Vietnam Motorbike Routes – Motorbiking from Ho Chi Minh To Hanoi
Come along with us for the ultimate Vietnam motorbike adventure. This idea of motorbiking across Vietnam may sound crazy for some people. Especially after you land in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) you may be second guessing yourself. However, once you hit the mountain roads, find an experience that is unlike anything we have seen in the world. Enjoy the thrill of the winding, deserted roads mountain passing through dense jungles or alongside stunning desert coastline and meadering through remote villages. Not too mention the picturesque rice paddies sprinkled everywhere along the way. You see ethnic minority villagers that are living examples right out of the Vietnam museums. We know our pictures don’t do this experience justice but hope it might inspire you to embark on something special.
We motorbiked Vietnam over 35 days and drove 3500 kilometers to experience as much of the country as we could. This was a bucket list dream of ours, and from our experience have put together the best Vietnam motorbike guide, hopefully to inspire others. Vietnam is experiencing a huge up soar in tourism, so I’m not sure in years to come that this route will be the same as traffic and tourism cities are developed. Our guide includes Vitenam motorbike route options to take, how to to buy a motorbike (or rent), an itinerary and useful tips. If you have any questions please comment below and we are happy to help. Happy Riding 🙂
Top 10 things to Know Before Motorbiking Vietnam
1. The roads of Vietnam are in surprisingly good conditions. The mountain routes, outside the main cities, had far less traffic, if no deserted at times. Follow the Ho Chi Minh Road.
2. As the route stretches the 2 regions of South to North it’s hard to say the best time of year to go. Generally conditions from March to September are the best.
3. Get an International Drivers License. Otherwise if you are in an accident your health insurance will not cover you. Any police that pulls you over can fine you or impound your bike.
4. Bike theft is very common. Always lock your bike wheel, have an extra bike lock and never leave it out overnight.
5. You will pass through many traffic stops, for the most part they are looking for vehicles or traffic violations. Wear your helmet, follow the speed limit. The country is corrupt, so you might encounter road stops with fines. Remove your keys, stay calm, never hand over your passport. Stay clear of Mui Ne traffic stop if possible or if you must do so early in the morning or late at night. They are notorious for fining (very unfairly) tourists and impounding bikes for fines from $10 to $100 USD. Keep a small amount of change in your wallet and the rest of your money else wear in your bag.
6. International Health Insurance. Make sure you are covered for motorbike accidents. Carry a printed copy with you in case of emergency with eligible hospitals.
7. Download Maps.me and Google Translate apps. Google Translate does not work well for Vietnam, but is something. With an unlocked phone, get a local sim with data, Vietell or Mobiphone are the most popular.
8. Flat Tires or Motorbike Repair. There is no way to escape flat tires, they happen. At a Honda dealership, they will repair the tire, checked our chain, and pumped up our tires for 20,000 vnd. However, most mechanics will charge approximately 100,000 vnd plus the cost of an inner tube on the road. Supply and demand at its finest. Some mechanics have been known to swap out parts while “repairing” your bike.
9. Estimate to drive an average of about 30 km/hr. City Speed limits were 40 and 60 on highways. Plus include obstacles, butt breaks, and picture breaks.
HOW TO BUY OR RENT A VIETNAM MOTORBIKE
Like a lot of riders, we thought that when first arriving to Ho Chi Minh City that we could easily buy one and sell it in Hanoi. However, as non-mechanics we felt extremely inundated when looking at the bikes. We wondered if any of these Motorcycles on the sides of the road could actually make it to Hanoi. The Vietnam motorbikes were priced from $200 – $400 USD and after driving a few we decided to rent. We went with Tigit Motorbikes and was extremely satisfied. It was $250 USD for 35 days, were under full warranty, and they even helped as translators when we needed help.
If you do choose to buy a motorbike, literally just walk down the streets in the tourist area. Remember you get what you pay for. Beware, many bikes have their odometers turned back or their parts swapped out. Ensure you get the Blue Insurance Card and that the bike is not above 150 cc. Take it for a good test drive and listen for any problems.
OUR VIETNAM MOTORBIKE ROUTES & SUGGESTED ITINERARY
There are many different routes, but the main 3 routes are the Ho Chi Minh Road and the Coastal Route or classic a mix of both. We decided to drive the Mountain bike route starting in Ho Chi Minh and drive to Hanoi. We did not enjoy the coastal route nearly as much as the mountains. In our opinion, it was more polluted, busier, and nothing compared to amazing rainforest and mountain communities. Just wait until you see your picture below.
