Climbing Hai Van Pass

A spectacular view across Da Nang Bay opens up as I drive towards the summit of Hai Van Pass. The pass goes over the mountains that divide Da Nang and the coastal plain to the south from Hue and the coastal plain to the north. Looking due east, Da Nang’s downtown area is hidden by low clouds just to the left of center of this image. The city, which now has close to 1.4 million people, has expanded along the south side of the bay, with urban development now extending almost to the base of the pass.

Late Afternoon by the Sea, Cham Island, Vietnam

Minh and I spent 24 hours taking a look at Cham Island, which is about 15km off the coast of Hoi An. Actually, there is one small island where all the residents live and several tiny islands that make up the small group, so I suppose it is more accurate to say Cham Islands. Called Cù lao Chàm, the island group has been designated a world Biosphere Reserve recognized by UNESCO. The largest of the islands is about 12 sq km, and home to some 500 families, according to one local resident. The primary occupations appear to be fishing and servicing the tourists, almost all Vietnamese at this point, who arrive to look around, swim and snorkel in the clear water of the East Sea, and enjoy eating the fresh seafood provided by the island’s other industry.

Cù lao Chàm is part of Quang Nam province, and provincial authorities are intent on developing tourism on the islands. As recently as a few years ago, the big island did not have a 24/7 power supply, and the water and beach areas were dirty with trash. Today, there are guesthouses along the waterfront road in the largest village, and the village areas and beaches are clean – there is virtually no trash in the water – the entire island is quite delightful really. Also on the plus side, there are no cars on the island, people move around on motorbikes. There is no gas station, so somebody must be bringing gasoline in drums from the mainland.

There is a second small village down the road from the large village where the tourist boats arrive. Lots of construction here of what appear to be large villas. It is easy to imagine the fragile, and still rather pristine environment of this island being overwhelmed by tourist arrivals.

The small beach in the photo is a km or two from the main village. Locals come for a swim late in the afternoon when the sun is low in the sky and not as intense as it is midday. The soft light is spectacular.