One of our favorite things to do when we land in a new city is to go on a free walking tour. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land if you are short on time or you just want a quick intro into your destination. The best part is the guide is usually a passionate local, with an astonishing network. They can tell you where to find all the other goodies too like good food, coffee and attractions to mention a few.
The free walking tour platform is used worldwide with great effect. Each city has it’s own unique way of delivering a stellar experience. Each experience giving you something completely different . We’ve also introduced a few of our travel Tribe to these tours and we can all agree that we are totally hooked.
While you don’t pay to go on a free walking tour, you have the option of giving a tip. If you feel the guide has delivered a good service or you’ve had a satisfactory experience, it’s the right thing to do. But again, not compulsory.
In saying that though, we’ve never come across a free walking tour we didn’t tip for. In fact, we’ve had amazing experiences and met some amazing individuals on all our walking tours so far.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a free walking tour in our new home of Da Nang. See, on our previous trip to Vietnam, we knew nothing of Da Nang other than it was the best way to get to Hoi An. Like everybody else, we flew into Da Nang, drove straight to Hoi An and we were back three days later only to leave again.
We spent one day and night in Da Nang and it was a pleasant surprise. But it did make us question why we hadn’t heard much about this city and why there wasn’t much to find. Had we found more, we probably would have stayed longer.
See, even as little as two years ago, this city was pretty quiet. It was only known for a handful of resorts and a small number of attractions. Not enough to make you look at it twice. The city however, has changed a lot since then and this free walking tour is one of many initiatives to put Da Nang on the travel map.
This quiet city with humble fishing origins, has bloomed into a top southeast Asia holiday destination. More and more people are flocking to her shores to enjoy her spectacular offerings. It’s easier to find the abundance in choices of international-class resorts and hotels. Not to mention attractions. All in all, she is becoming a destination superstar.
But what do we really know about Da Nang? As it turns out, not much. But Mai and Vy from Da Nang Free Walking Tours changed all that.
The girls met us at the Da Nang Visitors Center at 9AM sharp and we set off not long after that. This tour covered five stops, three of which we hadn’t been to before. (Anybody that has traveled with us will know we go almost EVERYWHERE by foot. It’s one of the best ways to experience a place on a whole different level, plus it’s easier on the planet and pocket.)
Stop 1 – HAN MARKET
Our first stop was Han Market. This market sits on the main road next to, you guessed it, the Han River. Established in 1902 and it was only accessible to the wealthy at the time. This could explain its small size, but you will still find a lot of great stuff crammed into this tiny space. (Han has a bigger brother called the Con Market which is almost quadruple the size but you need a ton of patience to traverse that beauty.)
Today it is a bustling market for all to enjoy. Here you can find anything from fresh fish, veg and fruit to dried goods. And if you in the market for clothing or shoes, then this is your spot. The second floor is jam-packed with clothing and shoe stalls as well as fabric stalls. Girls, you can even have a traditional Vietnamese long dress made here and for VD500,000 (~USD22.00 / ~AUD30.00). Not bad for a tailor made outfit.
Update: Since writing this post I had a dress made here and it ended up being more than I expected to spend because of the language barrier. In all fairness though, it was a nice dress and I do love wearing it.
Also, after our last visit to Da Nang in January (2019) I spotted plenty of places on the beach side of the city that offer to make the long dress for much cheaper than the price mentioned above. Definitely shop around before you hand over cash!
Travel Tip!: If you do buy something here, be prepared to be a bullet proof haggle master. Never accept the price they give you. We were told to half the original price and haggle from there. Best advice we can give you is work out what you are prepared to pay for that item in your own currency first. Then convert it to Vietnamese Dong and go from there. Also, it is their livelihood, so please be respectful. If you stick to a realistic price, then everybody wins. Also, wear closed in shoes. There is a lot of water on the floor in the fresh section of Han Market and it gets slippery.
Stop 2 – DA NANG CATHEDRAL
The next stop was the Chicken Church. Silly name I know, I’ll get to that in a minute.
I was so excited about this one. As the appointed photographer of our little team, I’m constantly looking to improve my skills. One of the best ways to do that is to look at other photographers work and learn from them. One of the subjects that always pops up in photos of Vietnam is this gorgeous pink cathedral. When I found out it was in Da Nang and on this tour, I did a little happy dance. This was finally my chance to see it in person!
