In a 2008 episode of Top Gear, host Jeremy Clarkson described the Hai Van Pass as “a deserted ribbon of perfection”. We couldn’t agree more as a ride through the Hai Van Pass is simply a must. It is one of the most quintessential roads in Vietnam, weaving through breathtaking mountains overlooking a stunning coastline.
Located half an hour outside of Da Nang and an hour and a quarter from Hoi An, we think driving the 21 kilometres long Hai Van Pass is essential, whether you are spending time in Hoi An, Da Nang, or Hue.
Hidden’s put together information on Hai Van pass motorbike tour and hires, the history of the pass, and a guide to the best places to stop along the way.
What is the Hai Van Pass?
The Hai Van Pass and the spur of the Truong Son (Annamite) mountain range, which it traverses, has played a large part in the history of Vietnam. The road itself is 21 kilometres long with inclines of up to 11 degrees at some points, reaching a peak of 496 metres.
The beauty of the landscape on show while driving over the Hai Van Pass cannot be understated. The road snakes its way up through the steep hills, surrounded by lush tropical jungle and with views out over the ocean and white sand beaches. From the southern side the whole curve of Da Nang is visible and from the north sparkling Lang Co beach is stunning.
Geographically, the range of mountains split Vietnam into its southern and northern climates. The range protects Da Nang from the formidable “Chinese Winds” which blow in from the northwest and can make for significant differences in climate. During the winter months (November-March) the northern side can be very cold and wet while on the southern side it remains warm and dry.
The mountains also made for a significant geopolitical boundary, separating the Champa and Dai Viet Kingdoms for centuries. The steep, unforgiving mountains were a tough obstacle to overcome in any conquest. The Hai Van Pass was also a crucial land link between the cities of Hue and Da Nang during the Vietnam War. The top of the pass has had fortifications to stop unauthorised passage since the Dai Viet Kingdom. Emperor Minh Mang built the imposing brick gate next to the road in the 19th century.
On one side of the gate, “The most grandiose gateway in the world” is inscribed. Surrounding the gateway are battle-scarred bunkers which were initially built by the French during the first Indochina war (called the French war by Vietnamese) and later used by American forces during the Vietnam war. Keep an eye out for the bullet holes on some of the bunkers. Now, the bunkers are empty, and all that the Hai Van Pass separates is the provinces of Quang Nam and Thua Thien–Hue.
Before the construction of the six-kilometre-long Hai Van tunnel in 2005, the Hai Van pass was a major bottleneck for traffic going from Hanoi to Saigon. The pass used to be infamous for its high death toll, but now with far less traffic, the road is much safer, if no less steep. Now, the pass is used mainly by tour buses, motorbikes, and oil tankers which aren’t allowed in the tunnel. The country’s main train line also goes around and through the mountain range but at a lower elevation than the road. The views from the train are equally good so make sure that you are awake when you pass through.
Best time to experience the Hai Van Pass
The best time to ride the Hai Van pass is later in the dry season towards September. By this point, the sun is still shining, but the heat is not so overwhelming as it can be earlier in the season. That being said, the pass is a great ride any time of the year, but extra caution needs to be taken when it’s wet. Because of the nature of the pass, sometimes the top can become shrouded in mist, blocking the views. However, it usually only covers the very top section, and there are still great views to be had on either side. Plus the mist gives it a great atmosphere, and with the lush jungle, it can feel like you’re riding into Jurassic Park.
When riding the pass, make sure that you have the essentials with you: Sunscreen, long-sleeved tops, and long pants are useful for minimising that bikers tan line. During the cooler months, a warmer and waterproof layer is also recommended because it can get quite cold on the top of the pass. It’s a good idea to have some water with you but not essential as you can’t ride for long without seeing somewhere that sells it.
Riding solo ‒ What you need to know
One of the most popular ways to see the Hai Van Pass is to rent a motorbike and make a day of it, even going all the way to Hue. The freedom to stop where you want and make detours to wherever you like are the main reasons to ride the Hai Van Pass yourself. We recommend that you have motorbike riding experience before attempting the pass, mainly if you will be riding with a passenger as some of the corners are very tight.
