popping up at a rapid pace in Da Nang.
VISIT THE MARBLE MOUNTAINS
A short ride from the White Lady Buddha later and we arrived at the incredible Marble Mountains (Google Maps). Visitors can actually only go to one of the mountains, Mt. Thuy, but there are five different mountains here made of marble and limestone. Each mountain has a nickname to honor each of the five Asian elements–Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void. The stunning natural feats were formed from volcanoes and were once below sea level which is apparent as if you look closely you can see ancient corals and fossils of aquatic life on the cliff rock.
Mt. Thuy is dedicated to water and has been transformed over the last few centuries into a Buddhist monument with various altars placed in the marvelous natural caves and hidden grottoes. There’s even a Hindu cave which can be traced back to the Cham people of My Son who ruled during the 10th century. The tiered pagoda is a sacred place where Buddhist monks are buried and can be seen from quite a distance as it dramatically jets out of the mountain.
After the Champa Empire of central Vietnam, a king developed the mountain for his sister who wanted to become a Buddhist monk. The princess was in need of a peaceful place for meditation and prayer and thus the Buddhist shrine of Marble Mountain began.
Mt. Thuy has the highest summit of all the marble mountains. I loved taking in the panoramic views of Da Nang from the top of the Marble Mountains–even on a rainy day the vistas were spectacular of the city, beach, river, and beyond. Can you spot the Cao Dai temple?
One of the major, yet quirky, draws of the Marble Mountains is a visit to hell. Don’t worry, it’s not a one-way ticket and you’ll reach heaven after enduring the gory levels of inferno. Similar to the hell depicted at the Linh Phuoc Pagoda temple in Dalat. The eerie Am Phu Cave leads guests to the underworld on a trip to hell. Various torture for 10 sins are monumented here–our local tour guide tells us his mother used to bring him here as a child to scare him out of any bad behavior.
I didn’t particularly like the Am Phu Cave. But I did enjoy the bridge that leads to hell–it has tiny images of each of the zodiac signs. On your way out of hell, you’re meant to touch your sign in order to ensure you won’t have to return to hell in death. I gave the snake a firm pat down and feel secure that my karma will prevent me from being tortured in hell someday.
What I did love about Marble Mountains are the various other motifs and symbols including a giant wheel of Karma and a carved stone that depicts various animals and what they represent to the Vietnamese: Phoenix for beauty, unicorn for luck, turtle for longevity, and dragon for power. There’s also a giant standing Buddha that was impressively carved from one slab of limestone in 1875 that left me speechless when thinking of the craftsmanship required to create such beauty.
WALK ACROSS THE GOLDEN DRAGON BRIDGE
There are seven brides in Da Nang boasting fascinating architecture but the most intriguing is the Dragon Bridge (Google Maps). The bridge is the most second most famous dragon motif in Vietnam–after the massive dragon aquarium at Hoy Thuy Thien in Hue. In Vietnam, dragons are symbols of prosperity, power, and protection. Like many of the structures along the Han River, the dragon bridge lights up at night. Come by at 9 PM on the weekends to see the dragon breathe fire and look at the LED light shows on passing boats and buildings on the edge of the river. You can also visit the Thuận Phước Bridge which is the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam.
SEE VIETNAM’S OTHER PINK CATHEDRAL
Actually, there are many pink churches in Vietnam. Stay tuned for an article explaining why soon. I don’t visit churches in Asia because of the impacts of colonization but I did walk by the light pink Gothic Da Nang Cathedral (Google Maps). What does impress me about churches is their architecture and the Da Nang pink church doesn’t really compare to the beauty of the Gothic-Renaissance pink church in Saigon.
GO TO BA NA HILLS IF YOU MUST
I avoided visiting Ba Na Hills (Google Maps) as I heard it was overpriced, overhyped, and overcrowded. But, the handheld bridge has quickly become Insta-famous so I’m sure you’ll want to visit. The cable car that you can take to reach the faux French town is actually the longest and highest in the world! A visit to Ba Na Hills is most suitable for family travelers due to the many rides and attractions at the amusement park. Another family-friendly activity in Da Nang is to spend the day at the Than Tai Hot Springs waterpark.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME IN DA NANG DO THESE ACTIVITIES
I picked up my beloved weaved handbag in Da Nang for a fraction of the price that I’d seen similar pieces selling for in other parts of Southeast Asia. Hoi An Express also has a guided shopping tour which will take you to local markets and shops and you’ll learn about the local way of life.
Foodies won’t want to miss the chance to take a cooking class with a Da Nang local in their home via responsible tour operator Backstreet Academy. You can also learn about local cuisine by booking this epic food safari which will take you around to all the local food Da Nang food spots in a war era jeep!
If you’re on a tight budget get to know Da Nang by taking the hop-on-hop-off city bus for $7 to see all the sights and then treat yourself to a facial for less than $10. Save one night for the cultural Charming Da Nang dance performance and another to go to the 7 Bridges Brewery (Google Maps) to try some local beers and taking in the spectacular views of Da Nang at night.
