Hi everyone! My time in Central Vietnam is off to a great start. After finishing the north in Ninh Binh, I was originally planning to go straight to Hoi An (one of the most popular destinations in the center). But a few days ago, I felt like I had some extra energy and wanted to do more in the center. I heard about the Hai Van Pass as one of the world’s most beautiful coastal roads, and after my epic motorbike journey in northern Vietnam, I felt inspired to do another motorbike ride. And so, once again, quite spontaneously (but a little more prepared than last time), I decided to tackle the Hai Van Pass which has been the highlight of the last two days. 🙂
Day 14: one day in Hue
Before embarking on the Hai Van Pass, I first had to reach the starting point, Hue. I took a sleeper bus from Ninh Binh – about 13 hours. Fortunately, I slept most of the time, so I felt fresh and ready for a full day in Hue. Frankly, I wasn’t that interested in Hue as my only reason for staying here was to do the drive, but I wanted to make the most of my day here.
I settled into my hostel, Hue Happy Homestay. It was a straightforward hostel that had everything I needed for one day. I mentioned my motorbike journey tomorrow, and they helped me book everything directly with them. Easy-peasy. 🙂
Hue was hot hot HOT, so I took it easy at the hostel for a few hours until it cooled down in the late afternoon. I did venture out for lunch at Madam Thu which my host recommended. I ordered a sampler platter with all of Hue’s specialty foods…best food I’ve had in Vietnam so far. There were spring rolls, nam cakes, and sticky rice, oh my!
Later, I ventured out for a walk around Hue. Hue is a bustling city and a history buff’s dream. Hue was the ancient capital of Vietnam, and key sites include the ancient Imperial City, tombs of emperors, old palaces, and more. Overall, it felt like a more manageable version of Hanoi – busy, hot, and full of cultural significance. Crossing the street gave me PTSD.
I first took a walk along the Perfume River. A nice relief from the busy streets.
I’m not a huge “history person,” but I wanted to check out one attraction in Hue – the Imperial City, aka the former capital of Vietnam. The city was large, featuring a walled enclosure containing the palaces of the royal family, shrines, gardens, and small villas. It reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing. I enjoyed walking around the peaceful space as well as looking at the beautiful architecture.
After getting my steps in for the day, I took a shower and headed out for dinner. Like many cities in Vietnam, Hue came to life at night; even on a Monday night, so many locals and tourists came out to eat and drink with their friends. I enjoyed a nice dinner and called it an early night before my big day tomorrow.
Day 15: motorbike ride from Hue to Hoi An + famous Hai Van Pass
Now we’re onto the fun part! I woke up early and got ready for a full day of driving. The entire drive from Hue to Hoi An was ~150 km (93 miles), which would take 9 hours with all our stops.
I met an English traveler at my hostel who was also driving to Hoi An, and we decided to link up for the drive as well as hire a guide. I got my confidence boost doing the Ha Giang loop alone, but one of my complaints was stopping every 5 minutes to check Google maps. I just wanted to turn my brain off and enjoy the views today, and hiring a guide ended up being the best decision. The hostel even shipped our luggage to Hoi An, so we could truly enjoy being on the bike. Worth every penny. 🙂
I opted for a scooter this time. I felt so competent (and slightly douchey) asking for a 125cc semi-automatic bike, but they only had scooters available. Luckily this one had great power at 150cc and I had no issues with the roads. 🙂
Our drive started with getting out of busy Hue. I was surprised to learn that most of the drive was on the highway, except for the scenic Hai Van Pass. Fortunately, our guide took us through smaller roads as often as he could…another reason he was so worth hiring! We passed a nice countryside portion at the start.
The sun in Central Vietnam was no joke. My arms got 3 shades darker from the drive. 😛
After ~50 km, we stopped at a waterfall for a morning swim. Even though it was only 10:30am, I was drenched in sweat. The freshwater felt amazing, and I felt like a new person after my swim!
More wonderful views as we headed further south. Our guide knew all the best spots. I appreciated having someone take my photos for once…solo traveler problems. 😉
Taken right before I knocked my bike over and my helmet fell down the mountain. My guide was a G and rescued it for me. 🙂
Finally, we made it to the highlight of the day – the Hai Van Pass, recognized as one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. The Hai Van Pass was 21 km and went up and down a mountain.
The pass was absolutely beautiful! I zig-zagged through the mountain while looking over as often as I could. Bright blue water on one side and lush mountain scenery on the other. I could see why this drive captivated people’s hearts.
We reached the top of the pass. We climb a lot as the top was in the middle of a cloud.
Then we went down the pass with more spectacular views.
After completing the Hai Van Pass, we stopped for lunch at a local spot. Chicken rice always hits the spot.
Then, we made our way further into Central Vietnam, driving along the beach with palm trees lining the roads – the vibes reminded me of Miami. This portion was super fun as our guide speeded away on the open roads.
We passed through Da Nang, a large coastal city in central Vietnam known for its sandy beaches, skyscrapers, and tourism infrastructure.
Our last stop was Marble Mountain, a small mountain with numerous marble structures, Buddhist temples, and caves. I felt lazy and took the elevator to the top where there were great views.
I took some time exploring the top. It was very peaceful and interesting to see all the marble structures.
After the mountain, we drove 30 more minutes and finally reached Hoi An. After a full day of driving, I was exhausted but felt so accomplished! I’m so glad I did this drive as the Hai Van Pass truly featured the best of Central Vietnam. However, my only complaint was that it was too short! The entire pass took around 1 hour of our 9-hour day, and the rest of the drive was mostly on busy highways. For those who are considering this, frankly, I would recommend doing the Hai Van Pass as a day trip from Da Nang. 🙂
Also, maybe my expectations were too high, but I didn’t feel like the pass had that jaw-dropping “wow factor” like the Ha Giang loop (I’m coming to terms that the Ha Giang loop will likely be the highlight of Vietnam and I should stop comparing everything to it). Coming from California, I felt like this drive was comparable to California’s Pacific Coast Highway, which will always be my favorite coastal drive. ❤
Nevertheless, I’m glad I experienced this and once again did something a little out of my comfort zone. These motorbike trips are always a highly logistical endeavor, which makes me feel even more accomplished.
After my drive, I checked into Cheerful Hoi An Hostel and loved the vibes right away. I was expecting a quiet night alone, but as backpacking goes, I met some cool hostel-mates and we went out to dinner. I even ran into someone I met on the Ha Giang loop. The backpacker trail is so small. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you back here soon!