The Deserted Ribbon of Distraction…
…aka the Hai Van Pass (as always our favourite fella’s from Top Gear nailed the description!).
The ‘Sea Cloud’ Highway stretches 19km long, winding along Vietnam’s stunning coastline. There are many ways to make the short trip from Hue to Hoi An (or vice versa). However, I honestly believe the only way to make this journey is via the Hai Van Pass.
During the Vietnam War (or the American War, as it is known to the Vietnamese), the Hai Van Pass connected the two war-scarred cities of Hue and Danang. Sadly, it was known as the ‘Street Without Joy’. Thanks to the construction of the Hai Van Tunnel under the mountains (in 2005), the Hai Van Pass is now known at the ‘Street Without Traffic’. The majority of the transport now uses the tunnel, leaving the Hai Van Pass a scenic, traffic free road to discover Vietnam’s beautiful coastline.
As you drive, ride or cycle the Pass, it is hard to imagine this beautiful road ever being known as the ‘Street Without Joy’!
How to Do It.
On a motorbike of course! Haven’t you ever seen Top Gear? Whether you are a confident rider, or it’s your first time on a scooter, you should definitely take the opportunity to ride the Hai Van Pass.
If you’re not a confident rider, you needn’t worry! The road is not too busy, and far wider than some of the main roads in Vietnam. You have plenty of room to cruise slowly on the right and let anyone wanting to go by.
If you are not comfortable with riding your own bike, some companies do offer tours where you get to chill on the back while someone else does the riding. And if you’re still not comfortable with that, or it’s not really your style, you can hire a private car to drive you.
Whatever option you choose, you should absolutely do it!
What to See.
The distance between Hue and Hoi An might not seem like a whole lot, but don’t forget the bikes (or ScooterBikes as we started to called them), are tiny, weeny engines that don’t really like going much more than 70km per hour. Plus, the road is windy and if it’s anything I’ve learnt in Asia – land travel takes soooo much longer than expected (like sooooooooooo much longer!).
Luckily, there are plenty of places to stop and check out along the way. A great way to stretch your legs and see some semi-hidden gems too!
#1. Fishing Village.
As you exit Hue and move onto the highway, about 25 minutes or so down the road you will come across a small fishing village. If you are headed in the direction of Hoi An, it will be on the other side (left) of the road for you. There are plenty of places to make a U-turn on the highway, if you want to take a closer look (we didn’t stop, but I wish we had!).
#2. Elephant Springs.
The Elephant Springs (Suoi Voi) is a great place stop for you to cool off after the first segment of your ride. The natural springs flow over a small waterfall into the green pools below. Perfect!
Around another 20 minutes down the road from the fishing village, you will come across the turn-off to the Elephant Springs. Well, at least I assume you will. We had no luck finding the turn-off, or we rode straight past it. There are only a few English signs that notion the turn will be in 1km, and then nothing more.
My advice, is to load the map with directions all the way to the Springs on your phone while in Wifi, so you can accurately find your way.
#3. Lang Co Beach.
Lang Co Beach is supposedly one of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches. The sand is nice and white, the water clear blue and it’s shoreline stretches for miles. The view of the beach from the Pass is also incredibly stunning and quite famous. I was very disappointed with how much rubbish there was laying along the beach, however it’s not unusual to find this in Vietnam.
Be aware, if you stop along this stretch of road to check your map, someone on a bike may come along and ask if you are looking for Lang Co Beach. They’ll say to follow them, and they’ll take you for free! It seems suss, and you know they’ve got an end game. That end game is bringing you to their waterfront seafood restaurant.
Follow them! The food we had was amazing! The seafood (caught that morning) was the freshest and most delicious I’ve ever had. It was cooked to perfection as well. The serving sizes were big AND it was reasonably priced (80,000 VND).
#4. The Top of Hai Van Pass.
