By far the two most interesting cities in Central Vietnam, Da Nang is the fastest growing city in Southeast Asia, and Hoi An, the most touristic. Usually you don’t group two cities together in your Layover Series, but these cities are almost synonymous with each-other. Only a 20 minute motorbike ride away from one-another, Da Nang & Hoi An are two cities in Vietnam that should not be missed.
Da Nang: This city is the fourth biggest, behind Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Phong. Not only does Da Nang boast one of the best coast lines of the entire country, there are possibly more things to do in and around this city than any other. Within the city itself, you can visit the pristine coastlines, explore Marble Mountain, hike Son Tra Peninsula for a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding mountains and coast, get lost in one of the many inside or outside markets, and visit Lady Buddha: a statue taller than the Statue of Liberty, respectfully. Outside the city, you can visit UNESCO World Heritage City Hoi An, UNESCO World Heritage City Hue, UNESCO World Heritage Site My Son, or you can visit Bana Hills: a French-colonial city built on top of a mountain that currently holds the record for longest cable car in the world. Additionally, Da Nang is known as the commercial and educational capital of Vietnam and is often called the “City of Bridges” as it boasts four massively impressive bridges and about half-a-dozen others that connect the city.
Hoi An: Claiming a UNESCO World Heritage City title in 1999, Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and street plan reflect a unique blend of influences, indigenous (Cham) and foreign (French). Prominent in the city’s old town, is a covered “Japanese Bridge,” dating to the 16th-17th century – Walking through Hoi An feels as if you’re walking through an ancient fairy tale. Additionally, This UNESCO City is home to the most tailors and massage parlors you have personally ever seen in one location. From shoes, jackets, suits, to wedding dresses, you can get anything custom-made just for you at a fraction of the cost; and while you’re waiting you can grab a massage at any of the plethora of options.
First things first – What to eat?
“You don’t have to go looking for great food in Vietnam. Great food finds you. It’s everywhere. In restaurants, cafes, little storefronts, in the streets; carried in makeshift portable kitchens on yokes borne by women vendors. Your cyclo-driver will invite you to his home; your guide will want to bring you to his favourite place. Strangers will rush up and offer you a taste of something they’re proud of and think you should know about. It’s a country filled with proud cooks – and passionate eaters.”
– Anthony Bourdain
White Rose – Named for their supposed resemblance to the flower, these delicate steamed dumplings are filled with shrimp and pork, then topped with crunchy fried shallots and served with a sweet dipping sauce. Like Cao Lầu, the translucent wrapper dough is supposed to be made with the special well water, so white roses are a dumpling variety native to Hoi An and Hoi An alone.
Bánh Xèo – Literally meaning “sizzling cake”, named for the loud sizzling sound it makes when the rice batter is poured into the hot skillet. A Vietnamese savory fried pancake made of rice flour, water, turmeric powder and is usually served with beef or shrimp and served with a delicious dipping sauce.
*Can also be served vegetarian.
Bún Bò Huế – This dish originates in Hue (a little further north of Da Nang). Bún Bò (as it is commonly referred to as) is a popular Vietnamese soup usually containing thin slices of marinated and boiled beef shank, chunks of oxtail, and pig’s knuckles. It can also include cubes of congealed pig blood, which has a color between dark brown and maroon, and a texture resembling firm tofu.
Cao Lầu – Hoi An’s most famous dish. Its unique taste and texture is achieved by using water from an undisclosed ancient Cham well, just outside the town. Cao Lầu is sold on every corner in Hoi An. It contains thick noodles in an ultra-rich pork broth, fresh herbs, pork, and fried noodle croutons. Delicious!
Bánh Mì – Bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread. Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during the colonial period in Vietnam. These baguettes are usually stuffed with a Pâté, vegetables and an egg.
Bia Hơi – This is local fresh beer. It is brewed every day and tastes very similar to regular beer, only a little less carbonated. It is usually only around 3% ABV but because the cost is so low, you can drink like a champion all day.
Must-see’s of Da Nang & Hoi An
Da Nang and Hoi An offer visitors a plethora of sightseeing options, but with the right plan, both cities can be explored and mastered in 72 hours. Here are the must see sights of these cities that you can explore and conquer in 72 hours. There are 8 must see attractions between these cities that have come to define both of these cities’ global popularity. From the ancient streets of Hoi An, the fire breathing Dragon Bridge in Da Nang, the breathtaking beach in both cities, the views of Da Nang city from the tallest tower, Marble Mountain, or Lady Buddha – it’s all broken down below.
DA NANG – Marble Mountain – A cluster of five marble and limestone mountains. The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim Son (Mt. Metal), Moc Son (Mt. Plant), Thuy Son (Mt. Water), Hoa Son (Mt. Fire), and Tho Son (Mt. Soil). All of the mountains have cave entrances and numerous tunnels, and it is possible to climb to the summit of Mt. Thuy.
DA NANG – Lady Buddha – Built in 2010, this is the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam and is located on Son Tra Peninsula in the northern part of Da Nang. It has a height of 67m and has 17 floors in the statue lap, each floor has an altar with 21 Buddha statues which have different shapes, facial expression and posture.
DA NANG – Ban Co Peak/Monkey Mountain – Ban Co Peak (Chessboard in English) is the highest mountain in Son Tra Peninsula, standing at nearly 600m. From Ban Co Peak, you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views over the entire Da Nang city, Hai Van Pass, Bana Hills, and Cham Islands. To get to the peak you must drive up Monkey Mountain: a mountain full of beautiful and nearly extinct monkeys (Red- Shanked Doucs).
