Riding from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike is the most popular road trip in Vietnam. There’s more than one route to do it. We decided to ride by the coast and then move inland. We also tried to avoid Highway 1 as much as possible and picked rural, scenic roads over it. I did my best to describe the whole route and experience but it’s not easy to squeeze a whole month in one article. You will be able to find more details in other posts about Vietnam.
We fell in love with this country, it’s friendly, honest and hardworking people, stunning views and delicious food. We’re definitely doing this again one day!
Here we go.
Vietnam was one of the first countries I visited in Southeast Asia. It was part of my backpacking trip. I’ve been to Thailand before so I kind of knew what I was getting myself into but this trip was something completely different.
My other half was always saying about riding through Vietnam on motorbike as one of his “to do” things but I never thought it will actually come to this 😀
We made the arrangements way before arriving. Paying for visa, looking for decent rental that won’t scam us. Research where to stay. Pretty standard. We got the address of the rental place in Saigon and off we went.
Getting there was easy, but only if you were sitting in the back seat of the car. So many people! So many motorbikes! And so loud. Madness on the roads. When I thought I’ll be a part of this traffic I was terrified!
The option we went for was buying a decent and quite pricey motorbike that could carry both of us with our backpacks and then selling it once we’re in Hanoi. After doing previously mentioned research, we decided to buy our motorbike in Stevie’s Garage. I’m not putting any link because I’m not sure if I would recommend the guy. We had way to many issues with what supposed to be a fairly new vehicle and then with selling it, but more on that in separate post.
We got our motorbike, packed our stuff on it, set our GPS and joined this crazy traffic where law of the jungle applies.
Imagine you are driving on motorbike like a sardine. The bikes are everywhere and so many of them. Vietnamese also are using it for all kinds of transport. It’s not uncommon to see a family of 5 on one bike. Or guy with refrigerator on his trunk. You can also see a biker with cage filled with alive ducks, or puppies. Crazy stuff. Now imagine all of these people are not being particularly careful. They are not really respecting the signs. Don’t even mention about going the right direction or the right side of the road. And there’s you. A tourist who knows nothing about this kind of lifestyle 😀 To survive you have to join them. Somehow we got to our hotel in one piece that day.
Riding on motorcycle through Saigon prepares you well for this whole adventure. Our first day we did some sightseeing in the city centre. We tried our first Pho, went to War Museum, Central Office, Pagodas, Markets. Tried the most delicious food and the cheapest beer in the world. Saigon stole my heart. But we came to see much more of Vietnam and Saigon was only the first stop.
First we decided to go further south before heading to Hanoi. We wanted to see Mekong Delta and it’s famous floating market. The ride would’ve been too long so we decided to make a stop stop halfway there, in the small town, My Tho. Because people who go to see floating market are usually taking tours from Saigon, there’s not many hotels or touristy stuff to do. We haven’t met a single tourist while we were there. That gave us great opportunity to see the real Vietnam and it’s people. We stayed in one of the few very basic hotels in My Tho and went for a wee night stroll.
Not longer than after 10mins we got invited for a beer and barbecue with locals by the river. I think it was one of the Vietnamese bank holidays because everyone was out barbecuing on the street that night. We tried so many of the delicious local food. No one could speak english but everyone was incredibly welcoming. The very same night we went for a dinner in our hotel restaurant and bunch of local guys invited us for shots 😀 We had such a lovely time in My Tho.
The next day, after defeating a VERY heavy rain on our bike we arrived to Can Tho and stayed in small Green Village in the middle of nowhere. Great experience. Family owned, traditional bamboo huts and delicious dinner. They organised our trip to Mekong Delta which was scheduled for next day.
The trip itself was an amazing experience but there will be separate article about that. We left Can Tho the same day and made a stop in one of the love hotels halfway to Saigon. Our motorbike had some kind of breakdown and we didn’t want to push it.
Stuck in Saigon.
First thing we did after arriving was fixing our motorbike. No breakdowns should happen so our guy fixed the problem free of charge. We waited a few hours and tried to leave the city the same day but unfortunately the same problem came back after 45mins of drive. Our guy arranged the pick up and had to keep the motorbike until morning to fix it. Almost new vehicle shouldn’t need that much of attention after 300km, right? We had to stay overnight, which ruined our schedule and this day had to be taken away from our beach time. Unfortunately these things happen. Our visa allowed us to stay in Vietnam only for 30 days and we had a whole country to see.
