We are Eoin and Aisling – a pair of big kids in their mid-20’s that have been traveling in Southeast Asia for just over a year now, having experiences along the way like the Hai Van Pass. Both of us are from the north of Ireland but from different counties. We actually live around one hour and 30 minutes away from each other and still make it work with the distance.
We have been together for nearly nine years, and for the past five/six we have been determined to leave home and travel. Eoin took a trip to India around six years ago and this is when the travel bug bit us. He came back with many stories, and a big drive to go back and explore as much of Asia as possible. We then started watching travel vlogs on YouTube and this got us excited. It helped push us to save money for our Southeast Asia trip.
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Vietnam was always somewhere we wanted to go, as we had heard so much about this crazy yet amazing country. Originally, we wanted to buy motorbikes when we got here but once we arrived, we changed our minds and instead opted for renting motorbikes or scooters at different locations throughout the country. We felt like we could see more of Vietnam and cover more ground by using the sleeper buses to move from place to place.
Renting bikes when we arrived at a destination, rather than buying our own, would give us more time as we wouldn’t be continuously driving. We had read online that Vietnam is one of the best countries for a road trip and for this reason Vietnam was high on our list. It’s our mission to see every country in Southeast Asia, so that one day when we go home to our scratch map we will be able to scratch off this entire section of the world.
We flew into Ho Chi Minh City when coming to Vietnam and then slowly made our way up through the country over a one month period, stopping off at eight different places along the way. We heard, as you go further north, everything gets nicer and the scenery becomes more impressive. Therefore, we wanted to experience that transition for ourselves.
Ho Chi Minh was crazy. It was loud and chaotic, but we loved it. From there went to Mui Ne to see the sand dunes which were amazing and well worth the effort. We then made our way to Hoi An – our favorite place in Vietnam. Hoi An is also the location where the Hai Van Pass driving route starts. You can rent motorbikes here for a one-way ride to complete the Hai Van Pass and then drop your motorbike off at the road’s end (located in Hue).
But before we rode the Hai Van Pass, we spent five days exploring Hoi An and this was such a highlight of the trip. The best way to describe the town would be as a photographer’s dream. The Old Town is so colorful and the lanterns at night down by the river were magical to see. When we got to Hoi An, we tried the local foods and got to experience more of the local life.
We stayed at a great hotel called Hoianese, and they took us on a food tour and bike tour to the authentic side of Hoi An to learn how rice paper, local snacks and crafts are made. We then completed the Hai Van Pass stopping off at Da Nang and Hue – which were both cool places to check out. From here we made our way north to explore Ninh Binh and Hanoi, and finished off our Vietnam trip by spending three days on the Ha Giang Loop.
Inspiration to Ride the Hai Van Pass
Eoin knew about the Hai Van Pass before we came to Vietnam, as he is a big Top Gear fan (a UK based car show). Over ten years ago Top Gear had a Christmas special where they came to Vietnam, bought motorbikes and drove the entire country from top to bottom. This is where our initial Vietnam travel plan originated from. During the episode, the Top Gear crew declared the Hai Van Pass as the most stunning road in all of Vietnam.
This is where Eoin first became aware of what the Hai Van Pass was. From this moment he decided that one day we were going to get some motorbikes and drive it ourselves – living out a Top Gear fantasy. The Hai Van Pass is incredibly beautiful and it goes through the mountains, along Vietnam’s spectacular coastline, through a few cities, and a lot of towns and villages. The route we chose to take started in Hoi An and ended in Hue.
Epic Roads of the Hai Van Pass
The actual pass itself is only a short part of the drive which lasts around an hour (if driving slowly). We stopped off at various viewpoints and waterfalls along the ride, and just enjoyed the views as they were truly epic. The roads are all in fantastic condition which shocked us. We were expecting to encounter some rocky/bumpy areas but we didn’t experience that at all.
The road changes quite a bit as you go along the pass. When you leave Da Nang and first get onto the pass, the roads are bendy as you go up into the mountains. On a clear day you can even see the city of Da Nang across the water. Once you drive up into the mountains, the road follows along the coast for a few hours and it’s so extraordinary looking out into the ocean.
And then, on the other side of the road, there are waterfalls and pools that you can stop at, go for a dip and enjoy. Once you come off the Hai Van Pass and continue driving towards Hue on the same route, you arrive at a massive stretch of road that feels like it goes on forever. This road was truly something to behold – it almost looked like an abandoned airport runway.
It was cool and definitely a highlight of the Hai Van Pass motorbike road trip. But overall the roads are calm, in good condition and not massively challenging to drive. Even if you don’t have much experience riding a bike, you could take on this challenge with no problems. We were able to do this entire drive in one day and had plenty of time to stop off along the way.
Different Start and End Points
There are different options for the Hai Van Pass and the option we took was probably the longest. If you want a shorter trip you can rent a bike from Da Nang, drive the Hai Van Pass, turn around and make your way back to Da Nang. This takes three hours. We wanted a bigger challenge and also to see Hue, so we opted to drive from Hoi An the whole way to Hue where we spent a night and then drove back on the same road the next day.
We were lucky that we had the time to do this. However, if you don’t have the time to make a return journey you can rent a motorbike to drive one way from Hoi An to Hue. We also got lucky with the weather during our trip. The two days that we spent driving were beautiful dry sunny days. That being said, the day before we left to start the trip and the day after it rained.
We did try to plan our trip around bad weather but something like this can be difficult. We would highly recommend giving the Hai Van Pass a go and coming prepared with a good quality poncho in your bag, as you never know when the rain might start in Vietnam. The dry season in Vietnam runs from December to May, so that might be a better time to plan around.
Favorite Part: Long Straight Road
The Hai Van Pass has many amazing sections but it was the long straight road that was our favorite. We aren’t sure of the name of this road, although it was shortly after you come down from the Hai Van Pass itself. It was the longest straight-line road we have ever seen. There was no one else on the road when we were there. The feeling is pure freedom. We stopped off here to fly our drone and to capture the road from above. It was so impressive.
Tips for your Hai Van Pass Road Trip
We rented a 125L scooter but you could complete this trip on a smaller bike as the roads aren’t demanding. To drive a motorbike legally in Vietnam you need to have an international driving permit alongside your original license. If your motorbike requires a motorbike license, then you would need that as well. However, the police in Vietnam are corrupt and if you are stopped they may still ask you for a bribe even if you have all the licenses.
We didn’t have a motorbike license but never had any issues in Vietnam or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Most motorbike rental companies ask if you have a license, and even if you don’t they still give you the bike and their phone number – just in case the police stop you, they will come and sort it out. Legally you need a license but a lot of tourists and locals don’t have them. Carry some cash in the event you need to pay a small bribe.
Also, we carried a second wallet just in case this would happen. It only had a small amount of cash and a few old bank cards inside. Some more tips for the Hai Van Pass would be to plan around the weather. This makes such a difference: whether your road trip will be enjoyable or a horribly cold and wet experience. Bring a waterproof poncho as the rain can be extremely unpredictable in Vietnam. Ponchos keep your legs covered too.
Another tip is to plan your route in advance, as there are options for taking different routes once you come off the Hai Van Pass and make your way to Hue. There is no need to bring a lot of supplies either as you will stop by stores, coffee shops and places selling food. One final tip: take it slow, enjoy the ride and stop often to take in the views. There are so many great photo-opps, places to rest and spots to just appreciate the journey you are on.