Da Nang sits on a long stretch of white sand beach, right in the middle of Vietnam. It has an international airport and a big train and bus station. It’s also only a 30-minute drive south from Hoi An, Vietnam’s most popular tourist spot. To the north sits the ancient capital, Hue.
Due to it’s proximity to Hoi An, Hue and it’s airport, it’s a common place for expats and travelers to find themselves but most rush out of the city and onto the next spot as soon as they’ve landed. While I do understand, Hoi An is a picturesque masterpiece, Da Nang is an amazing city. There’s no shortage of things to do, delicious food to eat, places to explore and the best part is, there’s not even a fraction of the number of tourists that you’ll see in Hoi An.
If you’re considering moving to Vietnam, I’d highly suggest moving to Da Nang. When we first moved to Vietnam back in 2018, we decided to try living in Ho Chi Minh City. While we loved the big city atmosphere and never-ending amount of things to do, I’m so happy we moved to Da Nang.
With a mix of city, incredible nature, and proximity to Hoi An, it’s a hard place to pass up on.
Da Nang is booming right now. It’s growing quickly, which is obvious by the amount of construction around. Although 1 million people live here, it feels like a lot less, especially if coming in from chaotic Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. It’s easy to be on the main street one minute surrounded by people and with just one turn, find yourself in complete solitude on a cute little alley.
The locals are welcoming and there’s a small but great expat community.. It’s easy to meet people from all over the world, some of whom are just in town for a few days and others who have made Da Nang home for years. Although the community is small, there’s a wide range of people who have decided to call this place home. From the meditating yogi, the musician, the digital nomad, the English teacher and everything in between, you’re likely to meet like-minded people while here.
Simply put: Da Nang is easily one of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
Weather in Da Nang
Da Nang has two seasons, so you’ll want to pack accordingly.
In the summer months (April-Sept, roughly), it’s hot and humid with little rain. It’s great weather for a tan but if you’re not used to living in Southeast Asia, don’t skip on the sunscreen! When you first arrive, you'll notice all the locals driving their motorbikes with only their eyes visible. While it's highly entertaining since they all look like a ninjas, after a few days of baking in the sun, you'll want to pick up a driving jacket or two as well.
During the rainy season (Oct-March), the temperature drops to fall-like weather and it rains most days. The sunny days during this season are perfect jeans and t-shirt weather but sometimes the rain (and typhoons) are relentless. In this season, mold will become your biggest enemy so be prepared for that battle, especially if you're living in an older building. Although it's not terribly cold, some days to get quite chilly so I'd suggest packing a sweatshirt or two.
Basic neighborhood guide to Da Nang
The city is divided in half by the Han River so for simplicity purposes, most people talk about the Da Nang in two areas: cityside and beachside.
In general, the cityside is where most locals live and it looks more like any other Vietnamese city, except with a beautiful mountain backdrop and more tree-lined streets. The beachside is where most tourists and expats hang out so prices are more expensive and restaurants and bars are more focused on foreigners' tastes than local ones.
Even if you choose to live and hang out on the beachside, I'd highly recommend you spend ample time in the cityside. There are so many great places to explore on this side and in my opinion, this side is the heart of the city.
The most popular area of the cityside is anywhere in close proximity to the pink church, or Da Nang Cathedral. Around there is a big market and plenty of bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels.
One of my favorite streets in the cityside is Lê Hồng Phong in Hải Châu district. This is a great street with plenty of excellent food and café options.
Luckily, no matter where you choose to stay in Da Nang, nothing is far away. At most, it’ll be a 15-minute drive from one corner of the city to the other. Rent, hotel or AirBnB prices are generally cheaper in the cityside but if you’re here for the beach, you’ll need to download the Grab app (like Uber) for daily trips across the river.
Otherwise, you can rent a scooter from your hotel or from the many rental places littered around the beachside. If you’re here for a little while though, I’d recommend buying instead of renting since it’ll be cheaper in the long run. If this is your first time in Vietnam, know that here traffic rules are pretty much thrown out the window. Da Nang is calmer than Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi but if it’s your first time on a scooter, take it slowly.
It is legal for you to drive a 50cc bike license-free but for anything with a larger engine, you need a Vietnamese motorbike license to be legal. Some cities aren’t strict on this but in Da Nang it’s common for the police to set up roadblocks. Most likely you won’t get into any real legal trouble but you’ll be forced to pay a fine and they’ll confiscate your bike. It’s not uncommon for police to accompany you to the ATM if you try to say you don’t have enough money to pay the fine but that depends on the situation and the cop you encounter.
If you’d rather be close to the beach and also other tourists and expats, stay in An Thuong. An Thuong isn’t a neighborhood but instead a zone of streets all conveniently named An Thuong 1, An Thuong 2 and so on. This has been deemed the foreigner area, which you’ll quickly see why when you get there.
