“A deserted ribbon of perfection- One of the best coast roads in the world”

-Jeremy Clarkson- BBC’s Top Gear Presenter

The Hai Van is a 13 mile stretch of mountain pass in central Vietnam that twists, turns and cuts through the Truong Son Annamite range as it juts into the South China Sea.  The pass forms a boundary between climates in the North and the South.  Many times the weather North of the pass is wet and cold while the weather south of the pass is warm and sunny .  The pass was made famous by BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ when they featured the pass in a 2008 episode called ‘Vietnam Special’.   Presenter Jeremy Clarkson declared the pass to be “A deserted ribbon of perfection.  One of the best coast roads in the world”   It’s also known as one of the most dangerous mountain passes in Vietnam (Sorry Mom) because of the thick layers of fog that are known to cover the mountains making visibility non existent.

I got up early in the morning for my drive up Hai Van Pass.  I knew I would have about 6 hours of total drive time and I would want to stop along the way.  I was also up early because of the dog that never stops barking that was inhabiting the hostel i was staying in.  Furthermore, I had a rough night trying to sleep through the racket that my terrible roommate was making.  I had rented a motorbike the day prior from my hostel but noticed the brakes were pretty bad.  I asked the front desk if I could switch out my bike. I didn’t know what to expect for the Hai Van Pass but I figured you want breaks at the very least.  They wouldn’t be able to switch it until 9 am, so I had to wait.

I didn’t really want to get on the road that late, but I wasn’t about to take my current bike, so I really had no option.   I went for a walk and got a Banh Mi.  I had become very fond of a little Banh Mi stand that was only a few blocks up from my hostel.  The little old lady who owned the stand was always so sweet to me.  She would bring me a tiny little stool, that only fit one of my butt cheeks on it and tell me to sit while I waited the 1 minute for her to prepare my sandwich.  She only charges 10,000 Dong per sandwich, which is about .42 cents.  How they make money off this is beyond me.  My mind is blown.  Anyways, I got my sandwich and headed to find a coffee shop to kill the time.

Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

My dad called that morning, which helped pass time.  He has this weird sixth sense for knowing the perfect time to call.  It was really nice to vent about the freak in my room and laugh about my small misfortunes.  After our lovely conversation it was time to head back to get my bike.  No ride would be complete without an iced tea, so I made sure to stop at my favorite shop, Mr. Good Tea, on the way.

i'm obsessed with Vietnamese tea houses
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I was on the road at about 9:15am, which ended up being a great time to leave.   The first part of the drive is just getting out of Da Nang city, which took me about 40 minutes.  This part of the road drives right along the coast.  It was a Sunday, which is every ones day off in Vietnam.  I could see the locals hanging out in their chill spots, drinking coffee and enjoying good company.  For directions I used google maps because I had a sim card with data.   I also downloaded a map to my phone just in case I lost service, but I didn’t have any issues.  I wore my wireless headphones so I could hear the directions so I didn’t have to stop and check the map.  I was playing my favorite Above and Beyond on the radio which made this drive even more epic.
It was a perfectly sunny day and it was hot!  I had my expensive sun screen I had bought the day prior, so I soaked my skin in that before I left.  I had to re-apply 3 times throughout the day because I could feel myself burning.  My idiot ass didn’t give a single thought to the tops of my hands and those for sure burnt.   I shamefully had to walk around with lobster hands for the rest of the week.  Now I know why the locals wear gloves.

This drive was truly spectacular.  It’s definitely a favorite for locals and foreigners.  I was never alone on the road.  The locals would have one or two friends on the back of their bikes and would go cruisin by me awhile shouting and waving.  I also passed a lot of easy riders, which is another popular way to do the pass.  I saw tons of other foreigners experiencing the pass as I was and I would chat with them when stopping for photos and water.  The road hugs the side of the hills that plummet into the ocean, and as it snakes along you drive through several hairpin turns that are beyond thrilling.  I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.  The views were absolutely stunning.

The actual 13 miles of the pass took me about an hour to drive. I stopped a lot along the way to take pictures and to stretch because my rear was killing me.  As I have mentioned before, all that junk in the trunk doesn’t offer shit for padding.  My tailbone hurt for days after.  At the top of the pass, there are a few abandoned bunkers from the war and it’s a common stop for a rest.  They have food and coffee stands that line the road.  I decided I would stop here on the way back, so I kept driving.

