Da Nang, Vietnam - Chasing Monkeys...

Da Nang, Vietnam - Chasing Monkeys...

First Impressions

Crossing the land border to Vietnam from Cambodia. I came equipped with a bag full of apprehension, mixed reviews and mostly bad reports from other travellers. I took the bus route from Ban Lung, NE Cambodia, which takes you straight into Pleiku. A town with a rough history from the not so distant pass. You’ll soon realise that it’s more of a one stop spot before the next leg of your journey. I used my hotel booking for safe day time luggage storage only. Quickly arranging a night bus to an alternative destination. Not all bad, I did get a great cup of deliciously strong coffee in that traditional drip pan style. A classic technique synonymous of Vietnam.

Heading straight to the coast, I had Da Nang in my sights. A spot not frequented by your average traveller. Whom tend to venture straight north to Honoi or South to Ho Chi Minh - or what is still referred to as Saigon by most. 

Only 2 days in and Vietnam had already made a big impression on me. In Comparison to Cambodia you’ll notice a vast increase in basic qualities and standards. From the brake pads on your rented moped, the cleanliness of your accommodation to the food on your plate. All at the same dollar rate. Even better they actually print their menu prices. So no ‘tourist rate’ applied at the end of your unexpectedly expensive meal.

Travel Tip. If you can, pre-arrange your Vietnam Visa. If coming from Cambodia via land, head to a central town like Phonm Phen or Siem Reap to process. Or fly direct to one of their international airports and organise it there at a relatively fixed and sensible rate. Reluctant to back track on my travel route and being so close to the border. I took the risk and went straight for the crossing, no Visa in hand. Equipped with dual nationality my Cambodian Visa had been stamped in my country of, do not pass go, do not collect your free visa. This of course caused havoc at border control, including a entire team of officers huddling over my two passports. Marching them to and fro. Followed by a ridiculous and arduous process of high quotes, a 10 day process and were on earth can I get my Visa extension. 

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The Locals

I must admit after 6 weeks on the road from Thailand to Cambodia. I seldom encounter a traveller who had experienced Vietnam with a positive note of a welcoming nation. My experience, thankfully, was quite the opposite. Not once did I encounter a local without a big smile, hello and a helping hand. However, expect to find yourself in many a situation were not one local in the house speaks a word of English. As a big fan of hot coffee and after a circus or miming and questionable body language. I still haven’t figured out how to signal hot. Quite to the amusement of the locals. I really should learn the word for HOT but were’s the fun in that. 

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Pagodas & Temples

Without doubt, the most impressive I’ve seen in Asia to date. Not going on much experience though. I found the Thai and Cambodian temples, although some of them are really spectacular. They seem to be a lot of the same, seen one, seen them all. Compare that with towering statues which seem to stem into the clouds, along with ancient looking pagodas, decorated to the finest of details.

The giant Lady Buddha Statue on the Son Tra Peninsulla and the Marble Mountains on the southern side of the city are sights not to be missed. Also check out the 800 year old Ficus Tree. Situated on one of the furthest points of the peninsula. GPS is a big help if travelling there with your own vehicle. As fuel depletes quickly on those steep mountain tracks.

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Liberty Day - Vietnam National Holiday

A little bit of lucky timing brought me to Vietnam only days before their National Holiday. Known as 'Ngày Thống nhất' in Vietnamese, it is also known as Victory, Liberation or Reunification Day. Held on the 30th April over two days. Not lucky in the sense of my Visa situation as all government offices close and experience a slight back log. However, with a grand annual fireworks display held in the city centre, I wasn’t disappointed. Trotting ankle deep into the Han River, tripod in hand, with sandals and open feet wounds. Probably not a great idea but it was worth it. The fireworks seemingly over I drove a little more central for a meal and too my surprise the fireworks started again right above me. The city drowned by intense smoke, exploding lights and sounds. An experience not to be forgotten. 

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Cuisine

Not once did I have a meal I was disappointed with. However, beware the hotpot selection with noodles. I would consider myself quite able with chop sticks but equipped with sticks and a ladle only. A soup of slippery noodles quickly becomes a messy challenge. 