The restaurants provide a wide range of cuisines, there’s multiple hotels and apartments to rent on each street and bars fill up the spaces in between. If you prefer Western food compared to Vietnamese, An Thuong will be your best bet.
An Thuong is off the coast from the famous My Khe beach, once named the best beach in the world. On My Khe you can rent an umbrella, chairs, surfboards and drink your fill of coconuts and beers.
If you’re looking to get away from foreigners but might still want to pop into the bars at night, the vibe quickly changes just a few blocks away from anything called “An Thuong” and there are still plenty of hotels and apartments to choose from.
Another popular neighborhood to live in or stay in is Son Tra. Personally, I only think Son Tra is best if you’re in Da Nang to explore the Son Tra Peninsula, or Monkey Mountain, or want to spend your weekends driving up the Hai Van Pass towards Hue. Son Tra is on the beachside in the northern half of the city. The more north you go up towards the peninsula, the more the beach turns into a fishing village, which isn’t ideal for those of you planning to sunbathe and swim.
In our last few months of living in Da Nang, we lived in Khuê Mỹ and loved it. Most people search for ocean view apartments but I actually preferred the river and mountain view best. This neighborhood is much more local and has a lot more greenspace, ideal if you have a dog that would enjoy grassy walks.
Da Nang is nestled between mountainous jungle and the beach so for a nature lover, it’s paradise. The views of the city while crossing the famous Dragon Bridge are incredible at any time, day or night.
Here are some of my favorite activities in the city, other than simply enjoying the beach:
- Surfing: The waves here aren’t impressive for an experienced surfer but for a beginner, it’s a great place to learn. Surf rentals are available on the beach or in An Thuong, where you can also hire an instructor. When the ocean is flat, opt for a stand-up paddle board instead. In the heart of the summer (June-August) the ocean looks more like a lake and in the heart of the winter (November-January), it can get really rough from the typhoons so the best time to surf is in the shoulder seasons.
- Son Tra Peninsula (Monkey Mountain): Just look north from anywhere on the beach-side and you can see a white statue in a sea of trees. That’s Lady Buddha but officially you can find it on the map as “Linh Ung Pagoda.” If you’re not comfortable driving your own semi-automatic scooter, it’s the best place to go on the peninsula via Grab. There are great views and other pagodas and statues up there so bring your camera. If you’re comfortable on a semi-automatic or manual scooter (new rules prohibit automatic bikes), I highly recommend you drive the loop around the peninsula. There’s a lot of monkeys that live there, hence the name, so drive carefully! There’s even one extremely rare species with incredible coloring that are stunning if you’re lucky enough to spot one! On Son Tra there are a lot of private beaches but you need to be ready for an adventure to find access to them.
- Ba Na Hills: Ba Na Hills is a themed park and the home to the Instagram-famous golden hands bridge. It’s about a 30 minute drive into the mountains from Da Nang. I suggest you get a Grab and ask him to wait for you while you visit the park. Most drivers are more than willing to do this and without it, getting a ride home might be tough. Most people go to the park only to visit the bridge but there’s a lot more to do there than just that. They designed the place to look like a French village up in the mountains and everything is pristine. There’s also a multi-level arcade that’s free to play at and a few other small but fun attractions. Just to be warned, you’ll need to take a super long cable car to the park so for those of you scared of heights, be prepared!
- Waterfalls, hikes & camping: There’s a lot of trails to waterfalls, hidden beaches and great places to camp around the city and up the Hai Van Pass. I recommend asking on a local FB group, “Women of Da Nang” is a great one, when you arrive in the city to see what’s best based on seasons and weather. It’s common for people to organize small groups for these activities so you might be able to jump in one of those.
When you need a break from the sun
Vietnam is a coffee-lovers paradise and Da Nang is no different! You’ll have no shortage of cute coffee shops to choose from all over the city.
Don’t forget to try coconut coffee, or cà phê dừa! While you can get this coffee in other places throughout Vietnam, it’s a Da Nang specialty, so you definitely should try it from the source. Most places have their own twist on the recipe so a cafe crawl for the best coconut coffee isn’t a bad idea!
If you feel like getting even more adventurous in your coffee order, try out another local treat, avocado coffee, or cà phê bơ.
There's endless other coffees to try so don't be shy, give it a whirl. With most of unique varieties costing around $1USD, even the most budget conscious person can afford a taste.
After a day of outdoor fun, there’s plenty to do at night. Although, if you’re a club-goer looking for a wild night out at a mega party, this isn’t your spot. While the bars lining the river on the cityside are usually the wildest with late night DJs and cheap balloons, they’re also common places for old white men to hang out and hit on young women, so keep that in mind.
For a chill night out with local music, An Thuong will be your favorite. Nearly every night of the week a bar is hosting an open mic night that typically draws a crowd and some good entertainment.
Although it doesn’t host open mic nights, a popular bar is Section 30. Section 30 is an open outdoor space that has a great happy hour at sunset. It’s also across the street from my favorite restaurant, Roots. Another trendy bar with great cocktails in the same area is The Craftsmen.
