During both my 3 month long trips to Vietnam, something stood out about my journey from Da Nang to Hue. South East Asia, Vietnam particularly has some of the most beautiful, unique and scenic roads that the world has to offer – engulfed with a culture that you won’t find elsewhere. I first travelled from Da Nang to Hue in mid-2016 (I have several times now in various ways) and it is something I will never forget. This portion of central Vietnam had been boasted to me and after travelling for quite some time, I had learnt to take other travellers advice with a pinch of salt and realised that it is always up to personal preference. With the trip from Da Nang to Hue, they were not wrong.
I had been travelling through Vietnam with no real agenda, weighing my travel options on a day to day basis. I was riding motorbikes, catching night buses and trains, using applications to acquire lifts and basically any mode of transport I could find. To some extent, I was looking for a randomly engaging experience each day. My taste for this grew greater as my travels continued. Sometimes it’s nice to travel in structured comfort but sometimes it isn’t what travelling is about. I had briefly spoken to some people who had just come from Hue to Da Nang – the opposite direction in which I was travelling. As any Western traveller naturally does, I had researched my options in terms of transport and what interesting destinations there were along the way. Normally, private car wasn’t a first preference for commuting due to my travels being open ended and solo, but I decided to do some research. I had read online that there were about 4 or 5 places along the way that I wanted to see. I rolled the dice by deciding to make the booking for a private transfer (a big decision for a solo traveller on a limited budget) and was to leave from Da Nang to Hue the next morning. In hindsight, this was one of the better sporadic decisions I made while travelling throughout Vietnam.
(trip from Da Nang to Hue)
I had requested through the website that I wanted to stop at the Marble Mountains, Hai Van Pass, Lang Co Beach and Elephant Springs along the way. From my understanding, many of these places would be skipped if I was to catch the regular bus. Whilst this may have been a cheaper option and therefore slightly appealing, I had opted for the private car transfer because I wasn’t willing to skip these places. The website advertised a 4 seat high quality private car for $59USD with an English speaking driver – I thought this was quite reasonable for a day long trip with many stops catering around my needs. There is nothing worse than having travellers regret – knowing you cannot go back to see something that you should more carefully have planned for. My driver Trung (who also went by the nickname Thomas) arrived at my hotel in Da Nang at 9:00am. Upon first glance, the car was new as advertised, clean and the driver incredibly friendly. It was a good start.
We then began the journey to our first destination, the Marble Mountains which was situated about 15 minutes from my hotel in Da Nang. One of my interests being history, this was a must see. The Marble Mountains are a cluster of 5 marble and limestone mountains located in Da Nang, each representing one of the 5 elements. Only one of the mountains however, named Thuy Son is open to the public for visiting. The entrance fee was a mere 15,000VND and I had opted against the elevator pass as I wanted the exercise up the 156 steps of Thuy Son. Arriving at the mountain was incredibly humbling personally. There were several paths inside the Marble Mountain that lead toward various Buddhist and Hindu sanctuaries and grottoes. The highlight for me was the panoramic of Da Nang that could be seen from the highest point in the Marble Mountains. I spent about an hour total inside the mountain then exited to meet with Trung who was patiently waiting for me out the front. The second destination was the one I was most excited for on my trip from Da Nang to Hue – The notable Hai Van Pass.
I had been lucky enough to score good weather that day. It was about 28 degrees in Da Nang and not a cloud in the sky. The beginning of the Hai Van pass was probably about 30 minutes from Marble Mountain. I was immediately drawn in by this winding road that hugged the mountainside. I had read online earlier that it had featured on an episode of one of my favourite shows, Top Gear. Jeremy Clarkson had labelled the Hai Van Pass as “A deserted ribbon of perfection - one of the best coastal roads in the world”. Where I didn’t agree that it was deserted due to the large amounts of both locals and tourists travelling each way, I definitely concurred that is was one of the nicest coastal roads I had ever been on. Obviously being seasoned on this road, my driver stopped at every great photo opportunity that arose. Although photos of the Hai Van Pass in no way do it justice, it was nice to be able to capture some memories of an experience that feels over all too fast. As we descended down the other side of the pass, we came into the stunning Lang Co beach. Coming from a small ocean town myself, this was immediately a winner for me. Long stretches of white sand, bamboo hut restaurants stretching along the shore and a chilled vibe. We stopped for a fresh seafood lunch which was incredible – clams, squid, prawns and anything you could think of. One of my favourite things about Vietnam is the abundance of fresh seafood and the fact they know nothing other than “fresh”. Even more appealing is that it’s one quarter of the cost back in Australia. We jumped back in the car to continue on to the Elephant springs.
At this stage we were about 3 hours into my trip from Da Nang to Hue, and so far I had been thoroughly enjoying it and increasingly happy with my decision to get the private car. About 30 minutes later and navigating through some small back roads, we arrived at the Elephant Springs. I was definitely ready for a swim at this stage due to the heat incrementally increasing by the hour. I had heard mixed things about the springs, so once again this was something I took upon myself to decide. It was an additional $10 USD in the private car service which I found reasonable seeing it was off the path slightly and there was no limit of time to be spent there. The springs were incredible – cascading waterfalls, big open pools with varying depths and large sheltered bamboo huts on both sides for you to eat, drink and relax. I spent about an hour or so in the water, enjoying my standard caphe den da between swims. The name of the springs lived up to its name, with a large elephant shaped stone sculpture located in the middle of the springs. I was always amazed by the craftsmanship of sculptures throughout South East Asia, marvelling at the meticulousness required to create these pieces of work from scratch. We continued back to the car to start the final leg of Da Nang to Hue.
The last hour of the service was quite uneventful which I was fine with, as we slowly made our way into the outskirts of Hue city. Hue immediately had a more traditional feel to it than the urbanised Da Nang, with villages along both sides of the freeway, no high rise buildings and seemingly untouched by Western style development. This astonished me as it was only a 3 hour trip north of Da Nang – things can change in such a small distance. Finally, we arrived in Hue where I was taken to the doorstep of my hotel. The day had been a success and I was left feeling satisfied with both the service and the stops that had been made. I had come away with some great photos and experiences, and was reminded that this was the reason I travel. If I had have chosen the public bus, I would have been obliviously unaware of the true natural beauty of these destinations. Still to this day, my trip from Da Nang to Hue was unexpectedly one of my favourite parts of my 12 month trip. Whether you are alone or in a group, I strongly recommend choosing the private transfer service. It is especially cost effective if you are travelling in groups unlike me, because it is per vehicle not per person.
Being an ongoing traveller, I am always comparative of prices and review scores before making my booking decision. Tourism is an incredibly competitive industry so I have found service standard increasing over the last few years.