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From Hue to Hoi An: a terrific journey via the Hai Van Pass

Last Updated on 17/08/2023 by Clotilde Passalacqua

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you won’t want to miss out on the Hai Van Pass. This scenic route is a must-see for any traveler looking to experience the natural beauty of the country. Located in central Vietnam, the Hai Van Pass connects the cities of Hue and Danang (and Hoi An after), offering breathtaking views of the coastline and surrounding mountains.

You can easily integrate the Hai Van pass visit during a transfer from Hue to Hoi An, which would probably be in your Vietnam itinerary. The route stretches for over 20 kilometres, winding its way through lush green forests. Along the way, you’ll encounter steep inclines and hairpin turns, making for an exciting and unforgettable journey.

There are several transportation options available and it can be confusing to decide which one is right for you, so in this post we will check them all to help you to decide.

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itinerary

HAI VAN PASS ROUTE

Understanding the route is essential when planning your trip from Hue to Hoi An (or Hoi An to Hue via Hai Van Pass). The distance between the two cities is approximately 140 kilometres, and the journey takes around three to four hours. However, you could easily take 6 to 8 hours, as along the way you will also have the opportunity to explore historic landmarks, charming fishing villages, and pristine beaches.

Traveling by private car is a convenient and comfortable option for those who prefer a hassle-free journey. You can hire a private car with a driver for the day, allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Alternatively, you can also travel by bus, train, motorbike, or join a tour, depending on your budget and preferences. Each mode of transportation has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to weigh your options.

We travelled via a private car, the journey went smoothly and we could decide how long we wanted to spend at each stop, but it is also the most expensive option. It works really well for a family or a group of 3-4 friends sharing the cost. We were exploring Vietnam with our twins 7 years old and the journey was really engaging also for them. You can read more about visiting Vietnam with Kids here.

map

HAI VAN PASS MAP AND GEOGRAPHICAL INFO

Hai Van Pass route
This map should give you an idea of the Hai Van Pass route and where the most relevant attractions sit around it.

The pass is situated in the Annamite Range and runs along the border between Thua Thien-Hue Province and Da Nang City. At its highest point, the pass reaches an elevation of 496 meters (1,627 feet) above sea level.

The road itself is a winding, narrow path that stretches for over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) through the mountains. One of the most unique features of the Hai Van Pass is its climate.

Due to its location, the pass experiences a stark contrast in weather between the two sides. The north side is often shrouded in mist and fog, while the south side is sunny and warm. This has earned the pass the nickname “Hai Van Quan” which translates to “Cloudy Mountain Pass.”

The pass is shrouded in mist and clouds for a large part of the year, giving it a mystical and enchanting quality. It is also not rare that, while it is sunny at sea level when you start your journey, it is raining by the time you reach the Hai Van Pass.

This happened to us. It doesn’t diminish the beauty of the scenery, but it will maybe make your pictures a little hazy. Historically this iconic mountain pass has been an important transportation route for centuries.

HAI VAN PASS HISTORY

The Hai Van Pass was first used by the Champa people, who were an ancient civilization that inhabited the central coast of Vietnam. They used the pass to transport goods between the north and south of the country.

It has also been a strategic military location since the 14th century, with various dynasties and rulers using it as a lookout point to protect their Kingdoms. Later, the Vietnamese also began to use the pass for trade and transportation.

Despite its natural beauty and strategic location, the pass has a dark history. During the Vietnam War, it was heavily bombed by both sides due to its importance as a connection route.

In recent years, the Vietnamese government has invested in improving the infrastructure of the pass, including the construction of a new tunnel that has made the journey safer and more convenient for travelers.

An important point to highlight is if you take the public bus you will not go up to the scenic pass, but rather the bus will use the new tunnel.

Hai Van Pass view
View from one of the stops going up the Hai Van Pass, Vietnam.

THE ROAD FROM HUE TO HOI AN VIA THE HAI VAN PASS

Starting from Hue, you’ll drive along Highway 1A, which is a busy road with lots of traffic. However, once you reach the foot of the Hai Van Pass, the road becomes less crowded, and you’ll have a chance to enjoy the stunning scenery.

The road is well-maintained, and there are plenty of lookout points along the way. As you drive up the pass, you’ll see the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. The view is truly breathtaking, and you’ll want to stop at every lookout point to take pictures.

After you’ve crossed the pass, you’ll descend toward Da Nang, which is a bustling city with lots of attractions. The road from Da Nang to Hoi An is also scenic, with views of the ocean and the mountains. Once you reach Hoi An, you’ll be rewarded with a charming town that’s full of history and culture.

Best Hai Van stops along the way

Along the way from Hue to Hoi An there are several interesting places that are worth a visit. If you are joining a tour you will for sure stop at a couple of them. If you drive a motorbike or hire a car with a driver you will be able to pick and choose what you are most interested to see.

Lap An Lagoon

Hai Van Pass: view at Lap An lagoon
The Lap An lagoon has a surreal allure, perfect for mesmerizing pictures.

