Ho Chi Minh Road: Motorbike Guide

Last updated May 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP| RELATED POSTS

The Ho Chi Minh Road is fast becoming famous as one of the most scenic routes for a motorbike road trip in Asia. Although it will eventually stretch from the southern-most tip of the country to its northern border with China, to date (2016) the Ho Chi Minh Road has been fully paved from Saigon in the south to Hanoi in the north: nearly 2,000km of unbroken road, cutting through some of the most spectacular landscape in Vietnam. The best scenery can be found along the central section, where a landscape of endless limestone mountains, covered in a thick fleece of tropical rainforest and dissected by clear blue rivers, stretches to the horizon: if you only ride one part of the Ho Chi Minh Road, make sure it’s this one. Below is my full guide to the Ho Chi Minh Road, including route information, places to stay and eat, and things to see and do along the way.

The Ho Chi Minh Road, western branch, VietnamThe Ho Chi Minh Road stretches almost 2,000km from south to north, passing some exquisite scenery

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GUIDE: THE HO CHI MINH ROAD


ABOUT THIS ROUTE & GUIDE:

The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe Ho Chi Minh Road (not to be confused with the Ho Chi Minh Trail, most of which is in Laos) runs along the mountainous spine of Vietnam, known as the Trường Sơn Range. For much of its length, the road is a quiet, well-made, easily accessible, two-lane highway which sees very little traffic compared to the other major north-south road, Highway 1. In this comprehensive guide I’ve written a description – including places to stay and eat, and things to see and do – of the entire Ho Chi Minh Road from south to north; starting from Saigon and ending in Hanoi. As this is a very long guide, I’ve divided it into 3 main parts: Southern, Central, and Northern. These are then subdivided into 8 smaller sections. Note that each section does not necessarily correspond to one day on the road. 

Although following the Ho Chi Minh Road all the way from south to north is a great road trip in itself, most people choose to mix it up with some coastal routes. If you only want to see the very best that the Ho Chi Minh Road has to offer, start from Kon Tum and head north all the way to Pho Chau (sections 3 to 6): this is one of the best rides in Vietnam, including the jaw-dropping Western Ho Chi Minh Road (section 5). There are now dozens of east-west roads connecting the Ho Chi Minh Road with the coast: for ideas about how to include the Ho Chi Minh Road as part of a more varied south to north road trip, take a look at my Five Suggested Routes from Saigon to Hanoi.

As the Ho Chi Minh Road runs the length of the country and is so mountainous, it’s difficult to determine the best time of year to ride it. However, weather conditions from March to September are generally the most favourable. (Refer to my Weather Guide for more information about seasons and climate in Vietnam). The total distance is 1,880km and average duration is around 2 weeks.


ROAD TRIP CONTENTS:

As this is a very long guide, I’ve divided it into 3 parts - Southern, Central, and Northern – which are sub-divided into 8 smaller sections. Click on a section below to read more about it:

Southern Part:

  • Section 1: Saigon – Dong Xoai – Gia Nghia – Buon Ma Thuot: [340km]
  • Section 2: Buon Ma Thuot – Pleiku – Kon Tum: [230km]

Central Part:

  • Section 3: Kon Tum – Kham Duc – Prao: [280km]
  • Section 4: Prao – A Luoi – Khe Sanh: [210km]
  • Section 5: Khe Sanh – Long Son – Phong Nha: [230km]
  • Section 6: Phong Nha – Huong Khe – Pho Chau: [180km]

Northern Part:

  • Section 7: Pho Chau – Tan Ky – Cam Thuy: [250km]
  • Section 8: Cam Thuy – Cuc Phuong – Hanoi: [150km]

ROUTE MAP:

The Ho Chi Minh Road: from Saigon to Hanoi: [1,880km]

View in a LARGER MAP

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SECTION 1:

Route: Saigon – Dong Xoai – Gia Nghia – Buon Ma Thuot | Distance: 340km [MAP]

Getting to the Ho Chi Minh Road from downtown Saigon requires a brief but nasty stretch on Highway 13, leading north over the clogged Binh Trieu Bridge and out into the smog and Mad Max-ian scrum of Saigon’s industrial belt. But, just as the appalling industrial apocalypse becomes too much to bear, new roads cut north, towards Binh Duong New City. An eerie but pleasing spectacle, these smooth boulevards run through the centre of a new urban development that’s been laid out and constructed but has yet to be filled with (too many) people. It’s a pleasant and smooth ride through this ghost city and out the other side into the cold, damp rubber plantations.

