Our two new great friends, Kirsty and Jaime, who had been living in Vietnam for the past three years, shared with us some of their old favorite spots, tucked away within the beauty of Da Nang and Hoi An. Through their love of the area, we were able to get a more intimate glimpse into why the central region of Vietnam is one of the most beloved regions of the country. Without giving away too many of their secrets, below are the places and things we found to be the absolute highlights:
Ngu Hahn Son District – T20 beach. Set down by the seaside, sharing it’s beach front with local fisherman, beach chairs, and breezy cafes, this neighborhood is known to be more of a laid back area, drawing surfers and beach bums alike. This area is home to a variety of resorts, hotels and guest houses to choose from, so you can easily find a place to fit your taste. We stayed at the Zenta Hotel, a simple yet perfect place for our short time in Da Nang. It’s within walking distance of a number of quaint outdoor restaurants and bars, both along the beach side and tucked away within the streets behind. All parts of Da Nang have something special to offer though, so you can read more here about the various areas to make sure you choose the best area for you.
- Bay Ban. This place is a bit tricky to find, as it has but one simple sign on the side of the road as you’re riding to and from Monkey Mountain from Da Nang. If you’re lucky enough to spot the sign, you’ll find yourself walking down a tree covered path of winding steps, with bamboo benches along the way. Once you’ve reached the bottom, you’ll step out onto a lovely foot bridge that you’ll cross over to a simple but quintessential stilted restaurant hovering over the ocean. As this is a truly local place, there may be a bit of a language barrier, but you can be assured anything you order will be fresh from the ocean you’re sitting atop of, and delicious.
- Burger Bros. We may be slightly biased given we are American, but truly, the words “mouth watering” can’t even begin to describe this place. A small little spot in the middle of a quiet street, decorated with only a few strings of light bulbs and perhaps only five tables, you may not think this place is much, but Burger Bros serves up possibly the best burger you may ever eat. Highly recommended for the non-beef eaters is the fried fish burger, but for the average burger lover, the cheeseburger leaves you with nothing to crave. The garlic fries and fruit shakes don’t disappoint either, and all leave you feeling quite content and full!
Suggestion cred (for both places): Kirsty and Jaime
Minsk. Found a few streets back from the beach on a quite corner, Minsk is a very laid back reggae bar with vintage undertones of communist figures and WWII in it’s decor (interesting mix). Adding to it’s quirkiness, you’ll find a foosball table and live music by a local band nightly. Sounds a bit odd but it’s beloved by many and worth checking out!
Lang Co Beach Resort. Lang Co is a sleepy fishing town north of Da Nang, just beyond Hai Van Pass. Set at the bottom of Bach Ma Mountain, the town feels almost secluded, but it came as a surprise the resort did as well. We stayed in a bungalow by the beach, enjoyed long lazy lunches and dinners of fresh seafood, and slow walks along the coastline at sunset. The rooms are expansive, cool and comfortable, and the amenities at the resort made our stay quite relaxing. A worthwhile splurge!
- Son Tra (aka: Monkey Mountain). Da Nang has a number of great day excursions to offer, most comparably popular, Marble Mountain. We had limited time in the area so chose to rent a motor bike and ride up to Monkey Mountain. On the way, we sailed by countless fishing baskets resting on the beach, boats bobbing in the water, and passed the Lady Buddha statue that dominates the coastline, to finally reach the top of Monkey Mountain. We stumbled upon a number of winding sand covered roads, just wide enough for our motor bike to squeeze through, and followed them to breathtaking lookouts and beaches that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. The journey of falling into a new adventure at each turn was half the fun of the experience, so we’d invite you set out with the intention of getting lost.
- Hai Van Pass from Da Nang to Lang Co. Famous for it’s feature in Top Gear, this windy cliff side stretch of steep hair pin turns and blind corners offers some of the most stunning and scenic views in all of Vietnam. It’s an absolute must during your time in Da Nang, and we suggest doing it by motor bike to experience the full thrill!
Insider tip: If you keep driving, past Lang Co, heading toward Hue, we were told by close friends that you’ll find a place with magnificent waterfalls and pooling water at the bottom where you can dip in for a swim.
- Lang Co beaches. Quiet, unpopulated, remote. Soft white sand, warm water. All in one word, rejuvenating. Insider tip: Do be careful of the jellyfish!
