The Hai Van Pass is a 20-kilometre strip of road that joins the city of Da Nang and Lang Co in Hue Province. At 500 metres above sea level, it’s the highest pass in the whole of Vietnam.
‘Hai Van’ roughly translates as ‘Sea of Clouds’ in Vietnamese, which perfectly describes this misty mountain coastal road that connects the ocean with the sky. As the road curves back and forth, some slight bends, some hairpin turns, drivers are rewarded with spectacular views of misty mountains rising high over the South China Sea, deserted sandy beaches, dense jungles and the twinkling lights of far-off cities.
Hai Van Pass Map & Resources
The Hai Van Pass in the Media
The road was mentioned as one of the ‘great scenic drives around the world’ by The Guardian and was called a “deserted ribbon of perfection” by Jeremy Clarkson from the UK program, Top Gear, in their Vietnam Special (2008). Since that particular episode aired and the road’s fame escalated, thousands of travellers have been going out of their way to experience it and see what the fuss is all about! Have a watch of this clip from the Top Gear episode which features the Hai Van Pass:
History of the Hai Van Pass
The history of the Hai Van Pass dates back to the 1300s when it marked a physical boundary between the Champa and Dai Viet Kingdoms. To this day, you can see an ancient grand gate at the summit of the pass which used to be a border crossing between the two kingdoms.
Today, the road still represents a division between two distinct sides of Vietnam. Many travellers who backpack the length of the country say that the North and South of the country have two very different personalities, as well as notable climatic differences. The north is colder, more industrial and perhaps more serious, while the south is warmer, more tropical and the people are often said to be more laid-back. The Hai Van Pass is the point at which these two worlds meet.
During the Vietnamese-American War, the Hai Van Pass was referred to as the ‘Street Without Joy’ as it connected the two war-ravaged cities of Hue and Da Nang along Highway 1. Once upon a time, the road was the only thoroughfare connecting the city of Da Nang with Hue a few hours north.
When the Hai Van Tunnel was built in 2005 (now the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia) much of the traffic from the pass was redirected to the shorter and considerably less windy route. Today, the Hai Van Pass exists as a scenic alternative. Free of lorries and other heavy vehicles, the quiet road is now enjoyed by tourists who come to experience the road by motorbike, jeep or even bicycle!
What’s the Best Way to Experience the Hai Van Pass?
There are several ways to experience the stunning scenery of the Hai Van Pass. The best option for you depends on your budget, your preference of vehicle and, of course, the weather!
1. Hai Van Pass Motorbike or Easy Rider Tour 🏍️
One of the most popular ways to experience the road is on a Hai Van Pass Motorbike Tour with a local travel company. On the tour, if you feel confident enough, you can opt to ride the motorbike yourself, or you can choose to ride on the back of a bike whilst an experienced driver handles the wheels. In Vietnam such tours are called ‘Easy Rider’ tours and they are super popular amongst backpackers.
Whichever way you choose, you’ll have a tour guide with you along the way who will show you interesting historical sites, hidden viewpoints and tell you more about the history of the road.
The great thing about these tours is that you can use them as a way to get yourself and your luggage from Hue to Hoi An, and vice versa. As you see the sights by motorbike, your backpack is carried safely in a jeep and will meet you at the other end.
- Easy Rider or Self Ride.
- Travel Hoi An to Hue or vice versa.
- Pick-up & drop-off at your accommodation. Free luggage transfer.
- Stop at amazing viewpoints & hidden gems along the way!
💰 Cost: Motorbike tours are quite reasonable and start around $50USD per person for a one-way tour. The package includes pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation in either Hoi An or Hue (depending on which direction you decide to do the trip). The tour also includes an Easy Rider (optional), an English-speaking guide, lunch along the way, entrance fees to any tourist sights you visit and transportation of your luggage from one place to the next.
