METROPOLIS BY THE SEA

Danang and surrounds have plenty to see but myriad construction sites point towards a different type of city in the future.

By GRANT RILEY on May 09,2018 11:18 AM

METROPOLIS BY THE SEA

photos : GRANT RILEY

It’s time for a weekend getaway and I have heard many a good thing about Danang in central Vietnam and felt it was time to pay a visit. Opting for the train, my favoured mode of transport, may not have been the wisest of choices. Not that the train wasn’t clean, comfortable or reliable - it is just that, for a few days’ break, spending 32 of those precious hours on a very slow train compared to an hour-and-twenty-minute flight might be considered, let’s say, a little bonkers. Forever the committed environmentalist, and always trying to opt for the most carbon neutral form of transport, I stubbornly took the train, overriding any common sense. Yet, after a noisy night from the ever-creaking carriages in a full four-berth cabin, I initially began to regret my decision. Come the morning, my fellow residents disembarked at Hue. This left the last few hours of my journey with room to myself and some daylight to enjoy the view. And my, what a view it turned out to be. The train at times slows down to almost walking pace as it slithers through mountain tracks that cut through the jungle of Bach Ma National Park. The railway tracks hug tightly to coastal paths, and out of the window I can see sheer drops down to desolate beaches and bays. These spectacular sights stimulate the imagination. The rather excruciatingly long journey has all been made worthwhile by witnessing such beauty.

Eventually the slow train crawls into Danang around midday and the metropolis-by-the-sea awaits; this is Vietnam’s third largest city after Hanoi and HCMC.

METROPOLIS BY THE SEA

I am soon riding along the extensive sea front in pleasant sunshine and the temperature is considerably higher than that at my point of departure, Hanoi. I feel like I’m on holidays.

As with much of Vietnam, particularly where tourists go, the country is still very much a work in progress. Danang is no exception. A significant proportion of the oceanfront is under construction - and one has to rely a little on one’s own thoughts to consider what this place might look like when it’s finished. Nonetheless, it can be seen that the oceanfront is, and will be, wall-to-wall high-rise hotel blocks and resorts. Charmless towers of steel and glass abound, with seemingly little imagination or grandeur and with only one task in mind: accommodation.

Later in the weekend I travelled onwards to Hoi An to discover that the no-man’s land between the two ports is an endless strip of development. Kilometre after kilometre of boarded-up oceanfront has been captured by developers. An astonishing amount of land has been grabbed for future resorts. A blank and barren coastline and few cranes here and there are all that map out the future of this mega resort strip. It’s a real eye opener. One has to speculate where all these tourists will come from. Has anyone done the maths?

Back in Danang and I opt for a swim on the beach and it is certainly a lush golden-sand bay. The sea is warm and inviting. Considering the capacity of the adjacent accommodation the coastline is relatively sparsely populated. Happy days.

It’s hard not to compare places with your own experiences and expectations, and classic coastal resorts always conjure up images of the Mediterranean for me. Quaint seasides with little art galleries, boutiques and small restaurants. Here, everything seems huge. But who I am to judge? Because I prefer a small guest houses with quiet restaurants and pleasant surroundings, I have to conclude that my needs and tastes are at times polar opposites of what many Asian tourists desire. In Danang there can be seen large groups of Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese tourists, and many appear to opt for the loud, brash and exceedingly convenient options. Entirely autonomous resorts that cater for all of ones needs, en masse. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Come nightfall and I head into town. As with so much of Vietnam, places come into their own as darkness descends. Behind Danang’s seafront is a city of tiny lights. A neon spectacular with an abundance of brightly lit bridges, an illuminated Ferris Wheel and lasers lighting up the sky. Riverside cafes and restaurants all seem to be lapping up the business. All is most pleasant and picturesque.

In my very short visit, two of the main attractions I took in over the weekend were Marble Mountains and Lady Buddha. Just as Rio De Janeiro is famously overseen by the open arms of Jesus Christ, Danang is blessed by the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam. All in white and standing at 67 metres tall, she is quite the spectacle to behold; looking out to sea and with a bottle of holy water in one hand, said to sprinkle peace offerings over the fishermen below and the other hand held as a blessing. There is a vast pagoda and various Buddhist sculptures to appreciate up here, and of course a great view over the ocean and the city. It is an exceedingly popular tourist destination and is packed with an abundance of selfie-takers, some of whom insist on having their photo taken while praying.

METROPOLIS BY THE SEA

At the other end of the city is the site known as Marble Mountains. A short elevator ride up to the top offers extensive views across the coastline and surrounding areas. Once on top there are various pagodas and caves to explore. This cluster of five marble and limestone hills are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). I eavesdrop a tour guide telling tales from the American War and soldiers utilising these strategic caves as caches and other parts being used as a hospital.

There are also some beautiful Buddhist and Hindu grottos up there with some very impressive carvings in the rocks. There are tight clambers and steep climbs, and the midday heat adds to quite an exhilarating exploration. Finally, one reaches the very top and the sun beams down on the spectacular surroundings, and the ever-changing face of Vietnam unfolds below me.

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