We recently released a short video of our epic journey through Vietnam on a motorbike.
But how did we do it?
Now although driving through Vietnam seems quite a daunting task, this was my (and most other peoples) first time riding a motorbike – so do not fear, its not as scary as it sounds. You’re safe as long as you stay away from the Highways (A1) and avoid those cow traffic-jams that barricade the country roads. Trust me, its only going to be a broken down bike and a snapped chain that keeps you from getting to your required destination on time.
So lets set the scene…
A journey that will bring you the Hai Van Pass that crosses coastal mountains ranges, the HCMT that forms a natural barrier into Laos and routes that penetrate the war damaged DMZ zones from the Vietnamese war. The strategic importance of these roads through centuries of conflict is signified by the various monuments throughout the land, and the village tribes that still nestle quietly between the mountains magnify its invaluable beauty.
This trip will undoubtedly be the best trip of your life!
Snake your way through of jungle-clad mountains slops that lower to the misty ocean towns, while stopping off to hurdle down great cannons, float through majestic rivers and relax on the pearl white beaches with a cold beer.
You are in for a journey you will never forget
Before we dive in and give you the PERFECT Itinerary, lets set 4 important ground rules
1) Buying your motorbike – Most people buy their bikes through backpackers who have just completed their trip! In my opinion…bad move! You don’t know what state the bike is in, nor do you know how may miles this charismatic little rust-ball has done. Your best bet is spending a little bit more money and getting a bike off a mechanics suggested to you by your hostel. If you are riding South – North (Hoi Chi Minh -to- Hanoi), the best option is contacting Tigit Motorbikes (see website here). Tigit Motorbikes is a mechanics run by an English dude named Johnathan. Not only do they complete revamp the motorbikes, they will attach bag racks, supply cables, give you a helmet and most importantly – a map! I highly advice this company and prices are much the same as if you were to buy off a backpacker.
2) Prepare for at least 5 major fuck ups during the trip – Honestly, it’s not all rainbows and smiles! Its a journey with both ups and downs – but that is what makes it so amazing! Your bike WILL break down just before it gets dark, you will have to get up for 6am…and yes… you probably will end up sleeping in a hammock on the side of the road or on the floor with a local village tribe. But come one… they are the best stories, right? Personally, i only had 3 fuck ups…and each one of them: was 100% worth it.
3) AVOID THE HIGHWAYS AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE – This is impossible leaving /getting into Hanoi and getting into/ leaving Ninh Ninh. However, these roads are dangerous and full off oversized lorries driving like they are in a bloody video game. Be careful on these roads, accidents do happen! Stick to the country roads or ideally the Ho Chi Minh Trail whenever possible,
4) Don’t rush – I hear people attempting to drive the whole length of Vietnam in just 3/4 weeks. Yes, this is doable, but it won’t be fun. You will have basically no time to rest or sightsee and it will involve a lot of highway driving. Two things you should always avoid.
The itinerary below is advisable for about 6-8 weeks! This gives you time to sight-see, enjoy the Vietnamese unique nightlife and spend time with the incredible local people.
Ho Chi Minh- Mui Ne
Leaving Ho Chi Minh is completely crazy, so prepare yourself for a tsunami of people filtering the streets and roundabouts in dramatic organised chaos.
Once you have left the city, however, this is a nice and easy one.
This first trip should only take you around 6hours.
Note: you have to get on a ferry across the river in order to get out of the city. Really easy and doesn’t take longer than 10 minutes.
Mui Ne – Dalat
This journey is even easier than the first, and the views are breathtaking.
If you are riding a scooter, you made begin to struggle with the mountain roads here. If your on a semi-auto or a manual – your in for some real fun!
Note: you will end up driving through the clouds. Although this is once in a life time experience, it does get super cold! Make sure you have a down jacket to keep you warm in rain!
Expect the trip will take 4-5hours (this includes stops for food and pictures of course).
Dalat – Nha Trang
Head back in to the coast for a beach paradise. Although Nha Trang is stunning, it is dominated by Russian expats, so expect to receive Russian menus and be careful when boozing it up in the bars.
The beaches of Nha Trang are great and there is an epic water park you NEED to check out.
The journey will take around 5 hours
Nha- Trang- Buon Ma Thuot
Note: The blue line is the quickest way there.
The red line is the route we took as we wanted to visit some village tribes.
This was the best decision we made. Not only were we fed amazing local curry, we ended up having a game of 5-side football with one of the local tribal teams.
There really isn’t must going on the Buon Ma Thuot apart from great mechanics and unbeatable French bakeries! mmm..take me back.
