The ultimate guide to conquering Vietnam’s Hai Van Pass

The Hai Van Pass is a combination of hairpin bends, spectacular views of coast and clouds, unique adventure and a lot of history.

Hai Van Pass Train

Famous to thrill-seekers on a Southeast Asian journey, the Hai Van Pass is nothing but exciting rides and breathtaking views, making it a must-do for any traveler making their way from Da Nang to Hue or vice versa. Here is all you need to know before tackling this spectacular pass. 

A mix of mountains, coast, and clouds 

Hai Van means, “Ocean Cloud Pass,” named so because the mountain road hugs the coastline. It sits 500 meters above sea level making it the highest pass in Vietnam. The pass is full of sharp, hairpin bends, stretching for 21 kilometers and connecting two major cities in central Vietnam: Da Nang and Hue.

While Da Nang is a modern metropolis built by the seaside, voted as the best city to live in for expats in Vietnam, Hue is a tranquil and well-preserved remnant of the Nguyen Dynasty with ancient royal tombs and pagodas. Two very different worlds.

The Hai Van Pass was featured in Top Gear, skyrocketing its popularity among the adventurous traveler community. The ride is not for the faint of heart and requires extreme skill to tackle. Nerves are almost always offset by the panoramic views enjoyed as misty mountains come into view on one side, and the ocean and the sublime coast stretches into the horizon on the other.

Beyond being famously known for its scenic views, the Hai Van Pass represents the boundary splitting the northern and southern regions of Vietnam. 

A pass with an interesting history

The Hai Van Pass was once a strategic natural territory separating two mighty (and opposing) kingdoms, the Dai Viet and the Champa. The “winner” would gain the advantage of controlling this gigantic pass and expanding its territory towards the other side. History gave priority to Dai Viet who finally took over the whole country .  

During the Vietnam War, it was the “Street Without Joy” as it was a highly contested highway. Bunkers were constructed to aid and cover convoys used to travel between the torn cities of Hue and Da Nang. Remnants of those devastating affairs live up to this day with the ancient grand gate at the summit of the pass that still stands. A couple of small shops huddle beside the surviving bunkers.

With all the conflict behind its gruesome past, renovations groomed the highway. A tunnel that cut through the mountains was completed in 2005, allowing Hai Van Pass to earn the moniker “Street Without Traffic.” 

Tackle the pass from April to July

The best time to conquer the Hai Van Pass is from April to July. During these months you won’t have to deal with the scorching heat that is common in Vietnam. Even though you still can ride the pass anytime during the year, the rainy season from August to December adds a bit of risk, as the pass gets shrouded in mist.

Plus, this blocks the view! Make sure you plan your ride well so you can reach the peak during sunset or sunrise to catch a breathtaking panorama of the scenery below.

Driving a motorbike is the best way

For adventurous travelers, it is recommended to rent a motorbike and conquer the roads of the Hai Van Pass yourself. The adrenaline rush of zipping through the traffic-less lanes and the freedom to stop at any point during the trip to revel at the views makes it an unforgettable experience! However, if you do not have prior driving experience, then this is not the time to learn. 

Alternatively, join a tour  

Signing up for a motorbike tour of the Hai Van Pass allows you to experience everything while being driven by a professional driver. This releases your hands for capturing the beautiful moments with your camera. Plus, the tour guides are very knowledgeable and will explain things about the pass you may otherwise not discover on your own.

With a seasoned driver at the helm, travelers have nothing to worry about when getting from Hue to Da Nang and vice versa. There are many reputable companies that offer this service which guarantees you’ll be seeing the best spots throughout the ride. For your convenience, a jeep is also available to safely convey your luggage and will be ready for you at the other end.

Take a break every few minutes! 

There are many spots to take a break at for stunning views and picture time. Sometimes you’ll come across a shack built beside a view point where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or sugarcane juice with the landscape open in front of you. One of my favorites is a local coffee shop near the Old Turtle Rock. 

As you keep ascending from here, you’ll see the imposing red-brick gate atop the mountain pass. Aptly named as the Hai Van Gate, this landmark has been recognized as a national relic of the country.

When you turn down towards Hue, you will reach Lang Co Bay. Here, you’ll witness the perfect harmony of the enormous mountains, expansive seas, and motorized sampan boats as you make your way down the shore. The traditional Vietnamese fishing village is a must-see spot in Lang Co Bay. It offers a genuine look into the rural fishing life with the presence of sprawling fishing nets and boats, which are all decorated with a shark painting on one side.

If you get hungry on the way…

Unfortunately, there are no food options along the way, except for some food-and-drink cottages opposite the Hai Van Gate at the peak. However, the price is a lot higher than the regular price you pay elsewhere. We recommend you to wait until reaching Lang Co Bay where there are multiple seafood restaurants.

It would also be smart to fill your bags with some snacks at a food stop in Da Nang before heading towards the pass. For those crossing Hai Van Pass on a tour, all food and drinks are covered so it won’t be a problem, unless stated otherwise.

Once you’ve packed your bags, it’s time for the adventure of your lifetime! Remember to pack a swimsuit as well as you can hop into the Lang Co Lagoon and cool off in the midday sun! 

Posted October 6, 2020
image of blog writer Piumi
Piumi Rajapaksha
Third-culture kid, hailing from Sri Lanka. Currently residing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and refuses to leave because of the good food. You'll probably find her wandering aimlessly through the city with a coffee in hand looking lost, but she never is.
image of blog writer Piumi