Power lines, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamPower lines on the Mad Max-ian industrial crawl out of Saigon

A good highway (DT741) whisks you up to Dong Xoai – don’t miss the haunting sight of an old concrete bridge that’s split in half over a jungle-clad riverbed to the east of the road. For a town whose name – as far as I can tell – means ‘Field of Mangoes’, Dong Xoai is a surprisingly big, busy, bustling and commercial city, with everything you’d expect to find in such a place: restaurants, hotels, ATMs, cafes and, of course, dust. At just over 100km from Saigon, Thanh Sang Hotel (1068 Phu Rieng Do Street: 0651 3 879 559; rates from 200,000vnd a night) is fine for a night if you’re running out of daylight.

Derelict bridge, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe haunting sight of a derelict bridge at dawn

Dong Xoai is where you first hit the Ho Chi Minh Road. It’s in great shape here and, almost immediately, one begins to get a sense of the surprising scale of Vietnam’s landmass. The big distances and horizons on this vast agricultural plateau – which essentially continues all the way north beyond Kon Tum and into Laos – and the sense of space and light, are on a grander scale than one would expect in Vietnam. The smell of the rich, red earth – the soil that makes this region the agricultural bosom of Vietnam – rises with the morning mist. Everything grows here, and it grows bigger and greener than anywhere else. The Ho Chi Minh Road – with its characteristic yellow centre-markings – glides over gentle ridges cloaked in plantations: rubber, cashew, passion fruit, jackfruit, pepper. Houses, people, vehicles, road surfaces, hillsides are all covered in a layer of red dust.

The Central Highlands, Ho Chi MInh Road, VietnamThe Ho Chi Minh Road, with its characteristic yellow markings, glides through the Central Highlands

Gia Nghia is a large town alternately carved out of, and perched on top of, the red-soiled hillsides. It’s a town of red-tiled rooftops and revolutionary monuments, of steep streets and grand, empty boulevards, of official government buildings and, thanks to a mammoth hydroelectric project, water. Pleasant in the sunshine, grim in the rain, Gia Nghia is a fascinating off-the-beaten-path place to spend a night.

The old town sprawls over the first hillock as you enter town from the highway, while the new town climbs up the hill behind it. The latter has an astonishing amount of government edifices and some large, decent hotels. But the old town, especially around the crumbling market, is where all the action and life is. There’s plenty of street food treats to delve into around the market and you can stay near it too, at Nhà Nghỉ Quang Phuc (176 Ton Duc Thang Street: 0168 909 3420; rates from 150,000vnd a night), or head to the new town for larger (government-scale) lodgings, such as Dak Nong Lodge Resort or Nha Khach Dak Nong (25 Le Lai Street: 0501 3 500 077; rates from $20 a night).

Gia Nghia Market, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamWay off the beaten path, Gia Nghia’s central market

From Gia Nghia to Buon Ma Thuot, the Ho Chi Minh Road cuts through a bedraggled landscape: a patchwork of small-hold farms and plantations; a previously forested region that now appears to be suffering from baldness. When the road straddles the Cambodian border at Dak Mil, echoes of the American War ring out: this desolate region was heavily bombed by US aircraft to prevent supplies reaching soldiers in the south, and it’s not difficult to imagine it, even now, as dozens of plumes of smoke smudge the horizon, rising from fires in the forest, clearing the way for cultivation.

Buon Ma Thuot, coffee capital of Vietnam, is not a particularly nice place, but nor is it anything like as bad as many guidebooks suggest. It’s big, hot, and busy. But the streets around the ‘old quarter’, near the market, are shaded by low trees and full of lively commerce, interesting street food, local banter, and throbbing cafes. If this appeals to you, as it does me, stay at Nguyen Nhi Hotel (164 Ly Thuong Kiet Street: 0500 3859 868; rates from $10 a night) or opt for the large, neat, mid-range rooms at Saigon Ban Me Hotel. If you’d rather see some greenery from your window and be a little bit away from the action, try Damsan or Eden hotels on Nguyen Cong Tru Street. The latter is also a good street to try the area’s famous coffee: make sure to pick a local cafe on the south side of the street so as to get a view. Dining and drinking is also good on Nguyen Cong Tru, or there are lots of street food treats on Y Jut Street, including a night market that takes up most of the ‘old quarter’.

