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The DMZ, Huế and the Hai Van Pass

We got on a bus from Phong Nha village to Huế which would stop a couple of times along the way in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in central Vietnam, the area that was used as the border and separation between North and South during the American / Vietnam War. The first stop was at the Vinh Moc Tunnels, this was a village in the DMZ that was famous for building a network of tunnels, in three stages to take the entire village underground away from the bombing by the USA.

This full network of tunnels housed areas for sleeping, eating, working, even a maternity area. The tunnels were a few KM long in total and went down to depths of 23m at the deepest. We walked through the tunnels and came out through one of the exits straight on to a beach on the South China Sea. There was also a small museum here to show all of the tunnels in the region that were built during this time, of which there were dozens.

 

The next stop was the Ben Hai River Museum, the Ben Hai River was the place marked as the border between North and South Vietnam before re-unification, there is now a bridge here to cross between the two, but that river couldn’t be crossed for almost two decades and families, and an entire nation, were split at this point during the war. We were now lucky enough to walk over the bridge from North to South and heading towards some warmer weather.

 

We arrived in Huế about 6 hours after setting off from Phong Nha, it was much hotter here, over 25 degrees, and sunny. We only planned to stay for a couple of days before taking a train to Danang, then heading straight on to Hoi An from there. These plans quickly changed when we arrived.

We only stayed in Huế for two days, in quite a nice hostel right in the centre, but we didn’t do much other than wander around the town, visit the citadel which is the most famous site here, and relax. The citadel is the walled palace of when Huế was the imperial capital of Vietnam, work started in the 14th century here and took around 200 years to complete. It was nice to walk around, but i think it would have been much improved with a guide, and it felt a bit like a repeat after already visiting several imperial palaces throughout Japan and China, maybe we didn’t give it the attention that it deserved.

 

It wasn’t until we were already in Huế, and had the train booked to Danang, that I remembered about something I had really wanted to do in Vietnam, a bike ride of the Hai Van Pass. I found a family company online that did group rides every day from Huế to Hoi An, the place we wanted to get to, and you could either take one of their bikes and ride yourself, or do what they recommend which is to ride pillion with one of their riders and make several stops at some amazing places throughout the day. So we chose the riding as a passenger option, didn’t get on the train we had booked and we were picked up by the Le family at 8am to ride towards Hoi An.

Uy, the main guy, and his uncle Hoa arrived to pick us both up, they put us and our bags on the bikes and rode to the meet point nearby. Stac said she was nervous about riding on the back but as soon as we set off all her nerves went away, because these guys clearly had lots of experience and knew what they were doing on these roads much better than we would have. It turns out that there are 23 members of the Le family who ride together almost everyday on this route.

At the meet point, we met 3 others who would be riding with us and all the bags were put in to the Mum’s car and she drove them all the way to Hoi An for us all. So we set off, passed through rice fields, stopped at a fishing village, went to a stunning waterfall, the Elephant Falls, and then stopped for an amazing seafood lunch on a floating restaurant. This was easily the best food we had eaten in Vietnam, it was all included in the price of the tour and none of us could finish the feast of amazing food put in front of us.

 

After lunch it was on to the Hai Van Pass, we climbed for around half an hour up the winding roads of the mountains, fortunately a tunnel has been built for trucks and cars to go through the mountain so the road wasn’t too busy and was mainly populated by just bikes and a few tour buses. The views were amazing, and at the top you can actually see the two weather systems on either side of the mountain that are completely different. On the north side it was cloudy and cool, and on the south side you could see sunshine and beaches, it was surreal to see.

The top of the mountain was obviously quite busy with tourists, but we stopped, had a coffee, took some pictures then headed down the other side and through Danang. The stops to take in the views as we descended down the mountain were incredible, beautiful clear sea and empty beaches.

 

We rode through Danang, over the dragon bridge, and on to the marble mountain, limestone mountains with a few temples and caves through them. It was nice, and after riding for a while, it was even nicer to just rest and have an ice cream in the hot weather.

 

After this final stop it was the sunset ride in to Hoi An with more incredible ocean views, we then arrived to a brand new hotel with swimming pool, balcony, a comfortable bed, bath and free breakfast, all for £15 per night. We couldn’t quite believe the day we were having and just stood there questioning if this was actually real and travelling should be this nice 🙂

The trip from Huế to Hoi An was just incredible, only because the family who we rode with were so friendly, kind and cared about the customers. The small things that they gave us throughout the day like beers whilst swimming in the waterfall, an amazing lunch and even an ice cream when it was hot just made it even more amazing. To see the things we saw and to spend with such amazing people was definitely a memory we will keep for a long time and one of the best days of the trip so far.

 

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