Riding a bike in Vietnam can't be easier and more fun than to do it in Da Nang. You'll get a chance to leisurely cruising by the famous promenade of My Khe beach up to Son Tra Peninsula where a giant statue of Boddhisatva Kuan Yin stands tall at 67 meters facing the East Sea. However, we made a left turn after My Khe beach onto Le Duc Tho St. leading to Hai Van mountain. These mountain roads is said to be one of the best tour routes in Vietnam.
We had no idea how true it was and thus we would about to find out in the next couple of hours. Earlier, we made a brief pit stop at a grocery-cum-petrol kiosk and filled up another two and a half liters of green, highly flammable liquid into the belly of our rental bike. It was a scooter bike so it was a bit of petrol-hungry.
The road took us to the Thuan Phuoc Bridge, one of a few modern-looking bridges around Da Nang city. This white suspension bridge spans across the lower end of Han River that merges with the East Vietnam Sea at Da Nang Bay.
From up the bridge, fishing boats were seen lined up parts of the river. It's a parking lot for boats it may seem. Up to this date, this bridge is the longest suspension bridge in whole of Vietnam but we crossed its 1.8km length in under 5 minutes. It wasn't about our speed but maybe we were more excited of getting to Hai Van a little quicker. We however looked for somewhere to stop on the bridge but couldn't find any. So, after the bridge, the road merges into a long, beachfront street of Nguyen Tat Thanh.
It is a six-lane street with slight curve facing the bay of Da Nang. It was an easy ride although we only got to reach the point to Hai Van Pass after about 15km of riding. We followed the way to Hue and it took us to Deo Hai Van (Vietnamese name for the pass). There is a split which leads to Hai Van tunnel, the newer, faster and easier way connecting Da Nang and Hue. It is also the longest tunnel in South East Asia. We wanted the hard way that day, so we went Deo Hai Van way. It was understood that since the opening of the tunnel, this snaking and narrow pass was left to the more adventurous.
No doubt we could hardly catch any vehicles traveling on both directions of Hai Van pass. That was a good news for us anyway since we could stop wherever we wished to either breathe some cool air or increase some shutter counts.
After a while of maneuvring through the pass, I didn't feel the hardship as described by many despite a few sharp bents and blind corners. It could be due to the type of vehicles we were on (and we moved slower) and the condition of the road on that day. In the hot but cloudy weather, I estimated we took only 45 minutes to reach the top of Hai Van pass, about 435 meters above sea level. Along the way to the top, we did enjoy some breathtaking sceneries especially the view of Da Nang Bay with the city skyline at the background.
At one point, we could see a tunnel, which I believed to be a train tunnel that cut through the mountain. But I can't be sure if it's still being used or just abandoned. Whatever its condition now, I'm sure it was one important mode of transportations connecting the Northern region and central Vietnam during the Vietnam War in the 70s. The total length of the railroad passing through Hai Van mountain is estimated more than 3km and comprised of seven tunnels.
Finally we made it to the top of the pass, where an old fortification structure still standing. We parked our rides by the road shoulder and checked out the old French fort which was also used during the war by the Americans and later by North Vietnamese army.
Those who took control of this strategic high ground would have gained good territory control of the central section of Vietnam. With the height of almost 500 meters and its foot is meeting the sea, Hai Van actually means "pass of the ocean clouds", in native language. Not only this is one of the ways to get by land from north to south, movement at sea can easily be monitored from up there too.
Da Nang Port, once an important port in the 17th and 18th centuries, has attracted many European traders and Catholic missionaries. Together with Hoi An, Da Nang was prosperous for its sea trades before the French attacked parts of Vietnam and gained control of many of its major ports and cities.
I ascended a few slopes to get to the red, stone fort, just to get a clearer view from the highest possible position on Deo Hai Van. Despite a cloudy (and hazy too) afternoon, there was something in the north that I believed would be the nicest view that Hai Van could offer but unfortunately, it was slightly hidden behind quite a thick cloud. What I saw is Lang Co Beach (which I first thought was Hue beach), a long beach that lies between Da Nang and Hue, on the northern end of Hai Van Pass.
We spent a few minutes more at the maximum point we wanted to explore on Hai Van Pass before making a turn and headed back to where we came from earlier. Our next destination was the city of Da Nang itself, 500 meters below, 30 kilometers away.