Never in my wildest dreams would I’ve thought some of the BEST ROADS I’d ever ride on a motorcycle would be in Vietnam! As a motorcycle enthusiast I live for the ride, ultimate freedom, and the wind blowing through my hair as I carve mountains roads, ocean on one side, cliffs on the other. A simple recipe for a dish of ultimate happiness that can only be described as Vietnam This main course was more than enough to satisfy my vivacious biker appetite.
During my travels of the motherland I met an innumerable amount of backpackers either throwing a leg over or hopping off the saddle of a motorcycle. They all had great tales to tell of all the amazing roads they’ve ridden throughout the country. Ha Giang Loop in the north, Hai Van Pass in the center, or the ever twisty Da Lat to Nha Trang run, the list went on and on.
Their eyes lit up, a smile bestowed their face when reminiscing about their epic rides through the valleys, mountains, rice paddies, mountain cliff-sides, and beaches. Running out of gas, getting caught in sudden downpours, or even the occasional off did not slow down these rag tag group of adventure lovers.
I took some time during my trip to saddle up to ride a few of the aforementioned routes, but it was just a small taste that’s never enough. Here are my list of some of THE BEST roads you need to ride when you find yourself in Vietnam.
Nature’s Bosom – The Ha Giang Loop
Probably THE MOST TALKED ABOUT motorcycle route I encountered on my travels through Vietnam. Any backpacker who have gone through the north has more than likely ridden the Ha Giang Loop. It almost became the de-facto conversation starter: “Oh you’ve done Vietnam? Did you ride Ha Giang?”
So what is it? The Ha Giang Loop is a 400km loop full of everything a motorcyclist can dream of in one epic ride that border’s southern China. Start to finish takes an average of three to five days to complete. I would err on the side of five days to soak in all the sights it has to offer.
A preview of SOME of the views you’ll encounter on the Ha Giang Loop.
The route takes you through some of the MOST BREATHTAKING sights in all of SE Asia you will ever see. Deep in the high mountains you will pass immensely beautiful ranges, vast valleys, a plethora of rice paddies, and many little towns along the way. This is a very good opportunity to meet many other adventurers to team up for a group ride to explore the area or simply share stories of your experiences.
NOTE: Many tours are available to conquer this loop if you don’t feel up to the challenge as well as rental shops for the ever courageous traveler.
“…For three days I’ve seen the most beautiful sceneries and the cutest little towns in the middle of nowhere. Would go again for sure. Note: be careful of the “happy water”… The drivers feed you even if you keep saying no, so if you didn’t eat anything before you drink, yeah… bad idea….” – Rosa Blankestijn
The Holy Pilgrimage – Saigon to Hanoi
This is the pilgrimage of all pilgrimage in SE Asia: riding from Saigon to Hanoi via motorbike. Every one who comes here to enjoy the beauty of this country have the intentions of doing so on two wheels and this is the top of their list! The great thing about this is you can deviate as much as you want from one particular route and still make good headway north, or south if you want to traverse in the opposite direction. You can choose the more mountainous interior of the country or cruise along its coastal fishing villages and enjoy the sea-breeze.
In all honesty you can take a route that encompasses ANY of the ones I have mentioned in this post and have an amazing time. You should allow for about 2-4 weeks worth of time to finish the pilgrimage, 6 full weeks to ensure you thoroughly enjoy everything she has to offer.
The bulk of the people I met were or will be on this route at some point during their visit to Vietnam. A lot simply bought scooters or motorbikes in either city and turned around to resell them once they got to their destination. This plan is a very solid plan, but looking for a buyer can be tricky and time consuming when you finish your route. There are companies positioned throughout the country specializing in renting motorbikes you can pick up in one city and drop off in another.
NOTE: Check these guys out for the ultimate route from south to north or vice versa!
I myself could not partake in this trek on my last visit, but fortunately enough my brother go to rip it up from south to north. Check out his video for all the epic adventure that ensued:
Easy Rider – Hai Van Pass (from Hoi An to Hue)
The Hai Van Pass is actually only about 13 miles long, but it’s situated PERFECTLY to separate the long ride from Hoi An to Hue for some hooligan fun. Leaving the south and heading north you’ll find yourself in the mountain ranges of a very busy travel route. The pass is quite popular with tourist, backpackers, and locals alike as it overlooks some of the most majestic vistas of the entire country.
