Travelling the Hải Vân Pass was something on my “bucket list” although, I didn’t know it yet until I did it. I was unaware that travelling long distances around Vietnam via motorbike was even an option. If you read my previous post, my goal during these travels was really to embrace “going with the flow.” My previous travels were great, but the thing that I really wanted more was to have an open mind and lots of flexibility in my schedule. Had I booked all my hostels days (or even weeks) in advance, I would need to make sure I followed a strict schedule and path, and wouldn’t have been able to go on my adventure through the Hải Vân Pass.
Who did I book with? Ok, so like I said, keeping an open-mind during my travels. I spent a day in Huế by renting a bicycle and cycling around the city to the Citadel as well as Chùa Thiên Mụ. Once I was finished in the Citadel, I went back to my bike and spent some time figuring out where I wanted to go next. As I was doing that, a man approached me on a motorbike. People in Vietnam are quite forward, which is honestly something that gives me a bit of anxiety. I think especially because I was often alone in Huế, I got approached frequently with questions about my travels, what I was doing in Vietnam, and if I want to ride around with them so they can show me the city. Let me be clear, I never felt in danger at all, but just needed to use my instincts and common sense. Anyways, the man’s name was Ty (pronounced like “Tea”) and at first, he asked me where I was from (super common question) and if I enjoyed the Citadel. He was very intrigued that I chose to cycle around and then started talking about football.
We talked for a bit, he was very friendly but not in an aggressive way, for lack of better terms. When I decided where I wanted to go, that’s where the sales pitch came in. It was very different than other experiences I had in the city with tour companies thus far. It wasn’t the first thing he wanted to talk about. There was no pressure to book with him, his sales pitch was very to the point with no real tactics to try to sway me. And lastly, his personality kind of reminded me of my guide in Cambodia, Mao. I took his card and honestly, shoved it in my bag not thinking I would ever need to pull it out again. I wasn’t going to travel for 8 hours on the back of a motorbike with a complete stranger that approached me on the street, right?
That thought stuck in my mind the whole rest of the day. After I did some research about his company and the Hải Vân Pass, my tour was booked. Ty picked me up at my hostel the next morning at 8:30 am, strapped my backpack effortlessly to the back of his motorbike, and we were off. The seat of his bike was very cushiony and wide which made the long ride very comfortable. Ty was a wonderful driver who had good control of his bike the whole time. I felt safe. He was also very knowledgeable about Vietnam as well as the route. Every time we came into a town, he would find a nice back road with stunning scenery to enjoy, as opposed to the traffic.
The first thing we did was drove out of the city to enjoy the countryside surrounding Huế. We stopped at this building on the side of the road to talk about Vietnam farmer life as well as a little bit about the war. First, this building is called the “Farmer’sTemple,” and its purpose is exactly as its name suggests. The farmers in the surrounding area visit this temple at least twice a year to pray for a good and bountiful harvest. The locals also come to this temple during the holidays, wishing for good health and fortune for their families. Then, as we gazed off into the distance, Ty explained to me the difference between North and South Vietnam, showed me where the soldiers had moved during the war, and shared a few stories about the lasting effects that Agent Orange has on the country. It was a heavy discussion in such a peaceful location. By the end of the conversation, Ty said something to me that I really wanted to share.
He said that one of the biggest questions that he as well as a lot of other Vietnamese people get is, “Do you hate Americans?” His response is this, “We forgive, but don’t forget. Americans, as well as anyone from all over the world, are welcome to Vietnam. But please understand that there are some older Vietnamese people who still have bad feelings [about Americans] in their hearts. That is not how all Vietnamese people feel but please understand where they are coming from, and don’t judge all Vietnamese people because of them.”
Our next stop was a short one to take some photos and grab some water at a lagoon. Tam Giang Lagoon is the largest lagoon in all of Southeast Asia. It was quite mesmerising. There were so many of these crude looking boats along the coastline. When I asked Ty about them, he told me they used to be where the people in the village lived and even some families still do. These boats are so small! I can’t imagine living on one with my whole family.
Up next, Elephant Springs. We came here to cool off a bit and take a break from the scorching sun. Reading reviews about this place online, they are pretty mixed. I think because I was there with a guide, I had a pretty pleasant experience. We didn’t stay for too long. Just relaxed a bit. I didn’t actually go into the water since I had burned badly a few days before, so my skin still felt a bit raw. From my perception of this place, it looked like a great place for families to go and spend time together.
After we left Elephant Springs, we drove for a while through countless little villages. Amidst those countless villages, we saw countless graveyards. Ty explained to me that when the grave is built, it is decorated differently to depict the person’s religious alignment. The lotus flowers signify Buddhism whereas the crosses signify Catholicism. The most dominant religion in Vietnam is actually “Vietnamese Folk Religion.” From what I can understand, it pulls elements from Confucianism and Taoism from China, as well as Buddhism. The next two popular studies of religion are Buddhism and Catholicism, which were represented on the tombs that we saw on our drive.
It was finally lunch time and we stopped at Lăng Cô beach. I have to say, I’m really loving the beaches here in Vietnam. They are absolutely stunning. I love the sand, the temperature and clearness of the water, and just overall how much more relaxing they feel. I ate lunch, dipped my toes in the water, and then took about an hour long nap. Luckily, Ty needed a nap too and when I woke up, he was also refreshed and ready to go. We were driving up to the peak of the Hải Vân Pass next.
The views were stunning. You could see Lăng Cô Beach in one direction, and Đà Nẵng in the other. It’s a very common place for couples to take wedding photos, such as was happening today. The Pass has much historical significance. It acted as a division between the north and the south, between the Champa and the Đại Việt, as well as becoming a barrier during the war due to its winding roads being an obstacle for foot soldiers.
It was about 4 pm when we reached the peak of Hải Vân Pass. We continued on our way through Đà Nẵng and then stopped at Marble Mountain. The views were breathtaking! Unfortunately, my phone had died and I wasn’t able to take any photos, but I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area. Reading more information about the site, there is actually a collection of five Marble Mountains, named so due to their composure of marble and limestone. I believe the one that you can visit and climb to the summit is Mount. Thuy (Mount. Water). Ty told me that the marble from this range once was used in many different sculpture works within the surrounding villages and acted as their main source of income for many years. Now, the marble comes from the north as they are no longer allowed to excavate from the Marble Mountains.
Thirty more minutes of driving, and we arrived at Leo Leo Hostel in Hội An. I didn’t yet know how much I would fall in love with this city. But that is for next time.
There are not enough words to describe how much I recommend travelling this route either on a tour or on your own. I think this whole experience really taught me to be more open-minded. I got to learn a lot about Vietnamese culture and history from Ty, and I fell more in love with this country.
If you are interested in booking this tour with Ty or any other tour that his company offers, you can inquire here. The really cool thing about booking with these guys is that they are a collection of only eight Vietnamese locals (who all speak English) who have joined together to help gain more business for each other. All the money that you pay them goes 100% to your driver/guide. No cuts to a hostel or tour company, which I felt really good about. (This isn’t sponsored either, I just really enjoyed my time.)
I am having an incredible time in Vietnam that I need to write about them now. There is so much more to come from talking about my cycling adventure around Huế, sun-bathing and getting custom-tailored garments made in Hội An, and then to my current destination, enjoying a homestay in the north of Vietnam in Sa Pả.