Danang

Hai Van Pass Scenic Coastline: A Guide to Unwind

Hai Van Pass (Vietnamese spelling: đèo Hải Vân), or Sea Cloud Pass, is a mesmerizing twisting coastal road between Danang and Hue. It’s 500 m above sea level at the highest point and locals like to call it Cloud Pass (đèo Mây). It’s also known as Ai Van Pass (đèo Ải Vân) or Frontier Cloud Pass due to a checkpoint gate built in 1225.

Hai Van Pass takes you through and along the Bach Ma or White Horse Mountain (núi Bạch Mã). Bach Ma is part of the Truong Son or Annamite Mountain Range (dãy Trường Sơn) which is the geographic dividing line between Hue and Danang.

History of the Hai Van Pass

Lap An Lagoon before Hai Van Pass
Lap An Lagoon before Hai Van Pass
[ by ilikevn from Pixabay ]

Before 1306, the area that was Hai Van pass belonged to the long-gone Champa Empire. After the marriage of Princess Huyen Tran (Công chúa Huyền Trân) of the Tran Dynasty to Champa King Jaya Sinhavarman III, the pass became the border between Dai Viet and Cham Pa.

In 1402, the short-lived Ho Dynasty (nhà Hồ) attacked Champa and gained some territory in exchange for peace. The area covering the Hai Van Pass then belonged to Dai Viet or what became present-day Vietnam.

The pass was extremely difficult to traverse until the French Colonial Period (1884 – 1945) when a railroad was built around it. Hai Van Pass has continued to go through a number of developments into what it is today.

Hai Van Tunnel

Hai Van Tunnel
[ by Tri Nguyen from Facebook ]

The Hai Van Tunnel (đường hâm Hải Vân) has dramatically reduced traffic along the Hai Van Pass, making it a relatively safe and scenic tourist route. At 6.28 km, it’s the longest tunnel of its kind in Southeast Asia and the lifeline of transportation between Hue and Danang.

The Hai Van Tunnel saves 20 km or more than 30 minutes of travel time, but motorbikes are not allowed. Instead, you have to take the shuttle service costing 30 000 VND per bike. There’s also a shuttle bus for people who do not have a vehicle or who check in their bikes.

Construction for the land tunnel through Hai Van Pass began in 2000 and finished in 2005. The Hai Van Tunnel 2 opened 30 meters away from the first one in January 2021. However, it has temporarily closed due to unresolved financial issues with the government.

Hai Van Pass Essentials

Hai Van Pass Essentials
[ by Jordan Opel from Unsplash ]

Hai Van Pass is around 21 km in length, 20 km away from Danang, and 80 km away from Hue.

How to Get to the Hai Van Pass

From Hoi An, Danang, and Hue, there are a number of full or half-day tours you can book via popular online agencies. You can choose between bicycle, motorbike, jeep, car, and van tours.

Many popular tours also include the Son Tra Peninsula (bán đảo Sơn Trà) or other popular stop offs depending on the direction you travel from. If you simply take an intercity travel coach you’ll bypass the Hai Van scenic route.

The more popular choice for going on your own itinerary is to first fly to Danang and then make your way to Hue via the Hai Van Pass. From Danang, or nearby Hoi An, you can hire a private car and driver, or rent a motorbike or bicycle.

Weather on the Hai Van Pass

Hai Van Pass is beautiful all year round but it’s best around September later in the dry season. If you want to be cautious of the rain, you can use Meteo to check the weather on Hai Van Pass, Hoi An, Danang, and Hue.

What to Bring to the Hai Van Pass

If you’re biking the Hai Van Pass it’s best to wear full body-hugging sports wear that allows for easy movement and protects from sunburn. An extra warm layer is recommended for cooler weather. Have at least a bottle of water even though there are vendors and cafes along the way. 

If you’re going to rent a motorbike or vehicle, your passport is necessary to do so. Rentals will require a driving license for cars but usually not for motorbikes. However, a national and international driving license are required if you get into an accident or run into the police.

Trekking the Hai Van Pass

Trekking the Hai Van Pass
[ by quanghai1991kt from Pixabay ]

Hai Van Pass is famous for its hairpin bends so you need to be extra cautious at times. Take it easy to fully enjoy the ride, and it may take anywhere from three to five hours.

It’s advised you have enough daylight hours to complete the pass. Even with the few street lamps, you can’t really see anything in the evening plus it can get a bit dangerous.

If you want to go the extra mile, the total coastal route connecting Hue, Danang, and Hoi An is 165 km. You can finish it in one day or break it up into a two or three-day journey with a night over at Lang Co Bay or elsewhere.

Choosing Your Means of Transportation

Choosing Your Means of Transportation
[ by Karl JK Hedin from Unsplash ]

Motorbikes

Motorbiking is the most popular choice. It brings with it a sense of self-fulfilled having  truly conquered the Hai Van Pass in all its scenic splendor. If your goal is not to travel further on, you can just rent a motorbike in Danang or Hoi An and then return via the Hai Van Tunnel shuttle.

If you want to avoid a return journey by bike you can do so. You can easily find rental or travel agencies online where you can drop the bike off at a branch in either Hoi An, Da Nang, or Hue. Some may also have your luggage couriered to your next destination.

Motorbike rentals vary from 100 000 VND to 200 000 VND per day. Remember to check the engine, brakes, and gas before departure. Take a pic of any scratches or dents for the record.

