Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Traditional Vietnamese fishing boats on 'China Beach'
I’m walking along a quiet, lonely beach, and a sprinkle of rain is falling. Peering down the coast, I see few other beachgoers this afternoon. A small group of Vietnamese men play barefoot soccer on the sand. A few off duty Vietnamese soldiers clown around nearby, taking photos of each other. Besides me, there are no foreigners at all.

This is My Khe beach, which basically translates as, “American Beach”. Since this beach is closest to central Vietnam’s largest city, Danang, this is where many American G.I.'s came to relax back during the war years. The soldiers who spent their off time here gave this seashore their own nickname: “China Beach". A 1980's American TV show of the same name, was based on fictional Hollywood war stories from this place. But I'm standing on the real deal.

The wind picks up, and I head past the new beach walkway towards beached boats. With the rain and cooler weather, this is the off season for Danang’s coast. But the more turbulent weather brings

'Monkey Mountain' overlooks the beaches
heaving waves, which are churning up sand, giving the coastline a brownish tinge. This is prime weather for that very American sport: surfing.

A few nights ago I ran into Ian, an English teacher I know from Saigon. Like some of the soldiers back in the 60’s, Ian is a surfer, and he comes here every year over Christmas. 

“How’s the surfing?” I asked him.

“The best it’s ever been,” he replied. The stormy weather made for
excellent waves, good surfing. American surfers who have to wait their turn on overcrowded beaches of California would absolutely drool at the sight of China Beach's empty breakers. Often, there isn’t a soul out there to take advantage of the awesome surf, since few Vietnamese enjoy the sport. It may be only a matter of time before surfers find their way back to Danang, to ride some of the best waves in Asia. Until then, the lucky few like Ian will have these fabulous waves all to themselves.

Fishing boats lie at anchor off of China Beach
It was at another of Danang’s nearby beaches where the United States Marines first landed in Vietnam back in 1965. Landing craft carrying marines pulled up to Red Beach just north of here, marking the entrance of the first US ground combat unit to join the war. This was no dangerous landing like Iwo Jima. On wading ashore, the marines were met not by gunfire, but by journalists, and Danang’s mayor. A group of young Vietnamese women handed them flowered leis. 

As I stroll past beached fishing boats, I see vendors are renting out hammocks. Crowded near them are traditional Vietnamese beach shelters and beach side eateries. I opt for a seafood restaurant across the road, and that’s where I meet a China Beach fixture named Maryann.
Maryann, on China Beach since 1960's

“Americans number one,” Maryann tells me with a smile. She’s wearing oversized rings with oversized stones, and a big necklace with oversized pearls.

Her eatery is, “Maryann’s Restaurant”, and she’s been in this beach business since the early 1960’s. Maryann had countless American soldiers as her customers, and she remembers those days well.

“Many American love me,” she tells me reminiscing. “Many American want to take me to America. I don’t want (to go.)” I wonder just exactly what she meant, when she said, “Many American love me.”

Back in those years, with all the free spending American soldiers, business on the beach was even better. Maryann remembers few problems, and can’t remember ever seeing a single fight on the beach. The soldiers she encountered here on leave were already seeing plenty of fighting in the countryside.

Chatting away, Maryann recalls her conversations with homesick soldiers, “Americans say, ‘I want go home. I want go see (my) mother (and) father’. They go fight in the mountains, many die, (their) friend die, they tired. They want go home America.”

In Maryann’s case, she remained in Vietnam. She married a Vietnamese man, had eight children, and now has grandchildren. She still operates this restaurant with her family. Her restaurant used to be right on the beachside, but due to government  redevelopment she had to close it four years ago and relocate it. In recent years, she’s had American tourists as customers again, even staff from the US Embassy have come to enjoy her fresh seafood by the beach. 

Buddhist bodhisattva overlooks Danang's fishing fleet
 Back in the day, China Beach referred to a very long stretch of Danang’s coastline, but with that name officially off the map, the shore now bears the names of several different beaches. The beach itself has also changed. One section has a modern brick walkway, with transplanted palm trees, and there are the usual changing rooms and public showers.

During wartime, there used to be seedy bars down here, but since then, most of them have been torn down. The government has been totally redeveloping My Khe, whether the current landowners have agreed to it, or not. I've seen that some of the land by the coast developed into small, new hotels. Other houses have been bulldozed and now lie vacant, awaiting redevelopment. 

I look northeast of the beach, and I can see far off Monkey Mountain, so named by the G.I.’s for it’s noisy residents higher up. The Vietnamese call it Son Tra, which means Tree Mountain. It’s well named, since it’s a protected park and covered with green forest.

A new feature stands out from the mountainside; the tallest Buddhist statue I’ve ever seen! Even though I’m miles away, I can easily make out the massive outline of the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin. Located next to a new pagoda, the huge female statue is under construction, and surrounded by bamboo scaffolding. Big as the Statue of Liberty, she looks out over the bay, watching over the fleet of Vietnamese fishing boats anchored off the beach.

To Buddhists, a bodhisattva is much like an angel, an enlightened being who has given up nirvana out of compassion, in order to save others. In this case, the bodhisattva is here to save and protect Danang’s Buddhist fishermen. When the ships set out for the open sea, this is who the sailors and their families pray to, for their safe return to their loved ones.


  1. These pictures in above article are looking very nice. China beach is more attractive than other. Peaceful atmosphere, fresh and cool weather is perfect choice for relaxation.

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  2. True, it's a very good beach. I wish I had warmer weather when I was there, during winter it was a bit cold.

  3. I used to visit Maryann each time I stopped in Da Nang City (last time was about six years ago, after the old fishing pier restaurant had already been moved to the concrete structure). I have to laugh because she was the only restaurant owner whom I have ever met who sold me lobster at the price for which she paid. She felt sorry for me since I had always only eaten the usual seaweed-like green vegetable with rice.

  4. Thanks for your story. Yes, Maryann is not only a good restaurant owner, she also has a good heart.