From Hoi An it takes about an hour and a half to get to the start of the pass and to get from one side of the pass to the other only takes about 45 minutes on a good motorbike. We recommend you take your time and allow at least an hour and a half for stops and photos.
Renting a motorbike
There are many places in Hoi An where you can hire motorbikes. What company you choose to go with will depend on how far you plan to go. If you want to go all the way to Hue, then you will want a more comfortable bike and luggage transfer. Otherwise, a one-day rental will be excellent.
Hidden Hint: To make your ride up the hill more enjoyable, be sure to hire a bike with a decent sized engine. Riding up the pass going the same speed as the big trucks is no fun.
The prices for daily rentals at local shops in Hoi An start at 80,000 VND (4 USD) and 160,000 VND (8 USD) at the bigger companies. Luggage transfer is 40,000 VND (1 USD) per day.
We recommend the following companies in Hoi An:
Hai Van Pass Route
Directions from Hoi An to the Hai Van Pass
Getting to the start of the Hai Van Pass from Hoi An is a relatively simple exercise in staying next to the beach until you get to the bottom of the hills. The only slightly more complicated part is getting through Da Nang. The route we recommend takes a few minutes longer than the most direct route but is much more enjoyable and more comfortable to follow as it avoids going straight through the centre of Da Nang. Click here to open the directions in Google Maps.
From Hoi An, drive up the main road (Hai Ba Trung) towards An Bang beach and then turn left at the last set of traffic lights. Stay on the coast road for the next 20 kilometres until you come to a large roundabout. Turn left here and continue straight through the next two roundabouts until you have crossed over the Dragon Bridge. Take the first right turn at the other end of the bridge to stay on the road next to the river. Continue on this road for two kilometres and stay left at the fork in the road before going straight through the roundabout. At the end of the road, turn left and stay on the road next to the coast until it swings to the left and connects to the main road. At the main road turn right and stay on this road which takes you to the start of the pass road.
Where to stop
The main reason to ride the Hai Van Pass is for the beautiful views, but there are also some great spots to stop and relax. Here are our top picks for photo opportunities and other activities.
Hidden Hint: Make sure to take a towel or some other piece of clothing with you to cover the motorbike seat when you stop to take photos. It only takes a minute or two before the sun heats the seat, enough to make it painful to get back on.
Best viewing points
The main viewing point is at the old French bunker at the very top of the pass. There are some restaurants up here, and it’s where all the tour buses stop so expect to see a lot of tourists. You can get some great views from here looking both north and south.
There is nothing to stop you from pulling over at any point you think warrants a photo, just be sure that you are well out of the way of traffic and keep your wits about you as the trucks are very big and sometimes come very close. The best places on the road to stop are at the sharp corners and hairpin bends which give you unimpeded views, particularly the one here, which is the last big corner before the summit.
On the other side, a great view out to the ocean can be found here, and one of the best spots is here, just before you cross the train track at the bottom of the pass. From this point, you look out across the water to Lang Co where you can see the beach, the town, and the new bridge leading into the Hai Van Tunnel. This is also the same spot where the hosts stopped during the 2008 Top Gear episode.
Food and drinks
We recommend taking a bottle of water and a banh mi with you so that you can stop and have a snack on your way up the pass but there are also places to buy food along the way. At the top of the pass, there are a few different coffee shops which sell snacks, cold drinks, and some basic meals. Expect prices here to be a bit higher than down at sea level.
If you’re after somewhere with more options and better pricing, then it’s best to go to the restaurants on either side of the pass. On the south side of the pass, you can stop at one of the many restaurants in or on the edges of Da Nang while on the north side there are some delicious seafood restaurants in the small town of Lang Co.
Hidden Hint: Be Than Restaurant in Lang Co is one of the best seafood restaurants in the area. The food is great and reasonably priced food served fresh in a wonderful setting which overlooks the lagoon. It’s well worth a stop here if you’re passing through.
The Hai Van Pass is undoubtedly the star of any road trip that passes through it, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing else worth seeing. These are some great detours on both sides of the pass that are worth your time visiting.
