Round the world in 80 minutes: Ba Na Hills resort in Vietnam brings Europe and Asia together on a very Insta-worthy scale

What’s travel these days if it can’t be Instagrammed nonstop? Very sheepishly, I admit, that my first instinct when faced with a glorious vista is to whip out the phone and start framing the perfect social media shot. Of course, the picture also has to be instantly uploaded in order to heighten the cool factor by ‘checking in’ and to elicit the maximum possible envy from laptop-slave friends, who would be slogging away at that very moment — a sort of cheeky “Hey, you there? Me here!” greeting.

The Golden Bridge, star attraction of Ba Na Hills resort, near Da Nang city, central Vietnam. Photo: Sanchita Guha

It seemed that all the people around me were thinking on pretty much the same lines when I visited Ba Na Hills mountain resort, a short ride from the emerging tourism hotspot of Da Nang in central Vietnam, in March this year. It was impossible to turn my head without unintentionally photobombing someone else. Everywhere, there was a crush of bodies striking poses, spiritedly arranging their smiles, and triumphantly making ‘V’ signs, as if taking the ropeway up to the first level of the resort — the level of the famous Golden Bridge — was like summiting a mountain.

Hard not to get swept up in so much enthusiasm, even though it meant ploughing through the crowds, looking for that one spot on the bridge from where to fully capture both the giant stone hands ‘holding up’ the shiny golden rails, a magnificent visual illusion. Have I managed to photograph all the ten fingers? Yes, right — time to make room for the next amateur.

The selfiemania started from the very entrance of Ba Na Hills, where a gate inspired by Chinese architecture wished visitors ‘Happy New Year 2023’. From here, one passed through a long walkway that was reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, albeit a covered one, and then queued up for a ropeway car to reach the Golden Bridge level.

The main entrance to Ba Na Hills resort. Photo: Sanchita Guha

The bridge itself is the star attraction of Ba Na Hills, but there are many other spots beyond the Golden Bridge that are really more enjoyable. Cheerful sunflowers, happy cat sculptures, a winged cherub, a floral peacock, a larger-than-life chessboard that children can play on, a towering Buddha statue where one can leave a little prayer — never a dull moment in the exploration of Ba Na Hills.

A group of Indian tourists admire the sunflowers. Photo: Sanchita Guha
Say a prayer to the Buddha. Photo: Sanchita Guha

A second ropeway ride, a shorter one, took us up to the next level, and it was literally a ‘next-level’ day out. One might call it “around the world in 80 minutes”, though a visitor could happily take longer. It was a quick walk from a German-style beer garden to a Roman-style public fountain decorated with sculptures. Golden sculptures, no less, guaranteed to brighten up a misty, overcast day.

All around, there were things that caught the eye. Here, a castle with conical-roofed turrets like in medieval Europe; there, a street performer showing off his acrobatic skills with a large steel hoop.

A few steps above, a terrace that declared itself to be a garden had the perfect selfie spot for lovebirds — what’s more obvious than two huge swans framing a heart-shaped patch of air?

Lovebirds at the terrace garden of Ba Na Hills. Photo: Sanchita Guha

It wasn’t always so lively at Ba Na Hills, but it was always a place for enjoyment and leisure, an escape from the tropical heat for the French colonial settlers in Vietnam. They climbed up nearly 1,500 metres above the sea level in the early 20th century and made the place their own.

These days, a visitor wants a lot more than a cool breeze to feel that it’s time well spent. Modern Vietnam has the perfect solution: give everyone everything. While the port city of Da Nang is fashioning itself as the new Singapore, centred round luxury hotels and tidy urbanisation blended with the beach life, the century-old Ba Na Hills resort has been reinvented to attract the tourist hordes looking for instant gratification through photo-ops.

A fountain in Roman style. Photo: Sanchita Guha

The visual overload at Ba Na Hills usually ends for a visitor with a buffet lunch in an indescribably large, multi-level dining hall. It’s the only thing that should be shunned completely, seeing that “having lunch” here means a desperate lunge to catch whatever is being brought to the buffet tables from the kitchen, before the food disappears within seconds.

Better to saunter into one of the many cafés dotting the upper level of Ba Na Hills, sit back, and savour a moment of calm, just as the French, who have a reputation for knowing how to enjoy life, once did.