There’s plenty of rooftop bars on top of hotels if you’re looking for a more lush night with great views. One of my favorite splurges is the rooftop bar at Chicland Hotel. Chicland is on the beach in Son Tra offers stunning views of the coast and the mountains. Get there for sunset and enjoy their unique drinks. Ever had a cocktail served with cotton candy or had one served in a glass dragon? Now you can!
In the city-side, two of my favorite bars, again for a nicer night out, are Te Bar and 1920s. Te Bar is a speakeasy style bar hidden up the back stairwell of a coffee shop and the latter is a quaint jazz bar with great live music.
On a Saturday or Sunday night, you need go watch the Dragon Bridge breathe fire. Yes, you read that correctly, the bridge breathes fire. It’s gorgeous enough during the day with the bright yellow dragon an incredible contrast to the green mountains and blue sky but it’s next level at night. As soon as the sun sets, the bridge (all the bridges actually) begins to light up in different colors but at 9pm sharp the show starts. It’s a quick show but worth it! I mean, when else can you see a bridge do that?
Across the street from the dragon’s mouth (which is on the beachside of the bridge) is the Son Tra Night Market with some good food so head there before or after the show for dinner!
Must Try Food Vietnamese Food
Mì quảng is by far my favorite soup...maybe ever. Phở is the international king of Vietnamese cuisine but personally, mì quảng tops it. It’s also a native to this region, so same as coconut coffee, you can find it in other parts but it’s easier to find and tastier here in Da Nang and surrounding towns.
The noodles are thick and the broth is flavorful. There’s a few different variations based on meat type or if you’d prefer the vegan version. I highly recommend you try it with fish! If you’re looking for a high end mì quảng, compared to street food prices, there’s a cute restaurant, Nu Đồ Kitchen, owned by the runner up on MasterChef Vietnam. She offers beef, fish, chicken and vegan options.
Bánh canh is another delicious, must try soup! There’s a few different variations but most popular toppings are fish cake, pork and crab.
Another favorite Vietnamese dish of mine is bánh xèo. This is like a rice flour crepe stuffed with shrimp and greens. You wrap it up in rice paper and dip it in the most delicious peanut sauce. This dish is cheap and easy to find from vendors along the streets.
A tasty sandwich that you can easily find throughout the country is a bánh mì ốp la. The ending “ốp la” just means egg but if you prefer other toppings just drop the ending although the egg variation is a popular favorite among locals and foreigners alike. Every vendor will have a different variation of what kind of meat, sauce and veggies they add so unless you find the perfect sandwich on your first try, I suggest testing out a new vendor every morning.
Of course, since Da Nang is a city on the coast, if you’re a seafood lover you won’t be disappointed by the local seafood restaurants. There are plenty that cater to tourists, which is nice because they have English menus but it will come with a bigger price tag. For a cheaper but just as delicious treat, try out one of the local spots. Just know that English will most likely not get you far at these spots. Bring a local friend along or get ready to be adventurous. My favorite dish that’s common to find at any seafood restaurant is grilled clams or oysters with peanuts, oyster sauce and green onions.
There’s plenty of other amazing street food and restaurants to enjoy but the best tip- follow your stomach!
Visas for Vietnam
I saved the least fun for last and that’s visas!
Unfortunately visas are something all expats have to deal with and Vietnam is no exception. Here’s the deal, as of now, July 2021, Vietnamese borders are closed to all foreigners except those with a specialized visa. That means if you’re a highly qualified candidate and are able to secure a job from abroad to work in-person in Vietnam, it’s possible your company could secure you a visa for you to enter the country. You’d just need to complete a mandatory quarantine.
If you can’t get a specialized visa and would rather teach English while living in Vietnam, you’ll need to wait for borders to open. If you meet the requirements to teach English in Vietnam, you’d be able to get a 1-year business visa from your employer.
If you’re looking to become location independent and work remotely from Vietnam, you’ll also have to wait for borders to open back up. Once borders open back up, I imagine there will be some changes to the visa process. Previously, foreigners not on business visas were awarded 3-month tourist visas that they could renew easily and quickly. During the pandemic, tourist visas changed to 1-month only. There also were a lot of times when seemingly random people were not given their extension and were forced to leave. Vietnam has taken the pandemic very seriously but rules changed quickly and often. I recommend double checking the most up to date visa rules before moving to Da Nang.
Whether you just want to pass through Da Nang for a few days or plan to make it your home abroad, there’s plenty to fall in love with. You’re likely to meet plenty of friends and discover great cafes and delicious food.
Now that you’ve had your fun in Da Nang, you can choose to go south to Hoi An to wander the yellow alleys decorated with vibrant lanterns or move north to Hue to witness a lot of Vietnamese history. While many tourists might tell you just to skip Da Nang, I do think you should consider staying a while.