AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Hoi An: Hai Van Pass

Today was a real highlight in the trip and something I had looked forward to for the last week or so. We hired a motorbike (moped really) and rode to Hai Van Pass the highest road in the area.

This was the first time I had ever ridden a motorbike of any type and Vietnam isn’t the most forgiving country towards novices. As a pedestrian it’s easy (ish), you step into the road and the bikes will somehow avoid you (although the high fatality rate shows that isn’t always true), but now as a rider myself I would be expected to have to make the evasive maneuvers myself and I have no idea how so many bikes, so close together can move en-masse without hitting each other.

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The bike cost 80,000 Dong (£2.30/$4) for the whole day. I took it round the block myself first, just to work out how to start and stop and keep my balance. Within a minute I was back and ready for Annemarie to hop on the back. First task was fuel, £2.60 filled the tank, and we were away.

We took the coast route because the road was almost empty and it’s slightly more scenic. A nice gentle introduction.

After about 50 mins we pulled over, on the edge of Da Nang. Annemarie hadn’t been feeling very well earlier and now was feeling pretty rough. I walked to a small stall and bought some snacks. After just a few mouthfuls she asked where she could be sick, with no time to answer splash all over the edge of the street; in front of someone’s small cafe. After a quick swill of water off we went.

On the way to the pass we rode over Thuận Phước Bridge the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam (just over a mile long). The view over the bay was pretty good but by then the wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping.

When we finally reached the pass the top of the mountain had a layer of cloud stubbornly lingering over the summit. But we headed up anyway. About halfway up on the face towards to sea a huge cloud was blowing down the side of the mountain at a fantastic pace. When we hit it visibility dropped about 10 degrees and the wind picked up. After a few bends we were at the top.

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The top of the pass was covered in thick cloud and it was bloody cold (Annemarie had told me to wear more than a T-shirt and I had ignored her). I considered getting a coffee or tea to rest and warmup but the second we pulled over a woman was beside our bike asking us to buy souvenirs, “come into my shop”, “you buy from me”, and all the other usual phrases. Out of the mist I could see more sellers heading our way. That was enough to put me off. We rode away.

The ride down was good fun. About halfway down we had seen a rock and people taking photos on it of the view, do we decided we’d stop there for some photos. Before I had even turned the engine off a woman selling jewellery was beside us. I ran off up the stone leaving Annemarie who wasn’t feeling good to ignore the sellers.

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The ride back wasn’t quite as much fun. We had to spend a few minutes hunting for fuel and riding around the back streets near the Marble Mountains. I had wanted to climb them (I remember watching Michael Palin climbing them in Full Circle) but Annemarie was still not well so we headed back to Hoi An. As we rode back the temperature was dropping and the wind was getting stronger. Riding back over the suspension bridge was very bad because of the wind and it was an effort to keep the bike steady.

By the time we reached the hotel (and had a short ride around town) we had covered 80 miles. Not bad for a first time.