Driving the Hai Van Pass: taking the high road from Hue to Hoi An!

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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!

Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Hue to Hoi An: the stops on our Hai Van pass journey!


1 | Hue

We started our Hai Van Pass adventure from Hue, check out our Hue article for ideas on things to do

Where to stay in Hue

  • Eldora Hotel: our Hue choice! An excellent hotel with elegant rooms and a lovely rooftop pool. They even saved the day when we were abandoned at Da Nang airport by a local transport company – check latest prices here!Hotel La Perle: amazing budget choice in central location with spacious and clean rooms and excellent service – check latest prices here!
  • Scarlett Boutique Hotel: small hotel in a good location with clean rooms and great breakfast – check latest prices here!

Click here for the latest Hue hotel prices

2 | 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!Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundI spy a water buffalo:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundThe boats:
Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

3 | 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!Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Lang Co Beach from above:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Turquoise water views! The bridge to Lang Co:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

4 | 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.

Those views!Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground Happy at the top!Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundWe made it!
Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

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.

War bunkers:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground The highest point on the Hai Van Pass, the Hai Van Gate:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground


5 | Da Nang

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!

Wedding bells! In love with the balloons and the tutu!Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

6 | Marble Mountain

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.Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundExploring the caves:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundBuddha time:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundThe colourful altar:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundThe White Buddha:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundBeautiful views:
Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundThe ornate statutes:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundMarble Mountain pagoda:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

7 | 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!

Where to stay in Hoi An

If you are planning travelling to Hoi An during the lantern festival be sure to book accommodation in advance as Hoi An is busy. We didn’t realise our visit conincided with the festival and lots of properties were sold out when we came to book!

  • River Suites Hoi An: excellent hotel just two minutes walk from the Old Town. Location is convenient, rooms are clean, breakfast is great and the small pool is a bonus after a long hot day in Hoi An. The River Suites are a Hoi An fave – check latest prices here!
  • Royal Riverside:  we stayed in a junior suite at the Royal Riverside Hoi An hotel. The hotel, a 10 minute walk along the river, was excellent and we loved the pool, the fab breakfast and our river view room – check latest prices here
  • Essence Hoi An Hotel: luxury at a reasonable price with superb rooms, great facilities and a shuttle bus service to both the beach and the old town – check latest prices here!

Click here for the latest Hoi An hotel prices

Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The Japanese Bridge, Hoi An:Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground


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 by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

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.


Joining a motorcycle tour is a popular alternative to a private car and we saw lots of small groups of riders along the route. It looked like a blast!Driving the Hai Van Pass by car ©thewholeworldisaplayground

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

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