Da Nang - The Son Tra Loop

Discussion in 'Vietnam - Road Trip Reports' started by Rod Page, Feb 11, 2012.

  1. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    THE SON TRA LOOP

    INTRODUCTION

    I am continually drawn to Son Tra. The feeling of quietness, of nature all around, of being surrounded by huge trees in jungle inhabited by primates. Over nature's green canopy & the majesty of thousands of years the coastline entices one to ride ever on. Views over oceans of blue to deserted islands & along the whites & yellows of glorious beaches reinforce nature's claim to create that which is truly marvellous. From high up in the serenity of Buddhist symbols of reverence & wonder one looks out over the fruits of man's determination & struggle with breathtaking views over Da Nang.

    That all this can be right on the door-step of a major thriving city is unique. In the same way that Chiang Mai has its Samoeng Loop, Da Nang has its Son Tra Loop, an easy day ride on the city's edge, yet a million miles away.

    HISTORY

    Son Tra peninsula juts out into the South China Sea on the north-eastern shores of Da Nang overlooking the entrance to Nam 'O Beach & over to Hai Van Pass to the north, &, to the south, Da Nang & an almost 30km long China Beach passing the Marble Mountains on the way to Hoi An. Out to sea, lie the eight islands that make up the beautiful Cham Islands group.

    Nam 'O Beach is where the American forces landed in 1965 to mark the start of the American War. The Son Tra peninsula was considered of significant military importance & several American radar instalations remain. The Americans called the peninsula Monkey Mountain perhaps in recogntion of its substantial primate population. Da Nang's shipping port, Tien Sa, lies on the south-western corner of the peninsula, where in 1858 French & Spanish forces attacked Emperor Tu Duc's army ostensibly to protect Vietnam's Roman Catholics. Tu Duc's forces were quickly defeated but ironically the victors were struck down within 12 months of their victory through a series of illnesses such as cholrea, typhoid & dysentery for which they were ill equiped. Reportedly 20 times more men died from disease in the year following the battle than those who lost their lives fighting! Their graves can be found in the grounds of the port's chapel.

    THE SON TRA LOOP

    Follow the beach road - Hoang Sa - north along beautiful China Beach passing Da Nang's small but intriguing fishing village. Veer right at the end of the beach to start the climb out along Son Tra. Entry to the area was until recently restricted by the Vietnamese military but today access roads are being re-sealed & new roads built. The road climbs offering fabulous views over China Beach & Da Nang before reaching Phat Ba Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, which at 67m is Vietnam's highest statue & dominates the headland. Vietnam's famous Thuy Lam sculptured the statue over a 6 year period from 2004 before the official opening in July 2010. There's a photo in the complex of the statue whilst under construction showing a halo which buddhists believe bears witness to the sacredness of the site.

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    Continue on the same route offering sensational coastal views past a number of resorts currently under construction to Bai But offering a couple of wonderfully situated restaurants situated on stilts right at water's edge. Brilliant place for coffee, a good lunch or just to chill out.

    The restaurants from the coastal road & a closer shot of what's on offer:

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    Back in the saddle the road sweeps up past Bai Nam & around Mui Nghe offering great views across the South China Sea to the eight uninhabited islands that make up the Cham Islands group, deep down to the coastline & across over the access road leading out to the Son Tra lighthouse:

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    The road here for a kilometre or so is subject to constant landslides in the event of heavy rains. Continue along to where a major Hyatt resort is currently under construction to a spot where the road offers 3 options - the road to the lighthouse, the road to Bai Bac & the loop road back over the top of Son Tra.

    Option 1 to the lighthouse heads back sharply to your right taking you to the Son Tra lighthouse along a very steep climb. Rarely used other than by lighthouse personel its a very steep climb often with monkeys crossing the road. A couple of short detours run from the principal path but peter-out. At the end of the route, just past the lighthouse is a 'resort' of sorts which when open (subject to traffic) would offer a pleasant stop. The return via the same route offers great views over a steeply dropping road back across to the Marble Mountains in the distance:

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    The way to Bai Bac is currently closed to tourist traffic pending the completion of a resort along the beach shoreline. The beach & resort construction is no more than a kilometre away in the distance & can be clearly seen.

    The loop road swings left climbing swiftly past the impressive entry resently constructed for the resort overlooking Bai Bac. Continue climbing, climbing & climbing up what is now a cement surface road. You'll be drawn to stop intermitantly to gaze down at the ocean below, the roads you just ridden way down below you, to stunning views over Quan Am from up above.

