Motorcycle Tour through the North of Vietnam
Doing a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam has to be on top of your list of things to do in this country. It is an absolutely fascinating area with many untouched places, lots of surprises, tiny pretty Vietnamese villages and the most beautiful landscape you will have probably ever seen. It’s one of the less travelled areas of Vietnam, but therefore one of the best.
When coming to Vietnam most people only think of Halong Bay, Hanoi or Hoi An as highlights to visit. But this is not 100% true. As great as these places are, the real beauty can only be found in the countryside of Vietnam. Most of it is so untouched that you’ll feel like your are the only person in the world, who has ever been there.
And to be honest: You almost are, especially when you do a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. It’s an incredibly scenic drive that almost no traveller tries to attampt, because it’s quite challenging at some parts.
In this post I want to tell you about the two areas to go to in the north of Vietnam, which one I took and why. Additionally I’ll give you the almost exact route (it was quite hard to remember – very confusing up there 😉 ) and show you questions that many people have asked me about the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam.
Let’s start with the most important questions first…
Motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam – Common questions
Before I did a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam I asked myself/ got asked a lot of questions. I picked out the most important ones for you:
Danger & conditions
- Is it dangerous ?
A motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam is not really dangerous at all. It depends on your driving skills and which route you take. Let’s say it like this: If you do it exactly the way that I did it, then it might get a little more complicated… 😉
But if you follow 80% of the route that I give you (20% to maybe leave out – I explain later 😉 ), then you’ll be fine and you gonna have an epic adventure
- What if I crash?
As I mentioned in this post, having an accident is not very nice. I actually had one during the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam (I mention how it happened below)
For this particular case I can give you 3 honest advises:
– Drive even more carefully than you usually do anyway
– Get your bike fixed by a local
– Get up and keep moving
- How are the road conditions?
Road conditions are quite good 90% of the time. Here and there you’ll find some damaged parts and sometimes the roads just stop, but in general there is nothing to argue about 🙂
Getting lost, communication & weather
- What if I get lost?
Yeah then you are in a bad situation… no I am joking 🙂 It’s not a big problem. Just drive back the way until you reach a village or to a place where you can orientate. The Vietnamese will definitely help you. They are the friendliest people I have ever met and they will sort you out for sure.
Short tip: Always make a screenshot of the route from Google maps to show the locals
- How to communicate?
Unfortunately Vietnamese people on the countryside don’t really speak the best English most of the time. Here and there you find some exceptions, but usually you have to communicate with body language. It always works out somehow.
Short tip: Learn a couple sentences of Vietnamese like “how far is it?”, “Left or right?”, etc. It helps a lot!
- What’s the weather like?
It gets quite cold in the north of Vietnam, especially as you drive around the mountains regions. Furthermore you have to expect more rain than sun. Sometimes it might be sunny, but it will probably get wet. So pack properly and get something to cover your belongings.
Gear & food
- What to bring?
Don’t bring more than you really need for motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. The more you pack, the less space you’ll have on your motorcycle, which makes it harder to drive. See here what I usually take on my trips. Also make sure to bring a rain coat, two big water bottles and some elastic bands to attach your belongings to the motorcycle.
- What to eat?
On the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam you will only find typical Vietnamese dishes like noodle soups, rice with veggies, etc. I had premade Vietnamese sandwiches most of the time. You literally get them at every village. They are delicious and cheap. Plus they last for the whole day of driving, if you ration them.
Short tip: In the evening go for typical noodle soup. They are unbelievably delicious
Accommodation & costs
- Where to stay?
You have no problem to find a place to stay during the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. You’ll find something in every small village. Most of the time you will have to stay at a hotel or a hostel. I preferred the hotels, because they are easily affordable and you have your own private room as well as a private bathroom.
- What about the costs?
