Vietnam has some of the most mind-blowingly beautiful scenery in the world. The landscape of the long, skinny country switches continuously from sandy beaches to coastal cliffs to rice paddies to lush jungle to jagged mountain ranges. Vietnam is full of breathtaking landscapes, but one of the most special and stunning is the Hai Van Pass.
The Hai Van pass is a 21 kilometer stretch of dangerous cliffside road that runs between Hoi An and Danang in the south, to Hue in the north. The pass runs through the Truong Son Mountain range and reaches a maximum elevation of 496 meters. The pass forms part of the physical barrier between North and South Vietnam, and it has long held an important role in the country’s geographical and political divide. Hai Van translates to Ocean Cloud and driving over it, its easy to see why. One soars high up through the clouds, but the mist clears away to provide views to the shimmering blue East China Sea below.
The Hai Van Pass has long been famed for its beauty as well as the difficulty of its roads. Due to the sudden mist that could arise from the sea, the switchback turns, winding roads, blind curves, and heavy traffic, the road was once considered one of the most dangerous in Vietnam. It has been the sight of innumerable accidents and many deaths, including one of Vietnam’s worst railway accidents in which over 100 people were killed. That all changed in 2005 when the Hai Van Tunnel was built, the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia. The tunnel reduced travel time by about an hour and greatly lessened the danger of crossing the pass. Because there is so much less traffic, adventurers and travelers who wish to witness the beauty of the pass and the fun of the drive can do so with much less fear for their lives. Now generally only oil trucks, a few tourist vehicles, and motorbikes still cross the pass.
If you are interested in traversing the Hai Van Pass yourself, you have a few options. The most fun, and most gutsy, is to either bicycle or motorbike yourself. Traversing Vietnam by any kind of bike is one of the most popular ways to see the country and the Hai Van Pass is a highlight of everyone’s journey. If you are already biking the country, the Hai Van Pass is just part of the trip, following the coast road up from Hoi An or down from Hue you will naturally cross the pass.
If you are traveling Vietnam by bus, train, or plane, you can still bike the Hai Van Pass. From Hoi An or Danang to Hue, or vice versa, covers between 100 and 160 kilometers depending on your route and takes 3 to 5 hours. You can rent a bike in Hoi An, Danang, or Hue, bike the pass and return to the city where you rented it. If you don’t want to return to the city where you started your trip, there are a few rental companies in Danang and Hoi An that will rent you a bike, then meet you in Hue with your luggage to pick up the bike. Of course, this method costs a little bit more but it helps you carry on your journey and not miss the chance to cross the Hai Van Pass of your own accord. If you are not comfortable biking yourself (a just fear, the roads are dangerous even for a skilled rider), there are tour options allowing you to go with a group of motorbikes or to ride on the back of a Vietnamese person’s bike. Two of the most experienced and professional companies for this are Easy Riders or Hoi An Motorbike Adventures. Both tours show you some sights in addition to the Hai Van Pass, some that really only locals know, and both give you history and anecdotes of the area. If two-wheeled vehicles aren’t your thing, you can always hire a car or take the train.
However you do it, crossing the Hai Van Pass and taking in the unparalleled views is not to be missed on any trip through Vietnam. The Hai Van Pass is gorgeous, fun, and a little bit dangerous, everything a good trip through Southeast Asia should be.