Motorcycling in Vietnam: 6 Thrilling Road Trips to Add to Your Bucket List
by Octavia Drughi
We’ve all seen Vietnam’s compelling rice terraces, coffee plantations, water buffaloes, pagodas, scenic coastlines and beyond-stunning countryside scenery in countless war movies. Yet nothing can prepare you for the exotic beauty and unique cultural heritage the country actually exhibits.
If you’re planning to travel in Vietnam by motorbike, then you should feel right at home – the majority of road users in the country are on two wheels. Furthermore, a motorcycle tour in Vietnam allows you to take in the scenery at your own pace, reach remote corners tourists rarely get to see, travel slow and mingle with the locals.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh cities are excellent starting points for your two-wheeled journey. After you’ve taken your time to fully explore their street markets and temples, you should aim to hit the road and let the true adventure begin.
Just as the US has its Route 66, Vietnam has its symbolic roads too. Join me as we explore some of Vietnam’s best road trips that you should definitely add to your bucket list!
6. The O Quy Ho Pass
The longest mountain pass in Vietnam, O Quy Ho spreads for about 31 miles (50 km) on National Highway 4D, connecting Lao Cai to Lai Chau. Running along the Hoang Lien Song range, the pass’ peak reaches an altitude of 6,560 ft (2,000 m) in a place suggestively called ‘Heaven Gate’.
As visually stunning as it may be, this road has its fair share of dangers. Numerous hairpin turns lie perched over an abyss, passing by streams and waterfalls while offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The O Quy Ho Pass is one of the major attractions in northwestern Vietnam, crossing the Hoang Lien Son mountain range covered in white clouds almost all year round. Hence the other nickname – ‘cloudy mountain pass’.
Best time: summer months. You will pass from cool and cloudy weather in Lao Cai to the sunny, dry and warm weather in Lai Chau. This is also when the road will be surrounded by colorful wild flowers.
Length: 31 miles (50 km).
Top sights: Thac Bac (Silver) Waterfall, Tram Ton (Love) Fall.
5. Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai
The most beautiful rice terraced fields in Vietnam are said to be found in Mu Cang Chai, a highland commune in the Yen Bai province, about 170 miles (280 km) from Hanoi.
Before heading out to see the highlands of northwestern Vietnam with your own two eyes, make sure you take the time to explore the bustling Old Quarters of Hanoi and fill up on the vibrant city’s delicious street food.
One of the highlights of the trip is the Khau Pha Pass, one of the five great passes of northern Vietnam, alongside the above-mentioned O Quy Ho Pass. This high-mountain pass rises 4,900 ft (1,500 m) above sea level in the Mu Cang Chai district and is about 20 miles (32 km) long. The occasional thick fog, risk of landslide and numerous hairpin turns make the Khau Pha Pass one of the most dangerous roads in Vietnam. Of course, this only adds to the thrill.
Rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai – Photo by Khánh Hmoong
Best time: autumn, between September and November.
Length: about 170 miles (280 km).
Time: minimum 3 days
Top sights: La Pan Tan commune and its rice terraces, Lim Mong village and valley, the hot spring baths at Tu Le.
Insider’s tip: glutinous sweet rice is a must-try specialty in these parts.
4. Saigon – Dalat – Nha Trang
A quiet and scenic back-road that takes you along beaches and mountains without the hassle of the busy roads, this series of enchanting coastal roads through rural Vietnam, turns motorcycling from Saigon to Dalat into an unforgettable journey.
The first section of the road takes you from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, passing by mangrove forests, pristine beaches, and mountain scenery. Mui Ne has long been considered ‘Vietnam’s Hawaii’, a laid-back beach resort. From Mui Ne to Dalat, the road takes you from sea level all the way to 1,500 ft (450 m), passing through the Dai Ninh and Prenn passes.
If you have enough time on your hands, you can consider setting aside a day or two to explore Vietnam’s Central Highlands, starting from Dalat.
The section from Dalat to Nha Trang is one of southern Vietnam’s most scenic routes. You will pass by farmlands and rolling hills, and climb the Long Lanh Pass before reaching the coastal resort of Nha Trang.
Best time: all year round.
Length: around 370 miles (600 km).
Time: minimum 4 days.
Top sights: Mui Ne Beach, Ke Ga Hamlet, the Cu Chi tunnels (over 125 miles/200 km built by the Communist guerillas during the war), the Prenn Waterfall.