Local cafe in Buon Ma Thuot, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamA local cafe in Buon Ma Thuot, a thriving Central Highlands town

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SECTION 2:

Route: Buon Ma Thuot – Pleiku – Kon Tum | Distance: 230km [MAP]

After negotiating through a glut of vehicles leaving Buon Ma Thuot, the Ho Chi Minh Road cuts northeast, as straight as a landing strip, over an agricultural plateau. The red soil – somehow deeper and earthier than previously – is a dusty plague of airborne particles, making the air thick and hazy, especially with the addition of smoke from burning fields and exhaust fumes from passing trucks. The red earth even appears to have changed the pigment of local people’s skin: much of the population on this plateau are ethnic minorities whose skin tone is darker and more leathery in appearance than lowland Vietnamese, as they spend much of their lives working outside on the land. Buon Ho is another dusty, busy little place with a few hotels and food stalls dotted about the high-street for anyone who needs a break from riding.

Central Highlands agriculture, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamVast agricultural plateaus and rich red earth define the landscape south of Pleiku

The Ho Chi Minh Road is in excellent condition all the way from Buon Ma Thuot to Pleiku. And this is a good thing, because it makes an otherwise uninspiring leg of the journey more enjoyable. Just the occasional cluster of pine trees and the vast scale of the plateau keep you engaged as the road sweeps through this desolate, bleak blanket of agricultural land. At times the land is covered in squat coffee bushes and spindly rubber trees, standing erect in neat ranks on the hillsides, like the formations of a medieval army on the battlefield, before the fighting begins.

Indeed, a battle did take place in these hills, some 50 years ago, between American forces and the North Vietnamese Army. In 1965, in the Ia Drang Valley – a name which still has a chilling ring to it – to the west of the Ho Chi Minh Road, hundreds of US troops and thousands of Vietnamese were killed fighting under a deluge of bombs from B52s, in what was the first direct conflict between the two sides of what became known, in the West, as the ‘Vietnam War’, but what is known in Vietnam as the ‘American War’. Today, the Ia Drang Valley is an especially dry place: the earth has a crisp, burnt crust to it and the colours are washed out, even the distant peaks are beige and arid. Wooden plank homes – covered in red dust – dry peppercorns in their front yards, adding spice to the hot highland air.

The Ho Chi Minh Road, Central Highlands, VietnamThe Ho Chi Minh Road ploughs through the Ia Drang Valley

Pleiku emerges from the dusty highland plains, looking as if a bag of concrete has been dumped over a hillside and left to dry. As Kon Tum is only another hours’ ride north of here, there’s not much incentive to stay in Pleiku. But, although its main streets are pretty charmless, venture down some of the backstreets and you might find you come to like the rough, ready, ungentrified character of Pleiku.

There’s a great, dilapidated central market with a couple of hotels nearby (try the aging Se San Hotel or Tre San Plaza Hotel at 18 Le Lai Street). There are many more accommodation options in all ranges by the main intersection and along the highway, including lots of nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) and the upmarket HAGL Hotel. In fact, even the city’s much-derided, Soviet-era public buildings and government edifices are, to my eyes, becoming more interesting and appealing with each passing year: I am finding that, as these buildings become rarer with all the demolition and construction in Vietnam today, what I once considered eyesores are now becoming nostalgic architectural icons.

Soviet-era architecture, Pleiku, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe Se San Hotel is typical of the 1970s architecture in Pleiku

Between Pleiku and Kon Tum, the Ho Chi Minh Road is arrow-straight and the scenery changes for the better. Rugged mountains grow up from the plains, where rivers provide enough water for rice cultivation. Kon Tum has a fabulous position: on the banks of the Dak Bla River with mountains behind. Peaceful during the day and pleasantly abuzz in the evenings, Kon Tum is a very characterful highland town: colonial buildings, riverside promenades, views of the surrounding countryside, good cafes, excellent accommodation options and delicious food are just some of its merits.

