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Da Nang sunset, rooftop

Da Nang night, rooftop

Where I go sip my coffee or drink my beer in the afternoon and evening. Where I watch the sun set, the planes arrive and take off, lightnings flash behind the clouds, birds gliding by. I always think nothing would feel freer than flying.

Chim ơi bay đâu mà vội thế,
Sao không dừng đây chút giây?
Chim ơi cho tôi theo với,
Muốn gặp người,
Ngàn trùng cách trở biết làm sao?

There’s one and only one company in Vietnam that I boycott: Sun group. Their presence is huge in Da Nang. They own Intercontinental – one of the most exclusive resorts in the country, Asia park – the only theme park in Danang with an iconic ferris wheel that I can see from my house across the river, and Ba Na Hills – a hilltop theme park/resort that I can also see from my house. My reason is simple: they have a habit of blocking public access to whichever area that their development sits on. (They also came up with the genius idea of building a cable car into Son Doong cave, which luckily was shot down because the stupidity could not escape anyone.)

Intercontinental completely blocks the whole North Beach bãi bắc of the Son Tra peninsula. And Ba Na Hills blocks off well Ba Na mountain, one of the only 3 mountains in Da Nang (the other 2 being Son Tra mountain and Ngu Hanh Son marble mountain.) Anyone that wants to go up the mountain has to use their cable car. What’s much worse in this case is that there IS a public road up that has been there looooong before Sun group ever came into existence. Sun group destroyed this road during their construction of the resort and has refused to repair it. They put up a guard post on the road and claim that it’s to warn travelers from the dangerous conditions of the road, but the guards are actually instructed to not let anyone pass.

Sun group is far from being the only culprit. The mentality of turning nature into private property is so widespread in Vietnam. Just look at the beaches. So many people believe and find it acceptable that resorts can block the public off their beaches. Thankfully it’s not legal in Da Nang, though the perception is there. I had a hard time convincing my parents that it’d be fine to sit and swim in front of resorts when they visited. The guards didn’t like it very much; and I’m sure they’d have try harder to intervene if we were a larger rowdier group. But at least it’s nothing like Nha Trang or last I heard Phu Quoc, where resorts put up physical barriers! It makes my blood boil. Hawaii has some of the most beautiful beaches and most exclusive resorts in the world and the public has access RIGHTS. Resorts, condos, multimillion houses, whatever development have you that’s on the beach HAS to provide public pathway.

People in Vietnam don’t know how to take care of nature, you say. It’s better for the resorts to keep people away so that they can maintain it better, you say. Yes, the awareness might not be here yet, but the solution is not to keep people off and let them go pollute elsewhere. The solution is to educate so that they protect nature wherever they happen to be. And I am seeing it getting better with the younger generations.

The mentality of “owning” nature is a lot harder to change. The impulse for nature to have a “utility” – whether it’s to turn a profit, or to keep the ecosystem in balance – runs a lot deeper and wider than just Vietnam. It’s so different compared to societies like Hawaii. We’ve been conditioned for generations, for centuries, so I really have no idea how to change or whether we could even change it.

Da Nang, waterfall, Vietnam

I think I’ve found my favorite spot in all of Da Nang, if not Vietnam. A beautiful clean cold waterfall half an hour by motorbike from the city, and half an hour hike from the road.

The day started rather badly. I felt sick and threw up in the morning for no reason and had to rest in bed for a bit before we could leave. We got to the end of the paved road and would have to continue on a steep dirt hill with very narrow track as most of it had been washed off by the rain, creating a ravine full of limestone rocks. The construction guys whom I’d asked for directions from were all doubtful about my ability to make it up on my bike, but my overconfidence pushed me forward. And I almost did make it. But I stopped too soon, lost the gas and the footing, and fell right into the ravine and ate the dirt. I was shaken. Couldn’t even get up right away, just rolled over on my back and let my heart calm itself down. But all in all, I was lucky to get off lightly with only bruises and no fractures.

trail to waterfall, Da Nang trail to waterfall, Da Nangtrail to waterfall, Da Nang     overgrown trail

We continued to hike on foot, under the relentless heat of noon at over 40 degrees C. The sound of a waterfall nearby became clearer and more inviting with each step. Knowing that it was not the original destination we’d planned for, we still couldn’t resist its calling and took off on a side trail in search of its blissful coolness. The trail down, though shaded, turned out quite challenging given my condition. The dirt was slippery under all the loose leaves. There were very few natural footholds and since I couldn’t put any weight on my left arm and very little on my right knee, I had quite a few close slips.