DA NANG – My Khe Beach – A superior beach in Da Nang (The Forbes voted My Khe Beach in Da Nang as one of the six most attractive beaches on the planet.), is full of chill restaurants, adventure sports, souvenir vendors, and blue water with views of the nearby Cham Islands. It is an ideal and huge beach with smooth sand and a slight slope.
DA NANG – Dragon Bridge – This super cool bridge crosses the Han River and is a ironic 666m long. What’s cool about this bridge is every Saturday and Sunday at 9pm, the Dragon bridge is closed to traffic for 15 minutes while it breathes fire and water over the surrounding spectators.
DA NANG – Golden Bridge – Located more than 1,400m above sea level, Golden Bridge has attracted tourists from all over and it is because of its unique design that features two larger-than-life hands holding up a pedestrian pathway dressed in gold.
HOI AN – Ancient Streets/Walking Town – Claiming a UNESCO World Heritage City title in 1999, walking through Hoi An feels as if you’re walking through an ancient fairy tale. Exploring and getting lost in Hoi An is a great adventure, as the city itself is so small, you always find you way back. The streets are littered with vendors, art, ice cream, and picturesque moments.
HOI AN – Japanese Bridge – Hoi An’s Japanese covered bridge dates back to the 18th century and is a beautiful historical piece of Japanese architecture. It is claimed that it was created by the Japanese then living in Hoi An as a way to reach the Chinese quarter. Today, the bridge stands as a symbol of Hoi An and remains as aesthetically pleasing as it was when it first opened.
Da Nang & Hoi An are both a textile jackpot
In both of these cities (however more notably, Hoi An) you can literally get anything custom made. More well known in the local backpacker community than the nightlife, picturesque streets, or cheap food and drinks, this is quite possibly the best city in all of Southeast Asia to get clothes, shoes, luggage, or accessories costum made to you liking. There are probably more than 100 tailors within either city, waiting to cater to your every desire. Prices can vary depending where you go, what you want, or the amount of product you are willing to buy. Make sure to explore many shops before you decide on one.
72 hours in Da Nang & Hoi An example itinerary:
This example itinerary can work in either direction.
Welcome to Da Nang. First things first, grab some breakfast and head to Marble Mountain first thing in the morning. The weather and temperature will be much milder. Give yourself a 2-3 hours to explore.
After lunch, keep heading north, now heading towards Lady Buddha and Son Tra Peninsula. Once you get to Lady Buddha, stop and check out the temple grounds it stands on. This will take you about an hour to walk around the entire thing.
Once you have seen Lady Buddha, keep heading up Son Tra Peninsula until you reach its peak: Ban Co. From here you can see a great panoramic view of the city and sea. If you go exploring a little you may even come across old US radio huts from the war. This is a great place to watch the sunset.
Also read: A Complete Guide to Son Tra Peninsula
After you have watched the sunset, head back into Da Nang city. Grab some dinner and head to the Dragon Bridge at 9pm for the show.
Now that you’re feeling a but buzzed off of awesome beer and have seen the Dragon breathe fire and spit water, head to Novotel for a nightcap and a final view of the city at night.
Good morning. Hungover? Probably. Grab some breakfast and start your day with a walk to My Khe Beach breathing fresh air.
After recovery your power, keep heading the Mountains west of Da Nang, now heading towards Bana Hills. Don’t forget the Golden Bridge with an impressive design resembling a yellow ribbon on the hands of God on the Ba Na peak. Of course, you have lunch at Bana Hills.
See more: A Complete Guide to Bana Hills
Head back to your hotel or hostel and get a good nights sleep for your adventure in Hoi An tomorrow.
Wake up, grab some breakfast and head to Hoi An. You can either take the local bus, taxi, GRAB or drive your motorbike (if you’re feeling up to it. The road (beach road) can be a bit dangerous as all kinds of vehicles, at all kinds of speeds use it to travel between these two cities).
Related post: How to Get from Da Nang to Hoi An (& Vice Versa)
Once in Hoi An, get yourself settled into your hotel or hostel and start exploring.
You can literally spend all day just walking around the city, taking pictures, eating street food, and drinking fresh beer.
If you’re going to get something custom made, make sure to do it as soon as you get there, so they have plenty of time to finish it over the next 24-48 hours while you’re in town.
After you have dinner, and the sunset falls behind this beautiful city, head towards the ancient city center and start bar-hopping.
Travel tips & Helpful hints
Do I need a visa? Yes. If you are from Africa, the Middle East, India or Brazil you need to apply for a visa in advance. If you are from anywhere else, you can apply for a visa online and pick it up at your arrival port of entry once you get ot Vietnam. See more information here.
What is the power voltage? Vietnam uses the same power plug as Greater Europe. The voltage is 240v whereas the US is 110V – so your devices may get a little warm while charging. Most places in Vietnam have universal plugs in restaurants, or hotels, so whatever plug you have will, more than likely, work just fine.
What about smoking weed or drinking in the streets? Weed is illegal. If caught, more than likely you will just have to pay a bribe. The more you posses on your person, the larger the bribe. A lot of people smoke, so more than likely you will be just fine. Just be smart about it. As far as drinking goes, it is permissible to drink in public. Just don’t be a drunk a**hole, and please don’t drink and motorbike drive.
What’s the best way to get between these two cities? There is a yellow local bus No.1, that runs between both of the cities every 15 minutes and takes about 35 minutes.
What is the currency and its value? The currency used in Vietnam is called the Vietnamese Dong (VND). The current value (at the time writing) is 23,000VND = $1 USD.
FEATURED TOURS AND EXPERIENCES