Insider’s tip: Mui Ne Beach is famous for surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing. The best waves can be found between August and November.
3. Da Nang to Lang Co through the Hai Van Pass
A tad bit shorter than the other roads on our list, this route is no less exciting. Lang Co is considered one of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches and is located just 19 miles (30 km) from Da Nang. It may be close, but to get to it, you must pass through one of the country’s most stunning mountain passes – the Hai Van pass.
Its name, ‘Sea Cloud’, comes from the mist that rises from the South China Sea. The 13-mile (21 km) long pass on National Route 1A is one of the most iconic roads in the world, with hairpin turns along lush jungles, the sea on one side and the rest of Vietnam on the other. In 2005, a tunnel opened beneath the mountain, meaning that only adventure lovers ride through the Hai Van Pass these days.
Lang Co Beach – Photo by Nguyen Anh Tuan
Best time: between April and July. This is when the water is warm enough to swim.
Length: 19 miles (30 km).
Top sights: Chan May beach, Vong hai Dai (Sea Watchtower), Bach Ma (White Horse) National Park, Lap An Lagoon in Lang Co.
Insider’s tip: the sea food in Lang Co is as delicious as it is cheap!
2. The Ho Chi Minh Trail
Pass by coffee plantations, scenic rice fields with their iconic water buffalos, reed-covered lakes and fascinating hill-tribe villages as you ride your motorbike from Saigon to Hanoi on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Built during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the Ho Chi Minh Trail used to be an intricate network of roads and tunnels in the western Truong Son mountain range. It connected the north and south of Vietnam through the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia. After the war, the trail was abandoned.
Starting with 2004, the Vietnamese government decided to turn the old trail into a highway. It is now completely changed and no longer offers the off-road motorcycle rides that it was so loved for. Nevertheless, it is an exciting motorbike road trip through Vietnam’s remarkable countryside. Thanks to its light traffic, motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail is on every biker’s bucket list.
If you start in Hanoi and go south, the first major attraction you’ll encounter and one of the most spectacular runs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail is the Phong Nha to Khe Sanh road. The journey takes you near the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, which shelters the world’s largest cave discovered so far – the San Doong Cave.
Dau Mau Bridge on the HCM Trail – Photo by manhhai
Best time: March to September. However, the Ho Chi Minh Road runs the length of the country and is quite mountainous, which makes it hard to determine the best time of year – severe weather changes may occur, which is why it is best to check the weather forecast before heading out.
Length: 1,168 miles (1,880 km) from Saigon to Hanoi.
Time: the average duration is 2 weeks, but the trail can easily be split into smaller sections.
Top sights: Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, the history-filled cities of Hue and Hoi An, Dau Mau Bridge, the small fishing village of Bai Xep, Dalat and Ho Chi Minh cities.
Insider’s tip: Dalat (supposedly) has some of the best coffee in the world.
1. The Road of Happiness: Ha Giang
Its name alone is reason enough to get you to come here. Highway 4C, better known as the Road of Happiness, is a winding road in the northern Ha Giang province. The hundreds of hairpin turn over precipices are certainly not for beginners, but those who dare venture beyond the touristy routes and into the unknown are in for a treat.
This remote, mysterious area of Vietnam that borders China’s Yunnan province makes motorcycling in Ha Giang the last frontier for bikers traveling through the country. To get from Ha Giang to the Dong Van karst plateau Geopark, you will pass by impressive limestone walls, granite outcrops, rice terraced fields and friendly local hill tribes like the proud Black Hmong.
The highlight of the trip is the 12-mile (20 km) section between Dong Van and Meo Vac. This ride is said to be the most splendid in the entire country, climbing through the Ma Pi Lang Pass with numerous viewpoints above vertical cliff walls. Twisting and turning while perched on the side of a massive gorge, the road connecting the town is not for the faint-hearted.
Best time: summer (June-July) and autumn (September-November).
Length: around 200 miles (330 km) round-trip.
Time: minimum 3 days.
Top sights: Dong Van rocky plateau, Palace of King H’Mong, the many hill tribe villages on the way.
Insider’s tip: plan your trip around the Dong Van Sunday Market and have freshly cooked Pho (traditional noodle soup).
Octavia is a travel writer for BookMotorcycleTours.com. She is a passionate mountaineer, rock climber and adventure addict who likes to take it slow and enjoy the view.
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