Referred locally as Đèo Hải Vân, the Hai Van Pass is one of the most majestic passes in Vietnam which connect Northern and Southern Vietnam. Offering an impressive sight of great mountains, blue skies, and green forests, The Hai Van Pass bends around Truong Son mountain range between Thua Thien Hue province and Danang City and locates at an elevation of 496 meters above the sea level. There are many reasons make this landscape more attractive for the travelers especially backpacker: the history, the climate, the graphic, and the stunning scenic view. It’s said to be one of the most beautiful stretches of pavement in the country. The twisting road along the pass is very incredible and offers a challenge for drivers. It’s a deserted ribbon of perfection—one of the best coast roads in the world. This is a destination not to be missed when you travel to Vietnam and below article will give you full information about The Hai Van Pass.
I. WHAT CREATES THE UNIQUE OF THE HAI VAN PASS: HISTORY OR GEOGRAPHY?
1. Hai Van Pass – The historic misty mountain top
Due to having mountains occupied up to three-quarters of the territory, Vietnam needs the passes to connect the province together. So Đèo Hải Vân – The Sea Cloud Pass was built as a mountainous sketch of the road in Central Vietnam. The Hai Van Pass’s poetic name based on the image of vapor from the East Sea rises into the forests and clings to the mountaintops. Following the history of Viet Nam, The Hai Van Pass has been of the major barrier to any land army that attempted to move between the northern and central regions of the country. During the ‘American War’, it was known as the ‘Street Without Joy’. Back then, the pass connected the two war-scarred cities of Hue and Danang via Highway 1 which is the dangerous and hotly contested.
The Hai Van pass became a natural wall from the 1st century A.D when the Chinese general pacified Northern Vietnam, advanced South and established the southern border of Han Empire by setting up the column of bronze, possibly at Hai Van. For centuries this natural barrier divided Vietnam to The Champa Kingdom was to the south of the Hai Van Pass, and the Buddhist Kingdom of Dai Viet was to the north. The two kingdoms disputed constantly to control land either side of the pass. The Cham pushed as far north as the Dai Viet capital of Thang Long (Hanoi) in the 12th century.
Due to getting the liberation from the Chinese Kingdom in A.D938 and being followed by two strong imperial dynasties – the Ly (1009-1225) and the Tran (1225-1400), The Buddist Kingdom – Dai Viet, was growing steadily. Agricultural productivity and population were increased rapidly, but unpredictable weather and devastating flooding in the Red River Delta was a constant threat to stability. With the risk of China’s continued invasion, Dai Viet – the northland of The Hai Van Pass looked to the south for more area and the more suitable climate for their growing population. After centuries of fighting, Dai Viet finally defeated the Cham, in 1471 which belonged to the Le Dynasty getting the sunny territory south of the Hai Van Pass. That why the Hai Van Pass was known as the Thuan Hoa and Quang Nam frontier in the past.
2. The Hai Van Pass: the most scenic hillside road with the weird climate
Do you fear when seeing the dangerous bends on the road?
Whenever one goes through the Hai Van Pass, there are two emotions at the same time: the amazement at seeing the majestic scenery and the fear of passing the dangerous bends of the hills. After driving through several elbow curves for close to an hour, you reach the top of the Hai Van Pass. The pass is the nature wall between North and South Vietnam, and you will see the fortifications which were built by the French and then later used by the South Vietnamese and the Americans.
With sudden curves and blind corners, The Hai Van Pass is likened to a dangerous but beautiful girl challenging drivers skills. Therefore, more than 700 years ago, when stopping at the height of nearly 500 meters above the sea level, King Le Thanh Ton named as a gift: “Thien Ha De Nhat Hung Quan” meaning the most colossal frontier post. This name “The most grandiose gateway in the world” was later engraved on the gate at the top of the pass by Emperor Minh Mang. This gate is also looking down Quang Nam province and the other gate facing to Thua Thien-Hue province inscribed with the three words “Hai Van Quan”. At present, Hai Van Pass remains some of the fortifications (the ruins of Don Nhat) built by French troops in 1826 to protect this strategic pass.
