After spending several days in the literally baking hot weather of the city of Hue, we were easily persuaded to consider a private driver with an air-conditioned car for our travel to Hoi An, a charming historic town located 2.5 hours south of Hue. Hanh and Mike, the proprietors of Rice Field Homestay where we’d be lodging during our stay in Hoi An recommended a car service that would not only take us door-to-door, but stop at several sightseeing locations along the way. When we heard the rate was $30/pp, we thought it was a bit steep for our budget, but after learning the drive would include stops at the stunning Lang Co Beach and Marble Mountains plus a ride over the legendary Hai Van Pass, we decided this uncrowded and less heat-stroke-inducing travel arrangement was well worth the investment.
The Hai Van Pass was made world famous by BBC’s Top Gear (now on Amazon as The Grand Tour), a widely popular motoring show. The hosts, a trio of middle aged British men who are as hilarious as they are knowledgeable about automobiles, drove the Hai Van Pass on a motorbike trip through Vietnam. Ever since seeing this episode we’ve yearned to do the same. A preview by car surely won’t compare to when we’ll someday drive it by motorcycle, but it was exciting to anticipate the views all the same! Here is a great clip of the Top Gear episode when crew made the trip in reverse from Hoi An to Hue (the the Hai Van Pass scene followed by Lang Co Beach comes in at about 3 minutes, 18 seconds):
It was another hot day in Hue when our driver arrived to pick us up and we were so glad for the more comfortable travel ahead. He was a nice fellow, but given our meager command of the Vietnamese language and his limited English (his three main English words were “awesome!”, “Obama!” and “okay”), communication was challenging. Along the journey he would make regular stops, but we had difficulty discerning when it was for him to have a cigarette break, versus when we were supposed to get out of the car and enjoy a view. His and our jovial natures, fondness for Obama, and frequent thumbs-ups got us through the day.
Our first official scenic stop was an overlook of Lang Co Beach. It was quintessential old world Vietnam: a peaceful turquoise ocean ringed with mountains, lush greenery, and fishing boats.
As we drove higher and higher into the Annamite Mountain Range, we entered into the Hai Van Pass, an approximately 13-mile-long mountain road whose name means “Ocean Cloud Pass.” The views from the car were magnificent: Every turn offered a fresh, dazzling vista of the ocean or mountains. While beautiful, the drive was at times…hectic. Our driver took the roads like he was on a Grand Prix. Some moments felt more like a qualifying lap than a leisurely drive through the mountains. To add to the heart-pounding drive was the volume—our driver loved cranking up his favorite music.
You can view a short video clip of our drive here:
When we arrived to The Marble Mountains of Da Nang we were as enthused for the scenery as we were for the break. Similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming, the Marble Mountains are comprised of separate, smaller land-masses, each containing walking paths, sculptural carvings, and caves. Knowing we didn’t have much time to visit before we were due in Hoi An, we decided to explore just one of the mountains. We walked past dozens of shops selling marble sculptures (which must fuel the local tourism shipping industry because there’s just no way any of those are making it home in anyone’s luggage), we found a visitors’ elevator that brought us straight to the top of one of the Marble Mountains where we were welcomed with a birds-eye view of the ocean, nearby Cham Islands (remember that name for forthcoming happy and calamitous tales!) and the city of Da Nang, which although we didn’t know it at the time, would be our future home in Vietnam. The walking paths winded around sculptures, pagodas, flowering vines, swaying trees, wind chimes, butterflies, and trickling fountains. The caves we explored were punctuated by pinpoints of sunlight and tiny sleeping bats. It was wonderful and we can’t wait to go back!
You can view our photos of this day HERE.
When our driver eventually brought us to Rice Field Homestay, our lodging in Hoi An, it was clear from the moment we arrived that we were in for the highlight of our trip so far…