🚦 Travel Insurance for Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam
2. Hai Van Pass Jeep Tour 🛻
If you’re a bit nervous about riding a motorbike on those windy Vietnamese roads (for good reason!), you might like to opt for a Hai Van Pass Jeep Tour. The advantages of the jeep tour are the added comfort of being in an actual seat, as well as the fresh air on your face and the camaraderie you’ll experience with fellow road-trippers! This is a great option for families who want to ride together or a group of friends who want to enjoy the scenery together along the way. The maximum number of passengers in one jeep is five.
- From Hue to Hoi An or vice versa.
- Pick-up & drop-off at your accommodation. Free luggage transfer.
- Stop at amazing viewpoints & hidden gems along the way!
- Delicious seaside lunch included.
💰Cost: Jeep tours start at $84USD per person which includes pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation in either Hoi An or Hue (depending on which way you decide to do the trip). Also included: an English-speaking guide, lunch along the way and transportation of your luggage from one place to the next.
3. Hire a Motorbike Yourself 🤙
If you are confident riding a motorbike yourself and you want the independence and freedom of being able to stop wherever you like along the way, then you might prefer to hire a motorbike yourself to ride the famous route.
👌 Top Tip from our Facebook Group!
There are several companies that will rent you a motorbike from either Hoi An or Hue one way and let you pick it up/drop it off in either location. They will also transport your main luggage from one place to the next so you can travel with just a daypack along the route.
One company which offers this service is Style Motorbikes. At their stores in either Hue or Hoi An, there are plenty of different motorbike models to choose from, both automatic and manual. The most basic models are the Honda Wave 110cc (semi-automatic) or the Suzuki Impulse 125cc (automatic). If you’re an experienced motorbike rider and you want to ride the pass on a manual bike, there is the Honda Win, which is the classic backpacker bike in Vietnam!
“We did the route last week and it’s a really fun way to travel between these two places. You can book it through Motorvina or Style Motorbikes and they send your bags along the route. They’ll also load you a route into your Google Maps with interesting stops to check out along the way.“Andrew Allan
💰 Cost: One-way bike rental starts from as little as $20USD for the day for a basic bike. The cost includes transporting your luggage from one city to another, a good-quality helmet and phone holder and a USB charger for navigation.
Excursion: Son Tra Mountain ⛰️
4. Hai Van Pass by Train 🚞
Taking the train over the Hai Van Pass is an option that some travellers prefer and you still get to experience that amazing coastal scenery! The best thing about taking the train is that it’s not a special overpriced tourist train, it’s just the normal Vietnam Railways line that runs the length of the country from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
🛤️ Top Tip!
The route that you’ll want to do is Da Nang to Hue (or vice versa) and the part of the journey which is the most beautiful is the 20 km between Kim Lien Railway Station and Lang Co Railway Station. The whole journey takes about two and a half hours. You can book your tickets directly on the Vietnam Railways website and the cost is approx. $15USD for a seat. You can also pay around $19USD or $25USD for a hard or soft berth (basically a bed).
5. Hai Van Pass by Taxi or Car 🚖
One of the easiest, but not necessarily the most exciting ways to travel the Hai Van Pass is by car or taxi. One recommended taxi company is XANH SM Taxi. With an entirely electric fleet, this is one environmentally friendly way to see the Hai Van Pass. You can also hire a car with a driver for the day who can take you to various stops along the way such as Lang Co Beach and Marble Mountain.
6. Cycle the Hai Van Pass 🚴♂️
If you’re a fitness fanatic or you fancy a challenge, it is possible to cycle over the Hai Van Pass. If you have your own bicycle, you can do this independently or you can book a bike tour with a local adventure company. Be warned that the route is a challenging bike ride and there is an 11km climb with a gradient of 7% (and that’s no matter which direction you decide to take).
Places to Visit Along the Hai Van Pass
The following places are listed from north to south and can be visited by taking an easy detour from the main Hai Van Pass route.
