Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Why it's always a good idea to do a little research beforehand.
You may have seen the photos of a metallic golden bridge, seemingly held up by two giant stone hands, high above the mountains in Vietnam. It‘s an impressive example of modern architecture in a land of ancient temples and ruins that made me wonder what the bridge stands for and where it leads. Andrew and I were spending a few nights in the lovely city of Hoi An, not too far from the famed bridge near Da Nang in central Vietnam. We hadn't done much research on the bridge (if any), but it didn't seem too far away, so we set out to get a firsthand look at this unusual structure.
One of our fellow travelers was also interested in scoping out the Golden Bridge so the three of us hired a taxi to take us to the bridge and back. We figured we could leave the hotel after a not-too-early breakfast and be back before lunchtime. We were very, very wrong.
After driving for about an hour, the driver stopped at a small shop and asked if we'd like to buy tickets to the park. We weren’t sure why we needed tickets, but figured we were in too deep to turn back now. We each shelled out 750,000 VND (about $32 USD) per ticket as we started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.
After another hour of driving, we pulled into a bus station. The driver stopped and asked when we’d like to be picked up. We couldn't see a bridge anywhere and thought there must have been a misunderstanding. He told us to take the shuttle bus to the gondola, and that would take us to the bridge. We thought about it and asked him to come back in an hour. “No, no, I’ll come back in four hours,” he told us, after a good chuckle.
We quickly learned that we had arrived at a much larger destination than just a bridge. The bridge itself is a showpiece in a massive theme park called Sun World Ba Na Hills, complete with a French village, giant Buddha, wine cellar, wax museum, castles, gardens, restaurants, shops, games, and a roller coaster. The only way into the park is to take a shuttle bus from the parking lot, walk through a few nearly never-ending replica temple halls, and take a thirty-minute gondola ride to the top of the mountains.
The gondola ride was an adventure in itself. It felt like we were entering Jurassic Park, wondering what creatures lurked in the jungle below. Every time it seemed we were at the top, there was another mountain, followed by another, and another. It's no wonder that Sun World's gondola is the world's largest, non-stop, single-track cable car according to Guinness World Records.
Once we arrived at the top of all the mountains, we followed cobblestone walkways through crowds of tourists, past a cheerleader performance, into a medieval French village, around a castle, and onto another cross-mountain gondola.
And then finally, it appeared. We could see the sun glistening off the golden rails of the bridge. We took our time, snapping photos from every angle, walking among the crowd, between the giant hands, admiring the sweeping mountain views below.
As it turns out, the bridge doesn’t really lead anywhere. At 150 meters in length and 1400 meters above sea level, it takes you into the clouds to view the expansive Truong Son Mountains below. The bridge leaves you feeling as if you've walked through a heavenly gate before returning to the bustling theme park for a popsicle or a pint of beer. We didn't mind the impractical visit though, we were blown away by all of it. On the other hand, this awe-inspiring sight pointed out why it's so important to do some research before traveling. We were lucky we had enough money on us to enter the park and we didn't have anywhere else to be anytime soon. It's a helpful reminder that a little bit of planning can go a long way towards making sure you have the best experience possible - hands down.
Golden Bridge planning resources:
Be aware that you are visiting a theme park and you will be there for most of the day!
You can arrange a taxi rental for about $60 a day from Hoi An through your hotel (it may be cheaper if you're staying in Da Nang). This cost can be split among the riders. The taxi should wait for you in the parking lot or come back to pick you up at an arranged time. Take a photo of the license plate (and the driver, if he doesn't mind) so you can find the car later.
Alternatively, you can join a tour like the ones found on TripAdvisor or Viator. This may be less expensive and/or include other activities, but you may find yourself in a big group with a structured schedule.
Entry into Sun World costs 750,000 VND ($32 USD) per adult and 600,000 ($26 USD) per child. These prices may vary depending on how you buy your tickets. See Sun World's website for more details.
There are plenty of dining options at the base of the mountains and at the top, but bring cash with you. We struggled to find a working ATM anywhere in the park.
If cable cars and gondolas make you queasy, consider taking something for motion sickness, even ginger candy can help. Thirty minutes is quite a long ride in a gondola, especially if you feel uncomfortable.
There are three separate gondolas to the top with different pick-up and drop-off points. The park map is a little confusing, which is why we ended up taking another gondola across the mountain. If you want to head straight for the bridge, take the Hoi An Gondola (Ga Hoi An).
The weather at the top can change quickly, from hot and sunny to a torrential downpour and almost chilly. It's not a bad idea to bring sunscreen, a hat, and a rain jacket.
Don't forget your camera and your patience! It will probably be crowded, but it'll be worth it.
Until next time, happy travels!