High, higher, Hai Van


Early the next morning, we packed our backpacks and travelled to Da Nang. We had to catch a train that evening, but there was one more place we wanted to see before we left the region – the 21 kmlong Hai Van Pass north of the city, one of the most spectacula­r coastal roads in the world.

Despite the previous day’s accident, we hired scooters again at a shop in Da Nang and left our backpacks there. Hai Van will remind you of Chapman’s Peak Drive in Cape Town, but it rises higher – to

500 m above sea level. The road snakes along the coast and offers amazing views of the South China Sea.

All the zigzags and hairpin bends made for an exciting ride, but it was nerve-racking. We stopped often to take photos and admire the views, which became mistier the higher we climbed. It was cold at the top; we ate noodles and drank coconut water at a roadside stall, then made our way carefully back to Da Nang.

We grabbed our backpacks and chilled at a café across from the train station, playing Monopoly and drinking beer until our train departed two hours later.

The train would take us to Ninh Binh overnight – 670 km further north. It’s the only overnight train that runs south to north in Vietnam, and we were joined by about 30 other travellers. The boarding process was quick and easy: We showed our digital tickets on our phones and made ourselves at home in our compartmen­t. There were four beds, each with a thin blanket and pillow.

A conductor came to check our tickets again before the train departed at 6.45 pm. We drank more beer and played another round of Monopoly. It would be 14 hours before we arrived in Ninh Binh. Vietnam had been a wonderful surprise thus far: The people we’d met were friendly and hospitable, and we learnt a lot about the culture. We couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the country! Next month: The Tullekens continue their trip through Vietnam.

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