Lap An Lagoon, is a mesmerizing spectacle of nature’s splendor. The panoramic vista of blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and serene water ripples framed by lush green mountains, make it a worthy stop, especially for the pictures you get. Apart from its natural allure, Lap An Lagoon is renowned for its local grilled oyster dishes. You will have time for pictures and a coffee.

  • Free to visit

Marble Mountains

Marble mountains
The entrance to the marble mountains is quite unappealing, but once inside is really interesting. If you don’t want to pay for the elevator there is also a staircase option.

The Marble Mountains are a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located south of Da Nang city in Vietnam. They are adorned with a complex network of caves, tunnels, and Buddhist sanctuaries, offering a unique exploration experience. The summit of the mountains offers a panoramic view of the surrounding landscapes, including the South China Sea.

  • The entrance fee is 40000 VDN (~£1.30 / $1.7 / €1.5), and the elevator is 15000 VND ( ~£ 0.50 / $0.65 / €0.6) per person. Kids under 6 enter free.

Elephant Springs

Elephant Springs provides a refreshing escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. This hidden gem is named after the massive rock that resembles an elephant, standing guard over a series of natural pools and waterfalls. The cool, crystal-clear water cascades down into numerous pools perfect for swimming or relaxing. The surrounding jungle-like scenery adds a sense of tranquillity and seclusion, making it an ideal spot for picnics and family outings.

  • Entrance fee 15000 VND ( ~£ 0.50 / $0.65 / €0.6)

Hoa Phu Thanh Waterfall.

This is an adventure tourism site that is about 30 kilometres from Danang City. It offers an exciting blend of natural beauty and adrenaline-pumping activities. The waterfall cascades through a lush forest, creating a stunning backdrop for activities like waterfall sliding, ziplining, and river trekking. The site also features ethnic minority cultural shows, offering a unique insight into Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage.

  • Entrance fee 100000 VND ( ~£ 3.3 / $4.2 / €3.8). This fee only covers the entrance then you will need to pay for the single activities like zipline or rafting.

Ba Na Hill-Golden Bridge

Hai Van Pass, stop at Ba Na Hill

Finally, you could consider a stop to visit Ba Na Hill, famously known for its Golden Bridge. This impressive structure has gained global fame for its elegant design; two giant stone hands appear to be lifting a golden pedestrian walkway into the sky.

The Ba Na Hill resort area itself is a French-style village featuring quaint gardens, restaurants, and hotels with panoramic views of the surrounding hillsides. Riding the cable car up to the Golden Bridge, visitors are treated to breathtaking views of the lush landscape.

We did not choose to do this, but if you are interested check out some reviews to see If it is your cup of tea. If you decide to stop at Ban Hill, you will probably only have time for this stop along the way from Hue to Hoi An, and you will need to get something to eat while you are there.

  • Entrance fee (including cable car): 850000 VND (~£28 / $36 / €32) per adult, 890000 VND (~£23 / $30/ €27) per child under 1.40cm.

My Son Sanctuary

Hai Van Pass: stop at My Son Sanctuary
My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary is a remarkable historical and cultural landmark located near the picturesque city of Hoi An in Vietnam. It is an exceptional example of the ancient Champa civilization, which was influenced by Hinduism from India. The sanctuary was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, and its ruins stand as a testament to the rich history and cultural significance of the region.

Covering a vast area, the sanctuary is nestled amidst lush green mountains, offering a serene and tranquil environment. It comprises the remains of several towers and temples.

The sanctuary’s buildings are divided into ten groups, each corresponding to a different historical period. The site continues to be an important archaeological area where ongoing efforts are being made to restore and preserve the remaining structures.

Its historical significance, architectural grandeur, and enchanting natural environment make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, culture, or simply looking for a unique travel experience. If you are not planning at least three days in Hoi An it could be a good idea to stop for a visit during your Hue to Hoi An transfer. This site requires a little longer than others (like Ban Hill) so you probably will only be able to do another brief stop during the transfer.

  • The entrance fee is 150000 VND ( ~£ 5 / $6.5 / €6) per adult, and 30000 VDN ( ~£1 / $1.3 / €1.1) per child.

DIFFERENT MEANS OF TRANSPORT TO VISIT THE HAI VAN PASS

Hai Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An with a private driver

You could just get a taxi from Hue to Hoi An via the Hai Van pass, but you need to remember that in this way you will have little opportunity to stop. The driver will probably stop at the main look-out point and that’s it. This option s faster and cheaper, but for a small price difference, I would recommend you book a car with a driver for the day. That will allow you to add at least another couple of stops on the way.

Typically, on the way from Hue to Hoi Ann you would choose to stop at different attractions. We stopped at the Lap An Lagoon before going up to the Hai Van pass. Then our driver brought us for lunch in an amazing little restaurant where we had some delicious homemade food, before stopping at the Marble Mountains which were much more interesting than expected.

We used VM Travel and they sent us a really lovely driver who spoke great English and also acted a little as a guide, giving us useful and interesting insights (remember that most of the drivers do not speak English, and sometimes if you need to change the itinerary it may be easier to contact the person you booked with and they will call them).

There are other options you could consider for your stops, and with the private transfer you can customize your trip.