We couldn’t have asked for a better prize for all the trouble. Not only was the waterfall beautiful and the water icy cold, but the place was empty. Completely. Very rarely could I use that word to describe a place in Vietnam. To our right, there’s another stream coming down to join the waterfall. Its upstream must be where we had wanted to go. The tall straight granite wall lining along the stream reminded me of the canyons at the Narrows in Zion. We’d already cooled off a lot from the breeze just sitting by the stream. Living in Vietnam, you get used to crowds 24/7, and here we were, stumbling upon a place that we could have all to ourselves. It’s hard to describe that feeling of relief and joy; your body and soul being compressed for so long finally having all the space to decompress. No curious eyes. No questions.

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moon over Marble Mountain, Da Nang, Ngu Hanh Son

Marble Mountain Ngũ Hành Sơn

Son Tra peninsula, Monkey Mountain, Son Tra mountain, Da Nang

on the way down from Kuan Yin

Son Tra mountain, Monkey mountain, Da Nang

Nepal is coming up fast and I have so many things to take care of before I depart: work, online courses, buying gifts for friends, contacting friends, getting info, and most important of all, getting back in shape. I’m not paddling as regularly now as I have to train for walking with a load on my back while wearing shoes. I go to Marble Mountain 2 or 3 times a week. Started with a 5L bottle of water in my pack and clocked 20 minutes for one round trip. The climb is only 160m and fewer than 350 steps. Now I can do 15 minutes one round trip with a 8kg pack. I try to do 3 lapses with 2-3 minutes break at the top. The uneven stairs is a great workout, and the final stretch is shielded from the breeze and I get really sweaty and out of breath. I also walked up the KuanYin Linh Ứng temple, which turned out disappointingly easy. It’s 2 miles one way and took me 42 minutes to go up and 38 minutes to go down. Very little difference because the incline is so gradual. The last route I did was also Son Tra mountain, but the other way entering from the southwest instead of southeast. I started late and had to turn back at km5, a little past half way to the top. The road is steeper on this side and I clocked 75 minutes up and 55 minutes down. If the rain isn’t so bad this week, I’ll go back again to make it all the way to the top. Very pleasant walks and I’m the only one walking on the road.

Part 1 here, written September last year.

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the arts of sitting on kiddies’ chairs

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Restaurants: I’m combining both Vietnamese and Western this time ’cause some of them don’t fit in either.

– Madame Lân: My new favorite! I had passed this place so many times but didn’t go until a couple of weeks ago. The menu is Vietnamese and extensive, and the prices are very unexpectedly reasonable. You can get a variety of noodles or order dishes to share family style. Love sitting by the infinity pool and get the breeze from the river.

– Hà Nội Xưa: I’m extra picky when it comes to Hanoi food. I know what it should taste like, and outside of Hanoi, it goes wrong way too often. This place is quite strange compared to the normal Vietnamese place. It’s closed on Sunday, they sell one dish for breakfast, and one dish for lunch/dinner. They can sell out pretty fast too, and never seem too interested in making more, or opening longer hours.

– Pizza Hug: the bastard child of Vietnamese noodle and Italian pasta, i.e. pasta way overcooked and soggy in a bath of sauce.

– Hang’s kitchen: My go-to when I crave extra protein in the form of burgers. It’s my favorite in their menu. They have promotion night (buy 1 get 50% off) and also Mexican night, but I’m not fond of their version of burrito which I find way too soggy and lacking in ingredients. Bonus point: They always deliver with a free copy of the Word, a high quality travel lifestyle magazine for expats in Vietnam. And their restaurant has a few racks of books for you to browse or borrow, or in my case, they even gave me for free!

