Driving the Hai Van Pass in Central Vietnam

hai van pass

One of Tri’s highlights of our recent trip to Vietnam was driving a motor bike up the famous Hai Van Pass, a war torn highway in Vietnam known for very little car traffic and incredible ocean views.  A few days before while in Hoi An we called around to a few hostels in Da Nang about renting the bike and dropping off our luggage so we wouldn’t have to drag it with us on the trip.  We came across Memory Hostel and I couldn’t recommend it more.  They were so kind, easy to work with, and the place is incredibly affordable for how nice it is.  Having stayed in many hostels in the past this one is 4 star at the least.  With it’s stylish interior, clean bathrooms, and top notch customer service, it’s the perfect place to stay in Da Nang.  If we had more time, we would have definitely stayed a few nights to check out the busy bayside town but we had to stick to the itinerary and set out toward the Pass.

The traffic getting from Memory Hostel to the Pass was a little intimidating for first time motor bikers but we took our time and managed to make it through the honking whirlwind of drivers who don’t seem to follow any sort of speed limit or traffic laws.  You become part of the flow, the bikes pulsing like a beating heart as they seamlessly made their way to their destinations.  Never before have I felt so alive driving in a city.

SAFETY TIP:  Make sure you ask for helmets when you pick up the bikes.  Most people don’t wear them, but I think it’s a smart idea.  You may also want to wear a long sleeved shirt and jeans despite the heat.  You’ll thank me later when you arrive not completely covered in dust and dirt.

As we approached the mountains the road became steep and winding, but easy to maneuver as there were only a few other bikes and us.  It’s still smart to honk when turning corners as that is the customary signal and occasionally you might run into a car traveling in the opposite lane.  The farther up we drove the harder it became to not stop every 5 second to take a picture as the views became more and more incredible.  We found a place to stop and take it in around one of the very first turns.  We took a seat on the red plastic chairs, bought some water bottles, and played with the sweet puppies that lived there.  After we climbed up to the viewing rock they had there and looked down on Da Nang, now just a small speckled memory in the distance.

A bit further up we came across an old war lookout station where we were able to climb up and view the twisting turning road ahead.  Covered in wildflowers, the viewing station rewarded us with a stunning 360 degree view of the ocean and jungle around us, giving us a good idea of the drive ahead of us.  There are some pushy sales ladies at this stop selling jade jewelry and trinkets.  They mean well, but if you don’t like to be hassled, try parking down the road a bit and walking back up away from them.

Past the viewing station we were startled to discover a large cow on the side of the road, just on the edge of a steep cliff.  We are still amazed at their ability to cling to that edge and not fall over, but somehow they do.  The Hai Van Pass is full of adorable cows, goats, dogs, and chickens, so if you are an animal lover you’ll be in heaven.

If you time the drive right, you can stop for lunch in the gorgeous bay town of Lang Co.  On a sunny day, the water in this bay is second to none, the most brilliant shade of cerulean blue we came across in Vietnam.   The view from the ridge is definitely worth a picture stop and the final drive through the harbor and into the town leads you to a quiet fishing beach with a cheap and delicious seafood restaurant.  It was so good Tri ordered 3 separate meals for himself.  The best part is, you can eat in the open air overlooking the bay and they have wifi making it the perfect time to upload all the photos you took on the way!  The cemetery behind the restaurant is also worth a look as it is beautiful and full of intricate art work.

The final portion of our trip was a bit different than we had planned.  After Lang Co we somehow missed the rural road and ended up finishing on the highway.  I would recommend getting a paper road map so you can easily see where you are going.  We just relied on google maps and I think the road wasn’t loaded properly.  None the less, the drive was thrilling and I would take it again in a heart beat.  Be sure to read our post about Hue to learn more about the ancient city and former home to the Nguyen Dynasty and the Forbidden Purple City.