Costs are very low on the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. To give you a couple examples:
– Hostel/ hotel: 6-12$ per night
– Food: 3-15$ per day
– Fuel: 8$ for a full tank
I basically lived with 12-20$ per day, which is crazy right? Vietnam is actually one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia. So don’t worry about money 😉
Motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam – Sapa or Bac Can Province ?
You basically have two options when it comes to a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. Both of them are really good and you’ll have fun at either of them.
Sapa is exactly like the Bac Can Province with one major difference.
The township of Sapa and the area around it certainly have a way better infrastructure then the northeast. Plus it’s pretty easy to get to there.
The infrastructure is a major question when you think about doing a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam, because you don’t want to drive on difficult roads when your driving skills are not that good.
From what I have seen and all the pictures you can have a look at on the internet, it’s unmistakable that Sapa is one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful places. The area of Sapa is actually the main reason why people go to the north of Vietnam. It’s the most known place in the whole northern region besides Halong Bay.
Sapa lies in a mountain area. You’ll find huge rice terraces in small evergreen valleys in between huge mountain chains. Many people book a hiking tour to explore the area. Most tourists book it in Hanoi. I would always recommend to do it on site. You’ll definitely save some money.
Sapa is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, because of its long history, insane beauty and enormous historical as well as touristical value for the country.
So it would be a good option, if you’re rather like typical guided tours.
Bac Can Province
But a typical guided travel tour is not what this post is about. I want to encourage you to do your own motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. Therefore I would recommend you to drive towards the north east to an area called Bac Can. The drive will definitely be different to the one in Sapa. Some parts of the route that I show you are definitely not a picnic. If you are a really hardcore type of person, then you can drive all the way up to Cao Bang. If you take a couple more unusual roads, then you’ll come around some very lost mountain terrain.
You can be sure, that not many people have done that before, so you’ll always have something really special to remember for the rest of your life 😉
Cao Bang is the capital of the Cao Bang Province. It’s quite prosaic, but still very nice. The province has one of Vietnam’s most beautiful landscapes and includes the biggest waterfall of the country (Ban Gioc Waterfall).
But if you don’t want to do a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam, which goes that far, then you can also only explore the area of Bac Can, which I recommended. It’s just as good.
What waits for you in the Bac Can Province
It’s an absolutely phenomenal drive and it’s very similar to the one in Sapa. However a big difference is that there are no real tours to be made, which is why the whole north east of Vietnam is pretty undeveloped for some parts. Otherwise the tourism industry would have been taking over already.
But exactly the fact that it hasn’t is what makes it truely beautiful!
You’ll see one crystal clear lake after another, strong rivers, small unknown villages, a ridiculous amount of huge rice fields in the more flatter as well as mountain regions, old temples and wonderful mountain ranges. It’s just completely untouched nature!
Besides the motorcycle tour through the center of Vietnam, this was one of the greatest adventures I had in my life so far.
I could not name one specific spot like Sapa that blew my mind, because the whole drive itself actually already did, which is why I highly recommend to rather choose THIS route for your motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam.
There are countless of places that fascinated me. It’s just not possible to pick one highlight, because there are to many…
Google Maps Route: Click here
When going on a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam you can choose all different kind of roots. The one that I took can be taken by everyone for most parts, even with average driving skills. About 20% of the route is a bit dangerous, because these part’s streets are in bad conditions or there are no streets at all.
The first part of the route starts Hanoi and goes until Deo So. Deo So is right at Bac Can’s border.
Leaving Hanoi is actually not that easy, because it’s so big an quite confusing. You will see yourself. But once you’ve managed that, you will pretty quickly see the difference from a huge metropole compared to the Vietnamese countryside. All of a sudden the only things you see are small villages and pure untouched nature surrounding you.
The further you drive up north east, the more rudimental it gets. You will slowly get into a part of Vietnam where you’ll feel like you have been lost in the jungle. You will be surrounded by more and more mountains, lost lakes and big natural streams. It gets foggy and wet. Besides that it also gets a lot colder, because of the altitude.
