Da Nang is located only a couple of hours south of Hué. We booked a direct shuttle bus through Huetourist several months ahead of time. We were mighty surprised to find that our two-hour trip was going to take close to four hours and had several stops along the way. The van we were in had narrow seats, which is typical in Vietnam. We had a tour guide, but his accent was so heavy that no one on the bus knew what he was saying most of the time. He was a pleasant enough young man but didn’t really add much value to the trip. He told us about all of the places we should visit in Hué. Not too helpful given that everyone was leaving Hué!
On the outskirts of Hué, the van made a turn onto a rutted dirt road. We bounced along until we reached a small village with a wooden bridge; our first stop. We were given 15 minutes to walk around. Way too much time – 5 minutes would’ve been plenty.
When we boarded the van, he waxed rhapsodic about the wonders of different essential oils and their purposes. I wasn’t too sure why, but that became crystal clear when we were informed that we would be stopping for a toilet break, coincidentally at a large shop that sells – you guessed it – essential oils. Bad enough that we had to make a bunch of unwanted stops; even worse that they were for sales pitches.
The third stop was at a beach resort. Just before the resort was a large lagoon where pearls are grown. Can you guess where this is going? To get to the toilets at the resort, we had to run the gauntlet past sales women trying to entice us into selling pearls. The beach stop was supposed to be only 15 minutes, but the other people on the bus stretched it out to about a half hour. Good thing we didn’t have any time schedule to adhere to!
The only vaguely interesting stop was the final one, at Hai Van pass. This used to be the boundary between two kingdoms during ancient times. The road was very twisty and steep; not for those prone to motion sickness. There were some bunkers that are remnants of the war visible at the pass as well as multiple souvenir stands in case you just must buy something. The views from the top were spectacular!
We finally reached Da Nang a little after noon. This is a big, big city – population of 1.2 million. It is known for being an R&R area for American soldiers during the war and has kilometers-long beaches. We were staying for a couple of days; one of which we would be taking a side trip to Hoi An. The van dropped us at the Cham Museum, across from the Dragon Bridge. This bridge is lit up nightly and breathes fire. I have seen videos, but we did not make the effort to see it in person. There is also a replica of the Golden Bridge, I guess to entice you to visit Ba Na Hills amusement park where the original is located. I was happy to see the replica – cool enough for me. We grabbed a cab to our hotel, the Samdi Hotel, and spent the rest of the day exploring.
The next day, we decided to take the local HOHO, the CoCo Bus (http://cococitytour.vn/en/). For a little over $7 US, you can travel both routes for 24 hours. One of the routes takes you to the Marble Mountains, a must do if you come to Da Nang. The other takes you around the city, but also out to Monkey Mountain. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was for rain – no beach visit, darn it! We decided to head out to the Marble Mountains first thing. We knew we were getting close when we started to see marble sculptures lining the road.
There are 5 mountains (big hills) that are named after the five elements: water, metal, wood, fire, and earth. Only one of the mountains is accessible to visitors. You have your choice of either climbing stairs or taking an elevator to reach the caves and pagodas on the mountain. Okay, we wimped out and took the elevator. It costs about 65 cents for a one-way ride up. If you want to ride back down, you have to buy another ticket at the top. The steps are made of stone and very slick when wet.
Upon exiting the elevator, you follow various paths to caves and pagodas. Lest you think that the elevator takes all the work out of the visit, let me assure you that you will be climbing up and down multiple stairs to reach all of the different things to see. And, they are uneven and steep. Not that I am complaining – just giving fair warning to those interested in visiting. Views from the top are pretty spectacular, or they would have been if it wasn’t so cloudy on the day we visited.
We walked down the steps to reach the street level and found the next bus stop for the HOHO. We hopped off the bus at the airport and transferred to the other bus line, the city route. Something unique on this HOHO is that there is no commentary, nor does the bus stop at the 57 stops on the route unless you request a stop. The person that sells the tickets asks you where you want to get off, and then makes sure that the bus stops there. It was actually a bit of a relief that the bus didn’t stop at all of those places!
The city route goes along the road that parallels the beach and then takes you to Monkey Mountain where it stops for 10 minutes. There is a large pagoda there and an enormous Buddha on the hill nearby. We spied a couple of monkeys in the parking lot while we waited for the tour to continue. We rode the bus back to the airport, feeling like we had seen as much of Da Nang as anyone needed to see! Tomorrow, we head to Hoi An.