At the end of the last hairpin turn there is an amazing view of the Lang Co Bay and fishing village below, which signifies the end of the pass.  I was planning on stopping here to see the beach but it was just too hot for that, so again I kept driving.  In hinds sight, this would have been a better spot to turn around and head back to Da Nang city.  The rest of the road on Highway 1 was actually really flat and frankly just boring to drive.  The next stop would be Hue city and the following day I would be taking the train to Hue, so I had no need to see it.  I thought there would be more beauty on this stretch and I didn’t want to miss out.  I went all the way into Hue, which I kind of regret.
Hairpin turns on a motorbike are seriously thrilling
Indian Food- Hue, Vietnam
When I got into Hue I stopped at an Indian restaurant and ordered some food.  I was starving and terribly thirsty!  I considered trying to find something to do in Hue before heading back but I didn’t have much energy and I would be spending the following 3 days there.   I just ate my lunch, got myself another tea for the road, filled my tank with gas and headed back out there.
I took a different street on the way back, which was way better than Highway 1, but also took a lot longer.   The stretch of land on this particular street was lined for miles and miles with thousands of graves.  I know I’ve mentioned it before but the graves here are absolutely fantastic.  They are all above ground and so fancy and decorated.   They remind me more of thrones than of graves.  Definitely some of the most beautiful graves I have ever seen.  I was already tired by this point, so I didn’t stop to explore, which again, I really regret.  But I did get a few pictures from the side of the road.
The ride back was long and my legs started to cramp which was really uncomfortable.  My right hand became very sore from holding the throttle back all day.  I really enjoyed riding the pass in the opposite direction though.  It was so amazing going South to North but seemed like a whole new experience from North to South.  This time I did stop at the old army bunkers to stretch my legs and snap a few photos.   I was exhausted at this point so I didn’t stay long.  I was on my home run stretch and was just eager to get back and not be on that bike anymore.

That night after I cleaned up, I had full intentions of going to see the fire-breathing dragon bridge.  However, I was simply too tired and I didn’t even want to get dinner.  I was getting up early the next morning to catch the train to Hue and I knew if I didn’t eat I would regret it the next morning.   I decided to go to the Thai restaurant that was right next to my hostel because it was obviously the closest place and that’s how lazy I was.  I ordered larb gai, which is my absolute favorite Thai dish and It was delicious!  The restaurant was beautiful and It was sad because I could hear the yappy dog at my hostel next door and other customers were complaining and leaving because of the noise.  I felt terrible for the restaurant owner for losing business because of a dog that didn’t even belong to them.  So sad.  Irresponsible dog owners are a real shame.  Not a fan.

That night was my worst night in Da Nang.  My horrid bunk mate came back drunk with a stock of beers and a bottle of whatever, so he could continue his downward spiraling life in the hostel room while I was trying to sleep.  At first I was so heated and I wanted to scream.  I made the executive decision that if he was going to keep me up, then I might as well get a few loud phone calls in. I FaceTimed my niece because it was her bday and had a very loud, public conversation at midnight.  He kept making sounds of being annoyed so I made sure to talk as long as Audrey was able to talk.  Once she got off the phone I decided to try to sleep through his racket of the party he was throwing in his bed.

He continued his nightly ritual of belching, farting and laughing loudly.  Then he moved under my bunk AGAIN.  So I just got up and moved to a different bunk and was able to get a few hours of sleep.  In the AM I had to be up early for the train.  I typically don’t act this way, however, I found much pleasure in being as loud as I possibly could.  In and out of the room several times, slamming the door each time and dropping things on the ground and crunching up plastic bags.  Allowing five alarms to go off on loud and was in no rush whatsoever to turn them off.  It was awesome.  I needed that release.

I made it to the train early but the train was delayed.  I’m glad I’m always stocked on good books because of my dearest friend Annie.  She buys me books on Amazon and sends them to my kindle.  Bless her heart, she’s an angel.  The train was AMAZING.  But I’ll tell you about it in the next post!