View of Lang Co Lagoon. All photos by Christian Berg
Leave Hoi An as early as you can, and head for the coast, absorbing the calm countryside atmosphere on the way. Pretty soon you’ll reach Lạc Long Quân street. Make a left and follow this long stretch for 15km until you come to five unlikely outcrops rising from the plains.
The five Marble Mountains represent the five elements: earth, fire, wood, metal, and water. The Water Mountain is the one to climb, as it presents spectacular views of Danang, Son Tra Peninsula, and Cham Islands. The ascent burrows inside the mountain, revealing caves, grottoes, and shrines. After descending from Marble Mountains, head back to the main road (Trường Sa.)
DETOUR: If you have time, you may like to visit the gorgeous Son Tra Pensinsula, a one- to two-hour detour that serves up great views of Danang City en route to a towering all-white statue of Linh Ung (Lady Buddha).
Continue your drive by heading toward Danang’s Dragon Bridge. Completed in 2013, the bridge has become a symbol of the city’s economic dynamism. Ride over the bridge, then turn right on Bạch Đằng and follow the riverfront road for a look at Vietnam’s most progressive city. Stop for a coffee by the river, then cruise along Nguyễn Tất Thành for magnificent views of Danang Bay. After you cross the railway lines, you’ll hit a main road: Take a right to Hai Van Pass.
The Hai Van mountain pass is one of the world’s greatest coastal stretches. These jungle-topped mountains slope down into the sea, shaping uninhabited bays, forging gushing waterfalls, and even influencing the weather. At the top, explore the remains of a Nguyen Dynasty-era lookout post. The whole pass is only 20km — take your time and enjoy the view.
Towards the end of your descent you’ll see Lang Co Town, a great spot for a seafood lunch. At the bottom of the pass make a hard left on Nguyễn Văn street, which skirts around a freshwater lagoon enveloped in green mountains. Pick a restaurant out on the lagoon for a delicious Vietnamese lunch.
DETOUR: If you’re good for time, the Suối Voi Elephant Springs is a gentle waterfall with pretty rock pools for swimming. The springs are 10km from Lang Co, and will add another hour or two to your trip.
After lunch, drive around the lagoon until you meet National Highway 1. Drive west on this road until the Phước Tượng mountain pass, where the road splits between the pass (đèo) and the tunnel (hầm). Take the pass for better views. When you encounter the train tracks, make a right on National Highway 49B and follow the road as it snakes towards Tam Giang Lagoon.
After a few kilometers, you’ll see a baby-blue church and meet Tam Giang Lagoon, one of Southeast Asia’s largest. Drive on with the calm blue waters of the lagoon on your left, small villages on the right, commanding mountains behind, and ocean ahead. This scenic 10km stretch continues until Tu Hien Bridge, where you can stop for a picture-perfect moment, with glorious views back across the lagoon.
Highways 49B will lead you on a narrow strip of land between the lagoon and the ocean. Parts of the road reveal glimpses of seafood farms and pagodas. Stop for a look at the extravagant tombs of An Bang Village.
DETOUR: If you have time, you may like to locate the a ninth-century Cham tower, which sits 100 metres from the road (the sign is small and easily missed.) Most Cham towers were built on hills, but a seismic shock buried this one underground centuries ago. It was unearthed by miners 2001.
You’re not far from Hue, but before calling it a day, why park your bike along beach near the Cham tower for a refreshing swim? If you feel like a reward, check out Beach Bar Hue 10km up the road. For the last leg of your trip, continue on Highway 49B to the resort town of Thuận An, or follow the road to reach the imperial city of Hue.