“What the hell was I thinking? What made me come here?” I was standing on one of the busy streets in Da Nang. Ahead of me I could see the beach – covered in mist, with grey clouds hanging over the sea which looked cold and uninviting.
Strong wind blew some sand into my eyes. I turned around. Behind me the view was even more depressing. Tall, expensive hotels stood next to rubbles of concrete, huge trucks were coming and going bringing more materials to build even more tall buildings.
Da Nang was nothing like I had imagined it to be.
Today I am looking back on my experiences. In a few days I will say good bye to the city and to Vietnam. My 3 months stay in Da Nang was at times frustrating, surprising, but also fun and interesting.
It is time to summarise my experiences here.
Living in Da Nang pros
A Vietnamese girl once asked me what the first adjective was when I thought of Da Nang. ‘Colourful’ I said without hesitating.
My first impressions of the city weren’t very positive. It was the end of cool season, it was raining and it was cold. We rented a flat in a newer part of the city, where new hotels are being built every day. The only part that seemed pleasant was the nearby beach, but it was too cold for a swim.
With first rays of summer sun everything changed.
To me Da Nang is a city of bright colours. During the day it is blue and green, like the nearby Son Tra Peninsula and the Han River. Then, in the evening, it changes the colours to pink, yellow, red and dark blue. All of the bridges that connect the eastern part of Da Nang with the western part are illuminated with different colours. The most prominent feature is the Dragon Bridge, which is beautifully lit every night and on Sundays and Saturdays at 9 pm spits fire and water over cheering crowds.
The city centre
The area around the southern beaches might not be the most attractive one in Da Nang. When I first came here I thought that it was how the whole city looked like. I was so wrong!
The centre of Da Nang is lively and interesting. Life happens on the streets. Women, wearing characteristic conical hats sell fruit and vegetables from tiny street stalls, or straight from their motorbikes. Men sit at coffee shops and tea houses, sipping caphe da – strong Vietnamese coffee – play cards and do business. Shops stay open until late, little restaurants cook food all day long and serve their ever-hungry customers.
Oh, and there are motorbikes… So many motorbikes…
Da Nang is not London, so don’t expect good clubs with famous DJs. However, after dark the city comes to life.
The promenade, which stretches along the southern beaches, is the best spot for evening walks. Locals hang out around here until late evening hours. They like to sit down on the concrete benches and look at the sea, or munch on some candy floss and drink fresh coconut juice. There is even a big stage, where young talents show off their singing skills every day (Note: Don’t attend if you are sensitive to loud music and high pitched voices).
I enjoy watching people walking along the promenade at night, but I love the city centre even more. The banks of River Han are colourful and lively. Some bars play loud music and sell cheap cocktails. The party in Da Nang lasts the entire week.
Beaches in Da Nang are the cleanest I have ever encountered in South East Asia. You won’t find rubbish laying around or floating plastic bottles. The water is clean and has a nice, dark blue colour, which is a beautiful contrast to white sand and green palm trees.
I like the close proximity of the different beaches. The southern ones are quite boring, but wide and easy to get to. The northern beaches are further away from the city and have stunning views of the mountains. The Son Tra Peninsula provides you with deserted, wild beaches, clean air and even more breathtaking views.
We first stayed in Hoi An and quite often the Vietnamese people we met were not so pleasant. Only after we moved to Da Nang it turned out that they are very friendly and much more approachable than Thais. I assume people working in Hoi An are just tired and a little fed up with tourists. So, if you want to experience the real Vietnamese hospitality, visit Da Nang and wander the streets here.
Da Nang is conveniently located, only 30 km from Hoi An and at the foot of Son Tra Peninsula and Hai Van Pass. From here you can also take a trip to My Son or Cham Islands. 3 months wasn’t enough to see it all.
The local beers, Larue and Huda, are very cheap ($0.80 for a small bottle) and taste pretty good – much better than the beers in Thailand.
Good coffee shops with fast internet
It was hard to find coffee shops, where we could work, at first. The ones that provide high speed internet with good working atmosphere are hidden among shops and tea houses. You really do need to do your research to find them.
