Puzzling, amazing, surprising Danang

I have always been uncomfortable with the term ‘off the beaten track’. What does it mean anyway? Is off the beaten track some isolated village in the Amazon which you can only reach after one week of tracking? Is off the beaten track the little village in my tiny home country which is only 10 minutes away from the main touristic centre but which travellers never bother to visit? How can these two so very different examples ever fit under the same term?

When I decided to visit the coastal area of Danang, Vietnam, I wasn’t looking for off the beaten track. All I wanted to do was break out of a seemingly very stiff itinerary which many travellers travelled through during their time in Vietnam. With many countries, there is always a choice of itineraries to take. Not with Vietnam, it seemed, as I researched on the net and read tons of threads on forums. Though I was still interested in visiting the greatest hits of Vietnam as I journeyed from North to South, I also wanted to break out of the usual tourist mould as I refused to think that that was all there was to the country.

There is nothing about the Danang coastline which should give it the label of off the beaten track. It is conveniently located between Hue and Hoi An, both staples stops of travellers doing the journey up or down the length of Vietnam, and like the rest of Vietnam, it’s easy to reach with open tour buses which drop you off in the city every day. And yet, when I stepped out of my open tour bus, I was the only one to do so. Everyone else was heading to Hoi An. A feeling of dread hit me. Why is no one stopping here? Why is no one also stopping over at Danang?

I will never understand, because while seemingly everyone else rushed up to Hue or down to Danang, I spent two of the best days of my trip in Vietnam doing nothing much more than hanging around the coast and the beach and soaking up a place very few foreigners seemed to care about.

The city of Danang is like any other city in Vietnam, but there’s something particularly beautiful about the crescent beach which makes its coastline memorable. Pale sand, soft under your feet, which squeaks slightly as you step on it. A proud-looking mountain at one end of the crescent jutting out into the ocean, with a giant, elegant Buddha smiling at you from its base. A palm tree lined promenade so quiet that there’s very little to distract you from the haunting sounds of the crashing waves. A moody sky, and locals who smile when they see you, and children so unused to foreigners that they frantically and friendlily case after you every time, just to say hello.

The beach is deserted by day except for the lone worker tending the landscaped parts of the promenade, and the odd, seemingly confused foreigners, but come sunset, locals, students and adults alike head out to the water and the beach to relax and enjoy the warm air, the beautiful views and the cool water.

So what is this corner of Vietnam’s fate? Is it headed towards overdevelopment once it’s ‘discovered’ by travellers? It already is, but funnily enough, no one cares about travellers here. The coast between Danang and Hoi An is already a horrible hotchpotch of resorts and expensive houses aimed at the Vietnamese rich. While Danang itself remains humble and simple, the coast is lined with restaurants which, despite their plastic tables and chairs, sell grilled fish and seafood which goes for exorbitant prices, but is happily gobbled up by what I can only assume to be rich Vietnamese. Otherwise, how would you explain that one fish can cost 25 dollars, and a kilo of shrimp is sold for 50, and day after day every restaurant is packed, and not with foreigners?

I am not sure what to make of this place. I love it, but I am not sure I understand it. A piece of coastline which to me is far more beautiful than anything else in the South so sought after by travellers, it continues to attract rich Vietnamese and humble workers alike for different reasons, while barely tempting tourists. The rich eat their seafood on plastic chairs with restaurants which have tanks to keep the fish alive and pay ridiculous prices for it, while the working class sets up plastic stools and small grills and eat their food in almost complete darkness by the side of the road.

All I am left with are a handful of images to remember, though none of the mountains and the view, because like always, my camera is totally inadequate for taking photos of landscapes. All I can say to you is that, if you’re curious about this corner of the world, you might as well slow down on your journey across Vietnam and leave a day or two to explore the area. There is nothing exciting about Danang and its beach, but there is something about it, about the students splashing about and laughing in the water in full uniform, and the local families chilling out on the beach in the evening, and the teenage couples whispering sweet nothings to each other on sun loungers at night, that might just leave you going ‘wow’.

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved.

23 thoughts on “Puzzling, amazing, surprising Danang”

  1. I hate “off the beaten track” too- even though I know I’ve used it more than once. I do like the idea of setting up on a beach somewhere and not worrying about the next place I need to go- just relaxing while i’m there! sounds perfectly peaceful!

    1. Hi Jade,

      Yes it does, and this beach was super beautiful. I also liked the fact that the locals really enjoyed it in the evening after work/school.

    1. Agreed. I once had a very good laugh when LP magazine called Lichtenstein ‘off the beaten track’. Tourists don’t go there for a reason, and it’s because it’s a tiny country with nothing much to do there.

  2. We biked from Hue most of the way to Ho Chi Min city and so I feel that because we were on backroads whenever possible that I did get a good glimpse into the life of the Vietnamese – especially so with local guides. We stayed near Danang and almost all the folks we saw were Vietnamese. I do despair a bit for country with a booming population and a lot of environmental issues to contend with.
    PS the bottom 2 photos weren’t showing up for me.

    1. Hi Leigh,

      I agree with you that the best way to see more of Vietnam is to bike. Unfortunately, I am terrified of the thing and therefore couldn’t do much exploring, as taxis were still quite expensive for longer distances and public transport was sometimes non-existent.
      I also agree that the environmental issues faced by Vietnam are very sad, but at least the cultural heritage which they have is being protected. Protecting nature should be the next step.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      I believe that there are beautiful things to discover almost everywhere, so if the whole world is a tourist destination, there will always be ‘hidden gems’.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I asked around and was simply told that this area caters for rich Vietnamese who are more than happy to pay these prices. It’s definitely not about tourists, as there are very few.
      In general though, seafood and fish is expensive in most areas of Vietnam, because, I’ve been told, the seas are rough and waters are in general overfished.

  3. The Coke umbrellas look so retro :) I don’t mind hanging out where other tourists hang out, but it’s always fun to discover something locals tends to favor.

  4. Denise– Your photos are beautiful and descriptions remind me of my three weeks traveling through southern China last summer. Interestingly, many of the places where I visited were catered to Chinese tourists and few westerners were to be seen. Like the middle/upper class Vietnamese tourists in Danang, in China, I was constantly aware of the growing Chinese middle class who can afford to travel within their own country. I didn’t realize I would have this type of cultural experience!

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Yes, and I experienced the same in Vietnam, though on a smaller scale. I met many people who had never left their home town, let alone travelled around the world. But then there is a also a large group of Vietnamese who can afford to shop in supermarkets whose prices I struggled to accept, and to travel around the country and pay unbelievable prices for premium sea food.

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