Driving the Hai Van Pass: taking the high road from Hue to Hoi An!
It’s no surprise that the Hai Van Pass, a spectacular mountain pass between Hue and Hoi An, was perched firmly at the top of our bucket list during our week long trip to Vietnam. The route was made famous in a Vietnam Top Gear special where it was described as a ‘deserted ribbon of distraction’. After a fun few days checking out Hue we were ready for some Hoi An adventures and organised a car and driver to take us on the epic Hai Van pass journey through the clouds!
Hue to Hoi An: the stops on our Hai Van pass journey!
The Fishing Village
Our first stop was a small fishing village outside Hue where we watched Vietnamese daily life unfold. Many families call the tiny fishing boats home and spend their days hard at work on the water. One of the highlights of our stop was spying a farmer with his water buffalo in the fields nearby!I spy a water buffalo:The boats:
Lang Co Beach
The prospect of a beach stop raised our excitement levels and we couldn’t wait to feel the warm sand between our toes. Lang Co beach was a beautiful introduction to the Vietnam beach scene and we loved dipping our toes in the ocean!
The Hai Van Pass
As we started to climb the Hai Van Pass the magical views blew us away and we couldn’t believe our luck to make the journey on such a beautifully clear day. The road winds around 90 degree bends and we were spoiled with views of the East Vietnam Sea on one side and the lush mountainous landscape on the other. The pass is often shrouded in cloud and the many roadside altars which lined the route were a sobering reminder of how treacherous the mountainous terrain can be in more difficult conditions.
Some remnants of the Vietnam War still stand at the top of the Hai Van Pass. During the war the Pass joined the war torn cities of Hue and Da Nang and was referred to as the Street Without Joy. It always amazes me when it’s possible to connect the sights with the history of a country and the Hai Van Pass gave an amazing insight into Vietnam’s past.
Having made it safely through the Hai Van Pass it was time for some city and beach action with a stop at the My Khe Beach in Da Nang. The views were beautiful and, as an added bonus, we spied a cute couple taking romantic pics on the beach!
As the cluster of marble and limestone hills came into view we were intrigued by the mountains named after the five elements: metal, water, wood, fire and earth. We climbed (ahem took the elevator!) to the top of Thuy Son (water), the only accessible mountain, and were rewarded with caves, pagodas and colourful carvings as well as outstanding views of the city below.Exploring the caves:Buddha time:The colourful altar:The White Buddha:Beautiful views:
The ornate statutes:Marble Mountain pagoda:Hoi An
It was a short drive from the Marble Mountains to our much anticipated destination of Hoi An. We quickly fell in love with the lantern lined streets crammed full of bicycles, tailors and souvenir shops of the ancient UNESCO town. Our luck was in as we arrived in Hoi An just in time for the Full Moon Lantern Festival when the lights of the town are switched off, motorcycles are banned and candle lit lanterns light up the river. Bliss!
The ocean cloud pass is a beautiful description of the drive between Hue and Hoi An. We were in awe of the stunning beaches, incredible views, miles of ocean and maze of mountain twisty roads. The drive between Hue and Hoi An was one of the many highlights of our week in Vietnam. So good in fact, I can even forgive the Vietnamese ladies who insisted I was ‘very old’ during our ice cream stop at the top. Just!
Driving the Hai Van Pass
Private Car and Driver
We arranged our private car with driver through our Hue Hotel and for USD 65 we were taken from the hotel to our Hoi An hotel via the Hoi Pass with lots of scenic stops along the way. Top tip if you need somewhere to stay in Hue: we stayed in the gorgeous Eldora Hotel which was a total gem at $60 for a room with breakfast. In Hoi An we stayed in the equally lovely Royal Riverside Hotel for $70 per night. The Hai Van Tunnel, the longest tunnel in South East Asia, also connects Hue and Hoi An and the reduced travel time means that the pass is used almost exclusively by motorcycles and tourist traffic.
The best stops on the Hai Van Pass
- Fishing Village
- Marble mountain
- Elephant Springs: we didn’t make it here but the Elephant Springs are a natural spring with swimming holes and a small waterfall and they look gorgeous!
- Hai Van Pass
- Lang Co beach