View from the top

While earmarked for major tourism development, Son Tra peninsula for the time being remains a perfectly sleepy little getaway spot for those in need of exotic exploration, writes Andy Tran.

For visitors to Danang who are tired of flopping around the beach all day and need some adventure, the clean and green natural beauty of Son Tra peninsula is just the ticket. Just a few minutes drive from downtown Danang, Son Tra is a stunning mixture of mountains, sea and sandy beaches.

The peninsula rises up to 693m above the sea level and while it has long been an imposing sight from the city, it has remained relatively unexploited as a tourism spot, despite grand plans on the drawing board. From the top of the mountain there’s a breathtaking panoramic view of Danang city, the sea and more than 30km of beach which stretches all the way to Cua Dai beach nearby Hoi An.

From a distance this stunning coastline looks like an long silk cloth flapping in the wind. When the French established a garrison on Son Tra Peninsula more soldiers are said to have died from an outbreak of disease while building it rather than during battle. A small cemetery, near Tien Sa beach, by the port to the north of Danang, stands in their memory. During the American War, Son Tra was also home to a notorious base camp serving as the US military command post complete with a helicopter-pad.

There are two radar stations built by the Americans in 1965, which were known as “Indochina’s eyes of god”. The satellites are now used for civil aviation purposes. Son Tra serves as the lung of the locality as it is covered by lush green forest. In fact, Son Tra is a natural preservation zone covering more than 4,400 hectares containing diversified tropical flora and rare species at risk of extinction.

Son Tra is called Monkey Island as it was once home to a healthy colony of monkeys, although sadly visitors today are less likely to see many monkeys around. At particular risk are the red-shanked douc langur and the stump-tailed macaque as well as long-tailed crab-eating macaque. The sea around the island is still pristine with colourful coral and turquoise water making it a perfect location for scuba diving.

Although currently scuba divers and snorklers should be careful as the sea can be a little bit rough. If you can’t resist diving there, you can check out the various diving packages offered by the Furama Resort down the road.

Son Tra is home to various beautiful beaches although they are not as long as Non Nuoc and Cua Dai. Visitors can enjoy fresh air and seafood in a any number of small restaurants set up by locals. Grilled shrimp, fried squid and roasted crab are the perfect choice after bathing in the deep blue sea. Son Tra is no longer ‘untouched’. The tourism boom in Danang has had a spillover effect onto the peninsula.

At the start of this decade the local authorities managed to lobby the central government to allocate part of the peninsula for tourism. Now there is a 20km-long road under construction that will run around the island offering breathtaking views of the sea and fishing boats below.

Resorts have also started to get off the ground in Bai Nam, Bai Con and Tien Sa beaches and world renowned operators such as InterContinental have inked deals to run resorts here. However, construction of these resorts is running slowly. A sign post advertises luxury villas and hotel on But Bay beach but currently there are just a few half-completed bungalows in the tall grass in what appears to be an abandoned project.

Nearby Son Tra Resort and Spa has completed the construction of 26 villas but it can not start operation due to lack of fresh water. Meanwhile the Bien Dong resort is more of a complex of guest houses popular with young people seeking a weekend getaway from their families. While city authorities have an ambitious plan to develop the Son Tra Peninsula as a key tourism centre with luxury resort franchises, conservationists are also determined that the natural beauty and biodiversity can be protected.