Hai Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An by train

If you decide to take the train you will still have the opportunity to admire a captivating snapshot of Vietnam’s diverse scenery – from lush green rice paddies and towering limestone mountains to picturesque fishing villages and azure waters of the South China Sea.

The train journey from Hue to Hoi An typically takes about two hours and a half, traversing through the verdant countryside, along the coast, and past the imposing Hai Van Pass.

The train doesn’t ascend as much as the road, but it still offers beautiful views. The journey is not too fast as the track has some sharp bends that limit its speed, but that guarantees you a longer time to appreciate the views.

You should be able to get tickets at the station on the same day, but if you want peace of mind you can buy them here.

Hai Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An with the bus

Opting to travel by bus is an economical choice and it can be quite convenient as there are buses departing from 6 am to 8 pm every 10-20 minutes from different parts of the city.

However, it does come with some drawbacks. The most obvious disadvantage is that buses traveling this route typically use the Hai Van Tunnel, a modern tunnel opened to traffic in 2005 to provide a faster and safer route across the pass. While this tunnel has certainly improved transportation in the region, it takes away from the breathtaking views that one could experience by traversing the pass itself. This tunnel bypasses the spectacular scenery, leaving passengers on the bus deprived of the chance to fully absorb the beauty of the Hai Van Pass.

The opportunity to stop at vantage points along the pass to take photographs or simply enjoy the view is also lost when traveling by bus through the tunnel. Additionally, while it may be faster and safer, travelling through the tunnel doesn’t provide the same sense of adventure and exploration that one expects when embarking on a journey through such an iconic route.

While traveling from Hue to Hoi An by public bus through the Hai Van Tunnel can be a practical and super cheap option, I would only consider it if you are constrained in time or budget.

Hai Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An self-driving motorbike or scooter

While most tourists can’t hire a car in Vietnam, you will not have any problem renting a scooter or a motorbike. It’s an exhilarating experience to traverse this route on a motorbike, with the freedom to explore at your own pace.

One of the significant advantages of self-driving is the opportunity to stop at will to soak in the beauty of the landscapes and capture memorable snapshots. This is not typically possible with a guided tour or public transportation.

Additionally, riding a motorbike through the Hai Van Pass provides a sense of adventure and independence that is unparalleled. The journey allows for an intimate interaction with nature and culture that other forms of travel may not offer.

However, self-driving in this region also has its share of challenges and its disadvantages. The journey demands constant alertness and concentration. Furthermore, road conditions can be unpredictable due to weather changes and traffic. Local drivers often have a different understanding of road etiquette, which can lead to confusing situations for those not accustomed to it.

Riding a motorbike through the Hai Van Pass is not just about reaching the destination, it’s about the thrill of the ride, the wind in your hair, and the exhilarating sense of freedom, but really consider if this is the best option for you.

I rode a scooter in Rome and London for almost 20 years, but, even if we were not travelling with kids I’m not sure I would have considered venturing on this journey. Joining a guided motorbike tour could partially ease the challenges as you follow a local guide who will navigate you through the route.

Hai Van Pass tours

The tours are all structured in a similar way. You can choose based on the places you would like to visit the most. They usually don’t include a guide coming with you to the different sightseeing points.

In this article, I mainly talk about the route from Hue to Hoi An, but it is just as easy to visit the Hai Van pass from Hoi An. Below are three great options.

BEST HAI VAN PASS TOUR WITH PRIVATE CAR

This is the company we used to transfer from Hue to Hoi An. They were professional and our driver spoke great English, which is less common.

You will stop at the Lap An Lagoon, the Hai Van pass, for lunch near the beach, and at the Marble mountains.

Great value for money.

GOOD TO KNOW: these tours are fully refundable up to 24h before they start

BEST HAI VAN PASS MOTORBIKE TOUR

This is the perfect tour if you want to drive a scooter or motorbike but you want a safety net. You can ride the bike yourself or sit behind the local driver.

This tour also includes a stop at the elephant waterfall where you can have a refreshing splash before continuing.

GOOD TO KNOW: these tours are fully refundable up to 24h before they start

BEST HAI VAN PASS TOUR TO INCLUDE BAN HILL OR MY SON

If you are interested in visiting the Golden Bridge, stopping there while transferring from Hue to Hoi An could be a great option. Consider that the cable car ticket is not included (and it isn’t cheap). Check here for the price.

If instead you don’t have much time you could check out this tour that includes a stop at the My Son Sanctuary (around 45-60 minutes from Hoi An)

GOOD TO KNOW: these tours are fully refundable up to 24h before they start

MORE ABOUT VIETNAM

In conclusion, while travelling from Hue to Danang/Hoi An you can see much more than the Hai Van pass. The places on the way offer enriching detours and allow you to engage more deeply with Vietnam’s natural wonders and architectural achievements while breaking up the journey with refreshing and thrilling experiences. Whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure, or cultural exploration, these sites provide a memorable addition to your Vietnamese adventure.

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Clotilde is a resilient, resourceful and adventurous person that navigate the world of travelling with kids. She is a mum of 7 years old twins and she share practical tips, profound insights and genuine personal experience to empowers family to embrace travel with children as an enriching experience rather than a daunting challenge.

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