– Family Indian restaurant: Everyone raves about this place. At least everyone I know in Da Nang that eats Indian food. I went once and can’t even remember what I got because it was pretty mediocre.

– Mumtaz: For Indian, I prefer Mumtaz. My friend was visiting and the 3 places that we wanted to check out were all closed that night. Not knowing where else to go, we cruised the street and happened to see Mumtaz and decided to give it a try. Good curry, but lassi is too cardamom-y.

– My Casa: a new-comer that is trending right now with a menu boasting Spanish, Italian, and Malaysian food. I haven’t tried their tapas. Their home-made pasta is a hit with ground beef, and a miss if it’s carbonara. I’d not get the Malaysian dishes. Nice outdoor seating but beware of mosquitos.

– Tam’s Pub and Surf Shop: ok, this place has history, I get it. But I don’t get the rave for their burgers. Average.

– Waterfront: Good pasta, decent burger. Now I’m thinking I’m also extra picky when it comes to burger though I’m not from burger-land.

– Sakura Friends Cafe: Run by a Japanese charity in support of an orphanage, next door to Japanese language center. The menu has everything from green tea drink to tempura to soba. The food isn’t amazing but it’s cheap. I love the quite atmosphere, the wooden decor, and best of all the small but very pleasing garden that shields us from the noisy street outside.

 

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Bars & cafes:

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Say you arrive in Da Nang in July. After a day lazing around on the beach working furiously on your tan while admiring the calm ocean, you catch yourself thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a SUP board to paddle around on the glistening water, far away from all the swimmers? Well I’ve caught myself picturing that in mind numerous times. The will is there, but the challenge is first: how to find a stand up paddle board in Da Nang. It has a long coastline, a couple of beautiful bays easily accessible, and if you want you can count the silty Han river too, and yet you don’t ever see anyone on a paddle board. None. Ever. I just know there must be one hidden somewhere in this city of a million people. There must be a one in a million chance right? So I started a small quest. And after a few questions, I did find one, in the possession of an expat who owns an apartment building 3 blocks from the beach. And as nice as he seems, he made it clear that it’s strictly personal and off limits to renting. He pointed me off to inquire at the Furama, a fancy 5* resort. And yes, they do have a beat up super sticky sandy wavestorm for a very resort friendly price of $22/hour. So I’m sad to say that, unless you are willing to drop $22 for an hour on foam, at this moment as of Aug 2014, it’s not possible to get your hand on a paddle board in Da Nang. What a freaking shame. So much water abound and not a single board available (for a reasonable price). But that might change. While looking with a certain disgust at the Furama’s wavestorm, I thought to myself: I might just as well buy lots of foam and glue or tape them together and have my own board. I now have a much grander idea and design, but it’s to be seen whether I can find someone to execute, and again, at a reasonable cost. I’ll get to it as soon as I get back to Da Nang. And if it works out, it’s gonna be a super exciting project.

Update Jul 2015: There’s a new surf school in town, toward the northern part of the public beach. They have 26 boards to rent! An impressive number, including SUP, both foam and epoxy. But still quite pricey, so definitely geared toward foreigners and tourists ($10-15, per hour I’m assuming).

The culinary scene of Da Nang isn’t as nearly exciting as Hanoi or Saigon, or even Hue for that matter. There are plenty of street food and cheap eateries, but they mostly offer the same fare: mỳ Quảng (Quảng province noodle), bún thịt nướng (noodle with grilled pork), and nem lụi (grilled ground pork on skewers). Non-Vietnamese options aren’t that diverse either.

I actually cook for the most part, and only eat out when visitors are in town. Following are the places that we’ve graced 🙂 Ideas mostly come from tripadvisor, indanang (a site for expats in Da Nang), foody.vn (the tripadvisor for food in Vietnam), and danangcuisine (a site dedicated to local food).

My reviews are divided into Vietnamese, Western, Cafes, and Bars.

eating out Read the rest of this entry »

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