Make sure to choose a geared motorbike as the steep parts will require second gear and even first gear at times. Gearless or automatic bikes tend to not have enough power to make it through the steepest inclines.

If you’re not such a skilled rider, it would probably be better to join a tour group or ride shotgun with a pro biker provided by a tour company. The guides can also be really informative about locations on the way.

Bicycles

If you prefer the ultimate physical challenge of the Hai Van Pass, you can also rent a racer or mountain bike at 60 0000 VND to 150 000 VND a day from Hoi An, Danang, or Hue. This cyclists’ dream route has a cycling gradient of 4.7% or average and up to 7% in some places. 

There are also biking tours to join which can make the trip more social and fun. You can return to Danang or Hoi An via the Hai Van Tunnel shuttle. Agencies such as hoiancycling.com or pathbiker.com can take care of your return or you can do a full trip to Hue.

Cars and Vans

There are numerous private car or van tours from Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hue which tour the Hai Van pass along with other destinations or stop offs. Tours can include Marble Mountain in Da Nang, a Son Tra Peninsula drive, or some down time at Lang Co Beach.

If you’re confident enough about driving a car in Vietnam, you can rent one for yourself and do your own ‘Top Gear’ tour. Once again, you have the option of double tracking back along the pass or returning via the Hai Van Tunnel.

Accommodation and Services along the Hai Van Pass

The Hai Van Pass isn’t that long so there’s no accommodation along the route except for a couple of camping sites. There are plenty of small repair shops along the way and coffee shops to rest and take care of your business. If you want to do an extended trip by motorbike or bicycle, there are numerous accomodation options in the big cities or around Lang Co Bay.

Map of Directions for the Hai Van Pass

Our curated Google Map provides direction in geographical order from Danang to Hue. Hoi An is a little south of Danang and less than an hour away by motorbike.

Google Maps Overview

View all locations mentioned

Things to See on the Hai Van Pass

Things to See on the Hai Van Pass
[ by phucnguyen18005 from Pixabay ]

Hai Van Pass was referred to by Jeremy Clarkson on the BBC series Top Gear 2008 as ‘a deserted ribbon of perfection, one of the best coast roads in the world’. It’s also rated one of the ten great scenic drives around the world by the Guardian.

The beginning part from Danang is filled with lush forests. A popular photo spot is the lone pine tree. The closer you get to the top, the better the view. Ideally, you would want to reach the Lang Co Bay Viewpoint at the end of the pass by sunset for the best snaps.

Elder Turtle Rock Coffee Viewpoint

Elder Turtle Rock Coffee Viewpoint
[ by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels ]

Elder Turtle Rock Coffee (cafe Hòn đá cụ Rùa) is the first rest stop on your trip. Behind the shop is  a large boulder in the shape of a turtle with a view of the forest reaching down to the coastline. You can also rest a little bit further down at the In The Clouds Cafeteria overlooking the Hai Van Gate.

Hai Van Gate

Hai Van Gate
[ image from Facebook ]

Hai Van Gate (Hải Vân Quan – 海雲關) is a National Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions on the pass. It was built during the Tran Dynasty (1225 – 1400) and renovated in 1826 during the Nguyen Dynasty.

In 1470, a king of the Le Dynasty bestowed upon one gate the name Hai Van Gate. The gate on the other side has ‘The Greatest Frontier under the Heaven’ (Thiên hạ đệ nhất hùng quan – 天下第一雄關). The area also has some blockhouses built by the French in 1826.

Panoramic Views of Danang and Hue

Panoramic Views of Danang and Hue
[ by Tina from Tripadago ]

From the top of Hai Van Pass, looking to the South is the sprawling city of Danang, the Bay of Danang, and the Son Tra Peninsula. Further afield you can also catch a glimpse of the idyllic Cham Islands offshore from Hoi An city of lanterns. Facing north is the sparkling sea lagoon of Lang Co Bay.

Pine Hill Camping Site

Pine Hill Camping Site
[ by Antoine from Tripadago ]

A little detour from the Hai Van Gate will lead you to a local’s go-to camping site. The ground is flat and surrounded by pines, so ideal for some free camping. Unfortunately, it’s not an official camping site so there aren’t any facilities.

It’s also within walking distance to the highest point of the Hai Van Pass. It’s an abandoned building claiming the nearest point to the clouds. There’s also a similar camping spot down the road after the Don Ca Arch Bridge.

Don Ca Arch Bridge

Don Ca Arch Bridge
[ by Quangpraha from Pixabay ]

Along the ride on Hai Van Pass, you’ll see the train line which spans the length of Vietnam crossing  mountains and forests. The Don Ca Arch Bridge (cầu vòm Đồn Cả) spans a small spring and this is where you’ll get the closest viewpoint of the train line.

To get to the bridge, you’ll have to make a small detour to Hai Van Bac Station (ga Hải Vân Bắc), park your vehicle there, and walk for a few hundred meters more. From the station, you can also walk down to the beach and spend some time there.

Lang Co Bay Viewpoint

Lang Co Bay Viewpoint
[ by ilikevn from Pixabay ]

The viewpoint over Lang Co Bay (vịnh Lăng Cô) is usually the last stop. It provides a view all the way to Lap An Lagoon (đầm Lập An) plus the 1A Highway. It’s also the scene that made it to the Top Gear 2008 episode about the Hai Van Pass.

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