Previous Post: Part 7 - Hoi An
Distance: 170 km We left Hoi Ann early – looking forward to the ride ahead.
As we passed through Danang on our way North we once again crossed over one of the old Dragon bridges and rode alongside the magnificent new 6 lanes Tran Thi Ly bridge which sadly opened for business 2 weeks later along with the new Rong (Dragon) Bridge. This brings the number of bridges to cross the Han River in Danang to seven.
Jeremy Clarkson called the Hai Van Pass "a deserted ribbon of perfection—one of the best coastal roads in the world."
The Hai Van Pass has long been seen as a major bottleneck along the main route from South to North Vietnam. Visibility on the pass is often reduced by the eponymous mists that rise from the sea. Along with the road's winding route through the pass, this poses a serious challenge for drivers. During 2005 the new Hai Van Tunnel was opened for traffic – at 6.3 km the longest tunnel in South East Asia - which not only reduces the distance between Da Nang and Hue by 20km but more importantly saves up to an hour of travelling time. Even though motorcycles are not allowed in the tunnel there is a shuttle service on which motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians can make the journey.
All this has effectively reduced traffic on the original pass to virtually zero and although I wouldn’t quite agree with the “perfection” part of Clarkson's statement it remains a remarkable road and a must-drive for motorcycle enthusiasts. It’s quite common to be offered a “Top Gear Tour” from local motorcycle tour companies (like the Vietnam Easy Rider group) in which trip over the pass is the main focus.
Halfway up the pass, we stumbled upon a small roadside café – although shack-like in exterior - served a remarkably decent iced-coffee with a killer view to boot.
It’s refreshing to stop in these smaller places as it’s easy to get sucked into the ‘tourist’ stops along major scenic routes serving exclusively as a rest stop for tour buses and the like. They tend to be nothing more than overgrown curio shops with the added convenience of semi-clean toilets. A lot of drivers and guides have arrangements with these places where they receive free lunch and drinks if they stop there.
We weren’t keen on following the A1 Highway the rest of the route and as we came down the pass took a small side road past a lake which turned back to the sea to take us over two ‘islands’ all the way to Hue. Although it was very hot and dusty this was to be one of our best days of riding of the whole trip. The quality of the road itself is poor but it winds its way through jungles and farmlands just to spit you out onto a long bridge with spectacular views of the surrounding lakes area.
As we got closer to Hue the surrounds became cluttered with temples and graves. Quite clearly our way into the city was a back route and we even found ourselves on some dirt every now and then.
Huế is well known for its historic monuments, which have earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The seat of the Nguyễn emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River.
Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the Forbidden City remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction. Lisa was extremely disappointed to find the Forbidden City only consists of a few foundations and some grassy patches.
We spent a couple of days riding around seeing some sights and hanging out in the backpacker's district at night. Food and drink are pretty cheap and it’s easy to meet some interesting people. Remarkably it’s also possible to keep seeing familiar faces every now and then. In Hue, we ran into 2 girls for the 3rd time since we first met a week before in Nha Trang.
Huế is also a good place for handmade silk clothing at excellent prices. The best part of it is you can choose a dress (well the girls can anyway) and have it tailored while the husband has a beer across the road.