The sound of the wind roaring in my ear. The feeling of my hair whipping back and forth on my face, right cheek, left cheek, right cheek, left cheek. The stretch of my skin pulling backward as I was moving forwards. The smell of burnt rubber and gas as our motorbike accelerated through Vietnam as we traveled from Hoi An to Hue via the Hai Van Pass.
As we made our way out of Hoi An we left behind streets full of motorbikes, food vendors, and run-down buildings. We darted through traffic and as we did the scenery changed from a busy city to quiet, untouched countryside. Greenfields, rice paddies, women and men hard at work to make a living. Just me, my driver, and lush, green fields as far as the eye could see. As we moved north, departing the city of lanterns, we came upon the quiet countryside that displays the true sense of life in Vietnam. Taking a motorbike along the Hai Van Pass is an experience that will forever shape the way that I think of Vietnam. A real and authentic experience of unspoiled, untouched Vietnamese land and people hard at work.
How to Travel from Hoi An to Hue via the Hai Van Pass
What is the Hai Van Pass?
For starters, the Hai Van Pass is an incredibly scenic mountain pass through Vietnam, connecting Da Nang to Hue. It’s approximately 13-miles long and takes you through cities, along beaches, through the mountain, and rice fields. Every twist and turn leaves you in awe at what a beautiful country Vietnam is. The BBC even hailed the Hai Van Pass as “a deserted ribbon of perfection – one of the best coast roads in the world”, in 2008.
Navigating the Hai Van Pass
“Hai Van” translates to “ocean cloud”, and the drive is hailed as one of the most difficult and dangerous in the world. It’s been a place of many accidents and deaths, partly contributed by the ocean mist that rises into the mountain causing reduced visibility. While you could go at it alone, I highly recommend hiring an experienced driver to assist you in navigating the pass.
Unfortunately, the company that I went with is now permanently closed. I recommend sifting through Google for a company (with good reviews) that will assist you on your journey. Or, once you arrive at your hotel in Hoi An (or Hue), you could ask the front desk for a recommendation.
You can travel via motorbike (what I did and what this post is generally about), or you can hire a car to take you on the drive. Depending on how much time you have, I highly recommend hiring the motorbike. Luggage will be transported for you in a separate car.
Getting from Hoi An to Hue (or Vice Versa)
For purposes of this post, I’ll be explaining how to travel south to north from Hoi An to Hue. However, this trip could also be done north to south from Hue to Hoi An.
While the Hai Van Pass begins in Da Nang, it’s popular to rent a motorbike from the city of Hoi An and venture north from there. The journey from Hoi An to Hue is approximately 80-miles and without stops, will take 3+ hours to get from city to city.
In my experience, my driver and I stopped quite a few times along the way for pictures, lunch, and epic views. It took us about 8-hours to get from city to city so make sure to factor in plenty of time.
From Hoi An to Da Nang
After departing Hoi An, the first main city you’ll come to is Da Nang. As we entered the city we slowed to a stop in front of Marble Mountain. Although now illegal, Marble Mountain used to be a place where people would collect marble from the mountainside to make statues. Nowadays the mountain serves as a Buddhist Temple with teachings of Buddhism scattered throughout the cave. For those who are good, you will live a great life, have kids, and be born again. For those who are bad, you will be sent to the cave and murdered over and over again; as told by my guide – Music.
After spending some time exploring the caves in Marble Mountain, Music and I hopped back on our motorbike and zoomed through Da Nang. Music pointed out important structures throughout the city; a dragon bridge that sprays water from its mouth on the weekends. A park displaying famous sites from around the world – a replica of the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, and more. As we crossed over the “Golden Gate Bridge” (the Vietnam version), butterflies filled my stomach. I could see what was to come next… the infamous Hai Van Pass.
From Da Nang to the Hai Van Pass
One of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world, as you ascend the mountain range, you leave behind the South China Sea, its waves crashing onto the white sand beaches. Below you’ll notice lush, green forest, and in front of you, there are usually daunting grey clouds. As you continue to climb upwards of 3,845 feet, the sun is replaced with eery fog and mist. You go from having the warmth of the sun on your skin, to needing a sweater, the dramatic change in scenery only solidifying why this drive is so insanely beautiful. With multiple viewpoints along the way, there are endless opportunities to rest and take in the views.
Descending the Hai Van Pass into Hue
What felt like too soon, before I knew it, we had started our descent down the mountain range into Hue. The ocean started to come back into view, and with that, I could feel the sun on my skin once again. As we came to the bottom of the pass we were met by the pristine, Lang Co Beach. We stopped at Be Lai for lunch on the beach, and ate incredibly fresh seafood with our toes in the white sand, listening to the waves wash up onto the shore. It felt like an authentic, local experience with few tourists around. At the restaurant you’ll notice fresh shrimp, crab, and fish swimming in containers nearby; and a trip to the bathroom allows you to see how your meal is killed – by a rock meeting the cement.
We continued to weave our way through the countryside and the beauty of Vietnam became more evident as we inched along the highway. We whipped through town after town as I observed many hardworking men and women throughout the streets. Before we had arrived in the city of Hue, Music took me on a quick detour.
We pulled up to a plot of land, full of ornate and colorful buildings. What I thought were mini temples, turned out to be gravestones. We were in a “rich” Vietnamese village where what your gravestone looks like says everything about how much money you have. The gravestones in this particular village start at $50,000.
Arrival into Hue
Seven hours lost, sweat dripping down my face, my body covered in dirt, and one hell of an adventure later… we had arrived in Hue after trekking from Hoi An. I said my goodbyes to my guide and dragged myself into the hotel, my luggage already waiting.
Driving from Hoi An to Hue via the Hai Van Pass, on a motorbike, will always be a day and an experience that I will never forget.
Are you planning to travel to Vietnam? Don’t miss: How to Spend 2 Weeks in Vietnam Solo