Below is our exact 16 day Route as we motorbiked across Vietnam. This is our suggested “riding days”, and we in fact did the entire thing in about 5 weeks taking a day or 2 at wonderful places along the way. We normally did between 120 – 200 kilometres a day, with a few exceptions. We also did some backtracking as we wanted to visit Hoi An while staying in the mountains for as long as we could. Here is the Itinerary and a Google Map of the route we took:
DAY 1 – HO CHI MINH TO CAT TIEN NATIONAL PARK
This was our least favorite day of the Vietnam mortbike trip leaving the city of Ho Chi Minh. This day you find yourself travelling on the busy highway out of town. It can take quite a long time to get out of the city and the Industrial park especially if it is your first day riding a motorbike.
Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as what you have seen at the city intersections, it resembles highway driving with traffic at times. So for those learning to drive, stay to the right and go slow. The route is pretty straight forward, straight with a few turns so it is easy to follow. Google and many people say this is only a 3.5 hour trip, however it was a good 6 hours driving.
ROUTE FROM HO CHI MINH TO CAT TIEN NATIONAL PARK:
If you start at Tigit Vietnam Motorbike rental, follow highway 1a outside the city. As a rule of thumb for this trip, you don’t want to be following this highway. It’s the main busy highway most buses, trucks and cars use for in-between cities with not much to see. Within the hour of leaving the city, you will see there is a bunch more to Ho Chi Minh city than just the downtown district, with huge subdivisions of sky scrapers and little communities. Following leaving these cities, you will be driving through the “gross” industrial area.
After driving through these areas, it will make a ton more sense for why there is nothing but smog in the distance when looking at the skyscrape of Ho Chi Minh city. This area is filled with construction, smoky factories, smog and noise. You will want to make sure you have a mask for this section of your drive. After that you will pass through a couple more cities, before making a turn left onto Quoc 20, just follow the signs for Dalat.
Cat Tien National Park
You can spend a night at the Cat Tien National park. One of Vietnam’s largest National Parks that is host to a number of wild animals including tigers, boars, elephants, and over 300 bird species. If you like to cycle or trek, it would be a nice place to stay to spend your morning the next day exploring this beautiful Cat Tien National park. There is too much to talk about in just this post so we created another blog post on what to do here. It is approx. 20 km’s off of Quoc 20 and a lovely drive through your first glimpse of rural Vietnam. The route is a circle route so you can keep driving the next morning and easily get back to Quoc 20.
ACCOMMODATIONS AT CAT TIEN NATIONAL PARK
There are 3 main places to stay, Bamboo Lodge for approx $9 / Night, Cat Tien Jungle Lodge, or Cat Tien Farm Stay. We chose this route and stayed at the lovely Cat Tien Farm-stay for $21 usd / night, right on the river. This is a small village so restaurants are limites to at the hotels.
Continue reading or Skip to each section: Day 3 Da Lat to Phan Rang – Day 4 Phan Rang to Nha Trang – Day 5 Nha Trang to Boun Ma Thout – Day 6 Boun Ma Thout to Kon Tum – Day 7 Kon Tum to Kham Duc – Day 8 Kham Duc to A Loui – Day 9 A Loui to Hoi An – Day 10 Hoi An to Hue – Day 11 Hue to Khe Sanh – Day 12 Khe Sanh to Phong Nha – Day 13 Phong Nha to Pho Chau – Day 14 Pho Chau to Cam Thuy – Day 15 Cam Thuy to Ninh Binh – Day 16 Ninh Binh to Hanoi
DAY 2 – CAT TIEN NATIONAL PARK TO DA LAT
On day 2 the drive from Cat Tien National Park to Da Lat was about 200 kilometres and just magical. Once you leave Cat Tien National Park you will stay on highway Q20 main highway only for a couple km’s. After this you will be back onto the back roads where you ascended high into the mountains up to 1500 meters. Make sure to fill up before leaving Q20 because there are a few road side gas pumps at the top of the mountain but not in-between.
There were thousands of butterflies everywhere on the roads today, we would drive slower just so they wouldn’t hit us. It was so special to see this beautiful scenery with the butterflies, nothing like what I have seen before. We didn’t realize how high we were going so at every turn we would stop to take pictures of the valley below thinking it was the top of the mountain. We ended up being a couple hours late to arriving at our next destination Da Lat. It was so worth it!
