Sep 22 2012

The Hai Van Pass

Published by at 5:16 am under Sightseeing & activities

I always feel a bit embarrassed saying this, but that bloody Top Gear Vietnam special a few years back was the final nail in the coffin for a comfortable life back in good ol’ Blighty. Seeing the cast struggle with the Hai Van Pass also put achieving it on the top of my must-do list and I have now: six times to be exact, and I’d do it again at the drop of a hat.

The Hai Van Pass? Hell yeah!

The Hai Van Pass is “a deserted ribbon of perfection”. Every 90 degree corner unveils even more spectacular views as you progress, and since they opened a tunnel so that local commuters could bypass it, you pretty much get the whole thing to yourself – save the stop-off point at the top where you will always find about 50 coaches and hoards of Vietnamese climbing on pill boxes, striking a pose with the obligatory victory sign and snapping away on their iPhones. I have no idea how they get there! From Hoi An it’s a 55 kilometre trip, which apparently you can do in two hours if you don’t stop.

The magical buses.

So far I have taken this route perched on the back of an old Honda Win with Eddie Murphy — an Easy Rider plucked off the streets of Nha Trang — as well as on a Russian Minsk courtesy of western-run Hoi An Motorbike Adventures, in a private car (not so much fun), on the train from Hue to Da Nang and most recently by $4 hired scooter with a bunch of friends. Oh and I did it by US Army Jeep, which was awesome. From Hoi An, the Hai Van Pass is a daytrip that’s not so difficult to negotiate on your own. Just pop yourself on the coastal road to Da Nang, nip off on highway one, over the new bridge, past Red Beach, follow the road round to the left,  hang a right and there it is.

If you’re into huge mental challenges and want to eat lizard heads and pig intestines you can’t go wrong with an Easy Rider, which is what we got with Eddie Murphy. Eddie sadly lacked in local knowledge — maybe because he was from Nha Trang — but more than made up for it by being unnervingly forward with the locals, getting us invitations for rice wine power drinking and helping with the rice harvesting.

We stop for photo? By building? One of the more unusual but frequent easy rider photo stops.

With Hoi An Motorbike Adventures it was all about the ride. They’ll show you some pretty amazing things, which they back up with stories they have picked up from locals, throwing in some interesting war history — the Hai Van Pass was a military check point and look out after all.

On a cloudy day what you miss with the panoramic views you make up for with great shots of the pill boxes.

Most privately hired cars don’t like to do the Hai Van Pass. I’m not sure why exactly, but I think it has something to do with the fact these drivers learn to drive motorbikes, then when put in a car they stick with either first or fourth gear; usually fourth on the way up and first on the way down. Most drivers only speak a little English — if they spoke any more they would be tour guides — so if you want air-con and information you need to take a guide with you as well as your driver.

My Hai Van Pass weapon of choice!

The Jeep was a tour led by Looking Glass Jeep Tours. If you are looking to increase your knowledge of the war, these are your guys. If you can fit her in, ask for Tam, a Vietnamese woman who worked with the Americans during the conflict, to ride along with you. She and both tour leaders, Canadian Jeremy and English Neil, can take you to largely unvisited war sites and have an uncanny knack of locating firing zones — I came back with bullets. They also do a lot of tours for war veterans. If Tam can’t come with you you can always get the guys to stop off at her Surf Café near the beach in Da Nang, where she makes a mean burger; her walls are filled with photos past and present of the American soldiers she served alongside. Tam is one very cool lady.

I was slightly concerned about taking a US Army Jeep to old war sites, but the locals we met loved it.

From the train, you weave in and out of the Hai Van Pass, the stunning coastline and East Sea to one side and the jungle roads to the other. You miss out on the stops and the waterfalls, of course, but it’s still better than a car. I can recommend the guide below.

The dangers of falling asleep at the wheel on windy mountainous roads.

If you want the most memorable adventure, an incredible journey, fabulous views, to learn a little about the war or to buy a fabulous pearl necklace at the coach stop, I can’t think of a better way to do this in one day than along the Hai Van Pass.

Hoi An Motorbike Adventures
54A Phan Chau Trinh St, Hoi An
T: (84)
05103 991930

Looking Glass Jeep Tours
Da Nang
T: (84) 01229 788981

Easy Riders, Car and Train Booking Office
Diem Diem Travel
55 Tran Hung Doa St, Hoi An
T: (84) 01503 861477

Guide Phan Loc
T: (84) 0903 596 560 / (84) 05113 750632

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “The Hai Van Pass”

  1. ken demotton 28 Sep 2012 at 1:11 am

    hiho good tips etc if you come back to hoian ambang beach drop me aline have small house right on beach you can stay ken

  2. Steven Scotton 13 Dec 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Nice post. Deo Hai Van really is beautiful. I first saw it in 1967 as a Marine….patrolling the forest. There was little enemy activity and the views were wonderful. I would have enjoyed it more had I not been carrying my rifle, radio, a couple of mortar rounds, a belt of M-60 ammo and some assorted C-ration delicacies!!! Now the ride is even better with the tunnel taking all the crazed truck drivers off the mountains. Be sure to stop in Lang Co on the north side… of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam.
    I would choose the jeep ride for the tourist…..I saw the jeep parked at the Furama last summer…..great restoration. Riding in it over the pass would take one back through history.

  3. Miss Con 14 Dec 2012 at 1:43 am

    Wow! There’s a challenge! I’ve actually been researching old military maps of the area to do just that in an old US jeep, I’ll be taking along a Vietnamese lady called Tam Le who runs a little surf pub in Da Nang, she used to supply US troops with food and drink along the Hai Van Pass and has some quite colourful tails and hundreds of photos from that time. Let me know if there are any spots you think would be worth a detour for – even if its just a spot you’d like to see again, I’ll take a few photos. Thanks so much for your post.

  4. Bob Jacksonon 22 Mar 2014 at 11:38 am

    I was there a few days ago. But thanks to low clouds I almost mist the scene. After a few minutes it was a little clearer. It must have been a pretty miserable for soldiers of the flower power children generation to be stuck up there for three years, not too many home comforts and lots of places for hidden ambushes. There are still plenty of hawkers there but I expect a lot less business than pre tunnel. I’d love to see the view on a clear day.

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