I had to start my Vietnam series of blog posts with this one; Driving the Hai Van Pass – because it was our absolute favourite day in Vietnam.
We had spoken to a couple of friends and they had mentioned driving along the Hai Van Pass to us. In my mind, I had pictured an extremely busy highway and I was terrified at the thought of it. Little did I know, it was the exact opposite of what I was expecting.
Luckily for us, T loves his motorbikes, scooters, etc. so driving along this road was one of his ‘Top 5’, meaning we had to do it.
The Hai Van Pass and Its History
The Hai Van Pass is a 165km windy, scenic route on the East Coast of Vietnam, connecting Da Nang city to Hue.
In the past, the Hai Van Pass was used as the main road between the two, but in 2005 they built a new highway. This scenic route is now a long, mountain road with barely any traffic. It is the perfect attraction for motorbike lovers.
This pass was used as a strategic military post in the past, during times of war and you can still visit the ruins to date. There are many bullet holes still present in the walls of these old buildings, and it is a popular destination among tourists. It is free to park up and enter, just avoid parking where all the locals stand selling their produce.
TIP! The Locals have started a new trend that says you can park at their shop, if you buy something from it – genius! Drive a little further past the shops and park up on the roadside. Unless of course you’re thirsty, then you’ve got yourself a good deal with the locals! Priority parking right outside, and that can of coke that you wanted anyway 😉
The Hai Van Pass was also known as a political and geographical boundary between the ancient kingdoms, many who fought for ownership of the pass. Now, it is used by over-sized trucks and two-wheeled vehicles, that aren’t allowed to use the new highway, to get between the big cities.
Driving the Hai Van Pass
There are a number of ways to do this. If you are in Da Nang (or Hue) and are travelling up (or down) the country, then the Hai Van Pass can be a great way to get from one to the other.
Obviously, you’re thinking… What am I supposed to do with my luggage if I’m driving a scooter 165km?
There’s no way you want to take this on your back with you. The scooters/bikes are uncomfortable enough without you then having 15+kg on your back the entire time. Luckily, the locals came up with a great little service that solves this problem.
You are able to do two things that make this experience way more pleasant:
- You can actually pay someone to take your luggage for you. This usually means putting it on a bus full of people already heading to your final destination, meaning it isn’t expensive either. Or, the company where you hire your scooter may offer this service to you as part of a package.
- Hire a scooter/motorbike at one end and leave it at the other
How annoying would it be to have to go all the way back to collect your belongings, or simply return the bike? Luckily, you don’t have to.
Ask around once you are there and make sure you get the best deal 🙂
Another Way to Drive the Hai Van Pass
If you aren’t a confident driver, and are not travelling with anyone who is, don’t let this put you off. The Hai Van Pass is seriously stunning and is a ‘must-do’ while you are in Vietnam. There are tour companies who drive tourists in a jeep along the scenic route, picking you up at one end and dropping you off at the other. This means you don’t have to miss out, and can still witness the beauty of this historical place.
TIP! Wait until you are in Vietnam to book a tour. Booking online will be more expensive, as most locals are open to negotiations! Don’t worry about not getting onto a tour, there are 100’s of companies offering these services.
Spend a Day on the Road
T and I were staying in Da Nang, and were flying from there up to Hanoi to explore the north of Vietnam. We didn’t have enough time to take the buses up to Hanoi as we only had 3 weeks in total. This meant that we had no reason to go up to Hue just to come all the way back down.
What we decided to do, was drive from Da Nang, along the Hai Van Pass for approximately an hour. We stopped in a fishing village to have lunch and then drove back to Da Nang.
We spent a total of 2 hours driving along this incredible spot. Along the way, we saw beaches, a couple getting married, and found a waterfall on the side of the road that we decided to climb up. Although we didn’t complete it one end to the other, we definitely made the most of our experience.
Again, if you are not a confident driver, there are tour companies that offer half-day trips from Da Nang, picking you up from your hotel and dropping you back again. You do not have to drive from one end to the other to witness this amazing road. Driving on only half of it it satisfying enough. Plus, most of the attractions are towards Da Nang anyway!
All of the above options are within a great price range and won’t exceed your budget. The cheapest way is to do what we did, and hire a scooter for the day, returning it to the same shop. We spent a total of $8 AUD each to hire the scooter and fuel it with the petrol we needed. If you decide to go with a tour company it will be more expensive but you can definitely get one for a fair price 🙂
How to Get to the Hai Van Pass
The two closest cities to the Hai Van Pass are Hue, and Da Nang.
Starting in Da Nang
From Da Nang, it takes approximately one hour to reach the start of the scenic drive.
Head towards Durong Nguyen Tat Thanh road, which runs along the beach front. Follow this road all the way until it ends. It brings you to what looks like a dead end, but continue around the corner on your left and you’ll reach a new junction. On the left hand side of the road is a petrol station. If you need to re-fuel then I suggest you do so here. This is one of two petrol stations before starting the Hai Van Pass.
Take a right at the junction onto QL1A road (Nguyen Lurong Bang) and drive across the river Song Cu De. Continue straight up Nguyen Van Cu. From here it is a direct road to the start of the Hai Van! 🙂
The roads are fairy simple to drive, with only one busy highway on the way.
TIP! Scooters are only allowed in the right-hand and middle lanes. Do not use the outside left lane to take-over as you will be heavily fined! (and shouted at by a lot of angry locals!)
Starting in Hue
From Hue take the QL49 road heading East. You will reach a junction called Thon Vinh Ve, with the county Government office to your right.
At this junction, take a left keeping on the QL49. Continue straight until you notice a Middle School on your left hand side (Trurong THCS Phi Thurong). After reaching this school, take the following right. Stay on this road until you reach Nguyen Sinh Cung road, where you again need to turn right. Follow this road, along the Song Pho Loi river all the way up to the starting point of the Hai Van Pass.
TIP! If you get lost at any point, look for roads QL49 and QL49B.
Why You Should Drive the Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass is a scenic route winding through the mountainside on the East Coast of Vietnam. The direct translation means ‘Ocean Cloud Pass’ and during the wet season you can see why. Thick fog covers the pass entirely.
Driving along the pass you feel such excitement and adrenaline. The windy roads can be at times dangerous, but mostly exhilarating. You are free to drive, without much traffic to stop you in your way. You begin to climb into the mountains, and you can feel the air becoming colder – more moist. The road is the perfect representation of a gigantic formula 1 track. It is so fun to drive and an all-round great experience.
Along the way, there are stunning beaches, incredible mountain tops, waterfalls and small fishing villages. There is something about driving through this place that is so wonderful.
I would highly recommend you drive along this incredible stretch of road. Whether you hire a scooter, a motorbike or take a jeep tour, make sure you do it.
If you need any more inspiration, check out this fantastic video clip from back in 2009, when Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May took on the Hai Van Pass in a famous Top Gear series! 🙂 They describe the Hai Van Pass as a ‘deserted ribbon of perfection – one of the best coastal roads in the world’