Hue – Hoi An: The Hai Van Pass

So unfortunately as I think I’ve already mentioned, my immune system decided to give up on me again and I got sick. Another three days of American TV and bed ensued and in that time I barely ate or drank anything (unless you include a few ritz crackers). We were due to go on the back of motorbikes from Hue to Hoi An via the Hai Van pass (which would have been amazing), but I couldn’t even walk in a straight line let alone sit myself on the back of a moving motorbike for 5 hours. So we begrudgingly left Hue on the last sunny day scheduled for two weeks (are we back in the UK right now?!) and booked a private car that would take us the same route.
Now don’t get me wrong the motorbike thing would have been insane. But our private car journey ended up being one of the most fun days I’ve had. Our driver Hai was amazing, chatting to us about everything from his family and life to the sights we could see around us. He stopped for photos whenever we wanted to, allowed us to stay at each place we visited for as long as we liked and was our own personal photographer for the entire day. Here is a rough itinerary of what we did:

1. First, coffee:

Hai picked us up from our hotel and whisked us off to the main highway. First stop was coffee (it is with most people right?!) and we stopped at the side of the road where Hai bought both myself and Matt Vietnamese coffee and green tea to try. Apparently Vietnamese often drink the two together, to lessen the strength of the coffee; if you ask me it’s caffeine upon caffeine and I’m surprised everyone’s not jumping off the walls. It’s also pretty normal for people to take an hour drinking one cup of coffee…it seems the Vietnamese have a LOT to talk about! Condensed milk is the mixture of choice, which makes for a very sweet morning beverage.

2. Elephant Springs

After coffee we headed to Elephant Springs, a river not too far from the centre of Hue (you could easily get a scooter there). Named because elephants used to drink there, Elephant Springs now only sports an elephant shaped stone and some bamboo huts for sun shelter. It’s a hot spot with the locals in the summer, who come to cool down from the high temperatures. Here we spent an hour or so exploring the waterside and admiring the amazing hillsides that surround you. Matt went for a very cold swim and I happily dipped my feet in the shallows.

3. Fishing Lagoon 

Next we stopped off at a fishing lagoon to take some photos. Once again the views were stunning, with clouds lying low over the mountain tops. If we had rented bikes alone for this trip I don’t think we would have ever got to Hoi An, there were so many photo opportunities!

4. Hai Van Pass

This was the thing we had been looking forward to the most. The Hai Van pass is the coastal road between Hue and Hoi An, taking you right up into the mountains and then back down the other side. The ride up there was interesting, fighting with lorries, bikes and coaches around tight corners and very steep inclines! Once you are at the summit of the main road, there are war bunkers which are now used by tourists as climbing frames to get the perfect shot. If you’re really being adventurous, or have your own scooter, there is a small road alongside of the main viewpoint which takes you up even further for 360 panoramic views. Unfortunately I didn’t have the energy to do this, however Matt gladly took 50 minutes out of our day to go get some photos – leaving me sitting sullenly in the shade with the driver.

4. Marble Mountain

Our last stop before heading into Hoi An was Marble Mountain, which is located on the outskirts of the city of Danang, about 30 minutes from Hoi An. It’s a small mound when comparing it to the surrounding scenery but there’s a good amount to do here.

You can climb Marble Mountain, either by stairs or elevator. The elevator is more expensive and Hai told us that it only took you halfway up. Once at the top there is a small cave to visit. Alternatively  there is a huge cave at the bottom of Marble Mountain, named hell cave due to its artistic depictions of what you can expect if you’re a bad human in this life.
As my energy was now fast flagging and you have to pay a seperate entry to each attraction, we decided to have a look at the hell cave. It’s well worth a visit, with multiple dimly lit chambers and strange stone carvings of demons. My one advice would be to take a jacket in as it is chilly as hell down there and also a torch, as some stairways are very dark and slippery.

5. Hoi An

Finally at around 4.30pm, Hai drove us into the heart of Hoi An and dropped us off at our hotel, helping us with our luggage and telling us that if we ever find ourselves in Hue again to let him know. We spent the next couple of hours reflecting on all of the sights we saw during our journey from Hue to Hoi An and I would recommend a tour that includes some sights for your journey. I felt like we got so much more out of the Hai Van pass route than we would have known possible if we had rented bikes ourselves!

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