What makes Buon Ma Thout so special is the drive out of it. After Buon Ma Thuot…you are in for endless beauty. With every turn you are rewarded with unbelievable views, so be prepared to stop every 5 minutes to take another picture.
The quick route will take around 6 hours
The long route could possibly take 2 days. Down worry, it is easy enough to find a small guest house or a cheap hotel.
Buon Ma Thuot – Kon Tum
There is not much to do in either of these towns, but it is worth the visit simply for the phenomenal drives.
Although Kon Tum has some great surrounding villages and is rich in local culture – we only used this town to rest our heads and we suggest you do the same!
The journey will take around 6-8 hours depending on how many times you stop.
Kon Tum – Hoi An
Well, this was an adventurous journey to say the least!!
Amazingly, we were caught up in a epic thunderstorm that forced us to take a few hours pitstop! As we were winding through the country roads, a flurry of lightning strikes hit the road 20meters in front of us (7 or 8 times)! Hearts racing and adrenaline pumping, we thought it was best to stop and re-group.
Either way, this is the longest drive you will have embarked on so far (unless you’re coming from north-south).
I believe this journey shouldn’t take more than 8 hours, but it could be longer.
Once in Hoi An, you are in heaven. With stunning white beaches, 13p/20cent beer, great hostels and some of the cheapest tailored suits in the world, you could easily say up to 2 weeks here (we did).
You are nearly halfway – time to celebrate! Use this time to rest for a few days, soak up the sun and delve into the culture. You undoubtbale deserve a rest by now.
Hoi An- Da Nang
This is more of a day trip into Da Nang as it only takes about 1 hour to get there. We loved Da Nang so we spend the night, plus we needed a break from Hoi An by this point.
If you don’t want to stay over in Da Nang, you can ride through to the famous (top gear special) Hai Van pass into Hue. But i’ll explain that below.
Hoi An / Da Nang – Hue (via the Hai Van pass)
Blue line quick way (and the normal way).
Red line is the route we took.
Okay so this is probably the moment you have all been waiting for – and for many – it is the highlight of the trip. Made famous by the Top Gear Vietnam Special, the Hai Van pass is absolutely incredible. With vast, luscious green mountain ranges meeting the glorious turquoise waters, its no surprise it drives in so many tourists.
Even if you haven’t bought a bike, there is a “Easy rider” option where you sit on the back of a pimped out Harvey Davison with a tour guide and they drive you from A- B and back again.
Now to most normal people ,there is only one route from here: straight to Hue. However, we refused to take any main road, so we doubled back on ourselves and took the long route round to Hue. At the time, we definitely regretted it…but in hindsight, it was the best thing we could have ever done.
If you wish to know more about this story… READ HERE: COVES, CLOUDS AND COLONIAL TOWN
Hue- Phong Nha National Park!
PLEASE IGNORE THE TIME LIMIT- THIS IS FROM “Ho Chi Ming Tay”
This is a big day! This will be your longest day yet, but god its the most rewarding.
Expect the journey to take around: 8 hours
There are some Great War monuments and DMZ zones around here. They are truly eye-opening. If you have time, I would advice you to spend the day exploring.
Personally, Phong Nha National park was the most beautiful place I had ever seen, and by far my favourite place in Vietnam. Snuggled gently between limestone cliffs and nestling quietly against the banks of a river, Phong Nha is surrounded by fascinating rock formations and antient forests. Boasting arguably some of the best karst landforms in the world, you really are experiencing mother nature at its finest . Famed world-wide for its caves, including the infamous dark cave, Phong Nha has seeing a influx of tourists in recent years and seriously cannot be missed!!!
Phong Nha- Ha Tinh or Ninh Binh
Phong Nha- Ha Tinh
Although Ha Tinh is somewhat beautiful, this is really just a stop off to rest your heads before you get to the wonderful Ninh Binh.
This is a short journey and will only take you 3 hours.
However, if you are up for a big drive, get up early and head straight to Ninh Binh:
This is a huge day and will most likely take you around 12hours.
But is is doable.
The route we have here avoids the highway. If you do decided to take the highways it will take half the time.
Ninh Binh is amazingly beautiful and hey – you have ALMOST MADE IT!! WOOO!
Hostels are scarce but homestay are great.
The journey into Hanoi does require you to get onto the highways, but they much safer here than further down the country.
It should take you around: 3 hours.
YOU MADE IT!!
If you still have time on your hands I would advice you to ride up to Sa-pa. This is one of my favourite places in the world