Today was one of the best days of my solo travel life! I went on a motorcycle trip through the mesmerizing Hai Van Pass that connects Da Nang to Hué. I feel lost for words to describe the experience, but that’s not gonna stop me from trying! 😉
My guide Vinh picked me up on his motorbike at 7.30 am and proceeded to drive me through a sleepy Da Nang to a small food stall serving Bun Bo Hue, a beefy noodle soup filled with herbs and vegetables. It was absolutely delicious and thus well-fed we embarked on our trip to the Hai Van Pass.
Before starting to climb the winding mountain roads however, Vinh had planned a stop in a small village where we would visit a family that produces Vietnam’s exceedingly popular fishsauce. Fishsauce is used for more or less every dish here, but as Vinh explained, the production of the sauce has been largely taken over by big factories, leaving only around 50 families in the vicinity of Da Nang to produce it the old-fashioned way.
We arrived at a small house with a yard filled with clay jars that contained fish and salt, which is left to ferment for a year(!) before being filtered several times and finally bottled for sale. The family invited us in for tea and sugared ginger and despite not being able to speak English their smiles and gestures made it clear that I was very welcome and that they were proud to show off their business.
Upon leaving these wonderful people a comical episode occurred when I asked the wife if she would take a picture of Vinh and I on the bike. She misunderstood and thought I was asking to take a picture with her wearing a helmet! I didn’t know how to explain my real intent so here you go:
Leaving the little village we began driving up the mountain roads and it would be an understatement to say that the views were amazing! On my left the verdant green mountainside reached towards the sky and on my right were several secluded beaches against the backdrop of modern highrises in Da Nang far away in the distance. Sitting on the back of the bike was exhilarating and I felt totally safe with Vinh driving.
Almost too soon we arrived at our first stop in the mountains, a small coffee stall with the most amazing views and more happy and welcoming hosts. We took in the view of the valley leading to the ocean and a cup of steaming hot Vietnamese coffee later we were on our way again.
We drove further and further up the mountain towards a sky of never-ending clouds atop the treelined peak, finally arriving at the Hai Van Pass watchtower separating Da Nang from the Hue province. There were a lot of tourists (and a bridal photo-shoot) at the tower so we only stayed for a few photos before continuing on our way.
Driving down from the mountains I leaned back and just let the joy of the moment engulf me. The breathtaking forests and beaches seemed so pristine and beautiful and I drank them in while the wind whipped my hair and the sun kissed my face. No words! Just no words can describe the feeling.
Upon leaving the mountains we drove towards Lang Co. Along the coastal road an abundance of nets and fishing boats made the area’s dependance on the ocean clear. We stopped to see some local oyster fishers sort through their catch and Vinh promised me I would get to taste plenty of local seafood at our next stop.
Our next stop turned out to be a restaurant by the sea with views of the lagoon of Lang Co. Here there were buckets of live seafood; everything from crabs and shrimp to mussels, fish and eel. All alive and kept in these buckets until you ordered them, thereby guaranteeing the freshness of the food. Now, I’ve gotta say it felt a bit weird knowing that when I pointed at a crab it would die. But that kind of mindset I feel is a product of the Western way of acquiring produce. I go to the supermarket and buy my food in neat packaging and in most cases no longer resembling what it actually was to begin with. But really, every time I choose to eat meat I am indirectly pointing at an animal and choosing it should die. So I decided to embrace the experience and pointed hesitantly at the huge shrimps and the oysters.
The meal that ensued I can only describe as the best meal I have had in ages. The shrimps were grilled to absolute perfection and served with an amazing form of spicy salt that brought out the sweetness of the meat. The succulent oysters were also grilled and served in a spicy tomato and scallion salsa. YUM!
At this point I could have happily slept an hour or three in a hammock! But soon we were on the road again, back over the mountain and heading towards the countryside outside of Da Nang. Vinh had promised me a ride through a rural area, so I could see how the locals really live away from the tourist areas. I wasn’t disappointed! The breathtaking farmlands were abundant with rice paddies, sugar cane fields and a multitude of farm animals frequently blocking the road! There were cows, water buffalo, goats and of course dogs and cats wandering all around. The locals were clearly unaccustomed to seeing tourists in their villages and greeted us with waves and shouts of “hello”. I felt like a minor celebrity and kind of enjoyed it! 😉 Deep into the valley we stopped on a bridge overlooking the river and just sat in silence and awe at the natural beauty.
Another 1 1/2 hour drive and I was back in Da Nang. Totally full of impressions and with a seriously sore butt! I will probably repeat this sentiment a lot, but only one thing eclipses the beauty of this country and that is the warmth and friendliness of its people. Vinh was the best tour guide and exhibited a genuine pride in and knowledge about his country and all the people we met along the way were full of smiles in a way I have never experienced in any other place. Now seated at my favorite coffeehouse and writing these words I feel blessed and thankful for the privilege of experiencing all that I have here. And I can’t wait for the adventures to come!