Ask anyone. Whether it’s a recent rider or Jeremy Clarkson from the BBC’s Top Gear, and they will both agree that Vietnam’s Hai Van Pass is “one of the best coastal roads in the world.” The question is, does a single 21-kilometer stretch of mountain pass warrant a visit to this coastal Southeast Asian country? You may be surprised at the answer!
Many a traveler that has experienced this coastal mountain road connecting the cities of Da Nang and Hue, cite the drive as their favorite experience in Vietnam. What makes the drive so unique? It could be the sheer difficulty in tackling it, the stunning views that wrap around every hairpin turn, or perhaps it’s a combination of the two. It takes a very special experience to trump an uncomfortably difficult drive (especially in a foreign country), yet the Hai Van Pass always leaves travelers breathless (in a good way).
For the complete experience, rent a decent motorbike, choose to drive on a clear, sunny day, and wear the appropriate attire (for both motor biking and sun protection). Bring along a camera and a person or group to drive with, fill up the gas tank and make sure the tires are in good shape. If you get a blowout on the pass, there are a few scattered places to get it fixed, but walking the bike through the heat and steep grades is not pleasant.
The drive itself is exceptionally beautiful, with vista points overlooking the Da Nang and Lang Co bays. The shimmering East Sea pours out into the horizon, the Cham Island chain is visible off in the distance, and the Son Tra Peninsula makes for some amazing photos. In short, these panoramic views are some of the best anywhere in Vietnam.
Though the drive itself doesn’t take all day, when you stop for photos at every turn, drink a coffee at the huge rock, visit the sites on the summit and slowly cruise down the opposite side- the Hai Van Pass turns into a full on day-trip. If you come down the Lang Co side of the pass (leading to Hue, opposite Da Nang), there are beautiful beaches where you can take a refreshing dip in the ocean. Grab some food and refreshments along the road, do your stretches and get ready for the return climb. If you’ve taken too much time on the first pass, left too late and it’s getting dark, or you just don’t want to drive back on the same road again, the Hai Van Tunnel is the alternative route back.
Opened in 2005, this tunnel has fixed the Hai Van’s traffic problem and is the weary travelers easy way out to the other side of the mountain. Though lacking entirely in views, the tunnel does bring you to the other side much quicker. Closed to bicycles and motorbikes, a shuttle service brings you and your two-wheeled transport to the other side of the mountain (for a fee). However, going over the pass both ways does give you some amazing views that you may have missed before, and depending on the time of day, may give you a stunning sunset as well. So if you have the time (and sense of adventure), take the Hai Van Pass, it may very well be your highlight of Vietnam!