For our Winter holiday, Sara and I, along with our friends Eva and Justyn flew to Da Nang, Vietnam to spend our Christmas on the beach.
In a sentence, we were far from disappointed. The food, the sights, the food….did I mention the food? Here’s a peek at our trip to third largest city in Vietnam.
Our journey began, actually, several months prior to take-off, as Vietnam is a nation that you cannot visit without a visa as a United States citizen (or some other countries too). Upon learning this, we discovered there are 2 methods to receiving your visa. You can either visit a Vietnamese embassy / consulate and have them handle it directly (which is rather time consuming and costly), OR the more popular method, which is to apply for a Visa Approval Letter, for a visa-on-arrival. I would definitely suggest the latter, as it’s much easier and can be pretty inexpensive depending what service you use. A quick web search will yield dozens of companies who will handle it for you, with pretty quick turnaround in most cases.
Basically, the visa approval letter, is your ticket into the country. They come in many different lengths of stay, but the one we chose (after the Vietnamese immigration made it available) was the 1-month, Single-entry visa. After you pay for the letter and submit your information, your company will send you back an email with a PDF with your approval letter (and probably with the names of a whole bunch of other people on it as well). Print that off, and bring it with you to the airport. When you land, you’ll go to a window for an office to pay the visa fee, hand them your money – Which MUST be in US Dollars – and your letter, and you’ll be on your way in no time.
The company we used was Vietnam Visa Easy – they were inexpensive and quite helpful.
After making it through immigration, we caught a taxi to our hotel on the beach – the Chu Hotel.
We chose the Chu Hotel because it was right near the beach, and for just $52 USD per night we got a huge room that could see the ocean from the window. There were other rooms for even cheaper, but given this suite was even cheaper than the least expensive motel I’ve ever stayed in, we decided to “splurge”.
If you’re a beach person like I am, I would recommend this hotel. There are even surfboards if you’re into that. Even if you’re NOT a beach person I would recommend this hotel, for the food. In my experience, it’s pretty rare that the food at a hotel is even considered edible, much less to be considered desirable. But take it from me, the food at the Chu hotel is amazing.
Our first night eating there – on Christmas – I accidentally ordered 4 whole meals for myself, believing 3 of them were going to be small appetizers given how inexpensive they were. Vietnamese-style Mahi Mahi. Squid. Noodles. Spring Rolls. Chili-sauce and pork ribs. My mouth is watering just remembering it. The menu is vast and it’s ALL delicious. Equally delicious are the breakfasts they serve. Sara and I made it our mission to try as much of the menu as possible.
The following day we decided we were going to dedicate to time on the beach. Time you will want to spend I assure you. We spent the equivalent of $4 to rent a pair of beach lounges under a thatched roof umbrella to watch the massive waves roll in from the typhoon that was hitting the Philippines at the time. Naturally you can’t have beach time without something to drink, so we brought along some beers from the mini-bar in our room (which was actually just as cheap as getting them from a store) and some rum that we had procured the day prior.
Cuban Rum tastes really good with Sprite if you didn’t know already. We found that out, and ran out of Sprite too quickly. No worries however, as the attendant who rented us our chairs, called someone to personally deliver us some fresh mixers on his moped. Everything was perfect. Not that we would have gone dry anyway, there was a bar located on the beach just a few feet away.
We were glad however to have someone with a moped to run these crucial errands for us, because as first-time visitors to Vietnam, the traffic is….overwhelming. Dozens upon dozens of scooters roam the busy streets like schools of fish, in what would look to outsiders like absolute chaos. Walking is nearly impossible if you’re trying to navigate the city, as most of the sidewalks were either under construction, or covered in parked mopeds.
It’s best to leave transportation to the professionals, which is why we booked a private car day tour to take us to the historic city of Hue to the North. Another jaunt that was worth every penny we spent on it and then some (as we honestly didn’t spend that many pennies to begin with, thanks to Hue Private Cars).
