If you’re looking for some less touristy and more adventurous things to do in Vietnam, then doing a Hai Van Pass motorbike trip is something for you. Connecting Hue and Da Nang, the mountainous pass is deemed one of the most scenic passes not only in Vietnam, but also the entire world. Since the 2008 Hai Van Pass Top Gear episode, the passage has gained international attention and has been attracting motorbike enthusiasts from all over the world. We went there, we did it and we attest it is one of the unique travel experiences one simply can’t miss if in the region.
The best way to travel through Hai Van Pass is renting a scooter on either side and making the crossing a whole day trip, visiting the Bach Ma national park and Lang Co beach along the way. We did our Hai Van Pass motorbike tour together with David’s father in December 2018 as part of our bigger backpacking Southeast Asia journey. We love sharing our travel experience stories and this post is one of them. Here you will find a review of the stops we did along the way as well as useful information about scooter rental in Vietnam, Hai Van Pass route and a list of things to bring with you.
To Help You Navigate
Scooter rental in Vietnam
Scooter rental in Vietnam is straightforward, affordable and available virtually anywhere you go since motorbikes are also the locals' primary choice of transportation. To stand out in the competitive market of scooter rental in Vietnam, some companies offer extra services such as guided motorbike tours, luggage transportation, long-term rental and differing pick-up and drop-off points. Motorvina is one of these companies. We got to know them through our fantastic Shark Homestay in Hue and can wholeheartedly recommend both - the guesthouse and the motorbike rental company.
Hai Van Pass motorbike rental from Motorvina Hue office
As agreed upon the night before, a Motorvina Hue office representative punctually brought our motorbikes & helmets at 8 AM to the guesthouse. Although there weren’t any surprises, the rep took the time to walk us through the main points of the rental contract (something most skip) and gave us a recommendation for the points of interest along the Hai Van pass route.
The price for Hue to Hoi An motorbike rental is 400’000 VND (apx. 15€ or 17$). This is 4-5 times more than you would pay for a standard daily scooter rental in Vietnam but it allows you to drop off the bike in a different city and includes your backpack transfer to the destination. Since we’re two on one bike, we had to pay an additional 20’000 VND (apx. 0.8€ or 0.9$) for the second big backpack.
Although it is more expensive than alternative means of getting from Hue to Da Nang or Hoi An, you must look at it not as a transportation expense but rather as a daily activity. Because that’s what it essentially is - a means of collecting some unique travel experiences.
Getting in touch with Motorvina Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An offices
If you want to get in touch with Motorvina, feel free to give them a call or send them a WhatsApp message. The guys are extremely friendly, with a fun sense of humor and usually respond very quickly 😊.
|Motorvina Hue||+84 83 200 55 99|
|Motorvina Da Nang||+84 83 511 55 99|
|Motorvina Hoi An (ask for Tee ;))||+84 94 697 05 59|
|Motorvina Phong Nha||+84 84 500 55 99|
Hai Van Pass route
Thanh Toan bridge
At 9:30 AM we hugged our lovely hosts goodbye and started the long-anticipated adventure. The first stop on our Hai Van Pass route was the charming Thanh Toan bridge in Thuy Thanh village. The road to the village is very picturesque going through narrow rural passages along the river and rice fields. Oh the great outdoors! The sun was shining brightly and we couldn’t contain our excitement about the journey ahead of us, smiling like cheery halfwits on the motorbikes. Pure happiness.
09:45 AM. The Thanh Toan bridge is the less famous sister of the Japanese bridge in Hoi An and is often referred to by the same name as it bears similar architectural elements. The tile-roofed bridge which has been connecting villagers on either side of the river for over two centuries was built by a wife of a high-ranked mandarin. To recognize her act of kindness the emperor had exempted the village from taxes and advised the villagers to live by her example. Until recently the maintenance of the Thanh Toan bridge has been done by the villagers themselves. Both the story and the bridge are beautiful, serving as a great first stop in our Hai Van Pass motorbike adventure.
Best part - not even remotely as busy as the Japanese bridge in Hoi An. You can actually see the bridge and take some pictures of it.
Time spent: 15 min
Thuy Thanh market and fishermen
10:00 AM. The Thuy Thanh village is very small but fascinating to visit as you can observe villagers engaging in their day-to-day activities. Unlike many other “local villages” often sold to tourists, this one is actually authentic - a rather unique experience in our backpacking Southeast Asia trip.
Although the village and the Thanh Toan bridge are among the top things to visit in Hue, besides us there were almost no other tourists. As we walked through the small market, the local ladies went on about their business and sharing the hottest gossip absolutely uninterested in our presence.
Just next to the market a couple of young men were setting up a fishing net. The net hangs between long bamboo sticks and can be quickly lifted out of water catching the unsuspecting fish. A couple meters away, in the river, another young man was snorkeling and collecting muscles (an old lady said those were black snails, but we’re unsure if the correct term wan’t lost in translation).
As we walked through the Thuy Thanh village, we were greeted with a friendly “helloooo” and a smile. It felt very heartwarming being so welcome. Sincerely hoping that a tourist influx won’t destroy the village’s genuine charm.