Thinh Vuong Hotel (16 Nguyen Trai Street: 060 3914 729; rates from 200,000vnd a night) is a superb budget choice tucked down a backstreet, walking distance from the riverfront. Indochine Hotel offers good mid-range value with large river-view rooms. Nguyen Hue Street is a good place to dine: either at one of the many budget rice eateries or beer and food joints further up the street. After dinner, head to the river promenade for a walk and a coffee or beer at one of the cafes, and don’t miss the bamboo interior of Cafe Indochine, one of many new works by architect, Vo Trong Nghia, who is fast becoming Vietnam’s answer to Norman Foster. For street treats head to the market and settle down to a hearty bowl of soup and finish the night off with a sweet glass of chè.

Street food, Kon Tum Market, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamDelving into some street food treats at Kon Tum’s market

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SECTION 3:

Route: Kon Tum – Kham Duc – Prao | Distance: 280km [MAP]

Head northwest on Kon Tum’s main street (Phan Dinh Phung) towards Dak To. The first hour is along a dead straight ribbon of asphalt that bisects the Kon Tum Plateau, which is covered in plantations of towering rubber trees and coffee bushes. Silhouettes of mountains loom on the horizon and there’s a fruity, flowery smell in the air as it gets cooler and thinner. Just out of Dak Ha is the first glimpse of real, unplanted forest to the west.

Farming near Kon Tum, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamFarming on the Kon Tum Plateau where the soil is rich and the weather mild

Dak To is a forgettable town, but there are some hotels on the high-street if you need them. The surrounding area was the scene of some of the fiercest battles of the American War. The countryside still bears the scars of all the bombs and defoliants that were dropped on the hills and forests here during the autumn of 1967. A few kilometres after passing Dak To, look out for an old US landing strip just to the left (south) of the road. The long stretch of tarmac is still visible through the fields of cassava that have grown up around it. Today the landing strip is used by farmers to dry their crops on, and you can walk or ride along it on your bike. At Ngoc Hoi there’s a glut of hotels on the main street, although staying here is not an exciting prospect. The town is being groomed as an economic gateway between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, thanks to the opening of a triple border gate some 15km to the west. 

Note: At Dak To the Ho Chi Minh Road makes a sharp turn to the left (due west) that’s quite easy to miss if you’re not careful. 20km later, there’s another sharp turn to the right (due north) at Ngoc Hoi: if you take the wrong turn here you’ll quickly end up at either the Cambodian or Lao border!

Old US landing strip, Dak To, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamA war-era US landing strip near Dak To, scene of fierce fighting in 1967

From Ngoc Hoi to Dak Glei the road follows the valley of the Dak Po Ko River, not far from the Laos border. Mountains start to close in on the road, and the peak of Ngoc Linh (2,598m), the highest mountain in central and southern Vietnam, is visible to the east. Cultivation continues right to the top of most of these mountains, giving a somewhat patchy appearance to the landscape in this area (it looks as though the trees have been vacuumed off the hillsides) and reminding you that Vietnam is still a mostly agricultural economy.

The road surface is a little rougher from Ngoc Hoi onwards, but it’s not so bad as to hinder progress. Rivers become clearer and mountains higher; the air damper. Many houses are made of packed mud and straw, with wood panel walls and tiled roofs. Several impressive rong houses (tall, thatched buildings which act as communal centres for many regional ethnic minorities) dot the countryside. Kids are everywhere: playing in the dusty front yards and waving at any foreigner that rides by. Dak Glei is a small, quiet place that’s good for a night. There are a couple of guesthouses and some decent eateries lining the road. Try Quynh Tu Guest House (090 359 8889) or Tuan Lan Hotel (090 520 2289), both on the main road.

Rong communal house, Dak To, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamAn impressive wood and thatch communal rong house at Dak To

Deforestation reaches its peak at the beginning of the pass out of Dak Glei: the scarred mountainsides are naked, save from some lonely trees that have escaped the axe. The landscape looks like the skin of a recently plucked chicken: a few tufts and clumps of feathers left on its pink, raw and exposed flesh. Is this the fate that awaits all the great stands of forest and jungle that lie on the Ho Chi Minh Road?

Thankfully, things change at the top of the pass: agriculture is pushed from the mountainsides down to the river valleys, forced there by dense tropical forests that appear to melt over the mountains like candle-wax, dripping down the steep contours and washed by relentless cascades of rain-water, draining off the mountains in gushing waterfalls, and swelling the rivers below. It’s a glorious ride all the way to Kham Duc, as the Ho Chi Minh Road – lined with cinnamon trees – twists up into the mountains, cutting a path through rock and along thickly forested river valleys with peaks bearing down from 6,000ft.