We have our favourite ones here and go there often to work during the day. They have fast wi-fi and good drinks and quite a few of them are really quiet. Da Nang still needs some co-working spaces though.
Living in Da Nang – cons
Our experience with renting a flat in Da Nang is not so good. Our apartment is located very close to the main beach, which is a big plus. It is also spacious, clean and nicely decorated. Monthly rent, excluding utilities is $350. From what we could gather, it is a brand new building, which is surprising because everything here seems to be slowly falling apart.
We first rented a flat on the first floor. After only a week or so Christopher’s passport was covered in mould from the humidity. Then my dressing gown, my handbag and some other things followed. We complained multiple times to the administration without any result.
The hotter it got, the more humid the apartment was.
One day we noticed a huge wet stain on our wall that was getting bigger and bigger every day. We informed the reception and requested to be transferred to a new flat. It took several days and an intervention from our agency to be finally given a new apartment. This time it took a bit longer for the wet stains to appear on the walls again.
We are not as much disappointed with the state of the flat, but with the administration of the building. They seem to be overly polite and nice, but in reality totally indifferent to our requests.
Vietnam is well known for its good internet connection. At least that’s what I had read before we moved here.
It’s true that you can get high speed wi-fi at cafes, but when you rent a flat that’s a completely different story. Our internet freezes all the time, it’s very slow in the evenings and causes a lot of stress for both us. We work online and having a good internet connection is extremely important.
Availability of good food
I don’t like Vietnamese food. There, I said it. I have never had good experiences with it. I guess there are some restaurants and bars serving tasty Vietnamese dishes, but I have never really stumbled upon them.
I’ve tried some of the more famous dishes, like com ga – rice with roasted chicken. Chicken is usually so dry that you can’t separate the meat from the bones. In other dishes meat is hard or there’s no meat at all, just bones.
There are no good places to eat around our apartment building. The ones we like serve expensive western food. A few good eateries can be found in the city centre, where we go to eat Mi Quang (noodles with broth), but there are no good options anywhere closer to us where we can eat something fulfilling and cheap. Thankfully we have a kitchen, so we ended up cooking at home.
Everything in Da Nang is more expensive than in Chiang Mai. This might be due to the fact that the government wants to turn Da Nang into an expensive holiday destination, or Vietnam is expensive in general – I guess I will find out when I go to Saigon later this month.
For comparison: a plate of rice with seafood will set you back $5 ($1 in Thailand), renting a scooter for a day is around $6 ($3-$4 in Thailand) and a body massage is $8 ($5 in Thailand).
I wouldn’t call this scams as some tourist do, but rather overcharging. Vietnamese people always try to charge foreigners more.
We once went to a little shop in Hue to eat a sandwich, which normally costs 15,000 VND ($0.67) and ended up paying over 50,000 VND for it ($2). After a couple of situations like that I ended up arguing with a security guy when he wanted to charge me 3,000 VND ($0.13) instead of 2,000 VND for parking. It wasn’t about the money, but I started losing patience when it came to overcharging me for every little thing.
Who hasn’t heard about the notorious traffic in Vietnam? The roads here are crazy. Da Nang is not as bad as Hanoi, but it is also a busy city, where everyone drives like crazy. It took me a couple of weeks to finally gather my courage and drive a scooter. I still get very nervous about driving here.
We moved to Da Nang at the end of the cool season. For the first month or so the weather was great. It was not too hot, temperatures were pleasant and it was nice being outside. Nowadays I hardly ever go out during the day. It is not only extremely hot, but also humid. As soon as you are outside, your skin is covered in sweat. The desert air in Chiang Mai during the hot season is much better.
I liked living in Da Nang. I think it’s a great city for foreigners. It’s colourful, exciting and it’s developing quickly. But I don’t feel sad that I’m leaving. The city didn’t grow on me, I don’t feel at home here. There were too many things I found irritating and I missed a lot of conveniences I had in Thailand (like 24/7 shops serving delicious snacks). I am sure that I will look back at my experiences here with some nostalgia, but for now I’m looking forward to my adventures in Poland.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
JOANNA (The Blond Travels)