For about five weeks I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride a motorbike through the exquisite landscape of Vietnam. This trip is definitely one of the best things that I have ever done whilst travelling. However, it is not suitable for everyone, and there are many things that you should consider before setting off on your own adventure (I discuss some of these things here and here). Below I’ve detailed the places that I visited during my jaunt. If you do decide to bike around the country, I encourage you to make your own route; stop when you need a break, drive off when you don’t like somewhere and most of all enjoy yourself.
Hanoi – Ba Vi National Park – Hoa Binh 110km
Halong bay and Sapa are the biggest tourist attractions of northern Vietnam. However, both are quite a distance from the capital, and being a novice at riding a manual bike, it seemed best to go to somewhere a bit closer. The most difficult part of this journey was getting out of the city, but once that was done it was smooth sailing. We chose to take the scenic route to Hoa Binh going anti-clockwise around Ba Vi, it made our trip a bit longer, but it was worth it for the views. Also, the air is noticeably cleaner once you get into the countryside. There’s not much in Hoa Binh town, but we felt that it was time to rest.
Hoa Binh – Mai Chau 63km
This was a great little route through the mountains. The roads were well maintained and not too busy. As you drive into Mai Chau you catch an aerial view of it looking like something from a picture book. We stayed in Eco House, a traditional stilt house; for 200,000vnd per person you get a private room, breakfast and evening meal. The food was delicious, and on Saturdays there’s an after dinner show of traditional singing and dancing. There’s plenty of bike and walking routes around the hills and fields, but it’s also an impeccable place to relax and enjoy the views.
Mai Chau – Cuc Phuong National Park 111km
This was another picturesque route through the hills. Cuc Phuong was the first Vietnamese national park, and it also has primate and turtle conservations on site. Entrance is 40,000vnd – more if you require a guide – there are some pleasant hiking routes of differing lengths around the dense jungle.
Cuc Phuong -Ninh Binh 40km
Ninh Binh doesn’t have much to offer in the town itself, but there are several tourist attractions a few kilometres outside of it. Van Long stood out for me, because it was so peaceful to float through the lily ponds and gaze at the amazing limestone formations. This area has been dubbed he Halong bay of the rice paddies.
Ninh Binh – Thanh Hoa 64km
Thanh Hoa has a great little market street on Ben Ngu where you can get roasted chicken or snails amongst other local delicacies. Don’t expect to see any foreign faces in this neck of the woods though.
Thanh Hoa – Ha Tinh 190km
This was a long journey for us on pretty nondescript roads. When we arrived at the town we were tired and dirty, so we checked into the closest hotel. We were too exhausted to realise that it was a bit of a seedy establishment which specialised in hourly rates. Learn from my mistake and check the room thoroughly before you decide to stay.
Ha Tinh- Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park 138km
I really enjoyed this leg of the trip. The road wound through little villages, past the sea, through hills and over rivers; each corner seemed to offer more beauty than the last. The park itself has an abundance of various activities. There’s plenty of places to sleep and eat in Son Trach which is close to the park, but you’ll need some form of transport to get to most of the attractions.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang – Hue 205km
This trip meant that we spent far too long under the relentless sun. Despite using suncream, my skin was red, so I decided that lengthy driving like this should be restricted to cloudy days. The old capital has some interesting tombs littered around the outskirts of the city, (up to 16km away). Also, there are many delicious local delicacies – bun bo Hue and banh beo to name a few – that you must try if you visit.
Hue – Lang Co 70km
Due to this being such a short trip we decided to take the scenic route and avoid the main roads. I was hoping for a coastal road that meandered along the East Sea, but this was not the case. However, the narrow roads were very pleasant as they snaked past quaint houses, ornate places of worship and burial grounds. Close to the coast is a spectacular lagoon, and there are also a few waterfalls that are worth a visit.
Lang Co – Danang 50km
There are two options for this route; you can either take the tunnel through the mountains, or you can take the Hai Van pass over. We chose the mountain path, and it did not disappoint. The road offers breathtaking views of the sea, picturesque beaches and a stunning glimpse of Danang.
Danang – Hoi An 42km
I chose to drive down the coastal road instead of the 1A. Hoi An is a picturesque tourist town which is situated only a couple of kilometres from the beach and some beautiful countryside. There’s an ancient temple called My Son about an hours drive outside of the town; it’s set in an idyllic location, and the serene atmosphere contrasts with bustling Hoi An.
Hoi An – Quang Ngai 116km
There was nothing particularly pleasant about this drive; it’s mostly main roads once you leave Hoi An. Just outside the town of Quang Ngai there is a museum commemorating the My Lai massacre from the Vietnam war.
Quang Ngai – Quy Nhon 175km
This route winds past some sublime scenery. Quy Nhon is a coastal town, it boasts a broad sweep of clean beach, and this was the perfect place to relax after a day of riding. There’s plenty of affordable accommodation to chose from.
Quy Nhon – Ganh Da Dia – Tuy Hoa 133km
Ganh Da Dia, (also known as the giants causeway of Vietnam), is 100km south of Quy Nhon. If you’re in this area I highly recommend d popping over – it’s a picturesque location for a picnic, or just to have a break from driving.
Tuy Hoa – Nha Trang 126km
There’s some exquisite mountain passes along this stretch, and they tend to look out over the sea. Nha Trang is a bit of a nightmare to navigate around. If you’re trying to avoid touristy places don’t stop here, but it was a good opportunity to indulge in some western food.
Nha Trang – Dalat 136km
Generally, people say that this route (Khanh Le pass) is their favourite in Vietnam. Admittedly, the road is littered with potholes along certain stretches, but the crisp air and panoramic views make up for it. The weather’s much cooler in the mountains, so keep an extra layer accessible for when the mercury drops. Dalat is home to 100 Roofs Cafe which is by far the most outlandish place I’ve ever had a drink in; it consists of a warren-like maze that corkscrews through the building before you emerge in an enchanting garden.
Dalat – Mui Ne 165km
Another spectacular ride that meandered through dusty farming towns and sublime mountain paths. The road is pretty quiet – which makes a change from the highway – so you can drive comfortably through the lush green highlands. The highlight of Mui Ne is the sand dunes, (personally I thought they were a bit overrated though). On our way to the sand dunes was the only point we were pulled over by the police during our trip, despite having the required documents they still gave us an on the spot fine of 500,000vnd. I heard similar stories from other travellers, so if you do plan to visit the sand dunes take extra precautions with your driving and make sure you have the right licence.
Mui Ne – Saigon (HCM) 197km
There was absolutely nothing pleasant about this journey. As you get closer to the city the traffic gets crazy and the fumes are unbearable (wear a mask if you have one). However, it was a bit emotional to think that this was the last leg of our amazing jaunt through Vietnam.
Good luck with your own adventure!