Sure, you might have backpacked your way through the craziness of Hanoi and saw the war history in Ho Chi Minh, but have you really experienced all that Vietnam has to offer?
If you are planning to see the rich culture of Vietnam in the coffee plantations, rice terraces, coastlines, jungles, temples and pagodas, then you need to rent a motorbike and get driving. Building your own motorcycle tour of Vietnam is easy when you know the ideal routes. Though there are numerous roads to take from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city, the following are the best motorbike routes through Vietnam for you to take:
1. Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai
Dreaming of terraced rice paddies? One of the most photogenic is in Mu Cang Chai, a highland in Yen Bai province, roughly 280 km (170 miles) from Hanoi. You get a chance to travel the Khau Pha Pass, one of the most coveted roads in all of Vietnam, because it rises to a marvelous 1,500 metres (4,900 feet) above sea level, giving you an incredible view. Despite the occasional fog and chance of landslide, the pass also has multiple hairpin turns and is ranked one of the most dangerous in Vietnam. Thrill seekers will definitely get a kick out of this motorbike route.
Another commune along the way is La Pan Tan, where you can find rice terraces. Also, Lim Mong village is a great place to try some glutinous sticky rice. Soak those sore hands and tired legs in the hot spring baths of Tu Le while you’re at it.
2. The O Quy Ho Pass
Not everyone wants to ride towards “Heaven Gate,” but that is exactly what you’ll be doing on this road. O Quy Ho is the longest mountain pass in Vietnam, spanning 50 km (31 miles) on National Highway 4D to connect Lai Chau to Lao Cai. Since it runs alongside the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, there is one point where the road rises to 2,000 metres (6,560 feet) above sea level. Naturally, the road is visually stunning…and not without some danger involved. Although O Quy Ho Pass is a major attraction in Vietnam, it is full of hairpin turns and looms over a sharp drop into canyons. Don’t let this deter you, though. Take your time, enjoy the panorama, and visit the top sights, such as Thac Bac Waterfall and Tram Ton Fall. Also, during the summer months, the road to Lai Chau is blanketed by wild flowers.
3. Lang Co and Da Nang via Hai Van Pass
Though this is a considerably short route compared to others on the list, the Lang Co to Da Nang route that goes through Hai Van Pass is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful. Why? Lang Co is one of the best beaches in Vietnam and is located only 30 km (19 miles) from Da Nang. Plus, in order to reach said beautiful beach, you have to use the Hai Van Pass, which is an iconic route in Vietnam. The name means “sea cloud,” which points to the mist that rises from the South China Sea and settles in the area. Thus National Route 1A is a wonderful tourist attraction and smooth ride for motorbikers.
Sights to check out along the route include Chan May Beach, Bach Ma National Park, Lap An Lagoon, and Vong Hai Dai. Also, don’t forget to try some of the freshest seafood available in Vietnam at Lang Co. It’s cheap too!
4. Saigon to Dalat and Nha Trang
Seeking some time on back roads? This is the Vietnam motorcycle route for you. Bypass the busier highways for mountain and coastal roads as you ride from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh towards Dalat. It will take you a while, and the legs can be broken down into pieces. First, you start from Ho Chi Minh, moving towards Mui Ne, a laid back resort area full of mangroves and gorgeous scenery. After reaching Mui Ne, you will travel through the Central Highlands. If you have the time, check out this region; if not, continue towards the roads that lead you from Dalat to Nha Trang—one of the most scenic in all of Vietnam. The route starts out amongst farmland and transitions into the jaw-dropping Long Lanh Pass before descending back to the coastal resort called Nha Trang.
Overall, you will travel around 600 km (370 miles) and it will take you at least 4 days to complete. Again, if you have time, lounge on Mui Ne Beach, visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, snap a picture of the Prenn Waterfall, and then spend time surfing, windsurfing and more at the beaches.
5. The Ho Chi Minh Trail
One of the most famous motorbike trails in Vietnam would be the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The entire road is a vastly shifting film that takes you from Saigon to Hanoi as if via time warp. You catch glimpses of 1960s Vietnam while moving through the Truong Song mountain range and alongside Laos and Cambodia. Though many of the motorcycle routes have been removed since 2004, the paved highway is nevertheless a pleasurable circuit for beginners and experienced bikers alike. Beginning in Hanoi, head south for Phong Nha road, leading to Khe Sanh road. You will be able to stop off at Phong Nha Ke Bang National park for the Hang Son Doong Cave—the largest in the world. Other points to stop at Hue, Hoi An, Dau Mau bridge, Dalat and Bai Xep fishing village.
The best time to ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail is during September, because the weather is most predictable then. The total distance is around 1,880 km (1,168 miles), and the route takes about 2 weeks to complete.
6. Ha Giang – The Road of Happiness
The best time to travel the Road of Happiness is during the summer months (June-July) and autumn (September-November). You move along Highway 4C, which has been nicknamed the Road of Happiness and carves a serpentine path through Ha Giang. For those who love hairpin turns, mountains, and a challenging ride not fit for beginners, this is an ideal motorbike route. You even move along the borders of China’s Yunnan province and through the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. There, you will see granite outcroppings, terraced rice fields, limestone cliffs and walls, and even get a chance to stop off and meet friendly tribespeople from Black Hmong.
The length of the Road of Happiness is about 330 km (200 miles) long and it takes about 3 days to complete in full. Be sure to stop by Dong Van Sunday Market to refuel yourself and try traditional Pho.
7. The Epic Road Trip – South to North
If time is not an issue, you can do an epic road trip across the entire country that is about 4,180 km in total. The epic motorbike route goes from south to north, takes about 3-6 weeks depending on how fast and long your ride, and takes you through a wonderful amount of backcountry. You start in Ho Chi Minh and head towards Vung Tau towards Long Hai and take roads that move all along the coastline. Once you have seen the southern coastline, the route turns inward for the Central Highlands of Vietnam, past the limestone forests on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, and alongside a beautiful river. You also hit all the hot spots for a definitive adventure—Nha Trang, Dalat, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Phong Nha Caves, Ninh Binh, and Hanoi.
The trails incorporated include the ocean road, Binh Thuan back-roads, the White Dune Highway, the River Road, the Twin Passes, Hai Van Pass, Golden Loop, and the Limestone Loop.
Motorbiking is one of the best way to see Vietnam. With plenty of excellent motorcycle routes through the country, you can visit an infinite number of attractions, villages, and other sights while enjoying the freedom of any open road. There are various routes, and each one can be broken down if you don’t have weeks to spend biking from one city to the next. However, wherever you choose to go, you are in for a life-changing adventure.
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