Ancient Sites and Winding Roads: 5 Road Trips from Da Nang, VietnamBy James Taylor
Lose yourself in a steaming bowl of mì Quảng noodles, lovingly prepared at a humble night market stall. Zip over mountains and through lush forest on the back of a trusty motorbike, exhilaration coursing through you. Or delight in the best beaches in Vietnam, lazing on the sands and plunging into the East Vietnam Sea.
A road trip in Central Vietnam demands you step beyond your comfort zone, conquer rugged roads and contend with the infamous Vietnamese traffic. But there’s no better way to immerse yourself in this stunning part of the country, and the rewards are well worth the journey.
From the ancient Old Town of Hoi An to the impressive ruins of My Son Sanctuary, here are the five best road trips to undertake from Da Nang.
As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
For Adrenaline Junkies: The Hai Van Pass
Buckle up for an adrenaline-fueled journey on the Hai Van Pass, a legendary mountain road north of Da Nang. Once known mostly to the trailblazing backpacking crowd, this winding road reached worldwide notoriety when it was featured on an episode of the UK’s “Top Gear.” Since then, it has become one of the most famous coastal routes in the world.
This twisting mountain route offers a white-knuckle adventure with its hairpin turns, mesmerizing switchbacks and awe-inspiring vistas of forest-clad mountains and boundless ocean.
As you traverse the pass, keep your eyes peeled for the ruins of an ancient gate, a former border crossing between two kingdoms that once existed in this part of Vietnam.
After conquering the exhilarating 13-mile journey, consider rejuvenating at the picturesque Lang Co Beach or backtracking to Da Nang to laze around in Vietnam’s longest swimming pool at the Sheraton Grand Danang Resort & Convention Center.
For even more action, you can extend this road trip from Da Nang: Just over an hour drive to the north is the former imperial city of Hue, brimming with majestic palaces and ornate tombs.
For Photographers and Families: The Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills
Another unforgettable road trip from Da Nang whisks you inland toward the Ba Na Hills theme park, perched atop an imposing mountain.
The park is only 25 miles from Da Nang, so it’s an easy drive to the entrance, where you’ll then catch a cable car — the longest in the world — up the mountain. The views along the way are breathtaking, but what awaits at the top is even better: the Golden Bridge.
This incredibly photogenic bridge juts out from the cliffs, the gentle curve of its walkway held aloft by two giant hands that emerge from the mountainside. It’s a mesmerizing sight, made even more so thanks to panoramic views of the lush, forest-clad hills below.
The bridge is a part of the larger Ba Na Hills theme park, a place that at times embraces kitsch, with kiddie rides and throngs of people. If you’re traveling with children, they’ll have a fantastic time. (Pro tip: To avoid the bulk of the crowds on the bridge, go first thing in the morning — the park opens at 7 a.m.)
For History Buffs: My Son Sanctuary
Follow the roads upstream along the Thu Bồn River, winding past bamboo thickets and weathered fishermen’s huts, and you’ll arrive at My Son Sanctuary.
This cluster of ruins features the remains of Hindu temples built by the Champa Kingdom between the 4th and 13th centuries. These masters of architecture dedicated their temples to the deities of Shiva, Krishna and Vishnu, imbuing their constructions with remarkable intricacy and artistry.
Visiting here is an incredible experience, the red sandstone of the ruined temples contrasting strikingly against the lush forest backdrop. As you get up close, the rich cultural and historical heritage of the Cham people becomes clear through the details that still shine through in the temples.
Though the site has been protected by UNESCO since 1999, time hasn’t been kind to My Son Sanctuary. Tragically, during the Vietnam War, the temples suffered bombings, the devastating conflict forever altering the ruins.
Avoid the crowds and heat by visiting first thing in the morning. Hiring a tour guide at the entrance is also recommended, although there is a small museum that presents a basic overview if you’d prefer.
For a double treat, end your day back in Da Nang exploring the caves, shrines and temples on the Marble Mountains, situated just behind the inviting Danang Marriott Resort & Spa.
For Culture and Fashion: Hoi An
Hoi An, around 17 miles south of Da Nang, immediately captures the hearts of all who wander through its atmospheric streets. This historic town on the Thu Bồn River was one of Vietnam’s major trading ports during the 16th and 17th centuries.
A large area of the Old Town has been protected by UNESCO and maintains the feel of its past, which is why Hoi An attracts thousands of visitors a day.
As you explore the town, you’ll turn up ancient temples, bridges spanning rivers, quiet tea houses and plenty of tailors who can stitch together quality custom clothing. Stay later for the famous night market on An Hoi Island, lit by thousands of glowing lanterns.
With a car, you can combine your day in Hoi An with some time on the coast. Kick back in one of the restaurants that line the golden shore of nearby An Bang Beach.
Travel north of Hoi An to immerse yourself in the beauty of the area’s rice fields, or head 40 minutes south to the fishing hamlet of Tam Thanh to marvel at the more than 100 murals painted on its houses, fences and facades.
For Motorbikes and Dramatic Views: The Son Tra Peninsula
Located to the north of My Khe Beach and the Four Points by Sheraton Danang is the Son Tra Peninsula.
Sprawling dramatically out into the sea, this mountainous place covered in lush forest is home to wild monkeys, remote beaches, Buddhist temples and some incredible views over Da Nang. Arriving by car is possible, but the curving roads are also perfect for motorbikes. (Don’t worry — there’s not a lot of traffic.)
Carve out an entire day to explore the area. First, make your way to Chùa Linh Ứng, a Buddhist temple on the southern shore that’s home to the tallest Lady Buddha statue in Vietnam, who gazes peacefully across the water toward Da Nang.
From here, head to the easternmost part of the peninsula, which is home to Cây Đa Ngàn Năm, a more than 1,000-year-old banyan tree, and some excellent hiking trails and viewpoints.
Then take the serpentine road up to the mountain peak, where you’ll find another statue of a deity pondering a large chessboard. And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the red-shanked douc langurs, the wild monkeys who live in the forest.