This isn’t Vietnam’s hardest or longest climb, but it’s an iconic one. The Hai Van Pass is the bit of geography that has historically divided North and South. It once marked the frontier between the northern Dai Viet and southern Cham civilisations, and later separated feuding Vietnamese kingdoms. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Vietnam didn’t fully overcome this natural obstacle to its reunification until the end of the American War.
For Vietnamese riders, climbing it is not just a physical accomplishment, but one full of cultural and historical resonances. At the top of it you’ll find a Tran Dynasty gate, inscribed on the southern side with the Chinese characters Thien Ha De Nhat Hung Quan, which means something like “The Supreme Pass”. These are the words reputedly uttered by emperor Le Thanh Ton as he reclined upon its summit.
Hai Van means ocean and cloud, and fittingly the summit is often shrouded in mist while the sun shines brilliantly on the lower slopes. This is the meeting point of the more temperate northern climate and the tropical southern one.
Hai Van Pass is within easy striking distance of Danang, and on weekend mornings it’s a favourite objective for local roadies. The drink stalls at the top are usually full of road warriors telling tall tales about their wattage while chugging cokes and coconuts.
Now that Highway One takes the tunnel under the mountain, the Pass road is the preserve of tourist vehicles and the odd truck carrying flammable materials (not allowed in the tunnel!). This makes riding it a relatively quiet and pleasant affair, especially now that the once rough surface on the southern side has been resealed with immaculate hotmix. While there are a few steep pinches, in general it’s a fairly even climb at around 5% where you can find an excellent rhythm and really get into the zone. Add to this the stunning ocean views and you’ll see why Hai Van is one of our favourite climbs at Velo Vietnam. We’ll always jump at the chance to race it, and both Ashley and David have added to their palmares there in the past.
We have a slight preference for the southern face, but seriously enjoy the climb on both sides. The northern side as a climb is very similar to the south, 8.87km @ 5%. If you’re based in Danang, descending to the Lang Co side then climbing back up the northern side makes a good morning out. On your way back into town make sure to get Danang’s best bowl of pho at Pho Hong, followed by Danang’s best cup of coffee at Six on Six.