3 Stooges and a Hai Van Pass

24 January 2019

I will be the first to admit that I am nervous to complete this drive in the dark. Granted, I’ve been pushing boundaries for a while and have handled everything thrown at me reasonably well. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder whether this is a boundary I should leave alone.

Of the many warnings I have heard about motorbiking in Vietnam, this one seems crystal clear. Don’t drive in the dark, that’s when accidents happen. Sure, we had a brief night drive on our way home from duck stop in Phong Nha, but this is different. This is no five minute ride, these are actual kilometers that we need to cover.

But, here we go. I turn on Elektra’s headlight and tell myself to calm the – down. You can do this. You’ve done so much already.

Tangerine’s rear light has burnt out, so I position myself behind Paul. We may potentially be doing something stupid right now, but so help me I will try to be safe where I can. Elektra and I will serve as Paul’s rear light. Just in case.

Off we go. It’s several more kilometers before we reach the pass itself. We round a corner and nearly barrel straight into a crowd of parked bikes. I hear a train horn sound and realize we’ve reached the tracks. We wait for the train to pass and begin the climb.

The lights from the city fade, and soon enough it is all darkness. It’s that sort of darkness that is so deep, it is practically velvet. Velvet with a glittering of all the stars you could conceive of. I take peeks where I can, and though I could stare at it forever, I need to focus on the road ahead.

Really I focus on the guys’ headlights, as they are all you can see. Their headlights are my navigational lighthouses; I will follow them home. As they round the many perfect bends of Hai Van pass, their lights illuminate the turns. But only just for a moment. A moment to see what’s coming, and then whoosh, they swerve on through. They look – and I do apologize for the lame descriptor here – so unbelievably cool.

It dawns on me for a moment that that means I do, too. 

I’m not sure how long the drive takes, but soon – too soon – we round a corner and encounter city lights. Thousands upon thousands, and all different colors. It’s Da Nang and it is gorgeous. On this side of the mountain, we begin our descent. With the lights of Da Nang stretched out before us, and those velvet constellations up above, I am suddenly grateful for our poor planning. This drive, under these circumstances is, I’m sure of it, something that very few backpackers experience.

As we get closer to the city, the traffic picks up, as city traffic so often does. As the number of trucks, cars and motorbikes multiplies so to does the number of times we need to swerve out of the way.  Driving becomes all quick thinking and anticipation of other drivers’ moves – do I have enough time to scoot through this space right here? Or should I slide in between that truck and the curb? 

In, through, around, it’s a game I have come to love. It’s a game that is even more enjoyable when, like now, we somehow drive perfectly in sync. Perfect formation, like geese flying south. Tucked behind each other, no one breaking ranks, no one speeding away or falling behind. Much like fresh tarmac has become a thing of beauty to me, so has this. 

I suppose that’s what spending hundreds of kilometers together will do to you. 

Once in Da Nang, we check into a capsule hostel and proceed with the daily tradition of purchasing beers. Cheers, we did not die today. We head into the city to visit Da Nang’s famous dragon bridge. It’s a Thursday evening which means that, unfortunately, it is not breathing fire, something which is saved for the weekends. It is still, however, absolutely mad. In fact, all of Da Nang seems a bit mad to us, with its neon lights and glittering buildings. It is a drastic change to the nature and green we have been surrounded with as of late.

Our evening ends, per usual, with noodles and more beers. Then its back to our capsules to rest because tomorrow, we will go to the Hai Van Pass again. What, you thought we weren’t going to want to see it during the day? 

Now here’s the thing about this plan.

In order to drive the Hai Van Pass again, we will be heading back north towards Hue. To reach our next southern destination (Hoi An), we will need to double back through the pass and continue past Da Nang. This means that tomorrow, we will do the Hai Van Pass not once, but twice. This also means that by tomorrow evening, we will have driven it a total of three times.

Now how many backpackers do you know who can say they’ve done that?

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