Additionally there are less signs to orientate, so you need to be aware of where you want to drive and you need to communicate a lot with the locals. They tell you where to head next in case you feel lost.
During the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam you’ll always find someone to help you. The locals are very friendly. You don’t need to worry 😉
On your way you will probably also see some locals guiding their cattle around the area. All of their cows will casually run around on the street, so it might happen, that you have to stop and wait. Quite a rare experience 🙂
Something like this would never happen in western countries. In addition to that you’ll see many small and big rice fields, bamboo vegetation and coffee farms next to the road, which add positively to the whole somewhat romantic scenery. It’s an absolute pleasure to drive through this area.
Once you get close to Deo So it gets even foggier and colder. The 2nd part of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam goes from Deo So through the mountains and the Ba Be National Park all the way to Khau An. This mountainous region is full of fantastic views and home to many ethnic minority communities.
But this is also the part where it gets rough in between, because there are no streets anymore and you have to drive through some disused construction sites or deep muddy roads. So leave it out, if you don’t want do such a crazy/ freaky thing 😉
I can say I only did it, because I wanted a real adventure and I felt like Superman during that time of my travels. But I have to admit it was very hard and it’s definitely not for everyone.
I want to tell two quick stories, why this part of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam is no bed of roses.
Motorbike tour story 1
The first difficulty is that the locals in this area drive like crazy. They don’t really take care of motorcyclists. I actually had a motorcycle accident during this part. I made my way through the mountains and passed a tiny s-curve in between. A huge truck, which used both lanes, came towards me, so I had to elude on the narrow sidewalk, which was sandy and therefore really slippery. While merging on the side lane my front wheel slipped and I crashed.
Luckily nothing to bad happened, besides some elbow pane and a broken front light. I reduced the speed before already so the crash wasn’t to heavy. Still it was not a cool experience.
The truck drivers didn’t really care. They just jumped out quickly, said 2 sentences in Vietnamese, saw that could stand up somehow and drove off.
Even though I love Vietnamese, because the are one of the friendliest countrymen ever, I have to admit that the way they drive is nuts. So be aware of that. Especially when you do a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam where the density of people, who could help you, is very low.
Motorbike tour story 2
The 2nd thing that happened to me was during the highest part in the mountains. The roads ended at some part. There have been big lost trucks and excavators everywhere. At some parts of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam it seems like you are the only person on the planet. Everything is abandoned. No people, no nothing. Just you and nature. Sounds quite cool in a way, right?
Yeah, but this should usually be a sign to stop, turn around and drive back.
But not for me/ adventurers! I already drove up these mountains for 3-4 hours, so I didn’t want to drive back. Quickly it got pretty clear, that this wasn’t the smartest thing to do. For about 5 km I drove on dirt roads with my small 125 cc motorcycle, which is usually not made for this type of action.
It goes up and down, left and right. It’s slippery and you slight around all the time. Its sounds like fun, but it isn’t that much, because there it’s literally no one to help you if you have a problem. Even less people than at the spot where I crashed.
On top of that I had to be really careful, because my motorcycle broke down twice before during my motorcycle tour through the whole country. Make sure to only go here with a fully unimpaired motorbike.
All this was constant adrenalin for me and a hard part to get through…
Sometimes in between you have some small 3 m high hills where you can’t do anything but sliding down. Be careful! Otherwise you have a real problem.
Just one dude
The only person I have seen up there was an old Vietnamese dude in a small hut smoking his wooden pipe after I managed to survive half of this rough part (2,5 km) from the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam.
When he saw me, he literally pointed his fingers at me from a 20m distance and started to laugh his ass off, because he couldn’t believe that someone is willing to get up there…
After is took a seat and started to calm down from the tough ride he asked me, by using body language, what the **** I was doing there, because normally noone drives on these roads. I couldn’t find a proper answer and I still don’t really know until today (except of the “I am Superman” thing 😉 ).
After he offered me his pipe, he told me that it’s still 2,5 km to go. So we choke hands and I continued.
