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Monday, June 14, 2021
Authors Posts by Thang Vu

Thang Vu


Hai Van Pass – Where the Clouds Meet the Ocean

Hai Van Pass - Image by James Pham-14

At 20km long and 500m above sea level, the winding Hai Van Pass has been described as “a deserted ribbon of perfection – one of the best coast roads in the world”.

The Hai Van Pass carves its way through the Bach Ma mountain range (part of the larger Truong Son mountain range), the natural boundary between Thua Thien Hue Province (whose capital is the former imperial city of Hue), and the beach destination of Danang.

Truong Son mountain range - Image by James Pham-8

In Vietnamese, “Hai Van” means “Ocean Cloud”, as the top of the pass, with forested hills on one side and the East Sea on the other, is often covered in clouds.

Hai Van Pass - Image by James Pham-14

Historically, the area around the Hai Van Pass belonged to the Champa Kingdom, a seafaring nation that ruled over parts of coastal Vietnam. In 1306, the Champa king gave the land as part of his dowry to Princess Huyen Tran.

Hai Van Pass - Image by James Pham-30

Fast forward six centuries, and it was another conquering power, this time colonial France, who put their stamp on the area, adding a railway line through the mountains to supplement the winding road where travelers had to contend with wild animals, deadly curves, and robbers.

Later, in the 1960s, the US Army widened the road which was still considered one of the most dangerous in Vietnam for its treacherous switchbacks and blind curves, leading to numerous accidents which sent vehicles plunging down the cliffside.

Hai Van Pass - Image by James Pham-32

So began the construction of the Hai Van Tunnel which went into operation in 2005, creating safe passage for vehicles traveling the north-south route. Nowadays, most cars and trucks use the tunnel carved through the mountain, but for motorbike enthusiasts, driving the Hai Van Pass is still a bucket list experience.

Travelers on the Hai Van Pass can approach from either Hue in the north or Danang and Hoi An in the south. Navigate the 45-degree slope and the many switchbacks and be rewarded with brilliant views from the top: the fishing village of Lang Co on the Hue side of the pass and the city of Danang and the Cham islands to the south, all surrounded by the forests of the Bach Ma mountain range and topped by big blue sky.

Entrance to Hai Van Tunnel - Image by James Pham-24

If traveling by motorbike, there is a row of coffee and souvenir shops at the very top of the pass where you can sit and enjoy the views. There’s also an ancient gate at the top known as “Hai Van Quan”, or the “Hai Van Gate”.

Built in 1826 by King Minh Mang of the Nguyen Dynasty as part of a complex of defensive structures to protect the imperial city of Hue, the 6m-high gate once had “The World’s Most Marvelous Wonder” inscribed on it.

Hai Van Pass - Image by James Pham-17

Today, it’s still a popular attraction and a photogenic backdrop for many a wedding shoot. While the gate was restored in 1926, its 2017 naming as a national relic and more recent excavations have prompted the local government to undertake further restoration in 2020.

If you find yourself traveling by motorbike, the Hai Van Pass is most scenic at dawn and dusk. However, take your time driving, especially in foggy conditions, and take advantage of the mirrors installed at most of the curves to watch for oncoming traffic.


Or, for unique bird’s eye views of the Hai Van Pass as it zigzags through the mountains with the forest on one side and the sea on the other, Hai Au Aviation offers 40-minute scheduled flights between Hue and Danang with gorgeous views of the South-Central Vietnamese coastline, including the stunning Hai Van Pass.

Danang To Hue From Above

Admiring natural and architectural wonders from above in a single-engine plane is a spectacular experience.

hue, Danang, From Above

I once had the chance to admire Halong Bay, one of the world’s natural wonders, from above in a seaplane, and it remains one of my most memorable experiences.

So when I had the chance to see the natural beauty and architectural heritage of Central Vietnam’s coastal region in a similar way, I leaped at the opportunity.

In the heart of Central Vietnam and located just about 80 kilometers apart by air, the ancient capital of Hue and the dynamic coastal city of Da Nang are among the most scenic destinations in the country.

seaplane da nang to hue

The flight from Da Nang International Airport to Phu Bai Airport in Hue lasted 40 minutes in a single-engine Cessna 208 turboprop.

