Imagine the wind roaring in your ears as you lean into another curve along a scenic winding road. There are emerald mountains to one side, and the Da Nang Bay and coastline on the other. Up above, the blue skies are cloudless and perfect. This 25-kilometre long mountain pass is known as Hai Van Pass, or Ocean Cloud Pass, and has become extremely popular with thrill-seeking motorcyclists. If you want a drive that will leave you breathless, inspired, and awed by the beauty of Vietnam, then this motorbiking guide to Hai Van Pass is for you.
Before the Hai Van tunnel had opened in 2005, the Hai Van Pass was the single route available to vehicles going either north or south of the region. The winding, mountainous roads that reach up to 496 metres above sea level were treacherous for buses and trucks; but now that the tunnel is available, the heaviest traffic bypasses the more difficult sections of this lengthy drive,
allowing for those on motorbike and even bicycles to ride freely.
But long before the Hai Van Pass was traversed by motor vehicles, it was a dividing line between ancient kingdoms and an invisible divide between tropical and subtropical regions. The pass is rich in history, culture, and if you’re willing to keep your eyes open, there is so much to see and experience.
Things to See Along Hai Van Pass
Depending on which end you start from—Hue or Da Nang—your trip is going to be slightly different. Hue is a city surrounded by towering walls and the Perfume River. Though this coastal city is relatively small, the lifestyle is conservative, and the streets are lined with friendly bars and restaurants. You can visit the Royal Tombs, walk the beaches, or enjoy the local street food.
As you leave Hue, there are rice fields and roads framed by flooded wetlands where water buffalo wade. Before you reach the fishing village of Lang Co, the surroundings turn a vivid green. Lang Co sits on an island in the middle of an azure lagoon. If you are hungry from some fresh seafood, make a stop in Lang Co, where you can see fishermen catch your meal not even 10 metres away from where you are sitting.
Once you leave the vicinity of Lang Co, you reach the height of Hai Van Pass. Around midday, a mist settles in around the mountains, giving meaning to the name “Ocean Cloud.” Take your time when you get to this point. Enjoy the vistas, stop at the lookouts, take pictures, and breathe in the fresh air.
At the end of the line is Da Nang, the polar opposite of Hue. Da Nang is innovative, commercial, and boisterous. Here, the nightlife is bright and cheerful; and you can enjoy seemingly endless white sand beaches and block hotels. Be sure to check out the 72-metre tall “Lady Buddha” on a peninsula or head over to the Marble Mountains, a religious cave system.
You can continue on to the beach town of Hoi-An. This is a famous tourist location in Vietnam and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has influences from both China and Japan.
Remember, you can always make this trip reversed by starting from Hoi-An or Da Nang and finishing in Hue. You will certainly see different sights every single time you drive the majestic Hai Van Pass.
Doing the Day Trip
Now, you should know that you have two options: rent a motorbike (or even a scooter) to tackle the pass on your own or hire a driver so you can ride as a passenger. Both ways are great and have pros and cons. If you hire a driver, the cost is probably going to be higher than you’d expect. This is because the driver is calculating the cost of fuel, among other things. The second disadvantage to hiring a driver is that you are missing out on the exhilarating sharp turns, blind corners, and first-person POV of rocketing down the highway. Of course, if you aren’t comfortable driving a motorbike, there is no shame in relying on someone else.
But if you do rent, you might be concerned about gasoline. Gas can be obtained from villages along the pass. Sometimes there are stations in the main villages and connections, but sometimes you are going to be paying for a plastic bottle filled with petrol.
As for road conditions, you shouldn’t be too concerned about potholes. The condition of Hai Van Pass is paved with only a couple of sections being unsealed.
Since you don’t want to blow through the Hai Van Pass in a single day, here is a list of accommodations in each of the main villages and cities along the roadway:
Where to Stay in Hue
- The Dreamers Hostel: Breakfast is included in this budget-friendly option. Located close to major attractions like the Chieu Ung Pagoda.
- Sunshine Hostel Hue: Another hostel that is spacious, has breakfast, and strong WiFi.
Where to Stay in Lang Co
- Stork Village – Lang Co Resort: Private beach, free WiFi and a large outdoor pool. It’s the perfect place to stop and enjoy the beauty of the region.
- Ngoc Hang Hotel: 1-star hotel with free shuttle service, 24 hour front desk and free WiFi.
Where to Stay in Da Nang
- Da Nang PacknGo Hostel: A top-rated hostel in the area that is central to major attractions and has large rooms. WiFi is also free.
- Anh & Em Homestay: Free WiFi, vegetarian breakfast options, and incredible views for a decent price.
Not only is motorbiking in Vietnam something that should be on your bucket list, since over 95% of the traffic in the country is two-wheeled. Hai Van Pass is practically designed for you to experience the ultimate freedom of winding roads and awesome sights. So what are you waiting for? Grab your helmet, get the engine revving, and let’s explore Hai Van Pass.