- Da Nang beaches. We preferred My Khe beach which was a bit further away from the bars and hotels, so rented two chairs for 20,000 dong each (about $2USD total) and enjoyed the peace and calmness this area had to offer. Chairs are available to hire throughout the full stretch of the beach, so there will be an area you can post up for the day that fits what you’re looking for. This was a helpful site you can use to look into what area you might like the beaches best.
HOI AN & AN BANG BEACH
Soul Kitchen in An Bang. The many layers of Soul Kitchen leave you craving to go back each time you leave. Not only does the food have a reputation that speaks for itself, but the place itself has an eclectic, inviting atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re stepping into a haven of peace each time you visit. During the day, all walks of life stroll up from the beach to enjoy lunch, or a cocktail break from basking in the sun. Each evening, it transforms into a breezy seaside lounge, featuring live music and the sounds of waves crashing against the shore. A great place at any time of the day to indulge in a bit of relaxation. Insider tip: Sunday is open mic night. They have instruments you can borrow if you’d like to get up to jam for a bit.
Morning Glory in old town Hoi An. This restaurant opened in 2006 by Vietnam’s acclaimed, Ms. Vy. The story behind the name is representative of the Vietnamese people, as like the herb, the Vietnamese people are resilient, and can weather many storms. Since it’s opening, Morning Glory has been serving up Central Vietnamese street food favorites with a gourmet twist to hungry diners, eager travelers, and local enthusiasts. The food is extraordinary, and while we can give suggestions, everything on their extensive menu is fair game. We do though suggest a few staples:
- The pineapple pear juice to start. This refreshing drink will help cleanse your palette for all the tasty food to come.
- The crispy pancakes are also a local favorite. As quoted by their menu, “This is a traditional winter specialty that we call ‘Banh Xeo’, they are small savory crispy pancakes made from rice and mung bean flour, flavored with turmeric, folded over and filled with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts, and are served with peanut sauce, fresh herbs, star fruit and green banana.” (You will see these on many food carts within Hoi An as well, without the dressing that the restaurant has added).
- The lean steak sandwich (i.e. Ban Mi). The meat is rich in flavor and perfectly grilled. The dressing and seasoned vegetables perfectly compliment the meat to make for many savory bites.
Insider tip: If you’re interested in a cooking class, they offer one through the restaurant and it’s one of Hoi An’s most regarded classes. Information can be found at the restaurant, online, or across the street at the actual school. We bumped into a couple who did the class and loved it, and seemed to support all the positive things we had read about online.
Hoi An Lantern Night Market. Hoi An is the city of lanterns; you’ll see them, intricately designed, in all shapes and sizes, strung across all the streets of old town and for sale at many shops along the streets. At night they light up the night, giving the old city a soft ambient glow that adds to the romantic feel of the narrow winding streets. As you cross the bridge into old city, you’ll likely be invited by one of the small old women selling paper lanterns on the bridge, to buy one to put into the river. The story goes, if you buy one, make a wish, and drop it into the water, it will come true… If you come back to Vietnam again someday. More details on shopping for a lantern of your own can be found here.
Through the rice patties in Hoi An. We spent a day with a local bike tour company found in Hoi An called Heaven & Earth Bike Tours. If you like this sort of adventure, this company comes highly regarded by the people of Hoi An, and many of the visitors who have gone on their trips. The route and terrain offered stunning views, and glimpses into life set outside of the hustle and bustle of the surrounding cities. We saw many rice farmers working in the fields and others hearding water buffalo, met with locals ranging from a 90 year-old couple who still farms their land to this day (we were lucky to be taken on a private tour of their home and farm), to the home of a woman who still uses noisy electric looms to weave her own cotton which she then sells. We enjoyed homemade Pho at a small restaurant owned by a friend of our guide’s for lunch, and a number of refreshment stops at small homes owned by other friends of our guides’ off the main roads. This was a truly memorable experience!
Insider tip: If you have the time, and you don’t prefer bike tours, our friends told us you can pick up maps at most shops in Hoi An that offer self guided tours of the rice fields and surrounding areas. If this is something you’re interested in, we recommend booking directly through them, versus TripAdvisor or other booking site, as they’ll take a cut which makes it more expensive for you.