Danang became a significant port city at the end of the 19th century, when silt filled up the Thu Bon River and eliminated neighboring Hoi An's access to the sea. The ancient Kingdom of Champa existed in the region from the 2nd to the 17th centuries, but Cham domination was significantly weakened by the Viet and Khmer in the 15th century; the last Cham king fled to Cambodia in 1820. Then in 1888, the French gained control of Danang (which they called Tourane), taking it by force from Emperor Gia Long—he had promised it to them in exchange for their help but had reneged on his agreement. In its heyday, during the first half of the 20th century, the city was second only to Saigon as Vietnam's most cosmopolitan center. During the Vietnam War, Danang was the first place U.S. Marines landed in March 1965, and it subsequently became home to a large U.S. Air Force base. Only 200 km (124 miles) south of the DMZ, the city was an ideal location for launching bombing missions. The influx of army personnel brought enormous growth, numerous refugees, and all kinds of entertainment, including movie theaters, bars, and prostitution. Soldiers would take time off at the nearby R&R resort of China Beach. By March 1975, Danang was in a state of total chaos as people tried to escape the fast-encroaching North Vietnamese army and had to fight for space on any boat or plane leaving the city. Today there are remnants of the American presence in the city, as well as vestiges of the French in the wide avenues and old villas. Despite extensive modern development, the city itself lacks many conventional sightseeing spots and vacationers could easily tick off Danang’s Cham Museum, churches, pagodas, and Han Market in less than a day.
When there was every reason in the world to stay away and see the ruins, one woman traveled to Greece to get to work.More