Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tokyo/Vietnam July 2011 - Private Car From Hue To Hoi An

***This post is part 12 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

The distance between Hue and Hoi An is only about 80 miles, but the drive can take upwards of 3 to 4 hours, depending on the route and the number of stops along the way. I had done some research on this drive prior to leaving for Vietnam, so I had a good idea about how much we should roughly pay and what to expect along the way. I contacted the Orchid Hotel in Hue before arrival and confirmed the cost of $65 for both my friend and I in a private car if we booked directly with them. While this was a little more than the $50-$60 some people were able to bargain for on their own, I felt like the extra $10 or so really wasn't worth the hassle or headache. Once we arrived at the hotel, we further confirmed that there were going to be 4 stops along the way: Lang Co Beach, Hai Van Pass, the "Cha Am Museum", and Marble Mountain. When booking a private car, however, definitely make sure you will be going over Hai Van Pass. Otherwise, they may take the newer tunnel that goes underneath the mountain, which, while a lot faster, doesn't provide for much scenery as you can imagine.

Typical SUV cargo in Vietnam: dirt

The private car arrived on time at 8:00 am on the morning of departure and soon we were on our way. I must say, Central Vietnam felt like a completely different planet than Hanoi. Gone were the traffic and chaos, instead it was as if we were transported to some tropical island somewhere, especially as we drove towards Lang Co Beach and up to Hai Van Pass. Lang Co is a beautiful stretch of white sand beach that is still fairly undiscovered by international tourists. Infrastructure is lacking around the area, but there were plenty of new hotels going up when we passed by. We pulled up to a local resort for our first stop, and the driver told us we could take a break here to take pictures, go to the restroom, etc. While Lang Co Beach was beautiful, there really wasn't much to do around there, and we weren't about to lay out in the 100°F heat, so we chilled for a bit, snapped a few photos, and then headed out again.

Lang Co Beach

Lang Co Beach vista point

The windy road up to Hai Van Pass provided one of most scenic drives I've ever been on. The vistas are truly stunning. Our driver was thoughtful enough to stop at a number of vista points along the way for us to take a few photos of the breathtaking views. Hai Van Pass itself was rather interesting... right at the crest, many locals have set up shop selling all sorts of touristy souvenirs. They were extremely pushy in trying to get you to buy things, and it become slightly annoying as I hadn't experienced this to such a degree in Hanoi or Hue. If you go to the other side of the road, there are old American army bunkers and great spots to view both the Lang Co Beach area as well as the Da Nang Beach and the city further ahead.

Hai Van Pass looking back towards Lang Co Beach

Panorama of Hai Van Pass (left is Da Nang Beach, right is Lang Co Beach)

Remnants of American bunkers

It was a straight shot down to Da Nang after descending from Hai Van. We were unaware of what the "Cha Am Museum" was, but I figured it would be some historical museum about the region... boy was I wrong. This turned out to be a marble sculpture warehouse selling all sorts of useless overpriced crap, from giant Buddha statues to tables and vases. Needless to say, we stayed for about 10 minutes and walked out (though I'm very embarrassed to say I did buy a few small turtle sculptures to give as gifts).

We were already a little miffed about the "museum" we had just visited, so we decided to just take a quick 5 minute look at the Marble Mountain, which was only a short drive away. Like its name suggests, marble used to be extracted from the series of 5 hills that jut out from the relatively flat terrain around Da Nang. There are stairs you can climb to the top of some of these hills, and there are also some interesting Buddha statues along the way, but since we wanted to just continue on to Hoi An, we snapped a few photos and went on our way.

Marble Mountain

After another half hour or so, we reached Hoi An earlier than expected, at around 11:00 am. I would say the private car is a great way to get from Hue to Hoi An. Avoid any sort of "museums" they try to take you to, but otherwise, it was a very pleasant and beautiful ride through Central Vietnam.

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