Crossing the Hai Van pass

A picture I took about halfway up the mountain. You can see the roads we were driving on.

The hai van pass also known as the ‘Cloud Pass’ is a natural boundary between north and south Vietnam and even centuries ago was the boundary between ancient kingdoms. The Hai Van pass is also of great strategic importance which can be seen in the remains of French and American defensive positions on it. Finally the Hai van pass is also a climatical border as the weather is dramatically different on either side.
We got our bikes in the morning, three Yamahas that looked alright from the outside, a lot better than what we had feared they would be. So with our day packs and some bribe money in our pocket (incase we should encounter any corrupt policemen) we set of on this adventure. Our first journey was to the petrol station, which took a lot longer than it should as we kept on getting lost. Driving in the streets of Hue was very hectic but also very fun as we would slalom through cars and bikes, drive through markets and avoid potholes. We soon reached the motorway and started cruising towards our destination. The driving became less of a crazy free for all, even though the occasional lorry would still force us on to the hard shoulder. The motorway soon became very empty and we could test how well the bikes went. Jamie’s bike had the odd property or sounding a loud bang every time he let go of the acceleration. I was also overjoyed when I found out that I could whizz past the others on my red Yamaha as by luck of the draw my bike was by far the fastest. The three of us would often drive next to each other when the road was empty, sun in our face and wind in our hair. Soon though dark clouds covered the sun and a rainstorm started pouring down on us drenching me and harry. (Jamie was thoughtful enough to buy a poncho, me and harry only had “waterproof” jackets. (They where not waterproof)). 

Nevertheless we continued riding through the countryside and soon we reached the mountains and spotted a little village in which we looked for a place to eat. We found a place with tables that looked like we could buy some food and asked if they had any pho (standard noodle soup with meat). The people here did not understand a word of what we said apart from pho so we sat down and waited for the food. Cold, wet and hungry we received the pho and started eating. However the bits of meat didn’t taste good and very different to the meat we have had previously. Looking around the restaurant we saw many short haired dogs, the same type we saw on a BBQ in Hanoi and then we realised what kind of pho this was. We were eating dog.
Needless to say we did not have anymore of the meat but hungry and cold as I was I could not resist eating a few more spoonfuls of noodle and broth. Luckily it stopped raining and we paid for the pho (cheapest pho we have ever had) and I bought a poncho from an old lady. We continued our ride on the motorway until the road suddenly split off into two, one of whom lead to the hai van pass the other to the tunnel. (The tunnel build around a decade ago meant that there was almost no traffic on the pass apart from oil trucks that weren’t allowed in the tunnel, occasional tourist busses and other bikes). We continued up the empty road that was winding itself up the jungle covered mountains until we had a beautiful view of a beach below. The beach was walled of by mountains and on it was a huge modern bridge leading to a near by island. Around the bridge where the traditional long wooden fishing boats. In the words of Jeremy Clarkson this is a perfect representation of Vietnam, the mountains and the coast and the traditional meeting the modern. It really was a beautiful sight to see from the empty winding mountain road. We continued to drive up the mountain roads (it had not rained since we left the village and even the sun decided to smile down on us occasionally) when we saw the pass in the distance. Once we reached it we were not alone anymore as there where a few tourists up there and some ladies trying to sell us the usual shenanigans and petrol that came in plastic bottles. We parked our bikes and started climbing the mountain a bit until we reached the defences the French and American had left behind. After climbing on top of one of them we had an amazing view of the coast, the mountains and the winding road we had conquered previously. We could also only imagine the heavy fighting these battle scared defences must have witnessed. 
And so we started on the journey down to Da Nang we could see some beautiful islands with white sandy beaches bellow the mountains. On this road we passed maybe two busses and a few cows, apart front that we had it to ourselves. After driving down this beautiful road we reached Da Nang and drove through the city. We stopped to have some drinks and rested for a while in a road side cafe. As we continued on our way we drove over the beach promenade, a beautiful wide empty road with palm trees on either side and on which we could see the beach. Sadly though the rain started again so we decided not to see the marble mountains and headed towards hoi an. At one left corner I had a bit of an incident which involved my bike slipping and me hitting the curb (bike did not fall down, a lot less dramatic than it sounds) After examining my bike I found the cause of my slip, the bike stand had became loose and was hanging down touching the road, which meant that on sharp left turns it would lift the back wheel into the air. After fixing this problem with a bit of rope I had in my bag we continued on a road that became increasingly un-drivable with potholes the size of small children. 
The rain was very heavy and the sight because increasingly bad which meant that potholes became harder to spot. This lead to us occasionally bouncing into the air, testing the suspension and our skills to keep the bike standing and us from crashing to the extreme. Our road seemed to increasingly lead us in the wrong direction as it because smaller and smaller and further into villages and forests away from our destination. Very tired from a day of riding we hoped that we would arrive soon as the sun was setting.
Finally after 8 hours of driving our bikes, through beautiful rice fields with triangular hats poking out of the lush green and busy cities with traffic worse than any where west of the Ural Mountains, through mountains with stunning views and beaches with waves rolling in, through rain storms and sunshine we arrived at our homestay, our own very nice room with three queen sized beds and our own bathroom. This would turn out to be the nicest place we had stayed at yet (and it cost less than a hostel in a big city).
Linked below is a video of the Top Gear presenters doing the same journey in reverse (Hoi an to Hue). You will se them at first driving along the beach road I describe near the end (we also got tailored suits in Hoi an, just not quite as funky) then around 3 minutes in to the clip you will see them contour the hai van pass.