ATTRACTIONS ON ROUTE TO DA LAT
Da Lat is home to many popular waterfalls and we choose to spend an extra night here. For a fun afternoon, you can stop off at the Elephant Waterfall. Climb down the 10 minute walk down to the bottom to view this quite large waterfall from the riverbed or enjoy from above. Then make a quick stop at the Cuong Hoan Silk Factory to see how silk is made. If you have time the Truc Lam Temple by cable car was one of our highlights of Dalat with stunning views of the city and surrounding areas.
If you love coffee even half as much as us make sure to stop at Me Linh Coffee Garden plantation where you can try Weasel Coffee. Weasel Coffee is made from beans that Weasels eat it and then poop it out. It is strong coffee and quite a delicacy worldwide, sure to be your most expensive cup of 60, 000 vnd coffee in Asia. End your day off with an enjoyable ride into the beautiful city of Da Lat.
WHERE TO STAY IN DALAT
There are a lot of places to stay with excellent reviews but we were so happy with our choice. We stayed at Hai Long Vuong Hotel that had amazing service and was very affordable. The showers were warm, beds comfy, and all for about $12 usd / night. At night time, they brought our bikes inside their front lobby and felt extremely safe staying there. Visit or stay at the Crazy House, rated one of the top architectural houses in the world and top things to do in Da Lat for a crazy night.
Continue reading or Skip to each section: Day 4 Phan Rang to Nha Trang – Day 5 Nha Trang to Boun Ma Thout – Day 6 Boun Ma Thout to Kon Tum – Day 7 Kon Tum to Kham Duc – Day 8 Kham Duc to A Loui – Day 9 A Loui to Hoi An – Day 10 Hoi An to Hue – Day 11 Hue to Khe Sanh – Day 12 Khe Sanh to Phong Nha – Day 13 Phong Nha to Pho Chau – Day 14 Pho Chau to Cam Thuy – Day 15 Cam Thuy to Ninh Binh – Day 16 Ninh Binh to Hanoi
DAY 3 – DA LAT TO PHAN RANG
There are many different Vietnam motorbike routes that you can choose to bike across the country. We wanted to take the mountain road, but still wanted to experience a small bit of the Vietnam Coast. From Da Lat we chose to go to Phan Rang, take the famous coastline to Nha Trang before heading back to the mountains. This day was a shorter day but so enjoyable, we descended from 1550 meters in Da Lat to sea level in Phan Rang. The curves and corners of the good conditioned road winding down the mountain with views overlooking the valley below throughout the whole way were so much fun.
Once you reach the bottom, drive straight till through to Phan Rang until you hit the ocean. While you are visiting Phan Rang, on your way into Phan Rang, take a left off the highway on Bac Ai Street to visit the Chap Tham temple. The whole province has been named after this famous landmark.
The city of Phan Rang is interesting. If you ever wondered what a creepy ghost town would feel like, here you get a glimpse of that. There is the heart of the city which is busy and bustling with traffic but as you head towards the ocean there is large roads, lots of parks, and buildings, but all mostly empty. We drove straight to the beach that stretched km’s long without a person in sight. A lot of places were closed down, even the expensive resorts looked quiet. The waterfront is empty until dusk when the street vendors setup their multitudes of small stools and it turns into an active street dinner spot
PHAN RANG SAND DUNES
In Phan Rang, this is a great spot to rest your head for the day and if you are here before sunset make your way to the Sand Dunes. We had seen the many tourist trips while in Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne for the world famous sand dunes. This was definitely on our Vietnam Bucket List. We didn’t know that we would find this in Phan Rang as well. It’s so worth checking out the sand dunes here as we ended up being the only people here and for that day as there were no other footprints. It made it so much cooler to be in the ultimate desert paradise all by yourself without the normal parade of tourist buses and other people getting in your shot.
Check into your hotel and hop on your bike to go visit the Nam Cuong Sand Dunes in Phan Rang Tuan Tu Village for the late afternoon. There is a big highway sign pointing you in the right direction and once in the village if you don’t know where to go it’s likely a local will point you in the right direction.
WHERE TO STAY IN PHAN RANG
We stayed at the Minh Duc Guest House, another nice find for $10 a night. While you are here, the Le Napoli and Cuban Bar and Grill were nice western restaurants for a change of cuisine as well as many local eateries.