An Bang Cemetery
20 km outside of Hue, you’ll find the unusual An Bang Cemetery, nicknamed the ‘City of Ghosts’. The cemetery is a popular stop on many of the Hai Van Pass Tours, but never gets crowded and still manages to retain an eerie atmosphere. The most unusual aspect of the cemetery is the enormous, elaborate and multi-coloured tombs that have been built by family members to house their deceased loved ones. Three or four storeys high and decorated with mythical creatures, the tombs (which are believed to cost tens of thousands to build) are an incredible sight.
Lang Co Beach
A 10 km stretch of golden sand located along the Hai Van Pass, the picturesque Lang Co Beach is relatively unspoilt, with stunning views of Bach Ma National Park in the distance. There are several seafood restaurants along the beach and it’s a popular stop-off or spot or lunch spot for many of the Hai Van Pass tours.
Lap An Lagoon
Also known as ‘An Cu Lagoon’ or ‘Lang Co Lagoon’, Lap An Lagoon is part of Lang Co Bay and has a backdrop of the Bach Ha Mountains. It’s a place where local people harvest oysters for food and pearls to make jewellery.
Canh Duong Beach
Located around 40 km from Hue, this off-the-beaten-track beach is little known by foreign tourists. The beach is located in Canh Duong Village and is popular amongst groups of young Vietnamese friends who like to camp right on the sand overnight. The beach has a few restaurants where you can enjoy lunch or a snack.
The famous Marble Mountains are five limestone and marble hills situated just south of Danang City. The mountains have tunnels, grottos, caves and Buddhist sanctuaries hidden amongst the rock. To be honest, the destination is a bit of a tourist trap with locals trying to sell you huge marble statues. Not exactly the most practical souvenir to fit in your backpack!
Dam Cau Hai (Cau Hai Lagoon)
Dam Cau Hai or Cau Hai Lagoon is Southeast Asia’s largest saltwater lake (250 square km) where you can glimpse locals harvesting mounds of salt – a perfect photo opportunity!
Son Tra Mountain
You have to take a 30-minute detour from the main Hai Van Pass route to get to this pretty nature reserve, but the scenery along the way and the destination itself are worth the journey. Son Tra is home to the adorable red-shanked douc langurs, which give the mountain its nickname ‘Monkey Mountain’.
Danang’s main city beach (official name is My Khe Beach) is a popular spot for locals and foreigners alike. It’s a long stretch of sand that’s just 10 minutes away from the city therefore making it a convenient stop on your way through the city. It’s a nice place to grab a snack and take in a bit of beach life before continuing your journey.
Dragon Bridge, Danang
The city of Danang is known as the ‘City of Bridges’ due to its vast number and different designs. One of the most famous and recognisable bridges is the ‘Dragon Bridge’. Named for its mythical design, the bridge is believed to bestow luck on all of those who pass over it. If you’re passing through on a weekend, the fire-breathing show occurs every Saturday and Sunday at 9 pm.
Local Countryside Along the Way…
Along the route from Hue to Hoi An or Hoi An to Hue, however you decide to travel, you will pass through the countryside and catch glimpses of the locals going about their daily lives.
👉 Photos taken by Rosie Davies from the back of a motorbike during an Easy Rider Motorbike Tour with Vietnam Backpackers.
Hai Van Pass FAQs
What’s the best time of year to ride the Hai Van Pass?
It is possible to ride the Hai Van Pass any time of year but in general, people say that the best time is March to September which is the dry season in this part of Vietnam. At other times of the year, downpours are common and you may end up getting very wet as well as dealing with slippery road conditions! From October to February, mist on the road and in the mountains is common and you may get some low-hanging clouds obscuring the views.
How does the Hai Van Pass compare to other motorbike routes in Vietnam?