Off the beaten track
If you want to add some extra action to your Hai Van Pass trip, you should consider going off the beaten track. Starting here, at the last hairpin bend before the summit, is a very small winding road which is just a dirt track at some points. It goes around the mountain below the crowded main viewpoint and offers some great views without the tourists. It is a very adventurous track and should only be attempted by experienced riders with an appropriate motorbike. The track reconnects with the main road on the other side of the pass and adds just over an hour to the trip.
Son Tra Peninsula
The Son Tra Peninsula is an easy addition to a trip over the Hai Van Pass and offers comparable views without all the other tourists. It’s a great ride around the lush, forested hills and the steep road (18% at some points) and all its curves make for an enjoyable ride. The peninsula is also home to the Linh Ung Pagoda which has the massive statue of Lady Buddha standing a whopping 67 metres high which can be seen from much of Da Nang. This and the viewpoint at the top of the hill make the Son Tra Peninsula a great addition to any trip near Da Nang.
To get there, simply stay on the main road right next to the beach from Hoi An and you will end up there. Do the same if you are coming from the Hai Van Pass. Stay on the road closest to the beach until you reach the peninsula. Riding the loop, including stopping at the lookout, only takes just over an hour and will only cost you 2,000 VND (0.10c USD) to park at the summit. Be sure to bring your camera.
Hidden Hint: Some of the sections of road are very steep and can be more challenging for inexperienced riders. If you are a confident rider and want to go up all the steep sections, then make the loop clockwise. If you are less confident, then make the loop counter-clockwise to make it easier.
Lang Co Beach
On the north side of the pass is the small fishing town of Lang Co, bisected by both a river and the main highway. The town has some great seafood restaurants at very reasonable prices, and it also has some lovely beach. Turn left at this petrol station after crossing the river, and the road will take you straight to, what is usually a deserted beach. There are a few restaurants here which will try to get you to park in their spot, but there’s nothing to stop you pulling up pretty much anywhere. The sun in the middle of the day is scorching, and there is minimal shade, so we recommend timing it for the morning or afternoon. Be careful if you do go swimming because the waves here can be quite powerful sometimes.
Elephant Springs (Suoi Voi)
Once over the pass if you are willing to drive another 15 kilometres, we highly recommend you go to Elephant Springs. Here, you find a riverbed with sets of dammed up pools where you can bathe in crystal clear water. Locals have built small platform-like huts on the riverside which offer shade and beer, thereby making it the ideal location to spend the hot hours of the day. Adding this option to your Hai Van Pass adventure turns it into a real day trip, with the perfect balance between adventure and relaxation.
The turnoff to Elephant Springs is not signposted and can be quite hard to find as it requires doing a u-turn around the barrier to go down a small side street of the main highway. The best way to do this is to use Google maps or maps.me for directions. Click here for the location. To get there, you will pass through a ticket booth on the road. It costs 15,000 VND (0.75c USD) per person to get through and 2,000 VND (0.10c USD) per motorbike to go through. Once on the other side keep going up the road continuing to the carpark at the end.
Once you arrive at the entrance, you will be greeted and lead to one of the poolside huts. You have to use one of these huts to get into the pools, and they do charge for them. Prices range from 25,000 VND (1.25 USD) 100,000 VND (5 USD). Make sure to bargain and agree on a price before you swim to avoid any surprises. Food and drink are also available but can be quite pricey.
Directions from Hoi An to Hue via the Hai Van Pass
A popular trip to make is to go from Hoi An to Hue by motorbike. The route is so popular because it is a fun ride over the pass, takes in some beautiful scenery, and can quickly be done in a day, including stops to relax and cool down.
The trip can be made as a one-way trip, or you can easily stay a night or two and come back the same way. Alternatively, you could turn the trip into a multi-day motorbike adventure and ride a loop going from Hoi An to Prao, then on to Hue before coming back over the Hai Van Pass. A more in-depth description of this route can be found here. Whatever option you choose, you’ll need to hire a motorbike for the trip. (Read the earlier section on hiring a motorbike for one-way and multi-day options.)
