We hire a driver instead of taking the bus which allows us to slow the pace and traverse the scenic and steep Hai Van Pass between Hue and Da Nang with hopes of slipping into Hoi An by evening. We drive, enjoying panoramic views of the South China Sea appreciating why this winding mountain road is called Ocean Cloud Pass.
We follow the water for a ways before the climb and get to enjoy some of the best oysters ever eaten from a nearby lagoon. A local practice is growing oysters on old bicycle tires, then scraped off and sold. Our driver steers us to his favorite place minus the tires. We can only say yes.
Our driver, Dong, takes us into his home village. Languid and deserted, boats are parked on the street with no one around. I walk onto the beach relishing the sand, checking the boats hiked up against a cement wall or marooned in brush. All are rigged with wrapped reed side pieces called sponsons that extend the hull and help with flotation and stability. I am loving the different kind of boats that are used in Southeast Asia and wondering if these belong to early morning or night fishing folk.
“This style of boat originated in the north during the war years and were brought south hence “immigrant” boats. They have a high overarching bow, a high narrow stern and a wooden hoisting barn door rudder operating through a tall slot in the very narrow transom. They are equipped with a pair of bamboo bundle sponsons to widen them just below the sheer line perhaps to deal with tenderness, or possibly just to provide one last chance to bail them out if overwhelmed or swamped.” -Ken Preston
We continue our climb up to Hai Van pass reaching the summit where French, Vietnamese and Americans have built bunkers and fortresses. This strategic roadway between war ravaged Hue and Da Nang was also called the “street without joy”.
Hai Van Gate
I feel strange seeing the mortar shell holes in the bunkers and towers and climbing through them while simultaneously remembering the wars that built them. I am grateful for peace.
We descend toward the peninsula of Son Tra or Monkey Mountain to visit the Son Tra Linh Ung Pagoda that overlooks the East Sea. Originally a humble Buddhist shrine 200 years ago that protected the fisherman was recently redone and expanded into a park complete with ornate temples, exquisite bonsai plantings and a 67 meter tall Quan Yin statue. It is a serene place with beautiful views and a quiet getaway from the city.