Hai Van Pass is one of the most scenic hillside roads in Vietnam. When braving the steep winding roads of a paved mountain pass, you will have a chance to discover peace, quiet and history along the way.
Why it is called “Hai Van”
On the North – South nation highway, Hai Van Pass is an impressive landscape. It is like a giant dragon, lying on Highway 1 on the border between Hue and Da Nang. This is the highest pass in Vietnam (500 m above sea level). This rugged pass is the final section of the Truong Son Range stretching to the sea. Hai Van means “Sea Clouds”, since the peak of the mountain is in the clouds while its foot is close to the sea.
It’s named by Le Thanh Tong King in 1470 when he traveled to the south to capture Champa kingdom’s capital. Previously, local people often called this wonder Ai Van (the Cloud pass). In colonial times, French soldiers nicknamed it “the road without joy”.
History of Hai Van Pass
In the past, Hai Van Pass was known as the Thuan Hoa and Quang Nam frontier. In the early 14th century (1306), Che Man, a king from Cham Pa, offered two mountainous administrative units of O and Ri as engagement gifts to Princess Huyen Tran, daughter of Tran Nhan Tong King. On his way to see off the Princess in the Quang area in a summer sunny noon, the King and his entourage were on horse back for almost half a day but could not reach the top of the pass. Facing up Wards, the King saw a rampart of mountains in dim clouds, and at the foot of the pass, an immense ocean, of waves. Though sorry for his daughter’s difficult journey, the king was comforted by the closer ties between the two nations.
Read more: Da Nang – A Sad Love Story
On June 5, 2005, the tunnel through the pass was put into use. It is more than 12 kilometers long and is the longest road tunnel in Southeast Asia. Although there is already a tunnel through the pass, the challenging winding pass is still an attractive place for many tourists, especially bikers.
Hai Van Pass weather
In the dry season, from January to July, the road is dry and the scenic outlooks show their best in Hai Van Pass. The conditions make the period become the finest time to visit (or have a first ride ever). Ancient remains in the top and bird-eye views are also fully seen. One of the most important things to look out for is the temperature. It’s high daily, and reaches the highest degrees in the midday. So, the riders are advised to hit the road in earlier or later hours, to avoid strong heat. In the end of afternoon, sunset down the horizon is really nice to see from any slopes. The hottest months are June and July when the outside temperature may increase to 40oC. Putting sunglasses, sun cream and lots of water in the bag before leaving the room.
From August to December, the rains often occur and by that, the mist hides the summit of Hai Van Pass frequently. From a far distance, visitors can see and decide to ride or don’t ride up there, or wait for a better chance later. Of course, everything is not really clear to see in the highest elevations and the view is blocked. In lower places, sky is cloudy and browny, still allowing you to look at pretty scenery. However, those are not great conditions to support clear and cheerful pictures. The most-loved characteristic is cool temperature, nearly perfect for outdoor activities. Check the weather forecast in advance, if planning to come between October and December. Typhoons often happen, followed by dangerous situations in the mountains. A raincoat is the essential personal item which any visitor must have in this season.
What to explore at Hai Van Pass
Hai Van Gate and Bunkers
On the top of the pass are the vestiges of long ago, a fortified gateway was built in 1826 under request of Minh Mang King. The gate facing to Hue is inscribed with the three words “Hai Van Quan” and the other gate looking down on Quang Nam is engraved “the most grandiose gateway in the world”. The entrance to Hai Van Quan looks like the entrance to an old citadel with its stone structures. Time, war, and neglect has taken its toll on Hai Van Quan, as it sits today in near ruins. The old story is only a memory, old vestiges covered with green moss, among vast spaces vast of plants and trees, tourists are filled with the emotions of the past.
In the surroundings, the French and American army added bunkers to defense at this strategic military location. Before being designated to be a national site, it’s possible to climb the top of bunkers to take photos.
Van village at the foot of the pass
Van Village is a small village nestled at the foot of the pass. Located in a peaceful, secluded and unspoiled area, this place is likened to a “forgotten land” in the bustling city of Da Nang. The village is separate from the city, so it is perfect for you to rest and relax far away from the noisy streets.
Camping and enjoying a BBQ together is the most popular experience in Van village. It would be ideal to sit by the romantic beach, breathe in the fresh air and look at the starry night sky. In addition, you can also immerse yourself in the cool, clear blue sea or try canoeing in the village.
North Hai Van railway station
North Hai Van railway station is a station of the North-South railway line, connecting Hai Van station with Lang Co station. It is located in the middle of Hai Van Pass. Along the track is a ravishing scenery with white waterfalls, majestic mountains, and mossy bridges.