If your looking for some local cuisine at a local rate. Don’t hesitate to jump into one of the open air seafood restaurants. Found on many a street corner. One I particularly recommend is Hải sản Bà Rô (Due to move 30m up the street to a new location very soon). Just don’t show up too late as it’s hard to find a table but well worth the wait. With fresh fish literally jumping out of their buckets. It appears to be a favourite among the locals with incredibly good rates and deliciously fresh food. Expect a warm welcome from all their staff along with a grand feast for around $4-6 per head, drinks included. Be sure to try the shrimp and don’t be shocked at the Asian style of, throw my empty shells, bottles and everything else at my feet - seems to be the norm.

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Fed up with Asian cuisine, check out Da Vinci’s Pizza Joint. Situated on a quaint street just three blocks from the beach. Sit out front on their wicker furniture for a calm atmosphere among the urban madness. Including a open air breeze, colourful mopeds and trendy hostels. What to order? Well if you like the whole pineapple thing you can’t go wrong with a Hawaiian pizza in SE Asia. The pineapple is incredibly fresh and delicious. Each region seems to have it’s own flavour including hints of vanilla and everything in-between. I added a touch of spice to mine for an Asian twist and didn’t regret it. Expect to pay around $8-10 per pizza.

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Da Nang Beaches

You’ve come to the right spot if your frequent day out includes a sandy beach with crystal clean waters. From the secluded beaches on the Peninsula with open beach huts. Spread among the rocks and picturesque piers. Along with the main stretch of east coast beach. Stretching out of sight into the horizon. A recent development site with an endless choice of resorts and posh hotels including beach beds, cafes and water adventure stalls. Da Nang is no doubt becoming an tourists paradise and it’s easy to see why.       

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Accomodation - C-Hostel

As a long term traveller my ventures are one of a frugal nature. Generally picking among the cheaper hostels. As long as it includes a few basic necessities like wifi and secure storage. C-Hostel, C for container, came in at only $5 dollars per night ($10 for a private double room). Well under budget and with a team of incredibly helpful and friendly staff, you can’t go wrong. Situated at the opening of the peninsula between the national park and city, it was perfect. A peaceful, trendy, criss-cross container layout, with breakfast included, kitchen access, free water refills and self access to their state of the art washing machine. Seemingly small luxuries in the grand scheme of things but as a long term traveller and working as a digital nomad. These items certainly don’t go unnoticed. Check out there Facebook page. Book here with Booking.com.

I recommend a rental vehicle or bicycle if staying here. As it’s a little far for your daily walk into the centre of beach life and urban attractions. A fair compromise as you’ll get a peaceful night sleep, escaping the main roads and urban racket.

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Transport

As in most of Asia, if your not to comfortable behind the wheel forget the rental and pay the price of your local Taxi dealer. Not as horrid as it may seem for those budget conscious travellers. Download the GRAB app. It’s Asian for UBER and you’ll get your self a meter and pre-determined rate. Although, were a rental comes in to its own; not only the $5 daily moped rate but the freedom to explore the more remote sites at your own pace day & night. Just beware of night time driving, as standard western road rules need not apply. Right of way, sticking to your side of the road and looking left before you pull out - are concepts unknown. Just be sure to beep your horn several times as your approach each crossing. I find a melodic symphony of 3-5 beats, most effective. 

Photography

Chasing the light brought a new meaning in Da Nang. The sun rising at the tip of the peninsula and setting at the other, this time of year. While it made for some spectacular views. Pre-planning was essential. The sun rising and setting so quickly those spectacular moments when the light sprays one face to the other comes and goes extremely fast! That said I was overcome with options and after one full week I still have so much I would like to photograph. Clever timing along with an itemised shoot list are essentials if your short on time and hope to capture a good variety of images both day and night.  

Chasing Monkeys

By far the most beautiful feature of Da Nang is the Son Tra Peninsula. The entire site a National Park with secluded beaches, an array of impressive monuments, heritage sights and mountain tops. All reached via windy costal roads and steep mountain tracks. An island feel and atmosphere with a distant view of the urban skyline. 

Venture up the hills through the jungle to discover an array of wildlife including over 4500 species. Most of all are the Monkeys. A little patience is required to capture them in all their glory. Check out the video below to see the challenges involved - Chasing Monkeys on Da Nang. Unfortunately I didn’t find any of the bearded monkeys this time but I hope to be back! Next stop Hanoi…

Climbing Cat Ba - Vietnam

Climbing Cat Ba - Vietnam

Otres Village - What's all the Kerfuffle?

Otres Village - What's all the Kerfuffle?