I am asked to include one or more of my Top 5 attractions when my customers visit Da Nang and the top 4 are included within my really popular Da Nang ‘Highlights’ Tour, and Hải Vân Pass is usually a feature of the drive to the imperial city of Hue for our full day tour there (although I can include Hải Vân Pass with a visit to evocative Lang Co bay plus one or more of the Top 5 if required as a special tour)
The most ask-for visit in Da Nang and a magical place, Marble Mountains (in Vietnamese: Ngũ Hành Sơn; which means ‘5 elements’ mountains’) is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located in Ngũ Hành Sơn District, just to the south of Da Nang city, and on the road to Hoi An. The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth).
1. Marble Mountains
The Marble Mountains are home to several Buddhist and Hindu grottoes. A stairway of 156 steps leads to the summit of Thuy Son, the only Marble Mountain accessible to visitors (but we use the elevator!). It allows a wide panoramic view of the surrounding area and the other marble mountains and close by are the remains of Marble Mountain Air Facility (MMAF) from the war. There are a number of grottoes, including Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, and many Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries, the temples of Tam Thai, Tu Tam and Linh Ung, and the pagoda of Pho Dong. The sanctuaries feature statues and relief depictions of religious scenes carved out of the marble.
2. Son Tra Peninsula (+ The Lady Buddha)
The area is known for stone sculpture making and stone-cutting crafts but I should point out to visitors that direct rock extraction from the mountains is banned, so a visit to the craftsmen nearby will mostly see materials transported from quarries in Quảng Nam Province.
Often just known as ‘monkey mountain’, Son Tra peninsula is located just to the northeast of Da Nang city. Interestingly, it is home to both the amazing 5* InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort and our very rare Red-Shanked Douc monkeys. It is also the site of the Linh Ung Pagoda and our imposing 67 metres high Lady Buddha statue, visible day and night from Da Nang sea front – designed and built in the Buddhist faith to protect our people from wind and storms. Our Lady Buddha is thought to be the largest religious monument in Vietnam
Passing the Pagoda, statue and the InterContinental the road ‘up’ monkey mountain is rough and very steep leading eventually to Ban Co Peak. It can be really busy on the peak, maybe 5 or 6 people who have braved the climb! And they will be joined by Confucius – a lifelike bronze statue of the great philosopher playing chess is a tribute to the man who greatly influenced our oriental culture.
You are welcome to try the climb – a powerful motor scooter is your best bet, but luckily it is not included in my tour itineraries.
3. The Dragon Bridge
The Dragon Bridge (Cầu Rồng) crosses the Han River and provides the shortest road link from the Da Nang International Airport to other main roads in Da Nang city, and a more direct route to My Khe Beach and Non Nuoc Beach on the eastern edge of the city.
Construction of the bridge began on 19 July 2009 and opened to traffic on 29th March 2013 – coincidently on the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Da Nang City in 1975.
Designed by the US-based Amman & Whitney, Dragon Bridge cost almost $US88 million, is the longest bridge in Vietnam at 666m long and is 37.5m wide with six lanes for traffic. The bridge was designed and built in the shape of a golden dragon (which according to our local beliefs is a significant symbol of great fortune, nobility & power).
A must-see attraction, the Dragon bridge is great to cross during the day to appreciate its scale, is wonderful to see at night when lit up by thousands of twinkling lamps and amazing to watch at weekends when the head breathes smoke and fire!
4. My Khe Beach
Probably most famous as the beach used by US forces as a R&R (Rest & Relaxation) centre during the war, My Khe and Non Nuoc Beaches are an outstanding strip of sand overlooking the East Sea. With seasonal surfing and lovely sand it is a favourite destination for both locals and visitors.
Once listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the ‘World’s Most Luxurious Beaches’, the 20 miles (33 Km) of beaches offer surfers and sun seekers a gloriously unspoilt hideaway even with a host of big brand hotels such as the Hyatt Regency backing onto it.
5. The Hải Vân Pass
The Hải Vân Pass (Đèo Hai Vân meaning’Ocean Cloud Pass’) is a 21Km long mountain pass on our National route 1a, connecting Da Nang with the town and bay of Lang Co in Hue province. Its name refers to the mists that rise from the sea, sometimes reducing visibility.
Until the Hai Van tunnel opened in 2005, Hải Vân Pass was the only route vehicles could take to go north or south in this region. Reaching nearly 500 metres this was a treacherous route for large buses and trucks. But with the tunnel (6.2 kilometres long, the longest in South East Asia), most traffic now bypasses the pass.
Locally the pass is still known as the ‘Top Gear’ pass after a famous BBC motoring programme visited Vietnam – they described the pass as ‘a deserted ribbon of perfection, one of the best coast roads in the world.’
This must-see pass is included in my Hue day tour if weather permits, and driving to the top we see reminders of my country’s recent past, Red Beach 2 in the distance where in 1965 the US Marine Corps made its famous landing and at the summit a bullet-scarred French Fort