Onyabike Adventures chose Da Nang as its home base for a good reason: the city is not only in the centre of the country but is also right in the middle of some of the best adventure riding opportunities in Vietnam.
Da Nang has recently been getting a fair bit of spotlight in the international tourism world. The roads and scenery available are truly world-class, and any traveller would do well to add it to their itinerary.
We’ll cover some of the most well-loved routes around Da Nang and Quang Nam province, as well as some lesser-known ones.
The Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass invariably finds itself near the top of any road tripper’s bucket list in Vietnam, and for good reason. While it’s far from undiscovered, its popularity is well-earned and long-lasting—the numerous vistas, sharp turns, lush mountains dotted by waterfalls, and attractions on either side make riders happy to return to it time and time again.
It’s also quite accessible: just a short drive outside Da Nang or a couple of hours from Hue, it can easily be included in a day trip. For expats and travellers in central Vietnam, going over the Pass is a happy obligation and in a sense is a rite of passage. Expats here will chide each other: “You’ve been here a year and you’ve never been over the Hai Van Pass? What’s the matter with you?”
So, if you were considering making the Hai Van Pass part of your itinerary, do. If you were planning on skipping it, don’t. If it’s any measure of the site’s cool factor, Top Gear was wise in choosing to feature the Pass in its Vietnam episode.
The road is in surprisingly good condition. Indeed, it’s one of the best-maintained roads in Vietnam. The road is an absolute blast to ride: hairpin turns, steep gradients, and long straight stretches lend themselves to a racetrack feel. Those with a powerful bike will get the most out of this road—you can open up the throttle and really get the most out of your ride.
The ride up the mountain begins with some fairly steep climbs and tight curves. It’s nothing an ordinary 125-150 cc bike can’t handle, though the bigger engine you have the quicker you’ll be able to scale the steep gradients. Doing a brake check before you start is highly recommended since surprises can present themselves along the way.
Along the road you’ll find numerous pull-off spots and even mountainside cafes selling coffee, food, and beer, if you’re so inclined. You’ll likely encounter flocks of goats along the way—though goat herders are nowhere to be seen.
What to Look Out For
Although there is indeed traffic on the road, many switchbacks are widened and allow plenty of room for trucks and buses to turn. There are also long enough straight stretches to pass said trucks and buses if they’re cramping your style.
The road is evenly trafficked in both directions since it’s used as much or more for commerce as it is for recreation. It’s not merely a tourist attraction: it’s a necessary feature of central Vietnam’s infrastructure, and is vital to trade in the north-south corridor.
Approaching from the south, you’ll get spectacular views of Da Nang Bay and the west side of the city. On a clear day you’ll be able to see both the Bay and the East Sea, though humidity, on what appears to be a clear day in the winter, can obscure details at a distance.
At various other pull-off points you can get a bird’s eye view of the ocean to the north with a combination of jungle and farmland stretching out in front of you. Nearing the top of the Pass, steep mountain sides are covered in trees and waterfalls that can be dozens of meters high and may run faster after rain.
The peak of the Pass is meant to be the pinnacle (no pun intended) of the journey, but it’s only one of many fabulous viewpoints. Its mystique may be somewhat ruined by the countless tourists and pushy vendors that swarm the spot on most days. There are better vistas to be found in many other spots along the way, so take your time on the ride—you’ll likely wear out the camera on your phone from taking so many pictures.
From the north side, Lang Co makes its appearance: a small village on a promontory separating a large lagoon from the ocean. From the hill, the town looks pristine and even like it may belong somewhere in Europe, though a trip down into it would quickly dispel such notions.
The Hai Van Pass is certainly an enjoyable way to get to Hue, and no rider should consider skipping it.
Son Tra (Monkey Mountain)
Son Tra is a peninsular mountain within the city limits of Da Nang and provides some views and drives that are at the same time convenient and spectacular. It’s nicknamed Monkey Mountain due to the endangered red-shanked duoc langurs that inhabit the area, which lucky visitors may get a chance to encounter on an excursion.