I eventually made it, but by telling you these two stories I REALLY want to show you: The 2nd part was undeniably one of the coolest adventures I have done so far, but think twice, if you want to go for this part of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam…
This is the relaxing part of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. It goes from Khau An back to Hanoi.
The only thing you do is driving around while enjoying the astonishing surrounding scenery. Nature is so strong and healthy on this part of the motorbike trip. It’s so nice to see something like that. Untouched landscapes like this are pretty rare in Southeast Asia.
The further you drive back towards the south, the closer you get to the flat regions again. It’s gonna be sunnier and drier. Often times there are still huge limestone mountain ranges on the left and right side of the street to be seen.
Driving through this area of northern Vietnam is absolutely wonderful. Everything seems so remote, but with a harmonic spirit. When I was on this part of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam, I felt a little lost (but in a good way) and also extremely happy. It’s hard to describe…
Quick end of the trip
Unfortunately the last part and the whole motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam ends way to fast. Once you are in the more civilized regions again, you will get to Hanoi pretty quickly.
The 2nd part is the one, which takes quite long and uses most of your energy. The rest and the start of the journey is pretty easy going 😉
You will need about 3-5 days for the whole trip (don’t trust Google Maps 😉 ), depending on how much you want to drive per day.
Certainly you could intensify the trip by taking time to enjoy everything a little bit more. Maybe do some detours or short hikes. I would actually recommend to do stuff like that. I did one hike myself and it was great!
The journey took me 4 days in total. Unlike you, I did not end up in Hanoi, but in Halong Bay, which is about the same distance. If you want to change the route in the end, just ask Google 🙂
Motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam – What I have learned
I have learned a lot on the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. There is always something to learn when you travel, but some trips just have a bigger impact than others. This motorbike trip had such a big influence on me and the way I think. Especially the 2nd part was the one, which got me thinking afterwards, because it really pushed me towards my limits. Ultimately the whole motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam told me 3 main lessons:
The first one is actually the reason why I started the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam in the first place. It’s that
We need adventures from time to time
I highly believe that humans are not made to do the same thing over and over and over again. Generally, being consistent, disciplined and hard working towards your goals and dreams for a long period of time is a great thing. But this is not what I mean.
I think that we, as humans, need some other influences from time to time. We just can not repeat the same stuff all the time. People need change and other impressions every now and then in order to grow. We need that in order to become more creative and see things from another perspective. It has heaps of positive effects, if we sometimes do something different or extraordinary, just like a motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam 😉
The second thing the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam told me is to always
This is crutual to reach any goal you will ever have in life. My goal from this special motorbike tour was to experience a real adventure and to do something crazy. I wanted to challenge myself and consciously bring myself in a tricky position. I wanted to handle this situation, learn and eventually grow from it.
And why was I able to do that?
Because I stayed persistent and I did not give up. I followed my vision exceeding my limitations and made it happen. This is how tasks get mastered every single time.
The last thing I learned from the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam is to
never lose hope
Losing hope is the worst thing you can do. When I was on top of the mountains with noone far and wide, nor food nor water anymore and a motorbike just right before breaking down, I thought I might die up there. I literally thought this could be the end, because there was no one to help me, if my motorbike would break down. I also honestly did not have a clue where I was by that time. But I didn’t lose hope. I told myself that I get through this rough part of the motorcycle tour through the north of Vietnam. And I eventually made it.
Everything always turns out to be good somehow. And focusing on the bad sides, makes it way harder to get where you want to go. So never lose hope and keep moving!
Guys, you already know that I talk about what you learn from traveling to much all the time. That’s just how I am 🙂
But I actually do this to show you, that traveling is a great teacher for life and that you can basically apply EVERY single lesson to every other aspect of your life. Whether that’s business, privates, sports or something else. It doesn’t matter. You can always transfer the learnings and they will bring you a lot further in everything you do every single time!
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