You’ve got to love Jetstar – Asia’s answer to easy jet, but with legroom! After a short hop on the plane (far preferable to over 26hrs on a bus) we landed in Danang (and it only cost about thirty quid!).
We stayed at the Danang Backpackers, enjoyed our free arrival tea, free arrival beer and a few games of table football. On their recommendation, we went to a locals restaurant and for about $1USD had a noodle soup with fish cakes and peppered tofu – Central Vietnamese cuisine following on in the excellent vein of the southern stuff, while also being completely different. We had a little wander down to the waterfront and crashed out exhausted in the dorm.
The next day, we had to sort our visa extensions. Having attempted in Ho Chi Minh and been quoted $120, compared to the $30 we had expected, we had hoped Danang would be cheaper, as apparently the closer you are to the border you tossed at, the cheaper it is. This was true, but it was still a painful $80 (including bribes and backhanders), more than the visa cost in the first place. Bureaucracy 1 – 0 Abby and Andrew.
Still, we didn’t want to have to leave Vietnam in six days, so we coughed up and, reeling a little, rented a moto for the day, determined to enjoy the sights of Danang. From what we heard, most people pass through Danang en route to Hoi An and Hue, but it really is beautiful to spend a day exploring here – the beach is the best we have seen on mainland Vietnam (take that Nha Trang).
We rode the short trip out to the Marble Mountains, on mercifully quiet and easily navigable roads, Andrews moto driving ability increasing with practice. The pagoda topped mountains rise dramatically out of the surrounding flat landscape, the five of them supposedly representing the Vietnamese traditional five elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. We visited the biggest of the mountains, Thuy Son (Water). It is a truly beautiful experience, wandering through pagodas and caves turned into shrines.
Under the mountain is a huge cave which and been turned into a representation of the underworld, complete with carved demons carrying out horrendous tortures on the damned and leering creepily out of the dark, before you ascend the steep narrow stairs to a representation of heaven. Abby hated the dark hell caves with the statues, while Andrew was less keen in the steep climb to heaven. Take from that what you will.
On top of the mountain, having avoided being mugged off for a couple of dollars to get in a short elevator ride, the views, pagodas and further caves were incredible, especially the largest, a huge cavern with a temple built inside it. Way more Tomb Raider than Angkor Wat we reckon.
After that, and a stop at our new top Banh Mi stall (the hunt for the perfect pork baguette continues) we headed down to China Beach, a huge expanse of white sand, for a bit of sunbathing. So, if anyone says Danang has nothing to do, ignore them, it does!
After all that, we still had a bus to catch to Hoi An, our next adventure, which we nearly missed (Andrews stomach causing a slight delay while he tried to buy food as the bus approached. Oops) but finally boarded.