Once you get to the other side of the pass, there are two main routes to get to Hue. The fastest way is to stay on the main highway all the way to Hue which takes about three and a half hours from Hoi An. The alternative, which is our preference, is to stay on the road next to the coast which splits off after Lang Co. This takes you through smaller towns, and there is nothing to stop you making as many detours as you like to some of the fantastic beaches. This way takes about four and a half hours but is well worth the extra time. Click here for the Google Maps directions.
Hidden Hint: If you come back to Hoi An from Hue, there is the option to go back through the Hai Van Tunnel to save time if you are tired. Motorbikes are not allowed to ride in the tunnel, so you have to take the shuttle service which runs around the clock, although less frequently at night. It costs 30,000 VND (1.50 USD) to shuttle a motorbike through the tunnel. The tunnel cuts out 20 kilometres of road and can save 30 minutes to an hour of travel time.
Guided motorbike tours
The Hai Van Pass can be quite a daunting undertaking if you’re not confident on a motorbike and there are so many places to see that it can be hard to know where to go. If you still want the full experience but don’t want to go it alone, then there are lots of motorbike tours available that give you the thrill of riding up one of the world’s most beautiful coastal roads, as well as a local guide to show you all the best spots.
In Hoi An, you will likely be approached by bikers offering you tours around the countryside or further afield to places like the Hai Van Pass. A lot of locals offer easy-rider tours. It is important to know that easy-rider is not a brand and the level of service can vary dramatically between drivers. Easy-riders are usually bigger bikes with a passenger seat that has a backrest to make longer journeys more comfortable. If you decide to go on a longer tour with an easy rider, make sure that you get along with the driver first. You will be spending your whole journey with them, so it helps.
There are multiple reputable companies which offer bike tours to the Hai Van pass and beyond. Here are our top picks:
Easy Rider Hoi An – Address: 109 Le Hong Phong
Mr Thong has been running easy rider tours in Hoi An for a long time and really knows his way around. They offer one-day return trips over the Hai Van Pass, as well as longer one-way rides to Hue and beyond. Prices for a full day return tour to the Hai Van Pass including the Marble Mountains start at 1,000,000 VND (50 USD).
Started in 2009 and now the largest motorbike tour operator in Central Vietnam, Hoi An Motorbike Adventures are old hands at touring around Hoi An and the Hai Van Pass. They have tours ranging from one to three days, one way or return, and you have the option to ride your own motorbike if you wish. Prices for a full day return tour over the pass start at 1,900,000 VND (95 USD).
Vespa Adventures – Address: 134 Tran Cao Van
Started in 2009 and constantly expanding, Vespa Adventures offer tours around Hoi An and all through Vietnam and Cambodia. If you want to cruise your way up the Hai Van Pass on the back of an authentic Vespa, then look no further. Their tour through the Hai Van Pass is one-way to Hue and starts at 3,440,000 VND (172 USD).
If two wheels isn’t your style, then consider cruising up the Hai Van Pass in an old army style jeep. Taking a jeep means if you have more than two people you can share the car, and your tour guide can give you lots of information as you drive along. Most of the jeeps are convertible or open-top, so you still get to enjoy the wind in your hair without having to ride a motorbike.
Easy Rider Hoi An also offers tours around Hoi An also provides the same Hai Van Pass tour but in a Jeep. The tour takes a whole day and even visits a waterfall in Lang Co where you can take a dip and relax. Prices start at 1,200,000 VND (60 USD) for a minimum of two people.
Hoi An Jeep Adventures offers a Hai Van Pass & Coast tour from Hoi An to Hue or visa versa. Travel the back routes and coastal roads in a retro style Jeep or air conditioned 4WD. The full day trip costs 3,360,000 VND (145 USD) per person.
The only way to go on a bus tour over the Hai Van Pass is if you are travelling to Hue. All the buses going over the Hai Van pass will stop at the top for you to get out and take some photos. Taking a bus is definitely the cheapest way to get to Hue, but you don’t get the same experience as going on a jeep or motorbike tour.
If you’re confident and comfortable on a motorbike, you won’t want to miss this part of Vietnam as this ride is going to be a dream come true for you. There is no need to be put off if you don’t want to ride a motorbike either—remove the stress from the occasion and opt for a guided tour, sit back, and enjoy the ride.