The most impressive thing about the journey is the sense of isolation you feel as you move further along. A strange happiness for the travelers when you go to the devious area with the seemingly unbroken asphalt road that cuts through a mass of forest. The green trees and forests contrast with the breaking waves in the blue deep ocean, “Sea Clouds” is exactly meaning about The Hai Van pass since the peak of the mountain is in the clouds while its foot is close to the sea.
Why the Hai Van Pass has a weird climate?
Vietnam’s climate is typical for the tropics with the high temperatures and humid weather all around the year. In particular, Vietnam’s climate regions include two main regions: the North climate with for seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter and the South climate with two seasons: dry and rainy seasons with the boundary is The Hai Van Pass. Due to crossing the country from the western border to the East Coast and also being an east-west spur of the Truong Son Animate Range, the pass creates a distinctively different climate. On the North of the slope, the air is usually wetter and colder than the South. It will be no surprise that you are enjoying the sunshine at the foot of the pass and immediately faced the cool weather with foggy when crossing the top of the pass.
The sudden change of climate seems to be the disadvantage for the backpacker but if you are the traveler who loves to experience, this will be an unforgettable feeling. Because, the higher you are up, the more the clouds are down to create a fanciful space like the heaven. Actually, the weather on Hai Van pass is quite good, you can travel the Hai Van pass for four seasons. You should be careful or avoid going through the rainy season (from October to December) because the landslide and the slippery roads will endanger for all transportations on the pass. The ideal time to travel to The Hai Van Pass is from April to July/ because the weather is warm, the pass is drowned early and sunny. If you want to see the sunrise and romantic sunset, you should come here between 6 – 7 am or 16 – 17 pm.
The Hai Van Tunnels – A solution for reducing the traffic on the Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Tunnel, the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia at 6.28 kilometers, is a within mountain version of the Hai Van pass. Hai Van Tunnel was completed and put into operation in June – 2005, which facilitates transportation between Thua Thien – Hue and Da Nang city much safer and more convenient. Therefore, the number of people across The Hai Van Pass today becomes fewer. But if you are the tourists who want to explore the amazing and adventurous stretches of road, The Hai Van Pass is still the best option.
II. HOW TO TRAVEL TO THE HAI VAN PASS
1. The familiar routes to discover The Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass is a great way to drive all the way between these three cities: Hoi An, Hue, Danang via an extended coastal route, which avoids busy National Highway 1 Road for the vast majority of the way, and uses quiet, scenic coast roads instead. The total distance for the scenic coastal route between Hoi An, Danang, and Hue is 165 kilometers. The journey between the Hoi An/Danang and Hue via the Hai Van Pass is 25 kilometers-165 kilometers depending on which route you choose to take. Ridding time is approximately 3-5 hours, and more for soaking up the scenery, stopping for buying and eating seafood along the coast, drinking coffee at the top of the pass or facing for any unforeseen circumstances, such as bad weather and flat tires.
Riding from Hoi An or Danang to the south of the Hai Van Pass – The comfortable way
Even you start from Hoi An, you still go via Danang through The Hai Van Pass to Hue. The Pass is more than 25 kilometers north-east of Danang city center. There are two routes leading from the center of Danang city to Hai Van Pass:
- The coastal line:
From the center of Danang city, you follow the street Ong Ich Khiem. At the end of Ong Ich Khiem Street, turn left onto Nguyen Tat Thanh Street. At the end of Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, you turn left on National Highway 1A. Running over 2 kilometers, you will meet crossroads between National Highway 1A and Nguyen Van Cu. If left turn continues along National Highway 1A will lead to The Hai Van Tunnel, you should turn right on Nguyen Van Cu Street. Going straight to the end of the road, you will see the Hai Van Pass. This is the longer route but preferred because you can enjoy beautiful scenic of Danang Bay stretching from Son Tra Peninsula to the foot of The Hai Van Pass.
