Taking the high road

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Vietnam is not a country short of spectacular landscapes and history. But, while the country and its people strive to become more modern and developed, many have started to forget Vietnam's true beauty and past.

The Hai Van Pass is one site drenched in history and beauty that remains. Even with the introduction of the Hai Van Tunnel in 2005 that makes the journey from Da Nang to Hue much shorter, many bus drivers and motorists choose to travel along the picturesque mountain road steeped in history and with panoramic views of Da Nang.

Hai Van (sea clouds) Pass is located on National Highway 1A at the border of Thua Thien-Hue Province and Da Nang City and is part of the Truong Son Range. Its history begins in 1306, before which, it belonged to the Champa Kingdom.

In the summer of that year, the beautiful Princess Huyen Tran, daughter of King Tran Nhan Tong, agreed to marry King Che Man of Champa, at the request of her father. In return, King Che Man, also known as Jaya Sinhavarman III, gave Vietnam the Ulik area (the current provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue), including the pass, as a betrothal gift.

Hai Van Pass stands 500 meters above sea level and is the highest pass in Vietnam. It stands with its feet in the sea and its summit is covered with clouds. The drive over the pass sees visitors tearing through the clouds along a winding road.

At the summit, you feel on top of the world as the wind swirls around you. On a clear day, you can see Da Nang, Tien Sa Port, Son Tra Peninsula, Cu Lao Cham Island and a stretch of palm-shaded sand, known as Lang Co, with a crystal-clear lagoon.

Also at the top of the pass is a vestige from long ago that takes the form of a brick gate covered with moss. It was built in 1826 under the rule of King Minh Mang, the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.

The gate itself is 10 meters high with walls that are five meters thick. It faces Thua Thien-Hue Province, and is inscribed with three words "Hai Van Gate" in Han script. On the other side, the gate is engraved with: "The most grandiose gateway in the world", also in Han script. These words were said by King Le Thanh Ton (1442-1497) when he visited the site.

During the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), Hai Van Pass was an important military site and a shield that protected the Hue Royal Citadel. People had to submit the necessary papers to be allowed to pass through the guarded gate.

In 1826, French troops also built a blockhouse, named Don Nhat, to protect the Hai Van Pass.

For years, Hai Van Pass, with its ancient gate covered in moss set against a backdrop of greenery, has evoked old memories and feelings from the past. It is one of the places in Vietnam where you can gasp at breathtaking scenery as well as take in the history of the site.

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