Waterfall on the Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamDrinking from a waterfall on the glorious ride from Dak Glei to Kham Duc

Gold has been found in these isolated mountains and rivers, and the modest town of Kham Duc has profited from it. The gold mine, deep in the mountains, has a large staff, and Kham Duc provides accommodation for some of them, so there are a few places to choose from here. Be Chau Giang Hotel is a comfortable, alpine-lodge-style place with views over the forested mountains, or try the large new Phuoc Minh Hotel near the intersection of the highway and Phan Van Dong Street. There’s something appealing about Kham Duc – perhaps it’s the scenic setting among mountains and forests – which makes it a good place to settle for a night. Phan Van Dong is the main street, where you’ll find rice eateries, cafes, shops and the town market.

Note: most people choose to drop down from the Ho Chi Minh Road at Kham Duc, heading east along Road 14E to the coast, then continuing north to Hoi An, and over the Hai Van Pass to Hue. No doubt this is partly due to the famous BBC Top Gear episode from 2007, and the popular cultural attractions in Hoi An and Hue. However, as spectacular as the Hai Van Pass is, it’s nothing compared to the passes you’ll encounter if you stay on the Ho Chi Minh Road from Kham Duc to A Luoi. (If you want to combine the Hai Van Pass and the Ho Chi Minh Road take a look at my guide to The Golden Loop).

Mì quảng noodles, Kham Duc, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamA delicious bowl of mì quảng, a regional speciality, near Kham Duc market

Continuing north from Kham Duc to Thanh My, the Ho Chi Minh Road follows the Dak Mi River. This quiet stretch of road straddles the valley walls, sometimes high above the river, as it makes its slow but steady progress over the boulder-strewn riverbed. However, its flow has been significantly reduced – as have dozens of rivers in this region – since the construction of dams. Whatever your view on hydroelectricity, it’s difficult not to feel sad at the sight of a wide, rocky riverbed whose flow is reduced to a trickle of stagnant water when once – and for millions of years before – it was a roaring white torrent surging through the jungle.

Hydroelectricity dam, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHydroelectricity dams are found on many rivers in Vietnam, this one is between Thanh My and Prao

At Thanh My (where you’ll find a guesthouse on the main street if needed) bear left (due northwest) at the main crossroads, signposted to Prao. There’s very little traffic on this superb section of road. Mountain passes twist skyward, each hairpin bend revealing giant views over wide valleys, deep ravines, and mist-shrouded mountains. At times the jungle is so dense and lush that it appears to be uncontainable and threatens to grow over the road completely. A hypnotic rhythm is induced by the constant switch-backs – lean left, lean right – and the flashes of sunlight that pierce the thick foliage and streak the road at regular intervals. It’s an exhilarating – but also strangely soothing – two hour drive.

River landscape on the Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamRiver landscapes like this is what the central section of the Ho Chi Minh Road is all about

Prao is a very quiet, isolated little town, but it provides everything a traveller needs: a couple of gas stations, rice eateries, shops for picnic supplies, and a few decent guesthouses. On the main road, just after passing the gas station, you’ll see Dung Thuy Rest House (051 03 898 636) and Huong Dao Rest House (051 03 898 264) right next door. Even if you’re not stopping for the night here, be sure to have some lunch or buy food supplies, and fill up with gas, because there’s very little indeed for the next 100km to A Luoi.

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SECTION 4:

Route: Prao – A Luoi – Khe Sanh | Distance: 210km [MAP]

From Prao to A Luoi is an isolated, sparsely populated and rarely used section of the Ho Chi Minh Road. However, it’s in great shape and passes through majestic scenery, just a stone’s throw from the Lao border. Not long after leaving Prao the road begins to climb: this is the beginning of a meandering mountain pass that doesn’t really stop for the next 80km. Each time you think you’ve reached the top, it starts to ascend again. There are moments when you can see the road winding up and down the mountains in the distance before you. At times, when the road can go no higher, it simply glides along the mountain ridge; when the slope is too sheer for the road to continue, eerie dark tunnels lead under the mountaintops to the other side.