Continue reading or Skip to each section: Day 5 Nha Trang to Boun Ma Thout – Day 6 Boun Ma Thout to Kon Tum – Day 7 Kon Tum to Kham Duc – Day 8 Kham Duc to A Loui – Day 9 A Loui to Hoi An – Day 10 Hoi An to Hue – Day 11 Hue to Khe Sanh – Day 12 Khe Sanh to Phong Nha – Day 13 Phong Nha to Pho Chau – Day 14 Pho Chau to Cam Thuy – Day 15 Cam Thuy to Ninh Binh – Day 16 Ninh Binh to Hanoi
DAY 4 – PHAN RANG TO NHA TRANG
Like most days you will want to leave early and welcome the sunshine for a beautiful coastal day. Leaving Phang Rang the road is a beautiful highway with mountains on your left and tropical ocean views on your right. The view is really breathtaking as the road winds up and down the mountains along the coastline. It’s a mountain range unlike others you will encounter in Vietnam as this coastline is a desert, with rocks protruding from the earth and cactus abound. There are a couple wonderful beaches to stop and swim at as well as some breathtaking viewpoints to pull over on the side of the highway to snap a couple videos of.
Jump onto the DT702 highway that follows the coastline around the Nui Chua National Park from Phan Rang. After DT702, you will find yourself on Highway 1, the highway our bike rental warned to just plain stay away from. For good reason, this highway is not scenic and it’s busy. However if you are like us you probably have to make up some time here due to all the stopovers you already took to snap some photos. Remember, the maximum highway speed for motorcycles is 60 km an hour here. Continue highway 1 until you take a right hand turn at Nhgia Cam town onto DT6571 and follow the highway to Nha Trang. It’s very easy to navigate and you will find a completely different vibe here than that of deserted run down tourist town of Phan Rang.
Driving through Cam Ranh
Passing through Cam Ranh you will find 5 star luxury resorts lining the highway. The resorts are here for a reason, there is a spectacular swimming beach here called Golden Bay. There’s even a new city that is just beginning development called “Golden Bay City”. A sign of the increase in development is next to the name of the new city, is the name of the Corporation building it. You have hit tourist central. This feeling of luxury tourism only continues as you drive into Nha Trang with the beaches lined with white umbrella’s and sky scrapers in the distance.
ABOUT NHA TRANG
In the city of Nha Trang is a vibe that we had not encountered yet in Vietnam, surprisingly because Nha Trang is said to be one of the highlight cities. Yes, there is a beautiful bay with a long sandy beaches, and tons of skyscrapers and business. It lacked the “specialness” of Vietnam that we had come to love in other cities. Nha Trang was flooded with tourism from Russia, so much that walking through the downtown core you would find signage in Russian and Vietnamese, no English.
Being that we had spent almost 8 months in on Islands in the Gulf of Thailand, we were eager to experience the mountains and this coastline was a good experience. In hindsight, I would definitely say that I’m glad that I got to see the coastline but that I’m so content taking the Ho Chi Minh road and surrounding myself in the Rainforest for the duration of our bike trip.
WHERE TO STAY IN NHA TRANG
As a bigger town, parking is limited so we went to 3 different places so they could have our bikes parked inside. We stayed at the ABC Hotel, with a super nice family run place. It was $14 usd a night and included breakfast for 2. They also let us park our bikes inside their lobby at night time. The town is right on the beach, and coming up to it had a stretch of brand new massive 5 star resorts being built. For 40,000 Dong, you get a nice bed for the day on the beach to enjoy the water. At nighttime, this area lights up with lots to see and do as well as the market. If you decide to stay an extra day here, visit the Vin Pearl Waterpark or the mud baths.
Continue reading or Skip to each section: Day 6 Boun Ma Thout to Kon Tum – Day 7 Kon Tum to Kham Duc – Day 8 Kham Duc to A Loui – Day 9 A Loui to Hoi An – Day 10 Hoi An to Hue – Day 11 Hue to Khe Sanh – Day 12 Khe Sanh to Phong Nha – Day 13 Phong Nha to Pho Chau – Day 14 Pho Chau to Cam Thuy – Day 15 Cam Thuy to Ninh Binh – Day 16 Ninh Binh to Hanoi
DAY 5 – NHA TRANG TO BUON MA THUOT
The ride from Nha Trang to Buon Ma Thuot was decent ride. You find yourself mostly following the main highway with a side detour down DT5 road. Take this detour, it’s lovely. You will find today driving through ride paddies at the base of mountains along roads that you can see stretching for miles without a person in sight. This is wear we took our photo laying in the middle of the road without a care that someone might drive by.
