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Hai Van Pass

by Going Slowly


On this trip, we've observed more times than we can count that hungry cyclists are two year olds, who cannot be trusted to make good choices. In a prime example of this truth, Tyler rejects the idea of turning around to find food after our raw fish experience, even though it looks like there won't be another restaurant before our mountain climb.

Instead, the hungry man offers me an oh so logical: "No! I'll be fine! I'm over it! I don't need lunch!" Yeah, like that's gonna end well, honey! I'm about to lay the smack down, insisting that we turn around, when we come upon a restaurant. There, we're able to buy recognizable food. Thank heavens!


We now have what we believe to be a nine hundred meter mountain pass before us. Neither of us is entirely sure how we came up with that number— maybe we got it from the cycle tourist we met this morning? Ultimately, it doesn't matter, whatever the distance or height, we're happy to tackle it in this chilly, invitingly overcast weather.

Tara Climbing Hai Van Pass Halfway Up Hai Van Pass Tara Climbing Hai Van Pass

The climb is an easy one, and while our legs are churning, we discuss the accuracy of the percentage signs indicating the grade of our path. We've seen these triangular markers all over the world, but we're convinced the method of measurement has to be completely unstandardized. We've been up some ridiculously steep 8% sections, and equally, have pedaled effortlessly over more than a few hills marked 10% or more. How the heck are they calculating these slopes?!

Eight Percent


The climb ends at a series of food stands—three hundred meters early! It is really cold up here; a hot chocolate sounds really nice, and I'd love to take a picture of the sign for the pass. Before I can grab the wallet or the camera, however, I am surrounded by a pack of insistent hawkers. "You buy hot coffee, you buy postcard, lady you buy postcard, lady you buy from me!"

Any sense of accomplishment I may have felt about climbing this pass is drowned out by the barrage of people in my face. Now, three of them have surrounded me, all vying for my attention—I wish they knew that I'd be more inclined to purchase something if they just left me alone.

Growing increasingly tired of politely replying "No thank you, I don't need a bracelet, no thank you I don't drink coffee, no thank you, I don't need post cards, no thank you, no thank you, no thank you"; I remember the Oreos in my pannier. On the way up, we made the unfortunate discovery that they were blueberry icecream flavored, and I know we're not going to eat them. Maybe these people will like them?

I grab one shiny silver roll and offer it up, saying "You guys want some cookies? They're perfectly good, we just won't eat them." One woman refuses with a scoff, but a different man graciously accepts the gesture, saying that he has children at home who might like them. Well good, that worked out nicely! I hope they like blueberry…

When a third woman joins the pester-fest, I bring out my second roll. Before I can even offer, the disdainful lady who refused them the first time snaps them up like a squirrel stealing a nut, and runs off to hoard them. Now, all that remains is the third tout, who is pestery and mean, like a grown up version of Molly. The attitude is significantly less endearing with age.

The woman sizes me up, then twists her face into an furious scowl as if I've egregiously wronged her. Then she begins motioning at my hands where the oreos used to be, and then at herself as if to say "WHERE ARE MY OREOS. GIVE ME OREOS. THEY GOT OREOS, WHY DIDN'T I GET OREOS!?"

Annoyed by her sense of entitlement, I shrug and say, "Sorry, I don't have any more. How about you get your friends to share with you?", pointing over to the snatcher lady coveting her cookies. Then I grumble a whole lot more under my breath: Do I look like a pedal powered oreo delivery person to you!? Ease up!

Still, she stares at me intently and angrily as if she's conjuring up a hex against me. Then, she turns abruptly on her heel as she emits one final utterance: TSSSSS! It's not snakelike at all, it's more like the kind of thing an evil witch or a voodoo master might say when the hiss is actually a curse, harsh and short, full of pure hatred.

I don't have much time to process what just happened, for another pack of hawkers are quickly approaching. Tyler and I roll our bikes away from the approaching mob, hop on, and begin coasting down, down, and down some more.

Hai Van Switchback

As we ride, I tell Tyler about the hiss (he was busy talking to some tourists when the exchange occurred), and we laugh, as it officially becomes part of our repertoire. Now when we're feeling angry or spiteful, we hiss. TSSSSSSSSS.

Tara at Dusk


It's getting dark , so we've stopped for a moment to switch our taillights on. As the day fades to night, we can see a twinkling stream of vehicles crossing a bridge in the distance, appearing from a tunnel in the mountainside. This alternate route is clearly the reason for our quiet ride today. With our safety lights on, we carry on with broad smiles; there are few things in cycle touring as fulfilling as coasting down a mountain.

Hai Van Tunnel Exit, Bridge at Dusk

Soaring around a curve, we're stopped, not only by the glittering view of a lake below us, but also by a barrier that spans the road. A friendly young man comes over to greet us, and points down at a train track. Train's a comin'. We wait for the train to pass, watching as the last of dusk is swallowed up by blackness.

Train Coming Train Coming

All too soon as always, our coasting comes to an end. After a few minutes of riding through pitch black villages, we're surprised to these strange ethereal fountains, spraying water straight into the air. The mist flies off in the wind, and at first I think they're sprinklers, but I'm pretty sure they are gravity-fed geysers, though I have no idea what for.

Fountains of Water Running Down the Mountains?

Crossing the bridge we'd seen on the way down the mountain, we arrive in town, stop at the first hotel we come to, and settle into our room for the night. It has an ominous, serial killer sort of vibe, but we don't care. There's a hot shower and a warm bed; once again, we have everything we need!

Bridge by Night