While Tim was learning to ride a scooter in Vietnam, I was on the back of said scooter, navigating, offering words of encouragement and all round trying to be a great sidekick. After a couple of days practice under his belt, Tim was ready to take on the Hai Van Pass with me on the back. Originally, we were going to hire the famous Easy Riders to take us from Hue to Hoi An, but decided that it would be more fun just the two of us.
We left Hue at about 8am, with the whole day stretched out in front of us to arrive in Hoi An. Our first stop was for breakfast – a street food noodle stall, where we both ate for about AU$2, so good. Then we were on our way to our first stop, Cau Hai Lagoon.
There are two ways in or out of Hue and we chose to go ‘the long way’, rather than straight onto Highway 1. The long way is lovely and much more quiet, taking you through a rural setting, with sometimes very bumpy, dirt track roads. When we reached the lagoon, we turned down a local street and went through the villages, with the ocean on the other side of us. It was beautiful.
Our next stop was Elephant Springs, about 53kms from our starting point of Hue. We weren’t sure what to expect of this natural spring and what we found was pretty bizarre to the both of us.
We were there on a weekend, which meant that it was rammed with local groups of friends and families having a good ole day at the springs. You can ‘hire’ a part of a mat to sit on (don’t worry about seeking out who to hire from, they will find you), and you can swim and relax in and around the springs. We each went in for a paddle and Tim got told off for being ‘in the babies pool!’ Admittedly, we didn’t stay long, but it was an interesting and oddly beautiful place to see.
From Elephant Springs we were ready for the days main attraction – The Hai Van Pass. Made famous by Topgear (Tim made me watch the episode the night before), the Hai Van Pass is a 21km stretch of road that spirals through the Annamite Range and juts into the South China Sea.
Nowadays there is a tunnel through the range, which means that most cars and trucks are not on the Hai Van Pass, preferring the quicker, easier road through. This is great news for all the scooters and motorbikes on the road. It is an amazing drive, with hairpin turns and views to die for.
There was only one thing that really shook us on the Hai Van Pass and that was the trucks of animals we saw being transported. Tim and I aren’t vegetarians (I tried for a tiny bit) and after our experience at The Pub With Cold Beer we have been thinking more about where our meat comes from. A large truck with layers and layers of pigs crammed in drove past us and it was enough to make us gasp.
For the duration, we saw numerous trucks of pigs and every time we passed one it grew harder and harder to swallow. It wasn’t until we had finished the pass that I saw a truck full of puppies and it was absolutely horrific. Like I said, we aren’t vegetarians, but it has opened up some new dialogue between us and really got us thinking about being ‘meat eaters’.
After the Hai Van Pass, our next stop was The Marble Mountains, between Da Nang and Hoi An. Again, we weren’t sure what to expect and were sold a ticket into the ‘caves’, which turned out to a lit up cave with mini statures depicting torture (this is what we made from it). You can go to the top of the mountain, but we passed on this and made our way to Hoi An.
We arrived in Hoi An at about 3.30pm, much to the surprise of our guest house host who said ‘You’re so early!’ It had taken us about 7 and a half hours for the journey between Hue and Hoi An, with a few stops along the way.
If you’re thinking of doing the drive between Hue and Hoi An (or vice versa), I definitely recommend it. It 100% beats the bus and it’s a great day with beautiful scenery. We saw a lot of Easy Riders on the road with passengers, so it seems like a really popular way to do it. I wouldn’t recommend anyone’s first scooter ride being the Hai Van Pass, but Tim isn’t exactly super experienced and he managed just fine (and I was a kick arse navigator/side kick!)
We hired a scooter through our guest house in Hue for ₫440,000 (AU$26.40), this also included the cost of our two backpacks to be taken separately and dropped at our guest house in Hoi An. This is pretty good value when you consider that the cost of an Easy Rider for one person starts at US$45/AU$59. I recommend checking with your accommodation in Hue or Hoi An for scooter hire.
The quality of the roads was at some times really, really good and other times not the best. The Hai Van Pass itself is fine, tarmac roads – the only danger here is the winding of them. You really hit the dirt track, pot hole roads when you travel off Highway 1 and into the more local areas. Still, they are manageable if you take your time.
Leave as early as you can to get the most out of your day. Also, if you can, try and do it on a weekday. The places you stop will be much less busy and a bit more relaxing. On the flip side, going on the weekend can be good if you love people watching!
Tim’s weigh in
I encourage you to leave early and go ‘the long way round’. The M1 is just a motorway, and not a particularly enjoyable one at that! Sure the roads are bumpy but you get to see the more genuine side to Vietnam.
(The Hai Van Pass itself is short and if I could change anything we did it would have been to turn around and do it again. It isn’t long and this is obviously the best bit of the drive so when you’ve crossed it turn around and do it in the other direction before heading back over and on)
We were literally holding our breath as we passed van after van of live animals, the stench was horrific at times. I know I’m not going to be a vegetarian but it is good to try and eat less meat and this is something I would like to try.