The Da Nang Cathedral is the largest place of worship in the city. Construction started in 1923 and completed in 1924 and it is still in use today.
Nobody can tell us why it’s painted pink. We think it has something to do with the original French influence but feel free to comment if you know the answer. We do however, know why it’s called the chicken church lol.
After construction was completed, the builders added a wind vane to the tip of the bell tower. At the time weather vanes with a rooster on top were all the rage in Europe but not so much here in Vietnam. The locals, gave it one look and dubbed it Con Ga Church (or Chicken church).
Stop 3 – THE CHAM MUSEUM
This one was more of a walk-by due to the admission price. The Cham museum we hear is a fascinating look at the Cham people and their influences on Vietnamese history. We understand that the Cham kingdom use to stretch from central Vietnam as far down as the Mekong Delta. They eventually became part of Vietnam and why you can see so much of their ancient relics in this area.
Stop 3 – DRAGON BRIDGE
We didn’t have to go far to get to our next stop. The famous Dragon Bridge, one of the four most famous bridges in the city. This large, bright yellow scaled creature stretches across the Han River and is hard to miss.
The girls asked us if we knew what shape the eyes of the dragon was. (Bit of a trick question on their part because we were standing at the tail end, lol). We knew the eyes were the shape of a heart, but we couldn’t tell them why.
Turns out the head purposely faces the beach rather than the city (the latter made more sense to us). This position is intentional so the head can welcome visitors into the city of Da Nang. The heart shaped eyes, make it look friendly and welcoming. Upon closer inspection, we realized the creator had hidden hearts all along the body of the beast.
We also learnt that in Eastern mythology, dragons are good omens. Whereas everybody else tends to see them as scary or a threat. This was the other reason the eyes are the shape of hearts. They represent love and friendship.
That’s not the only cool thing about this dragon. It comes alive too! Yup you read that right. Every Saturday and Sunday night at 9PM, it spits fire for two minutes, then water for three minutes. It’s so much fun to watch.
Stop 4 – HAN BRIDGE
Our last stop was the Han Bridge. The first of the famous four built in Da Nang. Construction started in 1997 and finished in 1998. While it doesn’t look like much in comparison to the others, it does have its own cool factor.
Every Friday through to Sunday night between 11PM and 12AM this bridge does a dance. She swings on her axis to allow vessels to sail from the ocean into the Han River and vice versa.
After an hour and a half we were sad to say goodbye to the girls. We had such a great time getting to know them and their beautiful city better.
All the guides are uni students who are passionate about the city they life in. They enthusiastically share that passion far and wide. It’s also an opportunity for them to practice their English skills, so don’t be shy. If you take part in this free walking tour, get into it, talk to them, engage them. You will not regret it.
We had a great time and great conversations with the girls! (I have to admit too that there were three other girls, but I don’t have their names unfortunately. I suffer from goldfish memory a lot lol)
Travel Tip!: Take plenty of drinking water if you go. We had our trusty 1lt bottles with us and we sucked it dry in no time.
While you don’t pay to participate in the tour, you are welcome to give your guides a tip and we encourage people to consider doing this. Why do we do this?
First off, they don’t get paid to do the tour, they volunteer their time so as to meet new people and hopefully get to practice their English skills. Our guides certainly didn’t give us the impression that a tip or any compensation was expected. That made us relax a bit more and we enjoyed the experience more as a result.
We made an effort to speak to them as much as possible, which we knew they appreciated. (Update: we actually caught up with one of our guides on a social get together months later and we had a blast hanging out with them. They really are amazing people!)
At the end of the tour we weren’t ready for it to end. We were having too much fun and enjoying the company tremendously. We walked away just as passionate about Da Nang as our guides and we couldn’t wait to explore it more. Plus, we were armed with locations for good local food and coffee to fuel our future explorations. Bonus!
We were more than happy to give the girls VND100,000 (~USD 4.30 / ~AUD6.00) each as we felt they delivered beyond expectation. And really for that price you couldn’t get a tour that great at that price if you tried!
One thing to note, the guides work in pairs for safety reason, hence why we tipped twice. Both were instrumental in delivering a top notch experience and we had no qualms about tipping them both.
This was a great way to get know the city and give a little back to those who are passionate about it.
If this is your first visit to our site, then welcome! Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.
Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…