As the folks in Texas would say: ya’ll. Ya’ll. This is big. I think we’ve finally discovered video editing software that will help me create a video in less than 6 years time. Finally. If there has been one headache about this blog, video editing would be it. Anywho, I’m finally, finally back with a tale of one of our most epic adventures yet. (Posts on our trip to the Great Wall of China is coming, too, I swear!)
Vietnam, if I haven’t said it before, is quite possibly one of the most scenic countries in the world. On top of that, it’s got a particular stretch of highway that rivals the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1 to you Californians… wait, do I even have readers in California? Probably not.) in both scenery and thrill-seeking adventure. The Hai Van Pass, as it’s known locally, is also part of a Route 1, but it’s Vietnam’s National Route 1A. If you’ve seen the BBC show Top Gear, you probably have a clue as to what I’m talking about, but for those of you who don’t, let’s start with a map.
The Hai Van Pass is a stretch of highway that crosses over the Annamite mountain range, which is distinctive in many ways. The area of the Pass used to be a political boundary between ancient Vietnamese kingdoms. This portion of the mountain range today is notable in that it separates northern and southern Vietnam’s climates. You can have two drastically different weather conditions on the north and south sides of the mountain at the same time of year.
Beyond its historical and geographic significance, the Hai Van Pass has had its share of negative press, as it has seen several significant, fatal accidents over the last 60 years or so. Due to accidents and traffic on the Pass, the Vietnamese government built the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia (at nearly 4 miles), the Hai Van tunnel, which opened in 2005. This left the Pass clear for tourists and joyriders alike to experience the epic beauty of the mountain range, ocean and city views that collide in awesome wonder.
When looking at options to ride this magnificent coastline, we decided to go with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures, a reputable company that offers many different rides all over Vietnam. J-Mar decided to ride his own motorcycle this time around, but I stayed pillion (backseat) with another driver, which turned out to be a smart idea when J-Mar got a little bit roughed up during the ride. No worries, though, he came out with a few scrapes and a tiny hole in his shirt, but all was well.
We met our tour guide, Mark (and adorable pup!), at the large garage where they keep their classic Minsk motorcycles, which we used for our tour. Mark is a regular bad ass Australian biker, and he kept the vibe on our tour very chill. We set off with my driver, Luc, through some local towns and back roads. We had an awesome variety of scenery while exploring central Vietnam, from villages to storefronts, to mountains, temples, and rice paddies.
Mark made sure to include some cultural stops along the way, including this “phallic-style temple”, built by the Cham people, dating to the 11th century.
Next up was a cemetery where “war heros” are buried, aka northern Vietnam soldiers. As mentioned, if you had fought for the Americans, you were considered no more than useless to the post-war government, so the honor of being buried in a cemetery such as this was not bestowed upon you. The youngest soldier buried here is estimated as 10 or 11 years old.
We also saw a cow. And a really cool bridge, which apparently is significant because the government has been building over these really awesome works of engineering.
We eventually made our way to the busier roads leading up to the highway. Up and up we climbed, stopping as soon as we saw the first great view. The Pass was just as beautiful as the pictures. Little did we know the views would get progressively better throughout the day.
A little higher…
See? I imagine the guides, knowing what’s to come, get annoyed with people stopping so soon to see the view.
At the top we saw an old fort that has been used for various military operations in Vietnam’s long war-torn history. Have I mentioned how often they’ve been invaded?
Speaking of invasion, we also made a stop on our way back into town at Red Beach, the site of the US Marines’ landing in Vietnam in 1965, marking the first on-the-ground American forces in the Vietnam War.
If you have any relatives who fought in the war, this place is a really neat one. Very juxtaposed, if you ask me, with the beautiful scenery. Certainly worth the long pause. It was a moment I’m not soon to forget.
I don’t have much else to say beyond recounting the small pleasures we enjoyed: watching cows roam the roads; observing pearl farms in the still, quiet water; the rush of wind as we overtook each switchback; the serenity of the completely vacant Red Beach; and maybe my favorite: seeing the pure joy in J-Mar’s eyes each time he dismounted the motorcycle.
I’ll leave you with some tips for your journey:
– Wear pants, even if it’s August. I cannot stress enough the importance of your attire: long sleeves, pants and a face cover. You won’t be too warm, and your skin will almost certainly thank you later. Mine did!
– Along with the first one, sunscreen all bare body parts.
– Be prepared for dust and windburn – things that help with this include face covers, chapstick and gloves for your hands if you’re driving
– Keep hydrated
– If you’re a pillion passenger, you might think about toting along some music, it could make your journey even more epic.
– Safety: even though the company we chose was extremely good, the pass is not without inherent danger. Don’t get on a vehicle if you’re not comfortable with the driver, and be sure that your helmet fits properly.
– Especially for you pillions, enjoy that view! You’ll never see another like it.