Time spent: 30 min
Bach Ma National Park
12:00 PM. The road to Elephant Springs in the Bach Ma National Park is well-maintained, wide but busy, mostly with trucks and motorcycles. The traffic itself wasn’t annoying, the endless honking was though. All 90 minute of it. That’s the only thing we didn’t enjoy on our Hai Van Pass motorbike tour, so all in all a pretty good result, right?
As we arrived to Bach Ma National Park, a uniformed man, presumably a park ranger, waved us direction ticket hut. Not much of a talker, he didn’t say a single word during our exchange. We shrugged and continued for a couple of hundred meters into the national park. The road was terrible - full of potholes and sand, so the bike kept wiggling from one side to another. Feeling very anxious, Darja decided to walk while David and his dad drove the bikes. “Go ahead, leave me behind!” - Darja screamed theatrically as the men, who were visibly having way too much fun to pay any attention to her, disappeared around the curve.
Bach Man National Park Temple
10 minutes later we were reunited at a Buddhist temple. Besides two other tourists who in their own words were “overtempled to visit this one”, there was absolutely nobody else - neither in the temple nor the houses around it. The place didn’t look abandoned, it just looked like everybody went out for lunch. A very long one. Wait, should we be here?
The temple is set up in an interesting way. The main building is similar to many other temples we had visited, but all around it were stairs and various statues of deities. We wandered around quietly afraid to disturb any physical or spiritual being.
The path around the temple led us to a river and a little stone platform which looked like a perfect place to get into the crystal clear water. Not knowing what exactly to expect from the Elephant Springs, we thought this might be a part of it. There was nobody around to ask nor to stop us anyway. As we laughed while climbing and hopping from one big stone to another making our way down the river, completely alone, we felt blessed.
01:00 PM. The moment we saw the “Suoi Voi 300m” sign we realised we weren’t quite at the Elephant Springs yet. Ooops. Promise that this will remain our dirty little secret 🤐.
The walk to the Elephant Springs takes about 10 minutes from the temple and passes by an abandoned bungalow resort surrounded by tall trees and wild bushes, prospering after the human departure. As we walked through the eerie resort, we made wild guesses of what could have happened here and why would these turquoise coloured bungalows just be left to slow decay. Ok, that’s not true. Darja walked there alone, apprehensive and fascinated by her own imagination while the guys brought the bikes from the temple to the springs. Everyone got their own version of fun 😉.
Just before the Elephant Springs there is another checkpoint, although for no apparent reason as there are no additional fees. The narrow path to the springs goes by small huts which looked like they’d be selling food and drinks in their better days, but are now (you guessed it) completely abandoned. The only thing left behind was trash and lonely hanging hammocks. It felt weird. Very weird.
Creepy or not, the view at the Elephant Springs is great and the water of impossibly azure colour. Definitely a “can’t miss” item on the Hai Van Pass route. After a quick swim we sat down on a big rock and just took in the view while drying in the sun. Really, where is everybody?
Our curiousity unsatisfied, we later read Elephant Springs reviews on TripAdvisor. It seems that we had come perfectly out of season (December) which explains the absence of scammers, extra charges beyond the entrance ticket, anybody trying to sell us anything or even the groups of drunk Chinese tourists we read about on TripAdvisor. What is true regardless of the season is that the Elephant Springs are not well maintained and are dirty (not the water though).
Time spent: 90 min
Lang Co beach lunch
02:15 PM. Next stop on our Hai Van Pass route was Lang Co beach and the well-awaited lunch. There are a couple of restaurants set up at the Lang Co beach, some in cooperation with Motorvina Hue motorbike rental judging by the huge “free parking for motorvina customers” sign at the entrance. As long as the food would be at least half as good as the view, we were ready to fall into what seemed to be a classic tourist trap.
The Quán Ăn Bé Lai restaurant recommended to us by the guesthouse in Hue did not disappoint. We indulged. Raw oysters, freshly grilled fish with homemade fries and a deliciously cold beer were consumed with a great appetite and an awe of the accompanying view. The lunch price was reasonable and much lower than we had later paid for similar meals in Da Nang and Hoi An.
Had we left Hue good two hours earlier, we would have had the time for a swim at the Lang Co beach. It was a shame, but we had to continue if we wanted our Hai Van Pass motorbike adventure to finish before the sunset. For now it will remain on our list of things to do in Vietnam until we return.
Time spent: 90 min
Driving up the Hai Van Pass
04:00 PM. We’d had a fantastic day so far and couldn’t believe the actual Hai Van Pass around which this entire trip was planned, was still ahead of us. Behaving like kids overdosed on sugar yet fully aware of our own over-excitement we simply couldn’t contain our happiness. This was so awesome!
What sobered us a bit was the apprehensiveness which grew as we started approaching the Hai Van Pass. The higher in the mountains we climbed, the colder and foggier it got. If only a couple of minutes ago we were concerned about getting a sunburn then now we were pulling out our long-sleeve jackets not to freeze. “Ocean cloud pass” is what the name means in translation from the Vietnamese. It was now clear why the Hai Van pass was called this way. The thick veil of mist is one of the things which makes the pass so beautiful and dangerous at the same time.