You’ll find some parts of the road in disrepair so be careful when riding through the pass. Other parts provide such smooth asphalt that the ride is MUCH MORE comfortable on the wrists and body, as well as being insanely FUN with tons of grip! Hai Van Pass is very flowing through the flat sections, providing great switchbacks and a few long sweepers. When you reach the climbing section you may want to rethink why you packed so much on your motorbike! There are some VERY HAIRY hairpins that sometimes can can go back-to-back so be careful if you are coming downhill.
At the top of the pass you will be rewarded with a spectacular vantage point of the road you just came from, the mountain cliffs and the ocean view in the background. A lot of motorcycle tours, tour buses, and people come through this section of the road so it can be quite lively. Plenty of shops, bathrooms, and restaurants to refuel at on your way northward.
Towards the end of the pass, before heading to Hue, you can take a breather at a spot made famous by the trio of Top Gear. Before finishing the ride it was nice to just kick back after a logging all those KMs for the day.
Into the Mountains – Da Lat to Nha Trang (via DT652/2)
Often times this can be one of the best roads a lot of new riders can tackle when riding through Vietnam. If you are leaving the hectic city life of Saigon onwards north DT652 will be taking you through the pristine mountain vistas of southern Vietnam. Rolling mountain tops with nothing but green floral all around, it’s a spectacular road to traverse.
Views in the mountains of Da Lat – quite breathtaking!
The ride itself can sometime be completed in about 5 hours time. Account for a little more if you plan to stop for photos and the occasional ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’ Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be doing the same here?
NOTE: It is a little more harrowing than the rest of the routes as it has many twisty sections that goes through the high canyons. ALSO a popular route for transport going to or coming from Nha Trang expect sometimes heavy traffic of the people carrier variety!
Back to Basics – Khe Sanh to Phong Nha (via QL15)
One of the best overall routes on my list is this gem. It has a little bit of everything and then some. Riding from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha you will be ascending and descending mountain passes as quickly and as often as it rains here during the monsoon season. Ever been on a Space Mountain at Disneyland? This road is liken to that!
The map can look daunting with how many twisties it displays, but you will find it to be an insanely fun road to ride. After a few flicks left and ride it’s usually followed by short straights where you can twist on the gas and smile ear to ear. This route will help you hone some basic motorcycling skills such as counter steering, braking techniques, and target fixation to name a few. Always BE CAUTIOUS as this is a public road and NOT A PRACTICE TRACK!
Once you get to Phong Nha indulge yourself in some spelunking! Home to one of the best cave systems in SE Asia and maybe the world! Don’t just take my word for it either!
The Great Reminder – Phong Nha to Ninh Binh (via QL16/15/1A)
Quite possibly the most daunting of all the routes on my list is this one from Phong Nha to Ninh Binh. On average it can take a rider two days to complete with an overnight stop in the city of Vinh in the country’s central area. It’s not always high mountain tops of vistas of beaches on your rides as this one can attest to. The road isn’t as tough as some on my list but the sheer distance can be a lot for some. The rewards once you get to Ninh Binh will all be worth the trouble of the ride.
For the history buffs you can enjoy the city of Vinh and all the knowledge it holds. Since it’s an economic mecca in central Vietnam this meant it was heavily bombed during the war. While the town itself has been restored to original or modern day standards, the history of what happened still resonates. Travel a few kilometers outside of the town and you can find the village in which Ho Chi Minh was born!
Short but Sweet – Cat Ba Island (via Đường xuyên đảo Cát Bà)
A very short ride through the picturesque island of Cat Ba. You can start from one port of the island and make it towards the other in less than an hour. It’s a very ideal place to learn how to ride a scooter if you have never been on one before. The road is easy to navigate, simple to ride and conditions are in good standing so you won’t be overly intimidated.
This short route takes you through Cat Ba National park along way to either ports so if you fancy a stop for a walk it makes it the perfect detour. It ascends and descends rather quite fast all the while winding its way through a few local villages. There are many breathtaking valleys on either side of the route so make sure you stop along the way to enjoy those! Once you have arrived have a coffee or a beer and enjoy the sights and sounds of boats coming in and out of the bay.
NOTE: The roads through the mountain part whenI rode them were LESS than ideal with many cracks and deviations in them. Be on the lookout for goat herders too! Yes the last part is 100% true!
Vietnam is truly a motorcyclist’s heaven. The perfect mixture of everything one can want in an adventure who’s memories will last a lifetime. I didn’t get to enjoy all of the routes I mentioned in this list, but the small taste I received during my short stay had me salivating at the mouth to come back for another bite. Mark a one or two, a few, or all of these routes on your next visit to Vietnam and bask in all her glory while atop two wheels.
If you have ridden any of the roads or others I would love to hear your adventure!