By far the most popular unique way to explore Vietnam was to start at one end, usually the north, buy a scooter and drive yourself down to the southern side. This way you can go at your own pace and see everything the country has to offer. Done correctly one can sell the scooter at the end of the trip fo about as much money as it was bought for. We even heard if you are really lucky and savvy you can sell it for more. The problems with this method include not being able to sell the scooter at all when finished, the scooter breaking down in the middle of nowhere and requiring expensive maintenance, and needing at least a month so you aren’t run ragged covering the distance from one of the country to another. We did not have a month to spend in Vietnam and neither of us had much roadside emergency repair experience so this option was never really on the table for us. There was an option that worked for us however. There is a common route between Hoi An and Hue called the Hai Van Pass made particularly famous by being featured in Top Gear as one of the most beautiful rides in the world.
The route can be done both ways and it takes about four hours on the road not including the time spent at each detour site along the way. Before we started on our journey, we needed one more thing to fit in like a local. OK, one thing we have noticed while traveling, you will never look completely like a local, no matter where you travel and what local clothes you buy. In the end of the day, you will still look like a tourist. However for this journey, the locals had one thing that we needed, practically, facemasks, for all of the bugs we were sure to swallow or get smacked in the face with on our six hour scooter journey. We started later in the day than Ross would have liked because he was worried about having to drive the scooter on unfamiliar Vietnamese roads at night. We were nevertheless graced with clear skies granting us spectacular views along the way. While we had a map detailing the main sights to visit we couldn’t help but notice an hour intro our journey just past Da Nang there was a giant lady buddha in the distance which was not marked on our map. Not ones to shy away from adventure we turned away from the recommended route and made our way along the road which seemed to head in her direction. We eventually found a large temple area with several bonsai trees and huge open courtyards. The design and architecture of the area was beautiful and we took our time appreciating the craftsmanship. We even found the time to get some totally ‘grammable’ photos of Natalie.
After taking in the temple sites we returned to our scooter to continue on the path to the namesake of the journey, the Hai Van Pass. Leading up to the pass was several shops which had shelves upon shelves outside with rows of bottles containing a mystery liquid. After our travels through other countries we were pretty sure the bottles contained gasoline for the scooters on the road, as an individual bottle would not have helped the bottomless tank of a semi hauling cargo. We suppose people would stop for food or whatever oddity the shop was selling and possibly buy a bottle to fill up instead of making a second stop for gas later. After we passed all the shops we came to a fork in the road at which point we stopped to double check Ross’s phone for a map and gps location. One direction went towards a tunnel meant to shorten the distance and simplify the path through the mountain the Hai Van Pass wound through. Obviously built for the countless semi trucks and others locals more concerned with getting from point A to B, we headed along the other pass that promised a view. And what a spectacular view it was. The Pass swerved its way around and through the mountains showing off the ocean, far away beaches and the mountains themselves. Truly we could see why this might be called the most beautiful ride in the world.
As we continued you along the highway we made it to the final stop, the elephant hot springs. In order to make it onto the dirt path we had to pull a U-turn on a highway. Taking enough time to successfully and safely make the turn we headed down the dirt path which winded through forest and random housing units. Eventually we passed a shop which had a guy running after us waving his hand to try and get us to stop to eat, we continued on and arrived at the parking lot for the hot springs. When we arrived we met a few other travelers and struck up a conversation with them we then learned the man waving at us as not trying to get us to eat but was trying to get us to pay the mandatory park fee.
Not wanting to be illegal attendees we asked a nearby lady who appeared to working one of the shops if we really needed to have paid a park entrance fee. The lady spoke zero English but seemed to understand what we were saying and motioned us to follow her. We followed her up a long path that looked like it was not a place to pay an entrance fee. Along the way a group of a few dudes passed us and one shouted something in Vietnamese in her face and then looked at Ross with a look that said, “do something about it.” Not knowing what he actually said Ross did nothing about it and we continued on our way. The lady eventually led us to a seemingly private section of the river where no one else was except for a few people who seemed to live in the hut nearby. They had signs for food and prices. Clearly we had not effectively communicated with the lady. Unsure if we were allowed to stay in this section for free or if it would be expected we buy something for being allowed there, we decided to thank them and leave to find a more public area of the river. After soaking for a time we tried heading up as far up the river as possible. Once we got as far as seemed safe, after passing a woman plucking out feathers from a freshly deceased chicken in a bowl of blood, we decided it was time to head back the bike so we could hopefully make it to our destination before sunset.
We weren’t even close to making it before sunset. This presented itself as lucky opportunity to grab some photos of an amazing sunset. One of the best we had seen all trip. However, this also meant Ross would be driving the scooter into a metropolitan area at night after already being exhausted from a long day’s ride. Traffic was everywhere but signs and signals were not. While normally so many vehicles on the road would be a bad hing it actually helped Ross because it allowed him to see the flow of traffic and better anticipate what he should do next. With only several close calls we were able to successfully navigate to our hostel. We could not have been more happy with the journey but also that it was over and we could relax. We both had beers while Ross began stretching out his break hand which had become fixed in a grip position. At least it was easy to hold the beer that way.