Crossing the Truong Son Mountain Range
The drive from Hue to Da Nang crosses over the Truong Son mountain range that pokes into the sea a few kilometeres north of Da Nang Bay. This incredible mountainous stretch of coastline can be passed by driving over the spectacular Hai Van Pass, one of the most famous stretches of road in Vietnam. Car fans might even recognise it from its feature in the Top Gear TV show. If you cross the pass during the winter months you will realise that the mountains serve as a dividing line for the weather as well, the northern side will be wet and chilly while the beaches of Da Nang still enjoy warm and dry climate.
Taking the Train
In case you are journeying the area by train you will not be disappointed either, the train tracks hug the deserted coastline and are supposed to offer even more striking views of the sea and the landscape than Hai Van Pass. Just make sure to ride the train during daytime and not miss the opportunity to catch the right side of the train!
Or Do You Prefer the Tunnel?
For all those who fear the long winding roads or getting car sick, a tunnel opened in 2005 which provides a short cut straight through the mountains and therefore saving time for those who are in a rush. The tunnel also lowered the number of trucks and other vehicles climbing the mountain road leading to an easier drive across Hai Van Mountain Pass for others. These days the serpentine road is mainly used by curious tourists or those wanting to save the tunnel fees. Please note that motorbikes and bicycles are banned in the tunnel, however you can pay for them to be transported through on a truck!
Driving Past Lang Co Beach
We had left Vedana Lagoon behind with a brief stop at the Elephant Springs and had agreed with our driver that he would take us across the Hai Van Pass on the way to our next destination, Hoi An. Passing through villages and past another lagoon we caught glimpses of Lang Co Beach, a popular stretch of sandy beach, that I had considered as an alternative to staying at Vedana Lagoon. Lang Co has a reputation of attracting more Vietnamese travellers than western tourists and therefore providing a more authentic holiday experience than the hotel complexes in Da Nang. Once we reached the end of Lang Co Beach we could see the dark tunnel’s mouth ahead and the road climbing above.
Turning off into the direction of Hai Van Pass we had to stop at the train crossing. Jerome got excited about the prospect of a train running by. Shortly after, we spotted the lights of the oncoming train and watched it slowly rolling by on the rather steep train tracks. We swore that if we would return to Vietnam we would plan in a special trip on this stretch of the train line to encounter the picturesque train journey.
Driving up Hai Van Pass
The road up to Hai Van Pass was indeed twisting and turning and a few times where we gazed in awe at the views that would briefly open up between the trees and oncoming cars. It shocked us to see how brazenly some of the drivers would overtake in even the sharpest of corners and bends. We were glad to be in the safe hands of our driver who did a very good job. I would not want to steer a motorbike or scooter across Hai Van Pass pass although this features on some of the tourist options. Sadly the only place where we were allowed to stop was at the top of the pass, together with many other sightseers spilling from the buses and cars.
The Views From the Pass
There are plenty of shops around if you want to buy a drink or snack and of course the odd souvenir. We left the car to savour the views back to the scenic seaside of Lang Co Beach to the north and the built up and rather spoilt looking coastline of Da Nang to the south. Besides the souvenir shops visitors are able to explore the ruins of an old abandoned French fort, a great opportunity for children to let off some steam during the drive. The climb to the fort is well worth it, especially for the panoramic views.
Reaching Da Nang
Back in the car we left Hai Van Pass behind and drove on towards Da Nang and Hoi An. When we reached the outskirts of Da Nang we quickly realised that the town has massively expanded over the last few years. There were new buildings and hotels popping up everywhere. In fact nowhere is changing so fast in Vietnam than Da Nang, once a provincial fishing town with a reputation as a provincial backwater, there are big changes happening nowadays. Crossing the Han River we recognised some of the large fishing boats in the harbour comparable in size to the fishing ships we had seen in Ha Long Bay. The fishing operations were much more on an industrial scale then the cute little fishermen we had seen on Cai Lau Lagoon.
Joining the Coastal Road
After we joined the coastal road that runs parallel to the seashore, all the way to Hoi An we noticed the towering, new modernist hotels and apartment blocks overlooking the empty beach. The odd round thung chai, traditional basket boat, lay stranded on the pristine, white sand. Barely anyone made use of the long stretch of beach, everybody seemed to mingle in one of the upmarket beach clubs found on the strip or possibly by the hotel pools.
International Hotel Chains
Further south, vast hotel resorts and complexes took over the charming seaside preventing any views to the sea. Most of the well-known international hotel chains were present and have become a popular destination, principally with Chinese holidaymakers. It every much reminded us of the coastline near Cancun and just like there, the only way to the beach and sea was through one of the hotel resorts. It is a sad and worrying trend in my eyes to see international companies buy the local shoreline and therefore forbidding access to everyone, especially the locals.
Not For Us!
There were hotels complexes for everyone, family orientated with large waterparks, hipster focused with bars and clubs and even manicured golf courses for those addicted to swinging the clubs. These resorts might be a luxury heaven for many tourists, for us they have always been a nightmare and we tend to avoid them whenever we possibly can. We feel they massively lack charm, personality and authenticity, a visitor could just as well be anywhere else on the planet. There was no sign of an end to the building boom, until we finally reached the outskirts of the historic town of Hoi An. I wonder if the Vietnamese will regret building these as much as the Spanish came to regret the worst of their building boom.
Vietnam’s Most Atmospheric Town
In Hoi An, our driver dropped us at the boutique Atlas Hotel, where we received a friendly welcome and quickly checked into our room. The boys went for a swim in the courtyard pool, while I lazed on the loungers, taking in the architecture and lush greenery of the hotel’s design. The hunger eventually chased them out of the water and we went on a hunt into the old town to find somewhere to eat and to immerse ourselves in the beauty of Vietnam’s most atmospheric town. More about our first afternoon and evening in Hoi An, with both torrential rain and the best Banh Mi in town, all in our next post…
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