Riding Hai Van Pass: Ocean, Mountains, & Adrenaline

Sarah Lempa

Chicago, USA

The dichotomous intersection of sea and mountains is where Hai Van Pass lies: a gloriously serpentine road famed for motorbike travel. The pass feels far away from civilization and is all too thrilling to zip across while riding (literally) an adrenaline high.

Between the northern loop and Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam is known for motorbike adventure travel, but Hai Van Pass might just take the cake for the #1 experience.

Introducing: the world’s best road

Hai Van Pass, Vietnam.

The pass hosts a series of surprising twists and turns through the Annamite Mountains, nestled comfortably against the East Sea.

Hue

Hue, Vietnam. Chris Howey / Shutterstock.com

Kicking off in Hue (one of the best budget backpacking destinations in Vietnam), the first half of the Hai Van Pass is spent ascending the mountain’s sloped switchbacks, with plenty of tempting spots to stop and take a gander. Deserted stretches of sandy beaches are viewable from above and seemingly forgotten, but definitely not unappreciated. At its highest point, you’ll probably say holy sh*t under your breath. I don’t know who paved this road, but I’d buy them a beer if I could.

Phu Loc

Nearby Truc Lam Bach Ma monastery, Truoi lake, Bach Ma, Vietnam.

Passing through Phu Loc, you’ll notice that some enterprising local folks have taken advantage of the beauteous point and set up a few shops and cafés. If completing zero physical labor to ascend a mountain made you hungry, you’re in luck.

Hairpin curves, fellow backpackers, and a need for speed

Hai Van Pass, Vietnam.

As if uphill wasn’t killer enough, down hill is where it’s really at, as long as you’re comfortable with some intense velocity and dodging other motorists. Snaking the slopes through assertive limestone boulders feels like being in some badass motorcycle video game.

Lang Co lagoon

Lang Co beach, Vietnam.

Lang Co lagoon appears after you round the top, along with the skyline of Da Nang. The route is pretty popular with backpackers, so be sure to wave hello on your journey.

Although the temptation is real to whip the corners and dodge your way down like a speed maniac, it’d be a shame to rush through this experience. With so many unreal viewpoints, it only makes sense to slow down a bit (it’ll also reduce your chances of careening into someone or something).

Don’t forget to enjoy Da Nang, too

Hai Van pass, Danang, Vietnam

Most riders travel Hai Van pass from north to south, seeing as there aren’t many places to stay north of the pass.

Da Nang

 Golden Bridge, Da Nang, Vietnam.

Da Nang sits right after the bend of the bay and has a lot to offer between beaches, street eats, and interestingly lit up high rises. This seaside city has seen increased levels of tourism and has all the same energy of bigger cities with a lot less of the congestion. It’s a formidable place to hang your hat (if it didn’t fly off your bike) after a day of riding through the mountains. If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Vietnam, head to Ram Casa for a dip in a shipping container swimming pool.

Finish up in Hoi An

Hai Van Pass, Vietnam. Huy Thoai / Shutterstock.com

Wrap up your trip with a night out in Hoi An: one of our favorite cities in Vietnam.

Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam.

Vietnam’s ancient port city is for solo travelers and night owls, from the luminous lantern-lined streets to the pop-up bars that offer late-night mixed drinks after the crowds have gone to bed. If you need a tailored suit for a cheap price, it happens to be one of the city’s specialties. You can also find Cao Lầu, a noodle dish that’s specific to Hội An. This UNESCO world heritage site truly lives up to all of its rightfully earned hype.

Conquering the experience of Hai Van

Hai Van Pass
Hai Van Pass, Vietnam.

There are a couple of ways to experience Hai Van, depending on your individual preference and timeline.

Buying your own motorbike to do a full backpacking trip across Vietnam is undeniably the best way to experience the country in depth. This option comes highly recommended based on personal experience—the unparalleled freedom is indescribably exhilarating. Also, if you ding your bike along the way, you won’t have to worry about covering any repairs.

Hai Van pass, Vietnam

If time isn’t on your side, or you’re a bit scared of the whole ordeal, you can still experience the Hai Van Pass. Jeep tours are available for those who don’t trust their driving skills. If you still want to ride but not commit to a vehicle purchase, opt for an Easy Rider Tour with luggage transfers included. This option is pretty popular with short-term travelers, or anyone who wants to split the journey up with some bus travel.