In Boun Ma Thout last large cities you stay in if you need to pick up any supplies, but you can expect to always find basics that you need going forward. This city doesn’t come very highly recommended, but it’s a nice enough city with lots of parks and a ton of lights lighting up the downtown at night. Also great for an oil change . Our highlight of his city was actually staying at a coffee resort! Not bad prices neither.
WHERE TO STAY IN BOUN MA THOUT
We chose to stay at the coffee resort. In Ho Chi Minh you can stay in a 1 star hotel in the heart of the city with a window into the hallway and questionable cleaning and feel like you got a deal for $20us. In Buon Ma Thout staying at a very nice 3 star hotel with beautiful outdoor grounds, a bathtub, and breakfast for 2 included is $21 usd. The cost of goods is much more affordable when you are not in the big cities, so we suggest you take a moment to treat yourself to something nice that you wouldn’t otherwise find yourself in the city. This city doesn’t come very highly recommended, but it’s a nice enough city with lots of parks and a ton of lights lighting up the downtown at night. If you are looking for basic, Bazan Hotel, came recommended to us.
DAY 6 – BOUN MA THUOT TO KON TUM
From Buon Ma Thout, you will have your first encounter with the Ho Chi Minh Road. The Ho Chi Minh Road will one day stretch from the south of Vietnam all the way to the north tip. Today you have 2 choices and can go to Pleiku, approx. 120 km away, a larger city but nice and clean, or go the extra 50 kms to a really quaint town of Kon Tum. This day of riding was our least favorite yet, next to the first day of riding out of Ho Chi Minh city. We found ourself driving along the dusty highway through what felt like city after city. In this region, you will see the beginning of the beautiful red dirt in the central highlands, except along this highway it’s dusty.
After you leave the city of Pleiku, you can sigh a huge relief as the cities return to cute little villages lined along the roadside again with farmland and mountain views in between. The last 52 km drive to Koh Tum is quite enjoyable. Here in Kon Tum is the best recommended spot to take a day motorbike trip or trek to the mountain villages to visit some of the ethnic Vietnamese tribes. These villages are protected from tourism and very unique, there are only a few guides that will take you there. We chose not too visit the tribal villages, there is something contrasting about touring the place that doesn’t get tourism. Some things should be left unspoiled.
Kon Tum also has some places you can visit some tribal festival villages and visit some of the memorial spots for those in the Vietnam war. The region in the central highlands of Vietnam was affected very much during the war as it was the clashing middle ground of Vietnam
WHERE TO STAY IN KON TUM
After you cross the bridge into Kon Tum, we recommend you to stay at the Hnam Chang Ngeh Hospitality Training Center, where they teach marginalized ethnic Vietnamese how to work in the tourism industry. The students are so friendly and it’s a great cause and really quaint lovely rooms to stay. This was by far the nicest hotel we have stayed at, we had the top sweet, balcony, for $22 / night.
DAY 7 – KON TUM TO KHAM DUC
Welcome to the start of the mountains! From Kon Tum to Kham Duc is one of those days that will be hard to keep on schedule will all those photo stops. Today you travel 185 km’s along the Ho Chi Minh road. For the first half of your day it’s normal riding from Kon Tum to Dak Glei. Upon first leaving Kon Tum, keep your eyes peeled on the left approx. 8 km out of town for the Dak To Abandoned Army airstrip. It’s a unique airstrip to ride down and reflect on what this was used for and how it would have impacted the surrounding area.
On route, make sure to pay attention to your directions when the highway takes a sharp left and right that would find you at the Cambodia or Laos border. Don’t get us wrong, we took the wrong way along the way to the Laos border and it was fantastic scenery. It was an eerie 2-3 lane highway that was perfectly manicured the whole way that we only passed 5-6 people the whole 12 kms.
From Dak Glei to Kham Duc
Leaving Dak Glei to climb the 45km curving highway to Kham Duc is spectacular. You will find yourself surrounded by luscious rainforest that is a once in a lifetime experience. The further you drive, the nicer it gets. Follow the stream that becomes cleared as you ascend the mountains through mini mountain villages and along waterfalls. Before leaving Dak Glei, don’t make the mistake we did and not fill up your gas tank, there is not a gas station for 45 km along this steep climb. This is your first glimpse at some of the beautiful rainforest that you will continue to encounter on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Remember, you are in a rainforest, so make sure to include breaks for rain in your schedule. This is also where we had a flat tire and with no cell phone reception or people in sight Fraser ended up walking 21 kilometers until Nadine had found help and rescued him. We arrived after dark in Kham Duc and waking up to the view in the morning was a delightful surprise. Kham Duc is a beautiful village that has a small market, a handful of hotels, couple restaurants and of course tons of coffee shops that is surrounded all around you by mountains.