Mountains near the Lao border, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamPrao to A Luoi is an isolated, mountainous & rarely used section of the Ho Chi Minh Road

The views just get better and better, and you’ll find this section of road takes at least a few hours because of all the photo stops you’ll want to make. Ridge after ridge of mountains, carpeted in thick forest, appear to wax and wane behind curtains of cloud, mist and rain. There’s something almost flirtatious about it; as if the elements were tempting you with just glimpses of what would be visible on a clear day.

It’s magical, and all the more so because, for the entire 100km drive to A Luoi, you can count the number of vehicles you see on one hand. There are very few man-made structures: a remote army outpost on the Lao border, temporary shelters for workman clearing landslides, and forestry protection huts. Of the latter, some are dedicated to the protection of the sao la. Also known as the Asian Unicorn, this pretty, deer-like animal wasn’t even known to science until the 1990s, and it has still never been seen in the wild by a Westerner. Very few are left, but some of the ones that are live deep in these forests.

Misty forests on the Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe sao la, known as the Asian Unicorn, lives somewhere in these misty forests on the Lao border

Eventually, the road drops down into a lovely, verdant valley. Agriculture takes over once more, and villages begin to appear. The land flattens and the road continues in a straight line to A Luoi, a modest town with not much to recommend it except as a night stop on the Ho Chi Minh Road. Good, cheap rooms can be found at either Thanh Quang Guest House (279 Ho Chi Minh Road: 054 3878 362; rates from 150,000vnd a night) or Do Thanh Hotel (166 Ho Chi Minh Road: 090 501 2250; rates from 200,000vnd a night), both on the main street. There’s a sprinkling of food and drink outlets along the main street too, or try around the market, especially for a fragrant bowl of bún bò Huế (the provincial speciality) for breakfast.

Bún bò Huế noodle soup, A Luoi, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamBreakfast: fragrant and spicy bún bò Huế is the regional speciality in A Luoi

The journey from A Luoi to Khe Sanh is a very pretty ride through an area that was once a conflict zone. Quang Tri Province is the most heavily bombed in all Vietnam. Even today, it’s estimated that 80% of land is still affected by UXO (unexploded ordnance). Now, however – as is the case with so many former battlefields in Vietnam – this area is most notable for its natural beauty and serenity. 

From A Luoi, the road leads through a wide valley covered in tropical trees – papaya, banana, cinnamon, pineapple, teak. Mountains rise is all directions, and local children wave their arms in wild excitement as you pass through hamlets of wooden stilt houses: you’d never know that the barren, rounded mountain just to your left (due west) was the infamous Hamburger Hill. Of course, sites like this make you pause and contemplate the war but, happily, as the road continues up mountain passes, along glistening rivers, and the jagged Da Krong valley, it’s the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of local people, rather the tragedy of war, that causes you to stop and reflect.

Friendly locals, Da Krong Valley, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamLocal people in the Da Krong Valley chat & laugh while sharing their freshly picked pineapple with us

For the last 50km the road clings to the valley walls. The water of the Da Krong River has sculpted the limestone riverbed into ruts, tubes and crevices, as rich and varied in shape, form and texture as sea coral. 90km after leaving A Luoi the Ho Chi Minh Road crosses the Da Krong Bridge and hits Highway 9. At this point the Ho Chi Minh Road splits into two branches: Eastern and Western. Many people choose to turn right (due east) on Highway 9 towards Dong Ha and then onto the Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road. However, you’d be crazy to do this if you’re either a motorbiking enthusiast or a lover of nature and adventure. This is because if you turn left (due west) on Highway 9 towards Khe Sanh, it will bring you to the beginning of the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, which is one of the most scenic, isolated, and heart-meltingly gorgeous stretches of road in Vietnam.

Da Krong River Valley, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe Da Krong River has carved interesting shapes into the limestone riverbed

From the Da Krong Bridge to Khe Sanh it’s a lovely climb towards the Lao border. Khe Sanh is a dusty market town with plenty of trucks passing through on their way to and from Laos. Good rooms are available at the big, comfortable Thai Ninh Hotel and Khanh Phuong Hotel. There are plenty of places to eat on the main streets, and the local market is interesting too. But, in general, Khe Sanh is just a place to get some rest and stock up on supplies before the next day’s ride into Wonderland.

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SECTION 5:

Route: Khe Sanh – Long Son – Phong Nha | Distance: 230km [MAP]

Khe Sanh to Phong Nha (also known as Xuan Son and Son Trach) or Khe Gat is 230km/240km of winding road through incredible mountains, forests, and river valleys. There is only one hotel, hardly any shops, and just two gas stations on this entire stretch. There are very few settlements, vehicles or people. One local in Khe Sanh, bewildered at why anyone would want to go on such a road, described it as vắng người, meaning there’s ‘nobody there’.