- The street line:
From the center of Danang city, you follow Dien Bien Phu street running toward the direction of Hue Crossing. Going straight to Ton Duc Thang Street on the National Highway 1A until you see the junction intersection with Nguyen Van Cu street. Turning on Nguyen Van Cu Street and going straight to the end of the road, you will see the Hai Van Pass. This route is shorter than the coastal route and easier to move because there are not too many turns. You should choose the street line for traveling faster if you are late, have less time, need not enjoy the scenery.
Riding from Hue to the North of The Hai Van Pass – The challenging way
The nearer the pass is to Danang, the easier you move. But if you stay at Hue, you could go to The Hai Van Pass. The Pass is more than 70 kilometers from Hue city center. The shorter way to The Hai Van Pass from Hue is starting from Hue city center, following the National Highway 1 to Lang Co Town. However, like reaching The Hai Van Pass from Danang, you should choose the coast road to enjoy the stunning landscape as Pho Loi River, Thuan An Peninsular, fishing villages, Elephant Spring, Bach Ma National Park, and Lang Co Bay.
- The coastline direction:
From the center of Hue city, you follow the Pho Loi river, turn north over a bridge into Thuan An village. The route is notable for the thousands of elaborately carved family tombs, which are scattered across the sandy banks between the road and the sea. At Thuan An Beach, you turn east along a long peninsula, cross a Tu Hien Bridge and turn right. That is QL49B. Continue following QL49B until you see a tunnel on the other side of The Phuoc Tuong Pass. Keep going and turning left to Phuoc Tuong Pass. When you go to the end of the pass, you will stop at T-junction where having a back-route connected with Highway 1A and a well-paved roads leads over The Lu Bu bridge to Chan May road( (Alternatively, stay on Highway 1 all the way to The Hai Van Pass). The Chan May road stays close to the coast, where there are several high-end resorts and backpacker campgrounds. Following the Chan May road, you will go through past beaches, trees & fields and Lang Co Bay.
The views get even so excited right after you start riding to the pass. Looking over the winding tarmac as it drops towards the long, empty beach of Lang Co. Just after one of the last hairpin bends of the pass, a much-photographed scene opens up over Lang Co bay and fishing village, with a long bridge over the water (the exit of the Hai Van Tunnel) and the lush, misty mountains behind. This might as well be known as the ‘Top Gear Viewing Point‘, as it was here that the final scene on the Hai Van Pass from the Vietnam Special episode was filmed, with the three co-presenters all gazing at the sunset, enraptured by the beauty of Vietnam’s landscape.
2. What is the transportation to enjoy the landscapes on the Hai Van Pass
Traveling by the local train – Smooth Journey with the stunning view
The train journey from Hue to Danang/Hoi An along The Hai Van Pass. If your main purpose to see the Hai Van Pass, you can take the local train with wooden hard seats, opened windows and get off at Lang Co which is the first stop after the Hai Van Pass. Traveling by train is not only cheap but also comfortable. Moreover, the scenery on the way is also stunning, as the train will go over the Hai Van Pass, while most vehicles will go through the Hai Van Tunnel.
However, traveling by train is time-consuming, complicated, quite disorganized, especially for people who travel in the big group. Suddenly you want to take pictures of the beautiful landscape but the train cannot be stopped haft way. You will not understand the feeling of blowing wind through your hair or challenging the bends on the road with 15 percentage uphill slope.
Traveling by private car/taxi – The most comfortable way to enjoy the view of The Hai Van Pass
If you are the person who does not want to take the challenging on the road but still want enjoy the stunning view, getting a private car/taxi with the local driver would be a comfortable and safe way for your experience. Finding this mean of transportation in any tourism provinces like Hue, Hoi An, Danang is not difficult. You can check on google, Tripadvisor or ask the accommodation where you stay.
