We ditched our “posh” sleeper bus for a Sons of Anarchy motorbike adventure from Hoi An to Hue. Biking the Hai Van pass is so popular that several companies specialize in both renting bikes and transporting baggage between Hoi An and Hue. Our lovely friends at Salute Hotel arranged the trip and told us to be ready to go at 8 AM- we had 160 kilometers to cover before sundown. But we’re not morning people, and Nicole and I got stuck at the buffet again. Technically speaking, we were running three hours late. Nicole, Anika, Grace, Silken and I strapped on our helmets, snapped a selfie, filled up with local gasoline, and accelerated out onto the coastal highway.
Not too far North of Hoi An, we made a pit stop at Marble Mountain in coastal Da Nang, Vietnam. The mountain sprout up out of nowhere, with steep jungley slopes and limestone cliffs. A pagoda sat atop the mountain, and a sleek elevator latched onto the side of the mountain – Spy Kids style. We were whisked to the top of the mountain, where Silken played tour guide as we weaved between statues, pagodas, and even found our way into limestone caves.
We got lost, hot, bothered, and had to take the stairs down. The mountain’s base was dotted with thousands of tacky marble statues for sale. These ranged from breaching whales to happy Buddha’s, but our favorite had to be the fountain with a naked boy holding a soccer ball, streaming wee-wee out of his baby pee-pee.
We took Highway One from Marble Mountain to ride along Da Nang’s coast, which Da Nang’s website lists as one of the “Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World.” Distracted by the ginormous, gleaming Buddha statue overlooking the bay, we took a wrong turn.
We were six white girls on motorbikes, setting a world record for slowest time from Hoi An to Hue. Every stop required deliberation between six girls. Every turn meant constant head-turning to ensure the group was still intact. It was the blind leading the blind leading the dumb. After the hour-long “where should we eat lunch” debacle, we were running horribly behind schedule. To make up time we cancelled our upcoming pit stop at Monkey Mountain, whose roads were notoriously dangerous. We should have taken a left before the mountain, but Anika was so focused on the Buddha that she led us up Monkey Mountain. The roads developed a 70% incline and turned into gravel. There was no going back. We parked at its peak and were greeted by 360-degree postcard-quality views of the peninsula, bay, and beyond.
I thought Monkey Mountain was just a catchy misnomer. But, sure enough, there was a monkey sitting on a plaque marking the mountain’s peak. Hoards of Asian tourists formed a paparazzi around the primate, who was chugging a bottle of orange juice. It was all smiles and laughs until the juice ran out and the monkey lunged for a Chinese baby. Tourists started screaming as the monkey’s eyes darted around, looking for its next victim: me. Ahhh, no I did not leave South Central for this shit! I leaped down the mountain with Anika and the evil monkey on my tail, making a narrow escape.
But now- how do we get off of bloody Monkey Mountain?! We were lost and stressed on time. We asked a Vietnamese couple with a puppy for directions. Turns out, they were also running late to Hue! They helped start our bikes, and sandwiched our caravan between them so they could lead us off Monkey Mountain, onto the right road to Hue. They were incredibly sweet and patient lifesavers.
We zoomed along the ocean for another hour and then the road started shooting towards the sky again. We began ascending the Hai Van Pass, one of the most beautiful roads in Vietnam. It’s essentially an Asian Big Sur. Every turn made our jaws drop open in awe. Calves grazed along the most stunning cliffs in the world. Little cafes squeezed in between waterfalls, gushing out onto the road. It was magnificent.
By the time we made it over Hai Van Pass, the sun had nearly set. At this point we discovered that Anika’s motorbike’s lights didn’t work. We loaded Google Maps and discovered we had two more hours ‘til Hue. The Wild Hogs picked up speed, weaving between mini busses and construction sites. It was difficult to keep track of one another in the darkness, but eventually we convened on the side of the road in Hue. We mobbed through the Imperial City as a pack, returned our bikes, and victoriously waddled to our accommodation, Stay Hotel.
Stay Hotel felt like a Parisian hotel, complete with a moldy, claw-footed bathtub-shower-combination. The French owner was welcoming, but ironically we were the only guests staying at Stay Hotel. We battled our loneliness and sleepiness with Italian Pizza, located directly across the street. Stay Hotel: 3 stars for ambiance, 5 stars for location.