WHERE TO STAY IN KHAM DUC
There were no places in Kam Duc on booking.com, agoda, hotels.com, trip advisor, so you just need to show up. There is a handful of guesthouses and 2 main hotels, Phuoc Minh Hotel, newer hotel with a nice double bed room for 200,000 or Be Chau Giang Hotel. The latter has a wonderful restaurant that we enjoyed for our couple days in Kham Duc.
DAY 8 – KHAM DUC TO A LOUI
Leaving Kham Duc you have 2 choices of routes that you could take, most people choose to go to the coast to Hoi An or Da Nang to venture over the Hai Van pass made famous by Top Gear BBC episode. Over the next couple days we personally did the loop over both passes and would suggest this but if we only had to choose one it would absolutely be the mountain route. If you thought the mountain pass arriving in Kham Duc was spectacular, this is nothing in comparison.
This day is spectacular! I drove through this pass with a smile of awe on my face the whole day. The mountain pass is probably one of the few times if not only times in your life you will be completely submersed in a tropical jungle with no developments, agriculture, or people in sight. For 80 km, there is relatively nothing but you and the jungle. During this pass we saw 4 vehicles, one of those being a beer delivery truck, and motorcycles on the side of the road from local villages at work collecting in the jungle. You will continue to pass through local villages with mud houses and local thatched houses, farming at work, and an abundance of kids happy to wave at you as you pass by. The day starts from Kham Duc through small villages and a mix of agriculture and mountains.
When you arrive in Prao, take this opportunity to grab a bite to eat, fill up on gas, and any supplies as the next 80km there is no villages or man made places to stop. During this 80 km pass, you find yourself curving around fern filled mountains weaving alongside the top of a mountain with an untouched valley below all the way to the top of the next mountain range, along the top of that mountain range before descending approx. 25 km down to the dusty town of A Louie. This was our least favorite place, we are unsure of if there was an event or not but every hotel refused us a room so we ended up going to Hue this night. This worked out well so we could adventure across the talked about Hai Van Pass too. We’ll talk more about this drive in the next days schedule. We can’t really recommend any hotels here because while we visited this town all hotels were full, so this is why our route from here detours to Hue and does a little more coastal the next couple days.
DAY 9 – A LOUI TO HOI AN
From Hue or A Loui today you will adventure to the third largest city of Danang or the culture Unesco heritage city of Hoi Ann. This was such a beautiful and magical city that we ended up staying here for 3 days. This was one of our favourite city experiences in all of Vietnam.
Hai Van Coastal Pass
At the end jump onto Highway 1 to Lang Co Bay, to grab a Seafood lunch on the water before taking on the Hai Van pass. Make sure that you follow the directions for the Hai Van pass and don’t go through the tunnel. The Hai Van pass has been hailed as the most beautiful coastal pass in the world by the Top Gear BBC episode. Since, it has become one of the top things to do in both Danang and Hue with 100’s of bikers taking the Hai Van pass daily. In history, the pass served as a barrier between the Champa and Da Viet kingdoms. It’s relatively short, the Hai Van pass is only 24 km in distance. It’s pretty beautiful all the way through.
On your way, stop at one of the corners of the switch back roads to take a picture of the view. Like any tourist attraction, stop and enjoy the Hai Van Gate at the top, with one side overlooking Da Nang and the other facing the Thua Thein-Hue province. On the other side on the way down you will see a tourist stop, probably busy, with a couple large rocks and coffee stops. This location here overlooks the gorgeous bays and towards Da Nang city. The ladies at the tea stop will tell you about the leper village, Hoa Van Village, that you can trek about an hour to below in the bay.
After arriving in Da Nang, we chose to keep driving along both the bays, and around the Son Tra Peninsula, with fun winding roads, spectacular views at the top viewpoint and home to Son Tra Quan Yin, massive goddess of mercy statue. You could easily spend a day adventuring the Son Tra Mountain natural reserve. We chose to keep driving to arrive in the cultural heritage city of Hoi An.