Vietnam is famous for its motorbiking and one of the most popular rides at the moment is the Ha Giang Loop, which is a considerably longer journey (taking at least 3 days). The Hai Van Pass is unique as it offers jungle and beach views and it’s super convenient to do on a day trip from Hoi An, Hue or Da Nang. In our opinion, it’s definitely worth the journey, though some backpackers think differently…
“It’s just a road with nice views. Not really comparable to the Ha Giang loop. Plus it’s right outside Da Nang so you’re never off the beaten path for more than 30 minutes.“Sean Manning.
Is the Hai Van Pass safe to travel on a motorbike?
The Hai Van Pass is in generally good condition which makes it safer than many Vietnamese roads. Due to it no longer being a main thoroughfare, there is little traffic which also makes it a lot safer. However, there are many curves which can be difficult to navigate for novice motorbike riders. If you are not a confident motorbike driver, we highly recommend that you book a tour with an Easy Rider. In addition, make sure you always wear a helmet and have travel insurance that covers you for riding motorbikes.
Is it possible to start/end the Hai Van Pass in Danang?
The Hai Van Pass runs between Hue and Danang so it’s totally possible to miss out on the section from Danang to Hoi An. In fact, if you’re travelling by motorbike, many people prefer to do just that as the section of road that runs between Danang and Hoi An is a busy highway with lots of traffic and pollution. If you’re doing a jeep tour or a motorbike tour of the Hai Van Pass, the tour company should definitely pick you up or drop you off in Danang – just ask.
What does ‘Hai Van Pass’ mean in Vietnamese?
‘Hai Van’ means ‘sea of clouds’ or ‘ocean of clouds’ in Vietnamese which refers both to the coastal nature and elevation of the pass. In the rainy season, the pass is prone to mist which rolls in from the sea.
How long is the Hai Van Pass?
The actual Hai Van Pass (the most scenic stretch of road) is actually just 21 km in length, but the entire distance between Hoi An and Hue is around 165 km. The journey takes around four to five hours, but it’s best to plan for an entire day.
What should I pack on a Hai Van Pass Jeep or Motorbike Tour?
If you take a tour of the Hai Van Pass, your larger suitcase or backpack will be going by car to your next destination. Therefore, you need only pack a daypack which has the things that you will need for the day’s journey. Make sure you bring: suncream, a phone (for photos), water, a poncho or rain jacket (just in case of unpredictable weather), an extra layer in case of chilly winds, sturdy footwear (trainers or hiking shoes) and snacks.
What is the condition of the road like?
The Hai Van Pass is in surprisingly good condition with a smooth paved road and little traffic. Since all of the heavy vehicles are redirected via the Hai Van Tunnel, the Hai Van Pass is left to be enjoyed by tourists and day-trippers. Occasionally the road experiences maintenance works to repair sections of the road which have deteriorated, which can be a bit of an inconvenience to tourists passing through.
Are there places to eat along the Hai Van Pass?
Yes, there are many roadside cafes and places to grab a bite to eat along the way. You might like to take a detour to a beach or a local village and find some lunch there. Lang Co Beach has many seafood restaurants lining the beach and many of the tours stop there for lunch. This particular part of Vietnam is renowned for its delicious cuisine, so we highly recommend that you try some local favourites! Check out our favourite Vietnamese street food dishes here.
How Will You Travel the Hai Van Pass? 🏍️ 🛻 🚞 🚴
So which way will you travel the Hai Van Pass? Whether you journey by motorbike, Easy Rider, jeep, train or even bicycle, you’re in for some amazing scenery, glimpses of local Vietnamese life and the chance to eat some delicious local delicacies! Tell us about your adventure in the comments below 👇
Local Experts & Contributors:
South East Asia Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank the following for their input to this article…
🙏 Linh Nguyen | Vietnam Backpackers Hostel
🙏 Jason Kane | Vietnam Backpackers Hostel
🙏 Rosie Davies
🙏 Rob Hurst
🙏 Rory Emond
🙏 Công Anh Võ
🙏 Huw Rees
🙏 Adrian C. Shean
🙏 Andrew Allan