North Hai Van railway station is almost isolated from the outside world, so it has a very peaceful atmosphere. It will definitely be an extremely memorable experience to listen to the rustling of leaves, enjoy the cool breeze and immerse yourself in the unspoiled nature.
Vom Don Ca bridge
With beautiful surroundings that resemble a fairyland, Vom Don Ca Bridge is likened to a “gate to heaven”. The ancient bridge bears the imprints of time and is covered with magnificent nature. Built around 1902-1906, the bridge is made of stone and about 100 meters long.
The lonely pine tree
The lonely pine tree is located about 2 kilometers from the top of the pass. The reason it is called a “lonely” tree is because while there are a lot of pine trees in other areas of the pass, this tree stands alone in a corner.
In the middle of the winding road, with the immense sea on one side and the dense forest on the other, the lonely pine tree is a unique highlight in the majestic scenery of Hai Van Pass. This is also a favorite stop for young bikers crossing the pass.
Also read: Breakfast at the Peak of Hai Van Pass
The Turtle Rock is a fairly large rock, shaped like a turtle’s head on the pass. Here, you will be fully absorbed before the spectacular scenery of the mountains and sea of Da Nang.
The U-shaped turns of the pass
U-turns are a big challenge for many bikers on their trip to Hai Van Pass. You will need to focus and carefully check the convex mirror in order to maneuver through these corners safely. However, the scenery here will be a fantastic background for you to take photos.
Reviews Hai Van Pass on Tripadvisor
No idea why the locals I spoke to were kind of scared of this pass. My home country has mountains and I’ve driven way harder than this one. Anyway, if you are staying in Da Nang, I’d say it is a must see place. Take a motorcycle, drive on that long boulevard next to the beach and soon you will enter the first turns. Some great views will come over, with many fellow bikers to stop and take photos. The very top of it is quite touristic place, but coffee is still good and prices are reasonable.
StefLil (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)
Famous place from Vietnam war, enjoy the car or even better motorbike ride from Danang to Hue or via versa. Gret scenery, could be foggy or colder up there, ride is sometime crazy due to wild truck drivers or motorbike racers. I would do it next time on bicycle. There are places to stop and refresh
Soko37 (Prague, Czech Republic)
Yo has been very helpful and accommodating. We saw amazing views as the weather was wonderful that day. Yo has been wonderful as a guide and has given us the opportunity to truly see the Hai Van pass.
Bradley V (Paphos, Cyprus)
How to get to Hai Van Pass
Hai Van Pass is located 20 km from Da Nang, 60 km from Hoi An and 80 km from Hue. You can get there by using various means of transportation.
This is the best transport for you to fully experience the feeling of conquering Hai Van Pass. The journey between the Hoi An/Da Nang and Hue via the Hai Van Pass is 100-160 km depending on which route you choose to take. Driving time is approximately 3-5 hours, but allow at least another 3 hours for soaking up the scenery, stopping for seafood along the coast, coffee at the top of the pass, and for any unforeseen circumstances, such as bad weather and flat types.
Travelling by car is a popular way to visit Hai Van Pass. Just make sure not to drive through the tunnel. When traveling by car, visiting other famous destinations on the way is very convenient as you can discover all the main tourist destinations in Central Vietnam such as Da Nang, Hue, Hoi An.
Hai Van Pass is crossed when traveling by train between Hue and Da Nang. While on the train, you can enjoy the wonderful scenery of Hai Van, which is located on the east side of the railroad, close to the sea. The train on this route passes 18 bridges and 6 underground tunnels, the shortest of which is 85 m, the longest is 600 m. You just sit on the train and your eyes are delighted to admire the view of the hills, sea, sky and clouds.
By tourist bus
Tourist bus running between Hoi An and Hue makes a short stop at Hai Van Pass and other attractions for sightseeing. The bus stops at Hai Van Gate for about 20-30 minutes letting your to soak up the surrounding landscapes.
Conquering Hai Van Pass by bicycle is also a popular choice between adventurous people. Of course, you have to be in good shape to conquer this route.
By private transfer
When traveling in a group, booking a private transfer to visit Hai Van Pass can be a really good idea. With private transfer, you can easily combine visiting Hai Van Pass with further exploration of Da Nang and the surrounding area. You can conveniently pre-book a Private Car Charter and create your own itinerary.
Hai Van Pass will satisfy your desire to conquer high peaks and remind you of the glorious past of the Viet people. Moreover, from the pass, on nice days, you can enjoy the whole vista of Da Nang, Son Tra Peninsula, Cu Lao Cham Island and Da Nang Beaches.
The 21 km that stretch over the Hai Van mountain pass may sound like a challenging journey, but after having done, it is certainly that you will find it is one worth taking.
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