Where to stay in Hoi An
Hoi An, is popular for it’s Unesco Heritage well-preserved ancient city. It is very quaint and quite magical to explore the streets filled with French colonial buildings, Vietnamese tube houses and walk over the bridges that connect the ancient town together over the many canals. Also known as the city of Lanterns, at night this already quaint city lites up with beautiful lanterns at night. Even take a lantern making workshop while you are here. As you spend a night in Hoi An, you find yourself in the tourism environment, where hotels are slightly more expensive than guesthouses on the road but the hospitality and service is exceptional. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Phoenix Homestay.
DAY 10 – HOI AN TO HUE
Being that you took the “loop” to see both the mountain pass after Kham Duc and the Hai Van pass, you will redo a portion of your route to complete the loop. Choose which you liked best to get you back to the mountains, ideally on the second day of your back track ending in the city of Khe San.
WHERE TO STAY IN HUE
We were so shocked in Hue with the absolutely quality and service of the hotels for the price. We stayed at the Holiday Diamond Hotel and rated it a true 10 star. It also included a breakfast and was the best food we had. It was a full menu and you could eat or drink as much as you wanted. They had delicious fruits, real Vietnamese Coffee, a nice change from eggs and bread. Say hi to Anna, Helen and Alice while you are there! It is also a short ride to the Unesco Imperial City one of the cities best attractions.
DAY 11 HUE TO KHE SANH
This was wonderful for the first half, up the mountain towards Alue. The second half was a lot of towns before arriving in Kasan. This city is one of those places where nobody actually stays at for more then a day. It is 250 kilometers until the next Phona Na city without much between so it is a place to rest your head.
WHERE TO STAY IN KHE SANH
Khe San is a larger city, with about 3 hotels, but nothing special and will be a stop over before beginning your next day. The hotels are all rated horribly here. The Khanh Phuong Hotel has the better ratings and was fully booked when we arrived so stayed at the Ninh Thai Hotel, which we would not recommend staying at if you can. Needless to say, we slept in our clothes and it was the most expensive room on the trail. Note, if you do stay here, on booking.com it says $18 usd, but they only charge 300,000vnd. If the construction is done on your visit, try the new Green hotel at the beginning of town.
DAY 12- KHE SANH TO PHONG NHA
From Khe Sanh, you have another spectacular day ahead of you. During this whole day, you can expect to wind your way along rivers, through valleys, along lush mountains and by small tribal villages. It was on this day, I saw a Vietnamese lady walking with a bamboo rucksack, a dress sarong wrapped around her body, with a pipe in her mouth. It was a real life version of the photos we had seen in the ethnology museum in Boun Ma Thout.
You can choose to split this day into 1 day with about 115 km in the morning and afternoon for a total of 230 km. Until recently this was your only choice, but there is now a hotel that has recently opened in the quaint mountain village town of Long Son. If I was ever to live in a mountain village, it would be here.
Throughout this whole day, you will not find an abundance of agriculture like the rest of Vietnam, but mostly untouched Jungle. It’s truly a spectacular part of your Vietnam motorbike trip. In the afternoon, after passing through Long Son, you will find the mountain pass enters a very heavily forested area as you wind up and then down the mountain. As you are winding down the mountain pass, the jungle gets thicker and thicker and then appears the stunning limestone mountains that you continue to weave around until you reach the quaint tourist town of Phong Nha.
As you enter the town you drive alongside the coffee shops perched overlooking the river and the Limestone Mountain wall.
Phong Nha “tourist centre” is unique to any towns you have encountered so far. If you have time, plan to spend a day or two here. The small center of town is surrounded by 2 rows of limestone mountains so it’s pretty likely your hotel will have a pretty cool view. Some have called Phong Nha Khe National Park is better than Halong Bay. Phong Nha is also home to the largest cave in the world, Son Doong cave, that could hold a whole New York city block, sky scrapers and all. The price tag is pretty high at about $3000 per person and has more than a year waiting list. There are regular tours for the Paradise cave and Dark cave that depart down the river daily. If we could choose our hotel location again, we would skip the city and get a hotel along the beautiful river like Phong Coco House.
DAY 13 – PHONG NA TO PHO CHAU
Another highlight day as you leave Phong Nha and continue to pass by spectacular limestone mountain ranges but this time instead of surrounded by lush jungle surrounded by agriculture and rice paddy fields. It’s an example of how each day you will not pass through identical scenery and today is unique to it’s own. As you continue through the Quang Binh Province you will notice the limestone mountain pass away and beautiful sites of agriculture fill your viewpoint.