We got really drunk that night and got invited for karaoke by locals. They literally dragged us from the street. They even tried to sing some songs in english so we could understand and participate 😀
Time for some beach. Mui Ne.
Finally the baby got fixed and we got to leave! We made one stop on our way to Mui Ne, in the small town La Gi. Situated by the beach, no tourists. Kind of like My Tho. Great thing about this country is, that no matter were you are, if you get hungry, you will find something delicious max 10min walk from your hotel. We managed to find a massive food market where despite of late hour, we could get barbecued fish and seafood. Everything very fresh. Same with breakfast. There’s always Banh Mi somewhere.
Finally we arrived to Mui Ne. I won’t say it’s the beach suitable for a postcard but there’s a lot of resorts with swimming pools and sea view. If you’re on the budget, my recommendation is to go from one hotel to another, see the rooms, ask for prices. In Vietnam it’s in a good style to come in and book in person. Also it’s always cheaper. There’s a lot of restaurants and local vendors, some things to do, like visiting sand dunes. Nice place for a few-day break.
Into the land. Da Lat.
After two days of rest and waiting for our bottoms to stop hurting from the ride, we moved into the land. Make sure you don’t miss out on an amazing waterfall on your way up. There’re signs. Prepare yourself for a massive difference of the temperatures. Da Lat got it’s name “City of Eternal Spring” for a good reason. We arrived completely frozen. The town not only feels different but also looks different. You will find it more European, filled with French-colonial villas. Don’t miss out on typical for Da Lat omlette!
Next day we left for Nha Trang. The route was extremely picturesque. Nha Trang is a coastal city filled with tourists, resorts, hotels, hostels and restaurants. It has a nice and long beach. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay longer to use it 🙁
Some luxury in Tuy Hoa.
Tuy Hoa was our luxury stop. We needed it and it was Valentine’s Day 😀 My other half found this amazing hotel, and because it’s wasn’t particularly busy, they let us stay for $100. We managed to even find a non asian food. A great burger place owned by American. Highly recommended stop if you need a break from backpacking Vietnam.
Another stop in coastal town. If you find yourself nearby and needing a break, that’s definitely another good place to relax. Quite pretty and long beach, nice and affordable hotels, and quite a few restaurants to choose from. No tourists equals friendly locals.
Three flat tyres in one day in the middle of nowhere.
We all know that day when everything goes wrong. This was one of those days. Good thing about Vietnam that no matter where you catch flat tyre, there’s always a guy who can fix it. Just look for “Honda” sign, and you’re sweet. Same with getting the fuel. This wasn’t our first stop to fix the machine on the road trip, but that day was particularly packed with unpleasant surprises. After it happened for a third time in the matter of a few hours, we decided to stay in a beach resort nearby and call it a day. Eventually we managed to find a garage where guys had a proper look. The inner tube had tens of patches… Again, this supposed to be a fairly new bike 😀 😀 😀 This time the problem was fixed for good.
Beautiful Hoi An.
Hoi An is a must see. It’s magical. Beautiful, colourful and very lively. It’s an Ancient Town, very well preserved. It’s architecture is very mixed – wooden Chinese temples and alleys filled with lanterns, French colonial buildings, Vietnamese tube houses and the most famous – Japanese Covered Bridge. Plenty of bar and restaurants, boat rides in the canal and bespoke tailoring which I couldn’t stop myself from using… You can get yourself a perfect suit in one day for $100.
Hai Van Pass. Da Nang to Hue.
That’s the bit that everyone who planned his motorbike adventure in Vietnam was waiting for. Well known from Top Gear. The guys really inspired a lot of travellers to take this route. It’s definitely not the best road in Vietnam but it compensates with it’s stunning views and light traffic. It’s 20-kilometre long and joins the city of Da Nang and Hue Province. At 500 metres above sea level, it’s the highest pass in the whole of Vietnam.
Also on your way to Da Nang, make sure you have time to visit Marble Mountains. It’s less than half an hour ride from Hoi An. You can also do a day trip if you’re planning to stay in Hoi an for a few days. We decided to see it on our way to Da Nang.
