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Nui Son Tra (Monkey Mountain)

Jutting out into the sea like a giant pair of Mickey Mouse ears, the Son Tra peninsula is crowned by the mountain that the American soldiers called Monkey.
Nui Son Tra (Monkey Mountain)

Grandly overlooking Danang to the south and the Hai Van Pass to the north, it was a prized radar and communications base during the war. Today it’s still largely undeveloped except for Tien Sa Port (Cang Tien Sa) on its eastern tip, although that may change soon with road construction and talk of beach resorts.

The highlight of visiting Monkey Mountain is the views from the summit, which are stupendous on a clear day. Most of the mountain used to be off-limits to tourists, but the Vietnamese military has gradually loosened its hold and it’s possible to take your own vehicle up to the top. What remains of the American military presence are a couple of radar domes (still used by the Vietnamese military and a no-go for tourists) next to a helicopter pad, now a lookout point. The steep road to the summit is pretty deserted and road conditions can be iffy. If you’re going on motorbike, you’ll need a powerful one to make it to the top. The turn-off to this road is about 3km before Tien Sa Port and marked by a blue sign that reads ‘Son Tra Eco-tourism’.

Most Vietnamese who come here head to one of the beach resorts along the peninsula’s southwestern coast or to sheltered Tien Sa Beach (Map) beside the port. Neither of these is quite as nice as China Beach (opposite), but that hasn’t stopped developers from breaking ground for new resorts. A road is also being built to circumnavigate the peninsula, which when completed would make for an incredibly scenic drive.

A memorial near the port commemorates an unfortunate episode of colonial history. Spanish-led Filipino and French troops attacked Danang in August 1858, ostensibly to end Emperor Tu Duc’s mistreatment of Catholics. The city quickly fell, but the invaders were hit by cholera, dysentery, scurvy, typhus and mysterious fevers. By the summer of 1859, the number of invaders who had died of illness was 20 times the number who had been killed in combat.

Many of the tombs of Spanish and French soldiers (Map; admission free) are below a chapel near Tien Sa Port. To get here, cross Song Han Bridge and turn left onto Ð Ngo Quyen, continuing north to the port. The overgrown ossuary, a small white building, stands on the right on a low hill, about 500m before the port’s gate.

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