The peninsula is ringed by a road, and some of the internal roads climb higher into the mountain where waterfalls and pristine jungle can be found. However, some of these roads lead to protected military areas which are not accessible to the public.
The roads around the mountain can be approached from the south via either the main east-side highway or the east-side beach road. The more common route to take is the beach road.
The beach road along the east side of the city climbs north into the mountain and winds its way around one of Da Nang’s most iconic sights: the Lady Buddha statue at the Linh Ung Pagoda. The statue was built to protect fishermen from storms, and it often draws quite a crowd as it’s the largest Lady Buddha statue in Vietnam.
The road continues around the rear of the mountain and goes into a series of sharp climbs and drops—a small-capacity engine with two large people on it may struggle to reach the top.
Along the way, small restaurants leading down to beaches can be found, and lookout points are plenty. You can get a great view of Da Nang from here, with a generous stretch of ocean in between.
One of Son Tra’s major attractions is its ancient banyan tree. It’s truly enormous, at roughly 20 meters tall, and offers shade and a great place to relax and have a picnic.
If you’re heading west from either Da Nang or Hoi An, you’ll go through the sleepy mountain town of Prao. At roughly 80 km from Da Nang and 100 km from Hoi An, Prao is reachable in a few enjoyable hours.
Prao can be approached two ways: via the 14G or the 14B highways. The 14G heads due west out of Da Nang. Riders will quickly find themselves in otherworldly scenery—mountains, jungles, and an occasional tiny village will make you feel like you’re somewhere truly exotic. And this is all just a few hours from one of the most developed cities in Vietnam.
The 14B heads southwest towards the tiny, beautiful valley town of Thanh My. Thanh My, though very undeveloped, is a great spot to stop for a coffee and a quick bite to eat before climbing into the mountains as the 14B links with the Ho Chi Minh Highway on the way to Prao.
From here, the road twists and turns its way through majestic jungle-clad mountains, interspersed with the occasional mountain village. You’ll curve around an impressive, wild-looking reservoir before making your way to Prao.
Either road you take can be made into a simple day-trip: if you take the 14G, return via the 14B, and vice versa. Alternatively, you could continue on north to A Luoi via the 14 highway. We’ll cover that route in a moment—for now, let’s take a side track. After all, wandering is half the fun.
Past Thanh My on the 14D
Highway 14D branches off in Thanh My, heading southwest. Those traveling with a sense of adventure and extra time on their hands may well enjoy this road, as it goes through some of the least developed sections of the entire country.
The road dead-ends in Laos—for foreigners, at least. As of this writing, foreigners are not allowed to cross the border of Laos on the 14D, so riders should consider this a one-way loop.
The road itself goes through some truly wild and rugged scenery. After a fairly straight shot southwest of Thanh My, it zigzags into the mountains through some hairpin turns. Here you can see majestic views of mountains, reservoirs, and endless jungle. A few small towns in the valleys offer some eating and lodging options. Since this road is remote and undeveloped, if you see an opportunity to gas up, do it. It may be advisable to bring extra fuel as well as plenty of snacks and water.
If, like most people, you decide to continue north from Prao, you’ll take the Ho Chi Minh Highway north towards A Luoi. The drive from Prao to A Luoi takes you right along the border with Laos, in a heavily forested area. The road itself offers lots of tight turns and straightaways and feels like it was built for excitement. Riders are guaranteed a good time on this road.
The A Luoi district features some points of interest from the war, including the infamous Hamburger Hill, seized by the 101st Airborne Division. The area saw some fierce fighting during the war, and remnants can be found in and around the town.
The Ho Chi Minh Highway meets highway 49, which carries on east towards Hue. From Hue, you could head back down towards Da Nang or Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass, thus completing a very doable but very enjoyable loop.
Onyabike Adventures’ Thoughts
The accessibility, quality, and sheer fun factor of Central Vietnam’s roads are some of the region’s finest features. Riders of all stripes are blown away by the sheer beauty of the environment and the thrill of the roads.
Since Onyabike Adventures is based in this region, a large part of our tours either begin here or focus on the region: