The top gear boys have clocked some insane trips but the 1000mile Vietnam journey was always one we wanted to replicate. If Jeremy Clarkson could learn how to ride a bike and then traverse a country then surely it was possible. We settled on the Hai Van pass for it’s fantastic views and relatively short distance. And like all happy endings it was okay save for the drama at the end.
We stayed at Danang which wasn’t the smartest idea since it is simply a sleepy port town with nothing much to do. We plotted on leaving Danang on the morning of the 2nd, stopping at Hue for the night and then being back on 3rd evening for our flight from Danang to Saigon. Our hotel staff tried to dissuade us from attempting the trip since we were a bunch of not so smart foreigners who didn’t speak Vietnamese and with threats of big trucks on small roads. In reality we only saw these monster trucks on the road back and most of these used the new tunnel road anyway so Hai Van was quite deserted. We rented our bikes from the hotel : generally of Japanese-make there are geared and automatic ones available although the automatics are more difficult to find. For an overnight bike rental we paid 200,000vnd for the geared and 350,000vnd for the automatic per day. Make sure you get fairly new ones for the ride so they are less likely to break down after years of rental abuse. Also with the automatics it helps to get a more powerful one (150cc) so you can rock the uphill portions of the drive. There is no concept of insurance, registration or driving license requirement and we were never stopped in the cities or in the countryside.
The ride itself is spectacular – roads weaving through mountains, paddy fields and little seaside villages. There are stretches where you want to stop and just stare at the incredible colours for ages and urge the rest of the traffic to do the same. At the Hai Van peak there are a few roadside stalls selling more of Vietnam’s incredible coffee and ruins perched on a hillock that give you a fabulous look-out point. You can see the road – a perfect ribbon of tarmac with signature vehicle glints disappearing into the mountains. Definitely much better than roads in both Indonesia and Thailand.
On our ride back to Danang, we spotted clouds passing over the mountains and it was a stunning sight. Little did we realise that it would turn into a thick fog with very low visibility. We ploughed through it and the lack of traffic was a blessing since you could barely see even five metres ahead. As we hit the Hai Van peak, the fog became even worse and after stopping for a quick coffee break we decided to keep going since otherwise we wouldn’t make our flight. We made it safely albeit very slowly out of the mist and at this point my bike decided to give up. Luckily we found a mechanic not too far away who took another 1.5 hours to mend it. Panic set in since we had to get back to return the bikes and then make it through to our flight. Our other friends had decided to take the safe option of the bus ride, I received a call from them with the news that one of them had a broken leg. They were in a hospital and trying to get treatment from docs and nurses who didn’t speak any English whatsoever. We set off again and after another hour’s ride back floundering around in the traffic of Danang city we reached our hotel and made it to the airport 20minutes before the flight. We were not only told that we could check in but were even put on another flight that got us to Saigon earlier. We walked past the security check and our two friends were also there so as mentioned earlier in the end it all went well!