We spent a few days exploring the areas at both sides of the Dragon Bridge, which of course meant walking across his back.
There's a bit of history about the Dragon Bridge that I found very interesting - this information comes from the wife of the manager at our hotel, so this is secondhand information. But since they're in the hospitality industry, and living in Danang, I would guess the information is accurate.
First, the bridge was designed by two US firms, The Louis Berger Group and Amman & Whitney Consulting Engineers. You can read more about the construction here: http://www.louisberger.com/our-work/project/fire-breathing-dragon-bridge-vietnam And I found a youtube video where Louis Berger Group explains the construction process, which included building a scaffolding under each arc of dragon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3XDWlSxcb8
So, the city had the bridge designed. The original design, according to my source, didn't include a head on the dragon. Just the long looping body, and the deadly mace-like tail. After the bridge was completed, the city decided the bridge definitely needed a head - and really, what is a dragon without a head? So the designers came back and designed a head for the dragon. And, again according to my source, the original bridge had the head facing the city and the tail at the east side of the river. However, then it was decided that things should be switched, so that the head of the dragon was facing the ocean, and the tail would be at the city center side of the bridge. This makes more sense, so that the dragon is then guarding the city and keeping out intruders. But of course this constituted quite a bit of construction, changing the head and tail from one end to the other. Plus, the city requested that the head be taller than the center-most arch of dragon body. But that was impossible given the method used to construct the dragon; the pipes and connectors don't have the strength to hold up the heavy rolled steel head unless the neck of the dragon went straight up in the air, and that wouldn't look as dragonny.
The bridge was opened to traffic on March 29, 2013, commemorating the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Danang during the Vietnam War, and in many ways the actual end of the war.
The dragon itself is an old mythological symbol in Vietnam, a very important and magical figure. In the year 1010, King Ly Thai To arrived in Hanoi by boat; according to legend, he saw a golden dragon rise into the sky from the Red River. Seeing this as a good omen, the king named the city Thang Long (rising dragon). Dragons are seen as a symbol of good luck, prosperity, power, nobility, and good fortune.
Saturday night arrived, though this was probably the rainiest day we encountered in Danang. It was a chilly and wet night, and we didn't want to go stand in the rain waiting for the dragon to breathe fire. So we opted for dinner at our hotel, in the restaurant on the top floor, and the wonderful view of the river and all its bridges.
Promptly at 9 PM, the spectacle began. We didn't realize it at the time, but you can see in the photos of the dragon on fire: traffic is blocked, and people gather in the middle of the road right under the dragon's head!
First, the bridge looks normal; then, there's a little flame just in front of the dragon's face; and suddenly, with a whoosh, there's a huge blast of white hot fire blasting out of his mouth, shooting across the night! The entire dragon head lights up, the area glows, and even at a distance we could feel the power of this gigantic flame!
The large flame stops - there's a little lingering puff of flame - the dragon takes a breath - and it starts again! Pop, whoosh, shooting flame! Pop, floating flame, breathe.
It was thrilling! I was hanging out the window with my camera set on multi-image, just shooting photo after photo automatically so I could watch the whole thing. Apparently the crowds of people under the dragon head oooh, aaah, and cheer the way people tend to do with fireworks. (I know I certainly would!)
I can imagine being a child in Danang, and begging our parents to drive across the Dragon Bridge at every single opportunity, and to stand there every Saturday and Sunday watching the dragon breathe fire. Wouldn't you? I know all my siblings would be asking to go to the Dragon Bridge every chance we could get.
After maybe five minutes or so of breathing fire, the dragon then shot out water, or steam, or something - we couldn't quite tell given the distance. Some of the information I read said water, other people said water vapor, but all recommended umbrellas if people are in front of the dragon head!
About five minutes of steam or water, a few minutes for the crowds to move out of the roadway, and traffic resumed. Life went back to normal. The dragon returned to his placid, color-changing self, waiting to breathe fire another day.
We already liked Danang before this, but wow, what an exciting end to our time in Danang! And I love what this bridge says about the people of Danang - we're modern and traditional, we want a bridge that is high tech but symbolizes our culture and traditions, we want a bridge that is unique and a marvel of engineering. And we want a bridge that has a sense of humor, that excites small children and brings wonder to the eyes of adults. So please design and build a dragon that people can walk or drive across, with undulating walkways a la Antonio Gaudi. Oh, yeah, and it needs to breathe fire and smoke a couple of times a week. Maybe have a few firework displays on special occasions. Do you think you could make the dragon change color too? Hey, and we don't want him too scary, so how about giving him heart-shaped eyes, just, you know. Because this is a friendly and caring dragon. He's guarding our city, he's scaring off invaders, but he likes us. Looks at us with heart-shaped eyes.
Yeah, we like this town. A lot!