The coastal city of Da Nang, the major port in the central part of Vietnam, was home to a huge U.S. Air Force base during the U.S. war with Vietnam. Da Nang is halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, 380 mi/610 km southeast of Hanoi, and growing quickly. It's noted for art and architecture from the Cham Dynasty.
The Museum of Cham Sculpture houses the finest display of Cham sculpture and artifacts in the world. The majority of bronze, sandstone and terracotta sculptures date from the 12th-13th centuries.
The My Son Sanctuary, 44 mi/70 km southwest of Da Nang, features the remains of a former imperial city of the Cham dynasty, whose culture flourished in Vietnam in the fourth to 13th centuries. The impressive complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes beautiful stone temples and towers. The spiritual roots of Cham culture lie in Hinduism, and this can be clearly seen in the design of the towering temples. Following the discovery of the My Son complex, many of the statues of female dancers and deities worshipped by the Cham were removed and displayed in the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang.
Just south of Da Nang, the Marble Mountains are the highlight of the area. These five peaks were tiny islands until silt filled in the surrounding area. Each mountain is named after one of the five elements of the Buddhist universe: fire, water, earth, wood and metal. On Thuy Son (Water Mountain), you'll find caves that have been turned into natural pagodas as altars and statues of Buddha and bodhisattvas have been added. A trail of steep steps (about 900 of them) leads up the mountain.
Marble sculptors display their skill at roadside stalls or in collective marketplaces throughout the area. If you've always longed for a larger-than-life marble Buddha or an exquisite palm-sized jade elephant, there's your chance. Larger stores will arrange shipping to the U.S. and Canada. This is a good place to practice bargaining skills, as initial quotes can often be lowered by 30% or more.
On the coast near the mountains is the famous China Beach. Along with its crystal water and white sand, it now boasts a luxury resort, and food stalls and souvenir shops line the streets. Other good beaches in the area include My Khe Beach (one of the area's best) and Nam O Beach (a great place to see fishing boats). Be careful of the strong cross-currents when swimming.
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