While on a boat heading to Cat Ba island in Northern Vietnam, Kristen and I met a fellow traveler who was on her last stop traveling from Saigon to Hanoi. She was full of information and we ate it up. One of the more appealing suggestions she had was to take a motorbike from Hue (our next stop after Cat Ba) to Hoi An. So that is exactly what we did.
After a 13 hour overnight train ride from Hanoi to Hue, we walked to our guest house just outside the Citadel. We checked in to Huenino guesthouse at around 9am. The over night trains in Vietnam are a great way to cover long distances while saving on a hotel/hostel for a night. They are fairly clean, and if you get a soft sleeper, you may even get a good night's sleep (depending on if you ate the mystery meat from the food trolly).
Sitting In the lobby of our guest house, over a bowl of Bun Bo Hue, we looked in to options for getting to Hoi An by motorbike. The issue was that we had 2 big backpacks (weighing about 35lbs each) and Kristen was planning on riding tandem with me. The nice staff at Huenino were quick to tell us about a service that would rent us a motorbike as well as take our bags to Hoi An for us. They told us they would have our bags waiting at our hotel in Hoi An when we arrived. They also said that we could keep the bike as long as we want while in Hoi An, to get around town. So we signed the necessary paperwork (which consisted of 2 signatures and a handshake) and we were off the next morning with a map, two cameras, and no backpacks.
When leaving Hue, I recommend you stay off of the main road (hwy 1). The road is full of big trucks and busses speeding past you or coming directly at you while passing someone else in the oncoming lane. If you leave from Hue, hug the coastal towns for the first part. It's more scenic anyway. You will come out on Hwy 1 for only a few Kilometers before you start heading up Hai Van Pass where busses and trucks are not aloud.
We stopped multiple times along the route to take in the views. I don't recommend stopping at the summit. There will be Vietnamese women flagging you down and telling you to stop for lunch. If you can manage to get through the crowds and delicious smells at the summit, there is a great stop just a few kilometers further. As the road begins to descend a little you will begin to get views of Da Nang and the bay. On your left you will see 2 or 3 little shacks serving fresh coconuts and coffee. It was the best view on the mountain and we had it all to ourselves.
I was a little nervous not knowing what to expect when getting in to Da Nang. From what I had read, It was a fairly populated city. Driving a motorbike in Vietnam is one thing, but driving a motorbike in Vietnam with a bunch of traffic is hair-raising. There was some relief knowing I wouldn't have to get back on Hwy 1, but as we started getting further in to the city, the roads started to fill up. We just took it slow and stayed coastal. After a few kilometers of riding inches away from 100 other motorists, you start to get the hang of it.
After Da Nang, It's pretty easy going. You hug the coast until you're about 5 kilometers away from Hoi An. Unfortunately, what I imagine used to be a beautiful drive down the coast, is now littered with new developments lining the beach from Da Nang about 75% of the way to Hoi An. This part of drive made me wish I had spent more time in the coastal towns before Hai Van Pass. We had passed a lot of ship building yards earlier in the day where it looked like the whole town had come out to build these colorful wooden masterpieces.
We got in to Hoi An at around 3pm. The total drive time was about 7 hrs with quite a few stops. We found the best Banh Mi in town and stuffed our faces with 2 each. It is located right next to BeBe tailor just outside the old quarter. I also recommend getting some of the local dishes that aren't served anywhere else in the world. Kao Lao, for example, uses noodles made from water specifically sourced from a local well. Only one of the families in the town has the recipe and all of the local vendors buy the Kao Lao noodles from them at the local market daily.
We checked in at Loc Phat Homestay with full stomachs and our bags were there waiting for us. We stayed in Hoi An for 4 more days and kept the bike the whole time. It was great for getting to the beaches and exploring the outer fishing villages of Hoi An.
Do yourself a favor, if you are traveling in central Vietnam, take a ride up Hai Van and have some fun. We used Motorvina to transport all of our gear and rent the bike. They spoke decent english and were very helpful.
Feel free to shoot us an email for more questions.