It’s not complicated to get to Hue from Hoi An. Sure, you could take the bus that goes in record time and cuts through mountains, or the train ride for a couple of bucks. But the only way to experience the vast and mesmerizing beauty of the famous route between the cities in Central Vietnam is to traverse the Hai Van Pass. I did the beautiful journey to Hue on the Hai Van Pass in a vintage Vietnam War-era open-top jeep with Roadtrippers Vietnam.
I made the journey on a sunny day with my travel gal pal Where Goes Rose, who was the best road trip companion and photog! The organized jeep tour with Roadtrippers Vietnam enabled us to get off-the-beaten-path and take in fascinating natural wonders and cultural gems that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about had we taken the road ourselves on motorbikes. Through literally taking the road less traveled we were able to come across fascinating places that aren’t along the tourist route, many of which I wrote about for World Nomads.
The Roadtrippers Vietnam often stops at the Marble Mountains but as we’d both seen the sacred monument we decided to get on the road nice and early. We drove through the bustling city of Da Nang and onwards to the scenic mountainous coastal route which is a sight to see in and of itself.
Throughout the day the landscapes changed drastically as we came across various mountain formations and bodies of water–from salt water lagoons, freshwater lakes, and of course, the stunning South China Sea. The occasional fishing boat and water buffalo made an appearance to complete the quintessential Vietnam experience.
As we made our way north towards the ancient capital of Hue along the Hai Van Pass we stopped whenever our hearts desired to take in the panoramic views of the mountains kissing the sea. Hai Van means “the pass of rising sea” due to the daily phenomena of clouds filling the gaps between the mountains. What an experience to take in all of this beauty as we zoomed along the route with the top down of our jeep!
With such an early start, it became necessary to stop for a thick and steamy cup of Vietnamese coffee nearby a crumbling fortress–the DMZ is nearby. The Hai Van Pass is the actual geographical middle of Vietnam, not the DMZ. The fortress was erected by the French but then occupied by Americans during the Vietnamese War. It’s hard to imagine so much violence occurring among these gorgeous green rolling hills.
We continued further along the Hai Van Pass to reach the picturesque Lập An Lagoon (Google Maps). Here, the sea fills a stunning lagoon surrounded by mountains to create a natural environment where oysters grow in abundance. Shellfish aside, what really took our breath away about this spot was the impossibly perfect white sandbar and serene still water.
Apparently, we arrived during low-tide and the water was so shallow we could have walked all the way to the base of the mountains but we didn’t test this theory out.
After getting a taste of the sea air we were eager to see what the beach had in store for us. Our extremely knowledgeable guide, Ben, had made big promises of a pristine and empty stretch of sand and see. Much to our delight, he actually undersold how absolutely divine the Chan May Bay (Google Maps) is, especially compared to less lovely spots along the Vietnamese coastline such as dreadful Nha Trang.
The beach felt entirely undiscovered as it was virtually empty except for a few local food shacks and the occasional Vietnamese kid floating atop the crystal clear waters on an old tire. We all ordered typically tomato tofu and morning glory for lunch at a little beach shack in the Canh Duong portion of the bay. It was honestly one of the best Vietnamese meals I’ve had–so fresh and tasty! After we filled our belly’s up to the point they were certainly buoyant we went out to float for a while in the perfectly translucent turquoise waters.
Next up we stopped off to take in the beauty of Dam Cầu Hai (Google Maps), the largest saltwater lagoon in Vietnam. The bridge that cuts across the lagoon was my favorite stop of our trip, but I’ll let the photos do the talking!
Before we reached the Nguyen Dynasty Imperial Citadel in Hue we made a final stop which was quite unexpected and left us facing mortality and our lack of millions of dollars. The City of Ghosts, locally called An Bang (Google Maps), is home to over 7km of incredibly adorned mausoleums.
The mosaic adornments may look like temples but each structure is actually an individual tomb which costs upwards of $100K each. The tombs are built to reflect the life of the person they hold–design elements will show you what their profession was, their place in society, and maybe even what their home looked like as it’s common to recreate the human necessities of a bedroom and kitchen as the Vietnamese believe we’ll need these things in the afterlife.
Honestly, the sprawling An Bang cemetery is much more impressive than the Forbidden City in Hue. It was a highlight of our trip from Hoi An to Hue with Roadtrippers Vietnam!
Have you driven the Hai Van Pass? Tell us what we missed in the comments. I’ve heard there are some stunning waterfalls!
I was a guest on the Roadtrippers Vietnam trip. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions and photos are my own. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.