Vietnam – Traveling South: Hue to Hoi An

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.

The lagoon


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.

Boats parked on the street
An”immigrant” boat with bamboo sponsons

“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.

Someone has to trim
We are back at sea level once again and stop to see the skyline of Da Nang City from Man Thai fishing village where large trawlers, single boats and the traditional rattan basket boats work their trade.
The perimeter of Da Nang seems thriving, crowded with white upon white hotels along its coastline replete with marinas, water sports, palm lined boulevards. Our driver uses one word to describe what we see: “Cronies”. We have heard the term in Hanoi to describe the corruption that allows these mega modern hotels to be built. Luckily we are driving through but the difference of a few miles and development is startling.
Last stop before Hoi An is a visit to Marble mountain, a huge limestone outcropping with steep convoluted paths through caves and underground shrines. Of course we decide to hike into one of the caves that promises a magnificent vista.
Once inside however, it is dark, steep, slippery with sharp ledges and crowded with two way moving bodies. We skinny up. We take a different way down.

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