As I had hoped, the views were spectacular. All of Da Nang stretched out below the wings of the aircraft, and a large stretch of coastline appeared in all its glory.

Danang From Above

Blue waves gently lapped against the white sandy shore while colorful fishing boats lazily bobbed on the water before heading back out to sea.

Danang to hue by seaplanes

The deep ocean blue gradually changed into the green of the jungle as we flew over Son Tra Peninsula. Here I saw the Lady Buddha statue, a 67-meter-tall marble statue of Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, a tourism highlight of the area.

Our flight continued over the Hai Van Pass, which has been voted as one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world, and the iconic Imperial Citadel of Hue soon came into view.

I had seen aerial photos of this world cultural heritage complex, but experiencing the view firsthand was breathtaking.

hue From Above by seaplanes

We then flew over Tam Giang Lagoon, notable as the meeting place of Hue’s O Lau, Huong and Bo Rivers. Tam Giang Lagoon, together with Thuan An Estuary and Huong River, was part of a main waterway leading to the citadel of Hue.

Today, it is known as the largest brackish water lagoon in Southeast Asia and is a top tourist destination in Hue due to its pristine and peaceful beauty.

My short journey from Da Nang to Hue was a travel experience that left a lasting impression. Seeing this coastal region from above added another dimension to all of the natural and historical beauty on display.

– By Heritage published July and August –

5 Ways To Travel Between Danang And Hue


Central Vietnam is blessed with having three must-see destinations within just 140km of each other: the vibrant beach city of Danang, sandwiched by the UNESCO-listed ancient port town of Hoi An to the south and the former imperial capital of Hue to the north.

Danang To Hue Form Sea PlaneBecause there are so many ways of getting from Danang to Hue, we’ve broken them down with the pros and cons of each, including the newest and coolest option, by seaplane.

Danang To Hue By Seaplane

With flights between Danang and Hue inaugurated in April 2019, a seaplane ride aboard a 12-seater Cessna Grand Caravan 208B-EX, one of the world’s safest, most powerful single-engine aeroplanes, is hands-down the fastest, most scenic means of travel.

The flight takes just 40 minutes between Danang International Airport and Phu Bai International Airport (just minutes from the Hue city centre), and includes a bonus aerial tour of the destination city.

Son-Tra- DaNangIf flying to Danang, you’ll be able to see the lush Son Tra Peninsula, home to Vietnam’s tallest Lady Buddha Statue which stands watch over the 30km-long coastline.


Da-Nang-To-Hue-PromotionIf headed to Hue, the aerial tour flies over the UNESCO-inscribed Citadel and Imperial Enclosure, an elegant testament to the Vietnamese emperors of yesteryear.

Between the two cities, you’ll also see the famous Hai Van Pass as it zigzags its way through the Truong Son Mountain Range, with the brilliant blue ocean on one side and the lushly forested mountains on the other. You’ll also fly over the Tam Giang Lagoon just south of Hue where three rivers meet before flowing out to the sea.

Hai Van Dang Hue

Another feature of the 24-km lagoon are the geometric bamboo fish mazes which the locals have erected as an ingenious way of herding fish into waiting traps, and best appreciated from above.

Pros: The seaplane flight from Danang to Hue takes only 30 minutes (as opposed to two hours by road) along with a bonus 10-minute aerial tour of the destination city. In addition, the flight is safe and comfortable and the views are unbeatable. User-friendly website makes booking a breeze.

Cons: The seaplane flight operated by Hai Au Aviation is also the most expensive option, at VND 5,160,000 (USD 222) per person, but the 30% off promotional rate (valid through September 30, 2019) brings it down to a very reasonable VND 3,620,000 (USD 155) per person, a relatively small price to pay for a real bucket list adventure.

See the Flight: Click here


Danang To Hue By Train

Danang To Hue By TrainLocated on the 1,600km-long, single-track North-South Railway Line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, it’s possible to travel from Danang to Hue by train. There are 4-5 departures daily from each city, with the fastest train covering the distance in about 2.5 hours while the slowest train takes nearly 4 hours.

Prices range from USD 11 for a hard seat to USD 25 for a soft berth in a 4-person cabin. While the train ride is relatively smooth, you’ll likely be put off by how slow the train seems to travel.