Having read through various sites warning about the dangers associated with taking this Ocean Cloud Pass, we were naturally cautious. We like adventures, but only when the risks are calculated and when we have taken all the necessary precautions. In this case it meant driving slower and being highly focused on the road. We stopped more frequently to take pictures rather than trying to appreciate the scenery while driving. The Hai Van Pass road itself is wide, without any potholes nor too much traffic allowing for a smooth and enjoyable ride, everything considered.
Crossing the Hai Van Pass
It was almost 5 PM when we got to the very top of the Hai Van Pass. In addition to the mountain mist, the sun had started to set down. Will we end up driving down the pass in the dark? Not willing to the risk, we only saw the fort on top of the hill from the road. We didn’t even get off the bikes.
We started our descent. Magically, ten minutes later we were back in the sun as if the clouds and the mist had never happened. Damn, we probably would have had the time to visit the fort. Return or continue? Tiredness outweighed the silly fear of missing out, so we continued and rather stopped more times along the way to see Da Nang, Da Nang Bay and the Son Tra peninsula from afar. It was the Golden hour, everything looked even more beautiful glowing in the early evening sun.
Arriving at Da Nang
Our wind-blown slightly absent-minded and relaxed romantic mood quickly had to change the moment we arrived at Da Nang. It was the rush hour and the city wasn’t kidding. Having spent the whole day in the nature, the traffic felt overwhelmingly insane. The endless motorbike flow and honking in every direction required the last bits of focus and attention. Luckily Motorvina Da Nang motorbike rental office was not far - the final stop on our Hai Van Pass route.
Soon we picked up our backpacks and headed for a well-deserved beer on the rooftop of Mari Gold Hotel - a wonderful place to stay when in Da Nang. There was not a single thing missing. Besides the great accommodation, the top floor had an open-air terrace adjacent to the room with a pool table and was simply perfect for morning yoga, working and evening hangouts. Not too shabby for a backpacking couple!
Is Hai Van Pass worth it?
Was the ride worth the risk? Oh, abso-freaking-lutely. The views were the epitome of travel dreams, the personification of romantic adventures and a perfect visual summary of reasons why we travel - to see more of this amazing planet, to take it in, capture it and hopefully inspire you to travel more. (High adrenaline levels caused by the thrilling drive may have slightly tempered with our perceptions, but surely you still see the point).
The great thing is that you can make a great day trip out of this and visit many interesting places along the Hai Van Pass route. You can of course do the trip solo, but it is safer if you travel as a couple or if you travel with partner of any kind (friend, fellow traveler ?). For us this will forever remain one of the more unique travel experiences we’ve gathered on our backpacking Southeast Asia adventure during a career break and one of the most fun things to do in Vietnam.
Hai Van Pass map
If you are looking for more detailed information about the road, additional stops on the way and more Vietnam motorbiking route ideas, make sure to check out Vietnam Coracle - the absolute go-to resource. The site has detailed reviews on everything related to motorbiking in Vietnam.
Hai Van Pass Motorbike Trip Budget
Since we are traveling as a couple, the Hai Van Pass motorbike trip budget here below is for two people.
|Motorbike rental Hue - Da Nang||400'000||15.20||17.20|
|Extra backpack charge||20'000||0.76||0.86|
|Gas (ca. 2.5l)||40'000||1.52||1.71|
|Seafood lunch at Quán Ăn Bé Lai (for two)||400'000||15.20||17.20|
|Bottle of water in the Thuy Than village||20'000||0.76||0.86|
|Elephant Springs entrance fee (20k pp)||40'000||1.52||1.72|
|Lung Co beach entrance fee||free||free||free|
|Hai Van Pass entrance fee||free||free||free|
|Hai Van Pass motorbike trip experience||priceless||priceless||priceless|
Hai Van Pass Motorbike Tour Breakdown
Here's our schedule for the day. Like we said, we would recommend leaving as early as possible to have more time at the Lang Co beach or the Elephant Springs. We got too distracted giving hugs to our hosts in Hue 😉
|09:30 - 09:50||Hue --> Thanh Toan bridge|
|09:50 - 10:30||Thanh Toan bridge & Thuy Thanh village|
|10:30 - 12:00||Thuy Thanh village --> Elephant Springs|
|12:00 - 13:45||Temple, abandoned resort & Elephant Springs|
|13:45 - 14:15||Elephant Springs --> Lang Co beach|
|14:15 - 15:45||Lang Co beach & lunch|
|15:45 - 17:30||Lang Co beach --> Motorvina Da Nang, incl. photo stops|
|4 h 5 min||Total driving time|
Hai Van Pass motorbike alternatives
Sold on the idea of going, but not confident with riding a bike across the Hai Van Pass? Don't worry, there are plenty of alternative ways of seeing this fantastic sight. They might not all include the same stops, but they do take over this magnificent Ocean Cloud Pass.
What to pack
- bikini/bathing suit
- long sleeve jacket (against the cold and the sun)
- closed shoes for driving / walking in the Bach Ma National Park
- mosquito repellent
- mask to cover the face from exhaust
- water + snacks
- offline maps / phone with data
- camera 😀
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