Vietnam: 21~Hue via the Hai Van Pass
To get to Hue I decided to go by road over the Hai Van Pass.
There is a tunnel route which saves something like an hour from the journey, but the pass road is more scenic with more interesting features. It also gives you an appreciation (if that’s the right word) of driving in Vietnam.
I was picked up from the hotel by the same driver and guide I had the previous day, a surprise seeing as I had booked the private tours through different agencies online before I left home. We left Hoi An for Danang initially, then beyond.
Most cars and trucks these days go via the Hai Van Tunnel which was good for us as it meant very little traffic on the hill road. They built two tunnels, I was told, the second being either for the military or a back-up to the main tunnel.
Prior to the main tunnel opening my guide said the Hai Van Pass was “very dangerous road”. Construction wise, it was sealed and reasonably wide but the corners were frequent and sharp and the cambers dubious.
The issue is compounded by the local driving style. Slower vehicle in the way? No problem, just overtake. Something coming the other way? No problem, they’ll veer off the road a little to make room.
It was unreal. My guide said there were 10-15 road deaths in Vietnam daily.
The pass sits on a mountain range (Hai Van means Sea Cloud) and not only has fantastic views, historically it was also of strategic military importance. We stopped at the top.
I was grateful to my guide who helped deflect any interest from the vendors who have shops and stalls on one side of the road, and who are notorious for their aggressive selling techniques. (In preparing this I read that a new tourist site is being planned as it has degraded since the tunnel opened.)
There are a blend of old fortifications on the hill. The brickwork was erected during the Tran dynasty (1225 to 1400) when the pass was a significant border crossing between the kingdoms of Champa and Dai Viet.
Other structures were erected by the French in 1826 – the timing suggests they were used to help defend the Nguyen Dynasty from a peasant uprising. More than a century later they were utilised by the American and South Vietnamese armies.
Left to my own devices I would have been happy to linger a while longer but we were on a schedule. We descended the pass to our lunch stop, Lang Co, a popular beach destination for Vietnamese. The food was fine but the little sandfly things just about drove me spear.
From there it was about 80km to Hue where I was dropped at my hotel. I went for a wander and found the Citadel, the ancient walled city and World Heritage Site, but arrived too late to go inside. I walked around the perimeter instead (in itself not a minor undertaking!) and planned to return in a couple of days.
Before then I would be embarking on one of my trip highlights: a tour of the DMZ.