For $54 per person, a driver picked us up at our hotel with a van, and took us through the scenic winding Hai Van pass. Along the way we stopped to see some breathtaking views of the country side, and to sample tea made in what barely qualifies as a tin-roof shack. Also sometimes we had to stop just because there was a stray cow wandering the narrow mountain road.
The locals were so kind and cheerful and were constantly giving us things to try, and showing us the wild flora and fauna that dot the mountainside. Banana trees and papayas growing alongside the shack, ripe for the picking. We also stopped to see an old bombed-out (literally) building that we never quite understood its purpose, despite our driver’s attempts to explain to us.
Arriving in Hue around 2 hours later, we were taken to the ancient Imperial City. There we picked up our personal tour guide who spoke great English and explained the history of every building and area we visited. There’s so many things to see in the Imperial City that we never were able to finish our tour of the grounds before we were whisked away for lunch.
Now, I’ve been on tours before. Anytime the tour company has said “lunch is provided” they mean the bare minimum; chips and salsa when I was in Mexico, A brown paper bag with a sandwich and chips some places in America, you know the drill. Never would I have been prepared for what this tour had in-store. The driver took us to a beautiful, picturesque garden restaurant, for what would prove to be the greatest meal I’ve had in years.
They handed us a menu that only had drinks on it, and a small card with 7 items listed on it. At first we believed that we were to pick one of the items from the list and a drink to accompany it. No. This was the list they were going to bringing us….in order. Springrolls presented on a flaming peacock carved from a pineapple. Savory egetable soup. A sweet tangy dish of fish and peanuts. Huge pastries stuffed with chicken and vegetables in a peanut sauce. Some sort of sweet rice dish cooked in a basket of fruit leaves. Salads and candied fruits stuffed with bean pastes. We literally lost track of every delicacy they brought us, including things they didn’t even put on the list. All included in our tour package. The meal alone would have been worth the price we paid.
When we finally finished our onslaught of fine dining, the tour took us to see the Thien Mu Pagoda and Khai Dinh tomb before ultimately returning us to our hotel at the end of the day. If there is a single daytour to go on while you’re in Da Nang, I would say this is it. Everything we saw was incredible.
Now, for Hue, I would definitely advise getting a personal tour or private car, because all the sights are so spread-out that you cannot feasibly travel between them without transportation. Especially given that it is a journey of several hours each direction by car, you don’t want to rack up that kind of time in a taxi. For our next daytrip however, you definitely don’t need any assistance.
Hoi An is a smaller city about 30 mins drive south of Da Nang. We simply grabbed a metered taxi and had them take us right to the entrance of the “Ancient Town” district, which was really not very expensive. When there you pay an admission fee and receive a book of tickets with which you can enter a limited number of the historic sites within the town’s boundaries. Among these are a Japanese covered bridge, several museums and cultural performances, and places with interesting architecture. It’s fun to walk around and see what the various shops have to offer. Sara and Eva purchased some genuine silk scarves for a criminally low cost (about $15 USD). As with any tourist-trap, some merchants can be quite aggressive; but this can be to your advantage, if you know how to haggle. I am writing this while wearing a souvenir tshirt that cost me $3 USD to buy (half what the merchant wanted).
Our last day in Vietnam, Sara and I decided to check out the Military history museum that we spotted. It turned out to be located on the same property as an active military base, which made for some entertaining moments. It was also very interesting to see the history Vietnam conflict as it is viewed by the Vietnamese. While there we got to see dozens of armored vehicles, artillery, tanks, guns, planes, helicopters, and even explosives, that played roles in the war.
There were so many things that we didn’t even have time to experience, such as the Marble Mountains just a few minutes to the south.
If you ever have the opportunity, Da Nang is a great travel destination to experience, and while you’re there you won’t break the bank. There’s something there for everybody.
Parting advice: Avoid riding scooters, taxis are the way to go.
Movies are really cheap to attend there too.
Get a wifi egg, because service is otherwise spotty.
When eating in an open-air tropical environment, check your chair before you sit down, or else you might be sharing a seat with a lizard.
Winter is the rainy season.
PACK A SMALL UMBRELLA