How to Drive the Spectacular Hai Van Pass

Find out about hiring a motorbike one way, what to bring, how long it takes and the route to go for the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam.

Overview

For many travellers moving through Vietnam, one of the highlights is driving over the Hai Van pass. The Hai Van Pass is a mountain pass found on the road between Hue and Da Nang. At 500m, it is the highest pass in Vietnam. It is part of the Truong Son mountain range, which lies across making it a physical barrier between north and south Vietnam. It originally formed a boundary between two kingdoms, the Dai Viet and Champa. The geography of the region is interesting as it is also a barrier between the different climates of North and South Vietnam.  This means, for example, during winter the weather in Hue could be cold and wet but over in Da Nang, it can be warm and dry. The Hai Van pass translates literally to ocean cloud pass, and the name is due to the misty cloud that rises from the ocean and often sits over the top of the pass.

View from the top of the pass with the road hugging the mountain

Driving the pass

Driving over the pass is a perfect way to spend a day in Vietnam. Winding up the twisty roads of the pass on a motorbike, with each view better than the last, and stopping for a dip in the ocean at one of the idyllic beaches on the route makes this an experience that will be tough to beat. I hope this guide will help you experience it for yourself.

Before I go any further I want to disclose that this drive can be dangerous. It involves a short stint on Highway 1 (driving alongside large lorries going at speed), and steep windy roads over the pass. I would not recommend this drive for people who are not confident on a motorbike. And please please please wear a helmet! OK rant over.

Hiring a motorbike for the Hai Van Pass

If you don’t have your own bike already to drive the route, you will need to hire one. Some of the abundant tour shops in Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An provide one-way bike hire, allowing travellers to pick up a motor at their starting point and drop it off on the other side of the pass. The cost of the rental will include transport for your heavy bags, so you don’t have to take them with you on the bike.

How long will it take?

Hue to Hoi An is 160km, a reasonably long way to go on a motorbike. With stops along the way, expect it to take up a full day (7-8 hours).

What should you take?

  • Suncream
  • Water
  • Long sleeves, trousers and raincoat
  • Proper shoes (not flipflops or sandals basically)
  • Map
  • Mobile phone
  • Phone number of your rental company in case you need rescuing
  • Money
  • Helmet
  • Jumper for the top of the pass (where the temperature can drop significantly)

The route for the Hai Van Pass

Click here to see the route I took from Hue to Hoi An in more detail. 

Hue to Hoi An
The route from Hue to Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass. Click here to see more clearly

Hue – Thuan An Island

From Hue, you can travel towards the coast, and drive over to Thuan An island. Once on the island, bear right and then ride the length of the island parallel to the beach. If you want to make this section quicker you can instead take Highway 1, but I recommend the former as you will pass through some stunning scenery on the island.

At the southern tip of the island, the route crosses a large bridge called Cau Tu Hien over the lagoon, back to the mainland.

Thuan An – Lang Co Beach

The next section is a breezy mountain path, with a canopy of trees giving a much-needed break from the sun. You will enjoy being back on the tarmac after the dirt tracks on the island, and the rise and fall of the road is really good fun to drive. This road heads towards the highway, which you cannot miss. As for joining it, forget proper slip roads. You will have to accelerate up a steep dirt track, and brake immediately when you reach the top to prevent running straight onto the highway. Turn left here towards the tunnel.

After the tunnel, there is a stretch on Highway 1(QL1A). This part isn’t the best and the lorries can be intimidating, but keep heading towards Lang Co beach.

Lang Co – Hai Van Pass

The road takes you the length of Lang Co beach and up to the foot of the Hai Van pass. Keep to the right to join the pass. OK, this is what you came for! As you start the assent you will be treated to some stunning views of the coast. The air starts to cool, and the road’s steep twists and turns provide a truly exhilarating ride. You will know when you reach the top as there is a small collection of shops and vendors selling hugely overpriced refreshments and souvenirs. After a look around, carry on the same road to start the descent. This side offers up spectacular views of Da Nang, and you can feel the air warming around you.  

Hai Van View
View from the top of the pass looking over Lang Co beach, wacky shirts and all (photo lovingly stolen from David Butler/Dot Kearney)

Hai Van Pass – Da Nang

At the bottom of the pass, the road again joins the highway. Cross the bridge passing over the Song Cu De river and after entering Da Nang, turn left towards the main coastal road, which runs the whole way along the Da Nang Bay. Follow this all the way to the impressive Thuan Phuoc Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam.

Da Nang – Hoi An

Once over the Thuan Phuoc bridge, turn right to cut across the peninsula, to the coastline on the other side. This palm tree lined coastal road will take you all the way from Da Nang to Hoi An. This long stretch of coastline is one of Vietnams best beaches, and you will be able to see the Cham islands in the distance.

Stops along the route

Here are a few suggestions on possible stops to break up the journey.

Thuan An island

As you drive through Thuan An island with its beautiful countryside feel, the road will pass through clusters of small villages, where you can find super cheap snacks and drinks.

Cau Tu Hien Bridge

The bridge connecting you back to the mainland is huge and has no real traffic. It has great views of the lagoon, so be sure to stop here for some photos.

bridge in vietnam
View from the bridge over the lagoon (photo by Dorothy Kearney)

Lang Co Beach 

A great option for a lunch stop is Lang Co beach. Here there are many restaurants offering cheap rice and noodle dishes, and if you are into your seafood make sure to try one of the floating seafood restaurants on the lagoon. Lang Co is also a lovely beach for a quick swim, with beautifully clear waters. If you need fuel, there is a petrol station just before the road splits to join the pass.

Hai Van Pass

During the assent up the Hai Van pass, there are many opportunities for amazing photos, so stop for some of these. Also make a short stop at the top, as you can climb a little higher by foot. Be aware that you will be accosted by vendors trying to sell to you here.

motorbikes on hai van pass
Nearly at the top (photo by Dorothy Kearney)

Da Nang beach

The beach in Da Nang bay is wonderful; a long sandy stretch of beach with clear waters and fresh coconuts on offer. A perfect place for a break from the saddle.

Hoi an

If you are heading this way, Hoi An will be your final destination. Plan to spend a few days in this dreamy town, and don’t be surprised when you find yourself extending your stay. This is a fantastic place to relax after this epic road trip! Click here to read my Hoi An travel guide.

Top Tips

  • Don’t just go for the cheapest motorbike rental. You want a bike that isn’t too awful, as you are driving over a mountain after all.
  • Give your bike a test drive before you start. Make sure the breaks are working!
  • Try to avoid having to buy fuel at the top of the pass, as its about 1000000x more expensive than at the bottom.
  • Be aware of large lorries and trucks on the Hai Van pass, as they can come flying around the sharp corners.
  • Be aware of large lorries and trucks on the highway, as it can occasionally get a bit hairy when they overtake.

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