We spent full day in Da Nang, just enough time to visit couple of good eateries and see few things. The city is famous for it’s beaches but we didn’t have the chance to see it. Although we managed to see the Dragon Bridge spitting fire in the evening 😀 😀
One day in Hue was just enough for a stroll down the Perfume River, and see The Imperial City of Nguyen Dynasty.
Vinh Moc Tunnels.
We stayed in small coastal town, Cua Tong, 20 minutes ride to tunnels. We found three hotels there, but only one looked good enough to sleep in. When we walked in, there was a whole family watching tv and having dinner in the lobby with motorbike parked in the middle (pretty standard). I don’t think they were expecting any check ins 😀 We were THE ONLY ONE guests there and the hotel was pretty big. Strange feeling. But I think we paid no more than $10 for that room. I miss Vietnam…
The town itself was dead. We took a walk to the beach only to discover that it could be a good set for a post-apocalyptic movie. Abandoned restaurant, hotels… Not a single soul around. This was also the first place were we couldn’t get food past 7pm. This never happened before, there’s always food! Well, we were on the border of North and South Vietnam and we could see that difference. That’s why it’s always good to have some noodle soup stashed in your backpack 😀
Visiting the tunnels was definitely one of the coolest things we’ve done in Vietnam. They were dug in the late 60s to serve as a home and bomb shelter for more than 60 families. The families lived their lives underground, had their own “rooms”, “hospitals” etc. Some of them go 30 meters deep. We were told by our guide that 17 children were born in these tunnels and no one died in them.
Caves in Phong Nha.
Stunningly beautiful place. So much green everywhere. Caves, hiking trails, river and countryside. It’s one of the Vietnam’s top destinations but it’s still in very early stage of development. The nature is wild and untouched. I’ll let all the photos to do their job.
Cuc Phuong National Park.
We made two stops on our way to Cuc Phuong: Ha Tinh and Thai Hoa. Both lovely, small and completely non-touristy towns. Lovely locals, delicious food and extremely cheap. In Thai Hoa we managed to find very decent hotel with lovely room and strong shower (believe me, after few weeks of backpacking through Southeast Asia in less developed areas, things like good shower are to kill for) for $10. Again, I love Vietnam so much!
Depending on time of your visit, north of Vietnam can get very chilly. We visited in February and we froze our bums off on this motorbike. We had warm clothes but it wasn’t enough. Noodle soups were needed again, as the town dies after dark. Like I previously mentioned, northern vibe feels completely different than south. Also you can’t get Saigon beer anymore. Here everyone is drinking Hanoi 😀
We did a day trek in the park and visited the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre. You will find there 150 monkeys as well as 12 kinds of langur and 3 species of gibbon. The animals were rescued to save them from illegal traders and the focus of the facility is to educate visitors on how to protect wild animals in Vietnam.
The National Park itself has 307 species of birds as well as 133 species of mammals and 122 species of reptiles.
Finally after our one last breakdown (which repair took two hours…) we arrived to Hanoi… Finding an accommodation was a bit of a challenge because it was one of the long weekends, which we of course didn’t know.
Hanoi has definitely less relaxed vibe than Saigon. There’s still a lot of hustle and bustle on the streets but it feels like everything is more in order. Few times we had to leave our tables in eateries for staff to take them of the streets. Police patrols are taking the walks to make sure there’s no street food stalls. The freedom of trade in Hanoi is slowly dying. But there’s plenty of live music and Bia Hoi, homemade and the cheapest beer in the world (25 cents for a glass) and that compensates for everything.
We managed to sell our motorbike after a struggle, but more on that in separate post.
Road trip from Saigon to Hanoi was an adventure of a lifetime. It might not be for everyone as some people might find it inconvenient, stressful and sometimes even painful. For me personally all of it was compensated by stunning views, taste of Pho on the side road, for breakfast as well as for lunch, and friendly locals who just love to haggle. Riding a motorbike in this mess and disorganisation might be scary sometimes but it gives you the freedom of doing your own thing in your own pace. It gives you the chance to see real Vietnam. Vietnam behind the scenes.
Thanks for reading!
If you’re planning a road trip through Vietnam and can’t decide which route to take, I found this very helpful https://www.vietnamcoracle.com/riding-the-great-north-9-motorbike-routes/
Excellent independent blog about Vietnam. You will find a lot of travel hacks in there.