Traveling by private car/taxi have all the advantages that other means of transportation do not have. You can sit comfortably, get the carefree and painless in a private car and enjoy the stunning sight of Hai Van Pass. In addition, you can stop at many amazing sights on the way if you request in advance.
Like the train or the others boxed vehicle, you can not feel the natural phenomenon that affects you. You can not know how the smell of pass is, how the slope is on rainy, how the sky is on sunny and how your hair is on windy. Do not keep your soul behind the window of the car because you only really feel the beauty of landscapes when you really touch the air around that.
Traveling by Motorbike through The Hai Van Pass – An unforgettable experience
The Hai Van Pass – the most scenic hillside in Vietnam is the unique place for you to discover. Travels can experience all the emotional level. Besides it, Hai Van Pass is a desire to conquer by many drivers. As you drive, ride, cycle even run the Pass, it is hard to imagine this beautiful road ever being known as the ‘Street Without Joy’!
Haven’t you ever seen Top Gear? Whether you are a confident rider, or it’s your first time on a motorbike, you should definitely take the opportunity to ride the Hai Van Pass.
If you’re not a confident rider, you needn’t worry! The road is not too traffic, and far wider than some of the main roads in Vietnam. Moreover, The Hai Van Pass is well known for its dangerous roads, and accident warning boards carefully appear regularly along the side. Or even you are not comfortable with riding your own bike, some companies do offer tours where you get to chill on the back while someone else does the riding.
Because the road is quite short, the danger is the only disadvantage of going through the pass by motorbike. The zigzagging paths appear now and then around mountain slopes or The u-turn sections widened are the big challenging for the backpacker.
III. ACCOMMODATION WHEN TRAVELLING THE HAI VAN PASS
Although there’s no accommodation on the Hai Van Pass itself, there are a handful of good and interesting places to stay along the coastal route, as well as an enormous array of hotels and resorts for all budgets at either end of the route: in Hoi An, Danang, and Hue. You can make a reservation via the Agoda, Booking.com with price depending on your budget and style. At all accommodations, they can support all the information you need: Map, Means of transport, tours… with fluently English speaking guide.
In many of the small towns along the route, you’ll find local guest houses, which offer cheap rooms for a night on the road, particularly around Lang Co and Chan May Beach. If you are in a wilderness, you can bring a sleeping bag or tent to a camp somewhere near the Lang Co Bay or Chan May Bay. Imagine waking up with full vision of sunrise and a cup of hot coffee. What a wonderful experience!
IV. MUST KNOW TIPS FOR TRAVELLING TO THE HAI VAN PASS
- With the total of length 21 kilometers, you completely run and cycle on The Hai Van Pass if you want to take challenging. This idea very suitable for sport enthusiastic and adventurous person
- For the biker: Don’t be afraid of riding in Vietnam’s bike traffic. Please follow the rules:
- Wear sunscreen! Cover your arms, elbows and the tops of your legs carefully.
- Even if you don’t do all the stops mentioned, take little breaks often! Take a minute to refocus, drink some water and check the map.
- Download your route on Google Maps before leaving your hotel. Because of the signal of the Internet is completely lost a few time when you go through the pass, the mountain section
- Check the weather, but don’t base your trip around it! The day we were planning to do our ride it poured rain the whole night before. The weather forecast also showed intermittent showers, but we ended up with perfect bluebird weather.
- Buy a raincoat… just in case the weather forecast is right!
The Hai Van Pass will satisfy your desire to high peaks and tell you of the glorious history of Vietnam. Moreover, from the pass, on nice days, visitors can enjoy the whole vista of Danang, the Tien Sa seaport, Son Tra Peninsula, Cu Lao Cham Island, and long sandy beaches.
The 21 kilometers of road that stretch over the Hai Van mountain pass may sound like a challenging adventurous journey, but after having finished, it is certain that you will find it is one worth taking.