PS. I forgot to talk about the toilet in the place we had the dog pho. It was a pig stile. And that is not describing the state of the facilities but the fact that there where three big pink pigs running around.

Also I haven’t really talked about the currency here, Vietnamese dong. Apart from a name that has been the source of a lot of immature banter it is also fun to note that we are all millionaires for the first time in our lives. (1$ = 23000). And finding 50000 on the floor sounds a lot more impressive than it is.

The Ancient Capital

Our dragon boat shortly after it dropped us of.
After a gruelling 14 hour sleeper bus journey, on which we were destroyed by bed bugs (the blankets don’t get washed after a journey) and during which we crossed the old border, we arrived in Hue. After leaving the bus we got swarmed by moped drivers aggressively asking us “Hey you, where you go !”, we told them the name of the hotel and that we would walk there as it was just around the corner. The moped drivers and even our bus driver told us it would be a 20 minute walk and that we should take the moped taxi. We declined and walked for about one and a half minutes to our hotel which was, after all, just around the corner. 
We dropped our bags in our rooms had lunch and walked to the perfume river. Our trip for the day was the Citadel. What we did not know was that the perfume river was absolutely enormous and walking to the bridge and across it would take ages. We then saw a few dragon boats on the shore and asked how much it was to be taken to the citadel. The 10 minute journey in our own dragon boat was about 1$ per person. As we jumped of the boat (literally jumped as there was no pier) we could see the walls of the citadel and headed toward them. After passing a variety of cannons and crossing a moat we took a look at the citadel. The landscape around this impressive system of defences was full of old trees with pale yellow flowers and the castle inside had a beautiful roof with dragons coming out of the corners, painted in red and orange. This, to the best of my knowledge, was the seat of the emperors and capital of Vietnam until just after the Second World War.
In the evening I (the other boys where not feeling well) met up with two girls (one of whom I knew from school) who had bought motorbikes in Saigon and are driving them up to Hanoi, which was very impressive considering they had little or no biking experience beforehand. One thing I found interesting about the Hue nightlife was that western travellers went to the same bars and clubs as the locals, something that did not occur in Hanoi. (I recommend the DMZ bar).
After a lovely breakfast in our hotel we gave our big bags away to be send to our next stop and rented bikes to ride over the hai van pass to hoi an.