Hai Van: the star
Probably the most popular mountain pass in Vietnam, the bike ride through the “clouds ocean pass” gathers almost all the elements that make cycling in Vietnam so enjoyable. The route from Hoi An to Hue (or vice-versa) has a beautiful coast road, a charming winding road uphill (but there is always a downhill at the end), a little bit of challenge for those who like climbing but nothing unfeasible if you are used to riding a bike. And it has something no other pass has, two different climates, as the weather changes a lot if you are on the northern or the southern part of the pass. Towards the south, there are only two seasons, the rainy and the dry, towards the north, there are three or four (depending on who you ask), but it never gets extremely cold during the winter. If you choose to go from Hoi An to Hue (South to North) you will have time to warm up during 50 gentle kilometers following the coast, passing by the central city of Danang, pedaling along the bay where both French and American military ships first arrived, and be prepared for the start of the climb. It is the longest and highest mountain pass in the famous road number 1 (which is mostly flat) with a length of 21km. From its summit (496m above sea level) you will have stunning views of the coast in Da Nang and Thua Thien Province.
O Quy Ho: the longest
If you want big mountains in Vietnam, you should go to the north. And if you are not scared by big challenges, you can try the O Quy Ho pass between the provinces of Lao Cai and Lai Chau. People know it as the “cloudy mountain pass” because its top is always cloudy, but its real name is much more poetic: the cry of the phoenix bird. According to the legend, in those mountains there was a couple of lovers who couldn’t marry. The girl became sick because of this and died, but turned into a phoenix bird which still cries in the forrest every night. True or not, this breathtaking and tough road that stands over 2,000 meters above the sea level goes through the Hoang Lien mountains, where stands the majestic Fan Si Pan, the highest mountain in Indochina. Only for expert cyclists.
It is not the longest, it is not the highest, it is not the most popular, but Ma Pi Len (over 1,500 meters over sea level), in the northern province of Ha Giang, is probably the most legendary mountain pass in Vietnam. What makes it so special is not the toughness (yes, hard climb, but never too steep) but its beautiful, surreal cliff road at the top, surrounded by peaks that seem to pierce the sky. It was built during the sixties, mainly by workers from the Hmong ethnic minority. You will see dozens of members of this ethnic group as you go through this winding road. It is when you reach the top that the fun starts, you will feel like you are flying in the descent towards Meo Vac. If you are fit, adventurous, you really like mountains and you can only do a short and different ride in Vietnam, go north and cycle those mountains, cross the Ma Pi Leng and feel like you are the king of the world. Usually it is cloudy, which makes it charming and mysterious, but if you get a sunny day, the views might even be better.