After devouring delicious seafood, and maybe even frolicking in the waves, you’ll finally get to the stretch of road you’ve been waiting for. As you climb the pass, there are countless opportunities to pull over and take in the views.
It will only take you about 20 minutes to reach the top of the Pass. There are more food options, stalls to buy a cold drink, and washrooms here. But the real thing you’re here for is the view!
Take a minute (or twenty!) to admire the view and explore the old war bunkers perched on top of the hill. It is easy to see why they would have used this area as vantage point… you can see for miles!
#5. Marble Mountain.
Cruising on down the other side of the Pass; you’re on the home stretch. The Pass will direct you right into Da Nang, where the roads turn back into a busy Highway. Take a left and head down to the more scenic road along the beach (it’s still a highway, but way less crowded).
After you cross the bridge, you’ll be heading towards Hoi An. On the outskirts of Da Nang, only 14km from Hoi An, you’ll come across the beautiful Marble Mountain.
We chose not to stop at Marble Mountain on our ride, and save it for a day trip from Hoi An (you can read about our adventures in Hoi An here). If you’ve got the energy and a few hours to spare, definitely make the stop. Thuy Son (Water) is a beautiful mountain filled with Pagoda’s, Buddhist statues, caves and hidden shrines and temples throughout. It’s only 40,000 VND to enter.
#6. Destination – Hoi An.
You made it!! By now, you’re probably tired, dirty and hungry but you’ll have had one amazing, adventurous day. Hoi An is the perfect place to finish this ride. You can freshen up at your hotel and head straight into the Old Town for a well-earnt cheap beer by the river.
How Long Will it Take?
Allow a minimum of 6 hours to complete the ride. If you want to make all the stops listed here, it will probably take you more like 8 hours. It seems like a long time, but realistically only around 4 hours of this will actually be spent on the bike.
We paid $27 USD each for a newer bike for the trip. Our hotel in Hue helped us organise the bikes, so unfortunately I do not know the name of the particular company, however they’re everywhere in both Hue and Hoi An.
The company we used delivered the bikes and helmets to our hotel at 8am, collected our bulkier luggage and went through the operations of the bike. Brandon wasn’t happy with the tyre pressure of his bike so we rode with them to the shop to top it up. Nothing was too much trouble for these guys! When we reached Hoi An, we simply asked our Guesthouse to call them and our bags were there within an hour.
You can reduce the cost to about $20 USD between two people if you are willing to share the bike and take an older one.
Tips to Navigating Traffic.
Don’t be afraid of riding in Vietnam’s bike traffic. When you are watching the traffic from the outside it feels like there are no rules. However, when you’re riding in it, it feels far less intimidating and confusing.
When crossing large intersections, it will feel like everyone is coming your way. Don’t panic. The trick is to point and shoot. Seriously! Pick your line and stay true to it. Don’t go swerving around everywhere… it will make it far worse. Also look around you. Watch what other people are doing and you will know whether you need to slow down a touch or speed up a bit to slot into your gap.
The Vietnamese know what they’re doing… just keep your hand ready at the brake, take a deep breath and go with the flow. Once you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll relax and realize how well it actually works. Trust me!
Here are a few final tips you might find helpful in your adventure on Hai Van Pass.
- Wear sunscreen! I got absolutely roasted 🙁 especially on my arms (including the insides of my elbows – ouch!) and the tops of my legs.
- Even if you don’t do all the stops mentioned, take little breaks often! Take a minute to refocus, drink some water and check the map.
- Download your route on Google Maps before leaving your hotel. Like I said, the map we got from the motorbike company was pretty poor for actual direction telling. We would’ve been completely lost a few times without our Google Maps version.
- Check the weather, but don’t base your trip around it! The day we were planning to do our ride it poured rain the whole night before. The weather forecast also showed intermittent showers, but we ended up with perfect bluebird weather.
- Buy a raincoat… just in case the weather forecast is right!
Feel free to drop some comments below with your experiences of the Hai Van Pass 🙂