The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe Western Ho Chi Minh Road stretches for 240km and is extremely sparsely populated

By the time you get to Khe Sanh you should know your motorbike well enough to know if it’ll make the whole 230km on one full tank of gas. If not (which will be the case with most bikes) you’ll either need to make sure you fill your tank at one of the two gas stations on the route to Phong Nha, or stock up on gas in Khe Sanh. If you choose the latter, take a couple of big empty water bottles to a gas station, fill them up, and strap them to your bike. (In addition to the two gas stations on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, petrol is occasionally sold by the roadside too, but it’s better to be safe and take some with you). Buy some food and drink to keep you going too, as there’s precious little in the way of dining options on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road.

With the opening of a new guesthouse in Long Son, it’s now possible to ride this section over two days, or you can camp, which is very nice indeed if you’ve got the equipment. If neither of these options appeal to you, you will need to ride the full distance in one day. This means starting early in the morning: 230km is a long way on winding roads, especially when there’s so much fantastic scenery to stop and admire.

Camping on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamCamping on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road is great but there is now a hotel too

Find the start of the Western Ho Chi Minh Road at a turning on Le Duan Street (this is the name that Highway 9 assumes when it passes through Khe Sanh) by a big, Soviet-style, sculpted war memorial. At this memorial turn onto Hồ Chí Minh Tây Street (Western Ho Chi Minh Road) heading northwest. Khe Sanh is famous for the North Vietnamese siege and bombardment of the US airbase here in 1968. The base and a museum can be seen just to the right (due east) a few minutes after turning onto the Western Ho Chi Minh Road. Several kilometres out of Khe Sanh, the road turns into large rectangular concrete slabs, which defines the Western Ho Chi Minh Road all the way to Khe Gat.

The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe Western Ho Chi Minh Road is made of large rectangular concrete slabs stretching into the distance

After 25km the road passes through the small village of Huong Phung. This is the first of the two gas stations between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha, so fill up if you need to. From here it’s just a matter of letting the scenery wash over you: bend after bend, pass after pass, the landscape folds you in its peaks and valleys, rivers and forests. Jungles get denser, rivers clearer, mountains higher, colours become more intense, as you ride deeper into this remote area along the Lao border. Stop to shower under waterfalls, bathe in rivers, and gaze out over vast vistas as you picnic by the roadside.

The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamTake your time on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, because the scenery is fantastic

After 100km, you pass through Tang Ky which, although marked on milestones for hundreds of kilometres, is nothing more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet. However, 30km beyond Tang Ky, after a beautiful stretch along a blue river, is the small settlement of Long Son (also marked as Truong Son). This pretty little place – in a stunning location surrounded by limestone crags, jungles and rivers – offers the only accommodation on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road. Duc Tuan Hotel (0949 522 331; rates from 200,000vnd a night) has sparse but clean rooms. There’s wifi here, a shop or two, a cafe, a few rice eateries nearby, and the second of the two gas stations on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road has recently opened here.

The village is lovely: wood and tile homes, stone courtyards with vegetables drying outside, incense burning on family altars, children playing in the empty streets and in the river, where you can bathe and swim. It’s a shame then, that I was consistently charged double for everything – coffee, food, air in my tyres, water. Still it’s a small price to pay for being able to get a night’s rest on this road and therefore having more time to take it all in.

The village of Long Son, Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThis is the spectacularly located village of Long Son, where you’ll find Duc Tuan Hotel

After a couple hours on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it can’t get any better: but it does. Once the road enters the confines of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, the strange shapes of forested limestone mountains come into view. Eroded by the elements over millions of years, these mountains have been formed into soaring pillars and pinnacles, many of them resembling the crooked pointiness of wizard’s and witches’ hats. Just as a palm tree leaning out over a white sand beach has come to represent ‘tropical paradise’, so these limestone karsts have come to symbolize ‘exotic Asia’. Forget about Ha Long Bay or Ninh Binh in northern Vietnam, or Guilin in China, this is where to come for some limestone magic.

