As Top Gear once put it, the Hai Van Pass is “a deserted ribbon of perfection”. Every 90 degree corner of the stunning pass unveils even more spectacular views. And since they opened a tunnel allowing local commuters to 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 hordes of Vietnamese climbing on pill boxes and snapping selfies.
We have taken this route perched on the back of an old Honda Win with Eddie Murphy — an Easy Rider plucked from 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 we 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 — it’s a 55 kilometre trip, which you can do in two hours if you don’t stop. 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. Our Rider Eddie sadly lacked in local knowledge — 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.
With Hoi An Motorbike Adventures it was all about the ride. They’ll show you some pretty amazing things, which they embellish with stories picked up from locals and enrich with some interesting war history — the Hai Van Pass was a military checkpoint and look out, after all.
Most privately hired cars don’t like to do the Hai Van Pass. 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.
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. 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 Englishman Neil, can take you to under-visited 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, get the guys to stop off at her Surf Cafe 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.
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. We can recommend the guide below.
If you want a memorable adventure, incredible journey, fabulous views, a little more knowledge about the war or to buy a fabulous pearl necklace at the coach stop, we 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: (05103) 991 930
Looking Glass Jeep Tours
T: (01229) 788 981
Easy Riders, Car and Train Booking Office
Diem Diem Travel
55 Tran Hung Doa St, Hoi An
T: (01503) 861 477
Guide Phan Loc
T: (0903) 596 560 / (05113) 750 632
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 7th September, 2015.