    There are radar & transmission installations up high where entry is not permitted. Ride on enjoying the view; you'll suddenly see atop a hill a small pagola - stop & take the short walk up to the shrine for absolutely knock-out views over Da Nang & over the road across the ridge of Son Tra that you are about to travel:

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    If you can manage to draw yourself away from the look-out continue on your way - the road is a little potholed here presently. After a kilometre or so there's a detour which swings right. Take it for a spectacular run around some sensational ocenside coastal scenery. The road offers 2 possibilities - one an off-road bike only road currently under construction which will ultimately reach Bai Bac along the coastline, the other a wonderful snaking road heading down to.............well I'll let you know in due course as the access is currently totally blocked due to landslides (see below).

    Given the current state of affairs there is virtually no traffic along either road resulting in the roads being almost clogged with monkeys especially in the later afternoon. It was in this area that I nearly fell from my bike in awe at seeing a family of red-shankeded doucs. Incredible markings! The monkeys scatter at the sound of bikes, certainly at the sight of someone on foot so photos are difficult to take - the best I could find in myself trying to determine which monkeys I had seen was:
    http://www.arkive.org/red-shanked-douc/pygathrix-nemaeus/photos.html

    Shots from the coastal road currently under construction showing the fabulous ocean coastline, then one of the new hotel complex being constructed at Bai Bac:

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    The 2nd option to - 'who knows where' - showing the total road block that prevented me from finding out - I'd already pushed, carried & shoved the YBR around 2 earlier blockages. I assume this great ride arrives at the lighthouse at the maritime entrance to Da Nang from where it may be possible to continue all the way around to Tien Sa:

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    Returning to the loop the road onwards will take you past a sign-posted 'green-walk' which I've yet to undertake & on to the direct acess road to the domed radar installations atop Son Tra. The helicopter pad which served the radars in days gone by was converted to a look-out in 2009 & offers great views across the Bay of Da Nang to Hai Van Pass:

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    Head down from the look-out on a recently sealed road offering exceptional lower altitude views over Da Nang past a sharp detour to your left (see later) & continue to Tien Sa. Head to the port's chapel & visit the tombs of the french & spanish soldiers who perished in one year from disease & illness at a rate 20 times greater than those who died in the war of 1858 with Emperor Tu Duc.

    If you take the turn sharp left (above) you'll wind your way down back to the beach. This road too has been the subject of a recent landslide:

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    On descending you'll find yourself back in Da Nang's quaint fishing village just north of the Phuoc My sub district...............
    Well, Phuoc My if you dont want to do the Son Tra Loop all over again!
     
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  3. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Son Tra called again today & I headed out to revisit those spots with roads under construction & those roads blocked by landslides when I last visited.

    The ride up via "the domes" offer such sensational views over the ever-changing Da Nang skyline; the speed of development still staggers me. Staggered also am I by the beauty of this area, the sensational coastal views, the primate full jungle all around, the wonderful ride it offers & the total lack of any other traffic. I'm serious when I say that if you stop & turn off the engine the only noise that you will hear is 'monkey chat'. And all this is just 5 minutes from Vietnam's third biggest city!

    I swept back down the new road on the northern extremeties of Son Tra peninsula being built out towards the resort at Bai Bac. To my surprise I found the road almost completed in a solid cement surface. Herewith a shot of where the completed cement surface meets what remains to be cemented - that's Hon Son Cha, the island on the eastern extremity of the Hai Van Pass headland, in the background - followed by a shot taken from that point looking across over to Bai Bac (it was a dirt road in a similar photo in an earlier post):

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    It would appear that the road is being extended along the coastline so that it will ultimately link with the dead end that currently services the lighthouse on Son Tra's north-eastern extremity. It will deliver a run to rival Hai Van Pass once completed; its that good!

    Across Son Tra the wild flowers from shrubs to climbers are bursting forth from the jungle green in magnificent colour. Here a shot over some climbers looking down at the spectacular coastline:

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    I continued on, back to try my luck along the coastal loop, blocked by substantial landslides on my last visit, which runs back to Tien Sa, Da Nang's principal shipping port. The proof of substantial landslides was all about but the run is staggeringly beautiful. Swinging into the entrance to Da Nang Harbour shoewing THE spot for fishing:

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    Local anglers (there are actually a couple along the rocks in the photo above) gain access to the area via the military base at Tien Sa. These were the only people I saw all afternoon - they rode in, two to a bike with large rods, heading down to 'the fishing club', a lean-to covered in simple canvas providing access to what is clearly the best coastal fishing in Da Nang. To the other side of the peninsula a couple of pristine coconut clad beaches....it cant get better!

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    You can see the blue canvas of 'the fishing club' in the jungle on the left, above.

    Explore this wonderland if ever you are in Da Nang.
     

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