ENJOY A CUP OR FIVE OF COFFEE
Vietnam is the second largest coffee producing country in the world so it’s no surprise that there’s a major coffee scene in Da Nang! Especially with all those digital nomads that survive off of caffeine–like yours truly. Well, I like long black Americanos or specialty coffee drinks like charcoal lattes like the one pictured above from Wanderlust Cafe. But, most Vietnamese drink Ca Phe Sua Da which is basically a slow drip espresso that’s extremely thick and syrupy mixed with condensed milk–not vegan-friendly.
My favorite coffee shops in Da Nang were Wanderlust Cafe, Brewman Coffee Concept, and Why Roastery. Wanderlust Cafe (Google Maps) takes the cake though for strongest coffee and eco consciousness as they serve coffee and cocktails reusable bamboo straws. They were happy to make me a vegan-friendly coconut coffee (sans condensed milk) but were horrified that it’d taste bad. It didn’t! I love vegan coconut coffee–the one at Wanderlust was so intense that it had me shaking literally all day. Be sure to come back here at night for craft cocktails and live music.
I had an amazing coconut coffee at Brewman Coffee Concept (Google Maps) but it wasn’t as close to my hotel so I only got to go here once. If you’re vegan I can’t stress enough that CONG CaPhe does NOT have a vegan coconut coffee, they always premix the coconut milk with condensed milk. I had strong and tasty coffee at Why Roastery (Google Maps) but they didn’t have any plant milk so I just had a regular ole iced Americano, but it was great! Another beautiful spot for coffee in Da Nang is the quirky Sound Cafe (Google Maps).
HAVE SOME OF THE BEST VEGAN FOOD IN VIETNAM
As much as I loved all the vegan cafes in Saigon I was blown away by the quality and variety of vegan food available in Da Nang. I only spent 3 days here and planned most of my time around where I was going to eat great vegan food in Da Nang. Most of the cafes are incredibly aesthetic too–making them soothing environments to work from for the day.
MACROBIOTIC EATS AT BAO AN MACROBIOTIC
It was a much-needed break from overly oily and sweetened food to have a simple and healthy meal at Bao An Macrobiotic (Google Maps). They prepare plant-based plates the same way I would if I were cooking for myself–full of flavor and wholesome locally sourced ingredients. If you’re a digital nomad in Da Nang and looking for somewhere to source organic produce and staples they also have a small store.
CLEAN ORGANIC FOOD AT GOOM
I was thrilled when I arrived at Goom (Google Maps) and saw that not only did they have an abundance of kombucha flavors but they also had several dishes with kale! I went a bit overboard and ordered the garlic chickpeas and kale AND the vegan pizza.
The vegan pizza is about as good as it looks so give it a pass and instead go to Pizza 4P’s (Google Maps) for authentic Italian pizza. They don’t have vegan cheese but they do have loads of veggies. Back to Goom, not only do they serve clean organic food but they also have a zero-waste shop where you can buy grains and also plastic-free toiletries like shampoo bars and bamboo toothbrushes. I was delighted when Goom opened up recently in my Vietnamese home, Hoi An!
EXCITING VARIETY OF CUISINES AT ANS VEGETARIAN
ANs Vegetarian (Google Maps) isn’t strictly vegan as there are some vegetarian dishes on the menu (with eggs and milk) so be sure to specify your dietary preferences when ordering. The menu is extensive and offers unique dishes from all over the globe. These Japanese udon noodles were to die for and the corn fritters were equally delicious.
MEALS THAT GIVE BACK AT HAPPY HEART
There are extremely limited vegetarian options at Happy Heart (Google Maps) which is how I ended up with these less-than-exciting fried veg noodles. However, I would have gone here and eaten just about anything veg on the menu as this cafe is dedicated to giving back to the community with various social and eco sustainability programs. They serve drinks with my beloved bamboo straws but more importantly, they’ve created employment opportunities for their almost entirely deaf staff.
HOW TO GET TO DA NANG
I took the train from Nha Trang to Da Nang which is the most sustainable way to travel in Vietnam as it releases the least amount of harmful CO2 emissions. When traveling in Vietnam I always book trains, buses, or planes on Baolau as they accept foreign credit cards and have no hidden fees. From the train station or airport, you can take a Grab taxi to your accommodation. If you don’t already have a sim card for Vietnam it may be best to book a shuttle transfer in advance. The taxis here are expensive and will likely rip you off–especially when you first arrive. For a memorable experience reserve this unique jeep pick up and tour that will take you around Da Nang.
WHERE TO STAY IN DA NANG
I stayed at the affordable Platinum Danang Hotel due to its proximity to the beach and coffee shops I was eager to visit. The room was absolutely divine and they had one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept on during the last 3 years of continuous travel. I haven’t seen the guestrooms–or checked the beds–at Adamo Hotel but for just a bit more money you can book this hotel that has an epic rooftop pool. Or, sneak in for the day as I did (shh, don’t tell!). If you’re keen to stay in a hostel in Da Nang I’ve heard good things about Memory Hostel and it’s located near some of my favorite Da Nang vegan eateries. Browse all of the accommodation options in Da Nang on Booking.com to reserve the best place for your stay at the best price!
As always, make sure you’re safe and sound by purchasing travel insurance from World Nomads!
Have you been to Da Nang as a digital nomad or a traveler? Tell us what you loved, or didn’t love, below in the comments!
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