Danang city nights

7 02 2017

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Across the dragon bridge lies the thumping main drag of Nguyen Van Linh, wreathed in neon and lined with blaring cafes and the slightly more sedate, but still buzzing, riverside drive of Bach Dang.

Lovers roam with selfie sticks, vendors sell corn and fishballs on sticks and loud music thumps. Like the other Indochinese people, the Lao and the Thais, the Vietnamese love noise and lights. Whole families promenade, taking pictures of each other, kids treated to helium balloons or plastic toys. The buzz of motorcycles is incessant, cafes are packed in the evening with little stools all facing the footpath and there are pop-up performances in the parks: Vietnamese opera, aerobics or in one case, a blonde woman in a halter-top showing an eager crowd how to dance the macarena.

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Even in the beach suburbs, along quiet tree-lined streets, I found constellations of epileptic lights hanging between the branches – whether as new year decorations or all-year installations it was hard to say.

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But my favourite night-time entertainment was voyeurism. Whether in the warren-like alleys South of Nguyen Van Linh or the tony streets of the beachside enclave, in the evening locals would open their doors to let in the cool air, and by extension, open their living rooms to the world. As you walk past you can see whole families crowded around flatscreen TVs, or lounging in pyjamas, in front rooms that open directly on to the street. Often, at the centre of the room is a family treasure – a motorbike, safely parked indoors in pride of place – or a flowering tree to celebrate the new year. The floors are usually tiled, walls often painted pale blue or green, and there is almost always a steeply ascending staircase at the back. More than anything else, it was these night-time strolls that gave me a sense of how Danang really lives.

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Champa

7 02 2017

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Housed in a hundred year old faded pink colonial building by the river is the city’s Cham museum, supposedly the world’s greatest collection of sculpture from the vanished Cham civilisation. This was centred around the now-ruined city of My Son an easy day trip from Danang. The Cham people still live across Indochina, now mostly Muslim, but their former civilisation worshipped Hindu and later Buddhist deities, and built great trading cities connected to port across Southeast Asia; their curvaceous sculptures were a clear influence on Majapahit Java and the Khmers.

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Banh xeo street

7 02 2017

Eating cheaply and well is one of the highlights of any Vietnam trip and we feasted on roadside noodles served with pungent vegemite-y fish paste and sweet pink onions. These were delicious, but would leave me knocked out a few hours later with a blazing MSG hangover. We also saw oysters frying on the street, frog, and ate local specialities like the cao lao noodles in Hoi An, thick and springy with crunchy pork crackling in a fragrant broth, or bamboo soup.

In Danang our biggest discovery was the “Banh xeo” street,  an alleyway really, home to rowdy, napkin-strewn restaurants serving the Vietnamese crepes stuffed with beans and shrimps, accompanied by satay sticks of beef.

Afterwards we would walk up to Highlands Coffee, one of the city’s innumerable high-decibel “ca phes” serving evening crowds sugar-loaded coffee drinks and weirdly, absolutely no food.

For dessert, the place to go was AVA, a tiny patisserie in a mouldy little room that served the absolute best chocolate cakes I have ever tasted.





Bana Hills

7 02 2017

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Less than an hour from the Danang Beaches lies the starkly different – and noticeably cooler – Bana Hills, a fantasy resort made up of a fake French village, located atop a mountain. The resort is reached via the world’s longest cable car which glides up over spectacular jungle scenes – rushing mountain streams, enormous ferns and towering Tarzan-like rainforest trees, before entering the clouds and mists near the mountain’s summit.

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The “village” itself is mainly home to mediocre restaurants and shoving crowds of Vietnamese tourists, but the sheer scale and slickness of the operation came as a surprise to me (what else did Vietnam have up its sleeve?!), the beauty of the ride up is undeniable and the faux-Alpine village, wreathed in mist, is pleasingly surreal.

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The Marble Mountains

7 02 2017

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A fifteen minute drive South of Danang’s beaches the Marble Mountains rise up abruptly. The craggy outcrops are riddled with caves and subterranean shrines, where shafts of sunlight filter in through ceiling fissures.

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After out visit we dropped by the neighbouring Hyatt to “borrow” their private beach, enjoy a great poolside meal and a massage and then run back to Danang along the sand under rosy twilight skies.





Beach jog

7 02 2017




Hoi An

7 02 2017

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Hoi An, unlike Danang but so close to it, is a hotspot for Western tourists. As soon as you arrive, you notice the increase in white faces on the streets. They are drawn by the lure of an almost-perfectly preserved old town along the river, with tiled shophouses in fading pastel colours. Its is pretty to be sure, although the tourist hordes have swallowed much of the town centre. I preferred to hover around on the edges. We were staying in a beautiful little resort called the Muca hotel, where the restaurant sat on a palm-thatch pontoon in the river, strung with colourful lanterns and the lush gardens bloomed with palm trees and orchids. When it rained – which it did for several days, for hours at a time – we would stay in our room, lounging on a majestically sized bed, reading novels (“Naomi” and “The Sympathiser”) or watching “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” or Chinese singing shows on the iPad.

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When it was clear we would venture into the old town (I had a suit made) or ride around the rice fields on the hotel’s complimentary bicycles. On these cycle trips we saw water buffaloes in the canals, flocks of starlings and pens of squawking ducks, funerals blaring weird droning horn music and banging gongs and hippies smoking weed furtively in the fields. The peacefulness of the scene, the muted shades of grey and green and the gentle cool drizzle on our arms and faces were one of the highlights of the trip for me.