Mention a visit to Vietnam, and most people will think of the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City, the floating markets of the Mekong River Delta, picturesque rice fields, and – certainly if they are American – the Hanoi Hilton.
But Vietnam is a changing country, with a growing and ever-diversifying tourism industry, exemplified by a decidedly un-Vietnamese tourist attraction located in the mountains overlooking Da Nang. Sun World’s Ba Na Hills resort is located nearly 1,500 meters above sea level and roughly half an hour west of the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang, a coastal city of over one million people known for its sandy beaches, French colonial history, and proximity to the ancient city of Hoi An (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Ba Na Hills gives visitors yet another reason to visit Da Nang.
Something of a cross between Disney’s Epcot, a French ski resort, and a Buddhist mountain retreat, the surreal Ba Na Hills complex is like no place I have seen before. And while you have likely never heard of it, you may very well have seen its most famous attraction – the Golden Bridge (aka the “Hand Bridge”), a 500-foot long arced pedestrian bridge that appears to be held up over the world far below by two giant stone hands.
The bridge, an attraction tailor-made for the social media age, put Ba Na Hills on the map for foreign travelers when it was completed in 2018, and is sure to become one of Vietnam’s most popular and recognizable sights. Simply put, the Golden Bridge makes for stunning photos, especially on a clear day, and despite the throngs of other visitors with whom you will likely have to jostle for the perfect spot to take that family photo or must-have selfie.
For many, the chance to see the bridge and populate their Instagram feeds with jaw-dropping photos of a faraway place that none of their friends have been to would be reason enough to visit Ba Na Hills. But the resort offers much more than the Golden Bridge, enough to keep both young and old occupied, interested, and happy for the whole day and – if so inclined – overnight as well.
Upon arriving to Ba Na Hills visitors are greeted by a lovely village of bridges, statues, and water features meant to replicate the town of Hoi An.
From there it is on to perhaps the park’s second most famous attraction – the Ba Na Cable Car, an extraordinary, European-built system that holds the world record for the longest nonstop single-track cable car ride, at over 19,000 feet in length.
On our visit, the 20-minute journey brought us well above the cloudline, past the Golden Bridge, and into the center of a charming (and very Epcot-like) French village, complete with French Gothic-style cathedral, French restaurants, cobblestoned streets, and the 4-star Mercure Danang French Village Hotel.
The French village – full of restaurants of all types and price levels – serves as ground zero for the mountaintop portion of the resort, and from there a maze of additional cable car rides, funiculars, and walkways lead to any of a number of additional attractions.
There is a massive indoor amusement park, dubbed Fantasy Park, which features not only rides, but arcade games, 3D cinemas, a climbing wall, and a wax museum.
There is an outdoor alpine coaster (no selfies allowed on this ride, but the park will sell you an 8×10 action photo of yourself for less than $2).
There is an entire spiritual area of the park, complete with temples, pagodas, and Japanese gardens, along with a 9-story Giant Buddha that does not know how to take a bad photo.
There are a number of impressive French gardens and, during the holidays, an enormous Christmas tree. And for those looking for something a little less kitschy, there is the fresh mountain air and the endless views.
Like almost everything in Vietnam, the cost of enjoying Ba Na Hills is very reasonable – the Vietnamese Dong equivalent of about $35 (about $25 for older kids) pays the entrance fee that covers just about all costs of the resort except for food. That’s certainly a small price to pay for a taste of the heavens. Oh, and don’t forget your selfie stick.
By Erica Wertheim Zohar @ Forbes