Additionally, heavy vegetation along the tracks means you’ll only get fleeting glimpses of the ocean or any other scenery of note. Train tickets are a hassle to purchase online, so best arranged through a travel agency.

Pros: Smooth journey where you’re able to get up and walk around, with snacks and drinks available in the dining car

Cons: No views to speak of. Booking the tickets as well as getting to / from train stations can be a hassle.

Danang To Hue By Bus

Da Nang To Hue By BusBecause of the popularity of both Danang and Hue, tourist buses have sprung up to service the 100km distance between Hue and Danang. The volume of passengers makes traveling by bus the cheapest option, with low-end bus tickets averaging about VND 100,000 – 120,000 (USD 5-6) per way, up to VND 230,000 (USD 11) for nicer buses.

Before the opening of the Hai Van Tunnel in 2005, all traffic had to go over the treacherous Hai Van Pass with its many blind turns and sharp switchbacks. Accidents were not uncommon, many involving sleepy or careless bus drivers.

However, now all large vehicles go through the tunnel which means the route is relatively safe, but the spectacular views of the ocean are a thing of the past.

Pros: Cheapest way to travel between Danang and Hue.

Cons: No interesting views along the way, and seats can be uncomfortable, depending on the quality of the bus.

Danang To Hue By Motorbike

There’s no denying that the road from Danang to Hue is incredibly scenic. On the Danang coast, there’s a long stretch of ocean with circular boats bobbing on the waves, while on the Hue side, there’s beautiful Lang Co Beach as well as endless fields of rice as you approach the imperial city.

Danang To hue By MotobikeHowever, the crown jewel along this route is definitely the Hai Van Pass which winds its way through the Truong Son Mountains mid-way between Danang and Hue. While just 19 kms long, the pass zigzags through the mountains, sometimes with steep cliffs plunging down to the sea on one side, and green forest on the other.

Described as a “deserted ribbon of perfection” by the presenters of the 2008 episode of “Top Gear: Vietnam Special”, the pass is truly special, especially when you stop at the very top at the small row of restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. This is a great place to stretch your legs, have a coffee, and look back over the pass to see how extreme its bends are.

While the opening of the Hai Van Tunnel in 2005 means there’s much less traffic to negotiate along the Hai Van Pass, there are still a lot of tight turns, so you’ll need to take it slow, especially for nervous or novice drivers. Budget at least 3 to 3.5 hours for the trip, and be ready to contend with misty, foggy weather on the pass as it divides the climate on both sides.

You’ll also need to contend with motorbike rentals. Most motorbike rentals don’t provide for drop-off in another city, which means you’ll have to make a round-trip, either as a very long and tiring Danang to Hue day-trip, or overnighting and coming back the next day. Budget around VND 420,000 (USD 19) for a day’s rental (returned the same day), four times the usual daily rate. Some travel agencies may be able to arrange for motorbike return if you’re looking to travel just one-way.

Pros: Beautiful drive along scenic coastal highways. Ability to stop along the way for photos.

Cons: Not recommended for new drivers due to the difficult driving conditions and unpredictable weather along the Hai Van Pass. Long day-trip option or inconvenient return option. Not recommended if you’re traveling with luggage.

Danang To Hue By Taxi or Private Car

Traveling from Danang to Hue by taxi or private car is also a good option, as you can choose to take the Hai Van Tunnel or go over the Hai Van Pass. You’ll also be able to bring your luggage with you. For a 4-passenger sedan, count on about VND 1,150,000 (USD 50) one way or VND 1,500,000 (USD 65) if coming back same day. Add approximately USD 10 more for a 7-seater vehicle.

taxi Da nang Hue Hoi AnPros: Comfortable, not dependent on weather. Can still take the Hai Van Pass and stop at the top for nice views. Door-to-door service can be arranged.

Cons: Still takes 2-3 hours, driver may be reluctant to make multiple stops along the way.

In summary, it’s worthwhile budgeting at least 3-4 days in your Vietnam itinerary to visit Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. In fact, there are lots of attractions in these three cities to last at least a week, including some down time for relaxing on the beautiful beaches.

But when it comes time to deciding how to travel between Danang and Hue or vice versa, why not splurge and take a seaplane flight including an aerial tour for truly unforgettable bird’s eye views of one of the prettiest stretches of coastline in all of Vietnam!




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