I’m all about taking the road less travelled in life but there are always exceptions to the rule – and boy, oh boy, is the Hai Van Pass one of them.
Vietnam’s iconic mountain pass is one of the world’s most famous roads and one of those bucket-list worthy road-trips that everyone should tick off at some point in their lives. Hai Van literally means “Sea Clouds” and there’s really no better way to experience this climbing, coastal road than on a motorbike, with nothing but sea-views ahead of you.
The Hai Van Pass is conveniently situated between Hoi An and Hue – two major tourist sites in Vietnam, making it the perfect road-trip option to get you from A to B. There are countless companies providing tours between these two cities, in both directions, and I’m going to give you a run-down of what you can expect from one fantastic local company – Le Family Riders – who took us on a trip of a lifetime from Hoi An to Hue.
Not only did we get to experience the jaw-dropping beauty of the Hai Van Pass on two wheels, but we spent the day driving through some of Vietnam’s most breath-taking coastal scenery – from picturesque fishing villages to sun-drenched rice paddies and idyllic waterfalls.
About ‘Le Family Riders’
Le Family Riders are a Hue-based family-run company, providing a range of guided motorbike tours in Vietnam – from the popular Hai Van Pass day trip to multi-day guided tours along the Hoi Chi Minh Trail and beyond. If you’ve never ridden a motorbike before (like us!), don’t fret – you can just hop on the back with one of their experienced riders and simply enjoy the views.
Top tip: Most people seem to travel Vietnam from North to South and so complete this route in reverse to what we did. However, it’s a lot quieter to experience the Hai Van Pass from South to North – to put it into perspective, there were just 4 of us in total on our tour from Hoi An to Hue, compared to 20+ riders travelling with the same company in the opposite direction!
The cost of a full-day tour with Le Family Riders is $58 USD (or $60-65 if you want to hire a scooter or motorbike to drive yourself) and this includes entrance tickets to all tourist sites, fuel, soft drinks, an incredible seafood lunch with beers, and secure transport of your luggage by car. For those planning to visit Hue anyway, this also serves as your mode of transport, so it really is a bargain when you break it all down!
We did tip quite generously at the end of the tour, as we were so impressed with our tour guides, but there’s no expectation to do so.
However you choose to take on this route, this will no doubt be one of the highlights of your trips to Vietnam. Here’s what you can expect along the way…
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Hoi An at 8/8:30am, where your luggage will be safely secured in a separate car to meet you in Hue. Once you’ve mastered the art of getting on and off the motorbike (I hate to break it to you, but you probably won’t look as cool as you think on your first attempt…) you’ll be whisked out of the ancient town of Hoi An and along the coast towards your first stop of the day – the Marble Mountains.
I”ll be honest, I didn’t have any real expectations of this place based on my hasty Google Image search, the night before (bad travel blogger, I know). But in fact, this historic pilgrimage site, set atop scenic limestone mountains, was a fascinating stop, full of colourful temples, pagodas and mysterious caves to explore.
Your entrance fee to the site is included in your tour price and, on arrival, you’ll be ferried up in a glass lift to the top of the mountains, where you’ll have an hour or so to wander about and explore the sights at your own pace.
The Buddhist temples clustered around the mountains date back to the 17th century and some are even hidden away inside the towering caves.
Once you’ve toured the Marble Mountains, it’s back on the road towards the ever-evolving city of Da Nang, with its picturesque beaches on one side and towering skyscrapers on the other!
Da Nang is one of the fastest growing cities in Vietnam and, as you speed along the coastal highway, it’s impossible not to notice the flashy new resorts under construction and countless restaurants, shops and golf resorts popping up all along the coast. This is a very visual symbol of Vietnam’s “tourist boom”, which has seen an increase in international tourists by 31% over the last year – even more reason to get there quick!
Hai Van Pass
Next, it’s on to the “big cheese” itself – the world-famous Hai Van Pass. As you leave the city of Da Nang behind, you’ll see the rugged, winding coastline stretched out ahead of you and will start to notice the low-hanging, almost ethereal, mist clinging to the mountainside.
The whole journey is breathtaking, as you wind your way around the mountain pass, with panoramic views of the South China Sea and surrounding mountains, as far as the eye can see.
There are several opportunities for photo stops, along the way, including at a historic US bunker, still intact from the Vietnam War.
Lang Co Beach and fishing village, with its glittering turquoise waters, is another worthy photo stop before you reach the end of the Hai Van Pass. Some tours do stop here for lunch but Le Family Riders take you to a much quieter and more serene fishing village later on in the trip!
Floating seafood restaurant
Despite leaving the Hai Van Pass behind, some of the most impressive scenery on this tour is still to come… cue your next stop at a beautiful little family-run floating restaurant, where cold beers and a fresh seafood feast await.
The next part of the journey is just as exhilerating, as you speed along bumpy dirt-roads, past water buffalo and idyllic rice paddies, deeper into the jungle until you reach Elephant Springs – a natural swimming hole, named after the giant elephant rock carving that resides over the site.
Here, you can take a dip in the falls or relax in one of the hammocks overlooking the waterfall (Be sure to have your swim-suit handy!)
Your last stop before Hue is quite possibly the most impressive of all – a quaint fishing village that looks like it’s been plucked straight out of National Geographic, with its bamboo boats dotting the waters and excitable village children waving at you, as you drive past.
In true Vietnamese fashion, one of the little houses lining the shore was blaring out karaoke when we were there, adding a weird and wonderful vibe to this otherwise serene scene! Only in Vietnam…!
Finally, you’ll arrive along country roads and through picture-perfect rice paddies into the city of Hue, just in time for dinner. We were lucky enough, in September, to catch the sun setting over the rice paddies, making for the most impressive of entrances into the Imperial City!
You’ll be dropped off right at the door of your hotel, after a truly unforgettable day exploring the Hai Van Pass and the very best of Vietnam’s central coastline.
Have you experienced the Hai Van Pass? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories below!