The roads are not the winding roads that you have been following so today even though you are travelling 180 km, you can travel this distance quickly. Ending in Pho Chau you can choose to stay in a guesthouse in the main town or go to the newer hotel just outside of town called Minh Tu Hotel.
DAY 14 – PHO CHAU TO CAM THUY
From Pho Chau you will drive through the province of Ha Tinh and Nghe Anh. Although not the same lush jungle, this is also a very unique pass through agriculture and rice paddy fields. While travelling through Nghe Anh, one of Vietnams largest provinces but least visited, we found the people here to be so friendly. We were so lucky to be travelling through this area during a rice harvest and could see the fields being harvested, the machines separating the grains from the hay and both the grains and hay being layed out to dry along the pavements. Some farmers don’t even leave an area for cars to pass by but spread the hay across the whole road.
It can be quite comical to drive down these roads. Tan Ky is about a half way point to stop for lunch and is a town known for being the start of the Ho Chi Minh trail. You will want to end your day in or around Cam Thuy. Along your way here make sure to stop at one of the roadside stands for a refreshing coconut in the shaded road stretches. Most of the time when you order a coconut it comes with a straw but in this area, they split the coconut, scoop out the young coconut flesh and serve it in a pitcher with ice. Limestone Mountains reappear giving you a sneak peak of the route to the North.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAM THUY
Cam Thuy is really a small town with only 1 hotel we found, Nha hang Than Nhan that we didn’t get a good vibe from and stayed at a hotel about 6 km before town. There was another hotel called Golden Time in the town before you might also stop at. I wish we had remembered the name of the hotel we stayed at but were not thinking much the next morning. We ended up getting drunk of local moonshine with the 5 homestay family that spoke no english. Stories of the road 🙂
Continue reading or Skip to each section: Day 16 Ninh Binh to Hanoi
DAY 15 – CAM THUY TO NINH BINH
From Cam Thuy, you have 3 choices. You can choose to end your trip and complete the remaining 150 km to Hanoi, travel the limestone mountain range to Mai Chai, or go east to Ninh Binh. All are good options, if you choose to go North to Mai Chau, you can even keep going along the western-northern route all the way to Sapa and take the train back. Ninh Binh is home to Trang Nha, one of the top destinations to visit in Vietnam. Take a river boat through limestone mountain caves to a Unesco heritage site through islands surrounded by peaked mountains.
We chose to go to Ninh Binh, because frankly our buts were a little sore at this point. Trang Nha is considered a Unesco Heritage site for it’s geographic uniqueness but also because it played an integral role when the Vietnamese won against the Mongolians during the war in the 1800’s. Most people choose to stay in Cam Toc and tour many destinations from their. Being honest, if I could, I would spend more time in the brilliant mountains and skip the tourist destination of Ninh Binh. After leaving Cam Thuy and turning around the mountain range right towards Ninh Binh you are hit with a wall of smog from neighbouring Hanoi city. The intense smog and pollution stings your eyes and frankly spoils this natural beauty. At the time of visiting the pollution levels were rated a score of 90.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is a large city and the capital of the province Ninh Binh. However, most tourists find themselves staying in the Tam Coc area. We enjoyed our stay at the Tuan Ngoc Hotel or try a cultural stay at the Vietnamese Ancient Village. Tam Coc is approx 4 km outside of the Ninh Binh town, and located around the Tam Coc river and surrounded by limestone mountains and rice paddy fields. There is only 1 ATM in this area, but many restaurants, shops and hotels all within walking or biking distance. Many hotels provide a complimentary bicycle to get around.
DAY 16 – NINH BINH TO HANOI
From Ninh Binh you have 2 more options, you can choose to take your motorbike over to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island or end your epic Vietnam motorbike trip in Hanoi. We opted to bike to Cat Ba Island and from Cat Ba Island to Hanoi. Being honest, we would not redo this trip as it’s 2 days of long dusty highways with lots of trucks. To see the famous Halong Bay, take a tour from Hanoi when you arrive or from Halong Bay City.
Motorbiking across Vietnam is not for everyone, but for a thrill seeker can provide an experience of a lifetime. The roads were in so much better shape then we thought and had lots of challenging corners. The scenery and skill never got boring. Come with an open mind, be in the moment, and schedule enough time to get early before sunset in case of unpredictable situations. Most important be safe and really enjoy it! This true beauty and remote villagers will not stay forever. We saw the start of the transformation of cement houses going up beside the straw and mud shacks so get out and do this while you can. Don’t forget to be awesome 🙂
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