Thirty kilometres north of Da Nang, the first and most dramatic of three mountain spurs off the Truong Son range cuts across Vietnam’s pinched central waist, all the way to the sea. This thousand-metre-high barrier forms a climatic frontier blocking the southward penetration of cold, damp winter airstreams, which often bury the tops under thick cloud banks and earn it the title Hai Van, or “Pass of the Ocean Clouds”. These mountains once formed a national frontier between Dai Viet and Champa, and Hai Van’s continuing strategic importance is marked by a succession of forts, pillboxes and ridge-line defensive walls erected by Nguyen-dynasty Vietnamese, French, Japanese and American forces.

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