The Twin Passes: Cổ Mã & Cả – Nature’s Majestic Dividers

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Throughout history, Vietnam has been geographically divided by four magnificent passes. These natural boundaries emerge along the coastline, where the Truong Son Mountain Range extends eastward, meeting the sea. These sites boast awe-inspiring coastal landscapes, where crashing waves collide with imposing walls of obsidian rock, and lush jungles cascade toward the ocean.

Over time, arduous routes were etched into the mountains, meandering precariously, guiding travelers up, around, and over these formidable spurs. Among the four renowned passes, the Hai Van Pass claims the most renown. However, my personal preference lies with the twin passes of Cổ Mã and Cả. With modern engineering projects now enabling passage beneath the mountains rather than over them, the upcoming opening of two new tunnels in September 2017 promises to bring tranquility to the Cổ Mã and Cả passes, enhancing their allure as scenic delights for road-trippers seeking an enjoyable journey amidst breathtaking vistas.

Unleashing the Splendor of Cổ Mã and Cả Passes

Spanning a combined distance of approximately 20km, the mesmerizing Cổ Mã and Cả passes offer a captivating experience for explorers. To embark on this unforgettable journey, consider making Dai Lanh Beach your starting point or seamlessly incorporate this scenic coastal stretch into a longer road trip, such as one of my acclaimed Saigon-to-Hanoi routes.

In addition to the allure of the passes themselves, there is a wealth of other remarkable attractions within easy reach. Delight in the freedom of two wheels as you navigate the region, uncovering the hidden gems that harmonize perfectly with the allure of the Cổ Mã and Cả passes, crafting a gratifying itinerary that will leave you in awe.

Nestled between Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen provinces, the captivating Cổ Mã and Cả passes await you just 80km north of Nha Trang and 40km south of Tuy Hoa. These picturesque passes serve as the gateway to the charming Dai Lanh Beach, nestled between two majestic mountainous headlands. As you traverse the passes, you’ll witness the Cổ Mã Pass to the south, a brief yet enchanting route that gracefully curves around a lush jungle-covered rock formation before meeting the sea. On the other hand, the Cả Pass lies to the north, a scenic and winding journey that navigates a serene blue lagoon and descends into verdant farmland after traversing a lofty headland.

Formerly part of Highway 1, Vietnam’s bustling main road, the Cổ Mã and Cả passes are soon to undergo a transformative change. The introduction of new tunnels in September 2017 will divert major traffic under the mountains, leaving these passes predominantly tranquil and rarely frequented by larger vehicles, except for occasional gas tankers. Consequently, the Cổ Mã and Cả passes will regain their serenity and safety, offering a captivating coastal road trip that rivals the renowned Hai Van Pass in Central Vietnam. Prepare to embark on this delightful journey and indulge in the beauty of these lesser-known gems along Vietnam’s captivating coastline.

Discover the Scenic Charm of the Cổ Mã Pass

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Cổ Mã Pass, a captivating two-kilometre stretch of road that gracefully winds around a rocky bluff before descending into the enchanting Dai Lanh region. As you traverse this pass, be prepared to be mesmerized by the panoramic vistas that unfold before you. Gaze across the expansive bay and the wide, sandy beach, embraced by towering emerald-green mountains. The name ‘Cổ Mã’ is believed to translate to ‘horse’s neck,’ drawing a parallel between the pass’s sharp bend and the graceful curvature of a horse’s neck and head. Despite its brevity, the Cổ Mã Pass is a haven of scenic splendor.

At the eastern tip of the bluff, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views to the south, where endless stretches of untouched beaches extend towards the horizon, leading to mainland Vietnam’s easternmost point. Cast your gaze to the north, and you’ll spot the picturesque fishing village of Dai Lanh nestled beneath the serene shadow of a majestic mountainous spur. Just beyond, the Cả Pass carves its way through the dense foliage, offering a mesmerizing vista high above the azure sea.

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery of the Cổ Mã Pass, where nature’s wonders unfold at every turn. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the captivating landscapes that grace this remarkable coastal region.

As you venture beyond the captivating Cổ Mã Pass, get ready for an extraordinary experience that awaits you on the renowned Cả Pass. Once you descend into Dai Lanh and savor the charm of its exquisite two-kilometer beach, Highway 1 beckons you northeast, leading you into the verdant mountains that gracefully meet the tranquil, azure waters of the East Sea. Brace yourself for the exhilarating twelve-kilometer ascent that is the Cả Pass. Just as you leave Dai Lanh, the pass unfolds before you, offering breathtaking vistas across the bay, adorned with a multitude of vibrant blue fishing boats gently swaying on the water. Right after departing Dai Lanh, you’ll find Hướng Biển, a delightful café and restaurant, aptly named ‘Ocean View,’ providing a perfect spot to soak in the scenery.

Discover the Majestic Beauty of the Cả Pass

The Cả Pass enchants with its lush foliage enveloping the surroundings, occasionally draping across the road, creating a sense of mystery and veiling the mesmerizing views of the vast sea. Amidst the deep blue waters, you’ll catch glimpses of a small island boasting captivating rock formations—a place that seems straight out of an epic tale, where mythical creatures might dwell, awaiting the arrival of a shipwrecked sailor. As you journey, intermittent breaks in the foliage offer enchanting peeks at the railway line, tracing its path along the mountainside several meters below the pass, harmoniously following the contours of the road. Along the way, freshwater springs sourced from the lofty slopes provide respite for truck drivers, who take the opportunity to cleanse their long-haul vehicles, washing away the accumulated mud and dust.

Prepare to be captivated by the natural wonders that unfold as you traverse the remarkable Cả Pass. This exhilarating route promises awe-inspiring vistas, a sense of tranquility, and the allure of hidden wonders waiting to be discovered.

The Cả Pass, renowned for its steep and winding terrain, lush surroundings, and awe-inspiring vistas, has long been hindered by heavy traffic, dampening its allure. As vehicles ascend the incline, they often slow to a crawl, eventually grinding to a halt, creating a congested line of traffic snaking along the mountainside—a sight visible for kilometers. This congestion adds a certain drama to the pass, yet it also poses significant dangers. Impatient drivers, frustrated by the slow ascent, sometimes engage in reckless behavior as they descend, including hazardous overtaking maneuvers on blind corners near precipitous drops. Such reckless driving is enough to stir one’s anger. In the case of long-distance truck and bus drivers, enduring hours each day confined to the sweltering driver’s cabin on chaotic roads with minimal financial gain may have eroded their sanity. Thankfully, once the tunnels open, the majority of heavy traffic will divert away from the pass, transforming it into a safer haven for motorcyclists, cyclists, and leisurely drivers. This change cannot come soon enough, as countless lives have been needlessly lost on this treacherous route over the years.

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