The Hai Van Pass is one of the most famous coastal roads in the world, largely due to Top Gear visiting in 2009. We had heard of the possibility of driving ourselves along it to Hue via a one-way scooter rental from Hoi An, which sounded excellent and would allow us to save a day by visiting a few places we wanted to see on the way without needing to spend the night anywhere.
All we had had to do the night before was tell the company (Gems Riders, they were great) what we were planning on via WhatsApp and it was easy from there. After an early start, our bikes were brought to our homestay with a map including various detours you can do during the day. They then said “off you go, see you later and you can pay at the other end” . At about £10 each for the bikes including them taking our big bags to Hue in a van, we were very impressed.
Off we went, via the post office to post our newly made clothing home and the Banh Mi shop one last time for a breakfast bite. The directions were easy – head to the coast and then go north – and the roads were smooth and wide so we shot up to our first stop, the Marble Mountains, about half an hour away, just outside of the town of Danang.
These aren’t really mountains, but are hills made of marble and have pagodas, caves and excellent views on offer. We missed the turning and were involuntarily guided in by a women we later discovered owned a shop, which ‘fortunately’ for us had free parking outside. We were obviously meant to buy something at the end…
The walk up wasn’t too bad, but we were glad it was early as the sun was already very very hot. We saw a temple, walked through and into a number of caves and went to the highest point of the hill which gave us great views and sweaty t-shirts! It was well worth the visit and was a nice way to start the day.
Our next stop was the dragon bridge in Danang city. Sadly, it was not the weekend when the dragon breathes fire, but it was still a nice bridge regardless and the dragon is enormous!
Now it was on to the pass itself, so after a few minutes rolling along the beachside road which was beautiful, we started going up into the hills. We immediately got stuck behind a big petrol truck which didn’t really add to the views so took a tactical pause to let it go on its way and take a couple of photos. We then drove round a corner, saw the stunning views and stopped for photos again. If you then re-read that last sentence about 15 times you’ll get an idea of how we spent the next hour.
The pass was beautiful and it was really easy to ride with smooth roads and little traffic. It’s only about 17km, uphill for the first half then back down again for the second half with a fort at the top so short but sweet and we were glad we chose to do it this way. On the way back down a wasp decided to hit me in the face and get stuck just under my sunglasses, stinging me in the process which I didn’t really appreciate!
After the pass, we still had plenty of driving to get us to Hue, so after a brief stop on a beach the other side of a tiny village and some lunch we were on our way again.
Out next stop was meant to be the Elephant springs, but we found a little turn off from the highway that took us on a quiet road round a lake which was gorgeous so stopped there for a bit too.
Then to the falls, which required going through tunnels on our bikes. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the buses and lorries that tried to overtake us leaving very little room on the side of the (1 lane) road for us, which made it terrifying!
The falls, when we found them after driving past the turn off twice, were bizarre. It’s a load of man made pools in a river with an elephant carved into one of the rocks. The first one we went to tried to charge us for swimming, so we moved on and hopped into the lovely clear, cool water of another pool. After a long, hot day this felt amazing and it was great to wash some of the dust and grease off.
It was now approaching sunset so we set off for Hue City. We didn’t want to take the busy and boring highway the whole way, so took the coast road instead. Again, we missed the turn off (in our defence it was a steep ramp to a dirt road off a main highway, so didn’t look too legit) but managed to correct ourselves and ended up on yet another stunningly beautiful road. This one weaved through paddy fields then skirted a massive lagoon full of fishermen with a thunderstorm in the mountains beyond as a backdrop with local kids on their way home from school waving the whole way.
Now almost dark, we realised 3 things. Firstly, riding without a visor at twilight gives you a bug facial. Secondly, we were still 50km from Hue and were not going to make it back before our 7pm deadline and thirdly my petrol tank was looking pretty bare, but there was no petrol to be found on the island we now found ourselves driving along.
We decided the solution to all three was get our heads down and get on with it. We were comfortable on the bikes by now so after some dodgy roads and directions from children who knew immediately we had no clue where the roadworks detour was sending us but that there was only one possible destination we had in mind, we flew along the road in the direction of Hue.
This worked well until we got onto the bridge off the island and back onto the mainland, where my petrol ran out (and with it my headlight) and I had to coast down off the bridge in the dark to a local shop. Claire had cracked on not realising I was no longer there, but eventually realised and came back, glad to see I hadn’t fallen off into the lake beside the road. Fortunately, the shop sold small bottles of petrol so I was soon back on my way and we found a proper petrol station to top both bikes up from. Claire was again told she has a beautiful nose by the woman on the pumps, so she was thrilled!
Now running very late, we got back onto the highway (managing to avoid the police checkpoint and inevitable bribes that would have been required) and shot into Hue. This was all smooths sailing, although roundabouts in Vietnam are insane with bikes coming from all angles and not giving an inch.
The bike people had kindly waited for us (we had told them we were running late) and kindly drove us and our bags to our hostel. It had been a long day of about 12 hours from city to city including stops, but well worth it and one of the best days of the whole trip so far. We ended with some local food and much needed 10,000 dong (about 35p) beers.