Limestone mountains, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamLimestone mountains in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, seen from the Western Ho Chi Minh Road

Enjoy it now, while you still have it all to yourself, because big things are bound to happen here in the near future. In such a remote and geologically fascinating place as this, it’s perhaps not surprising that it was holding a very big secret. It turns out that the marvels of this national park continue under the mountains: In 2009, it was announced that the largest cave in the world, Son Doong, had been discovered here. (Find out more about Son Doong Cave in this excellent National Geographic article). Oxalis Tours now offers a genuine ‘trip of a lifetime’ with a multi-day trek through the cave, including camping inside the cave. It looks and sounds extraordinary, but you’ll have to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege.

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHidden beneath these mountains is the recently discovered Son Doong Cave, the largest in the world

However, sections of other equally impressive caves in the area (such as Thien Duong Cave and Phong Nha Cave) have been open to the public for years now, and they are wildly popular. These are wonderful places to visit, but try to come on a weekday (not a weekend or holiday) when the caves are less crowded. Another relatively new addition to the ever-growing caving scene in Phong Nha is Hang En, which is sort of billed as a poorer man’s Son Doong. Phong Nha Farmstay and Oxalis both organize shorter and less expensive tours to this stunning, ethereal cavern. 

Thien Duong, Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, VietnamThe strange but beautiful interior of Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave is accessible to the general public

As the road passes through Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, the air is damp, perfumed and crisp. If you’re a city dweller, like me, then it’s moments like this when you realize what breathing should be like. Despite the extremely significant natural wonders here, there’s still concern over environmental protection in the national park. At my last visit, huge tree trunks lying by the roadside and dirt logging channels on the hillsides – where trees have been felled and slid down the slope – didn’t bode well for the future of this vast but delicate stand of old-growth primary forest.

Jungle canopy, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, VietnamThe jungle canopy is rich and thick along the Western Ho Chi Minh Road….for now

As the Western Ho Chi Minh Road soars over limestone monoliths, there are sweeping views to the east, down towards the coast and the provincial capital, Dong Hoi. The closest city to the caves, Dong Hoi, is yet another hidden gem of the area. A clean, relatively peaceful city on a pretty river and a great beach, Dong Hoi is like a miniature Danang. With direct flights to Saigon and Hanoi, Dong Hoi’s star is on the rise. Flattened by US bombing 50 years ago, today this entire area – Quang Binh Province – has all the makings of a future tourist hotspot: I’d visit now so that, in 10 years’ time, you can say you saw Quang Binh before the crowds arrived.

Western Ho Chi Minh Road, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, VietnamThe Western Ho Chi Minh Road & surrounding area have all the makings of a future tourist hotspot

215km after leaving Khe Sanh there’s a bridge over a river before Tra Ang crossroads. If you continue straight ahead here (due north) it takes you along a beautiful river before joining the Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road at Khe Gat. Alternatively, turn right (due east) towards Phong Nha (also known as Xuan Son and Son Trach). After 15km the road meets a blue river lined with limestone karsts: this is the town of Phong Nha, gateway to the caves. As grand as it sounds and as pretty as the surrounding scenery is, the town itself is a bit of a dump. It’s a work in progress; somewhere between its serene past as a small village in the countryside, and its future as the resort town for the largest cave system in the world. Dust, construction, rip-offs, and bad food abound. However, there’s a fair range of accommodation (see below), and the limestone Wonderland you passed through during the day can still be glimpsed from your balcony.

Phong Nha, Son Trach Town, VietnamPhong Nha town (Son Trach) is in a beautiful position but is undergoing massive changes

There are plenty of small hotels to choose from on the main street, but by far the most famous place to stay in the area is Phong Nha Farmstay, in a rural setting just out of town. Other excellent choices include Phong Nha Lake House Resort or Pepper House Homestay and, for cheaper digs, check out Jungle Boss Homestay. There’s a gas station on the left just before joining the Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road. Phong Nha’s main street has an increasing number of backpacker-oriented bars, diners, and English-speaking mechanics if your bike needs maintenance.

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SECTION 6:

Route: Phong Nha – Huong Khe – Pho Chau | Distance: 180km [MAP]

Head east on Phong Nha’s high-street for a couple of kilometres until it meets the Ho Chi Minh Road. Turn left (due northwest) to begin the journey to Huong Khe and Pho Chau. Almost immediately, there’s a great view over the river back towards Phong Nha town, which looks better from afar than it does when you’re actually in it.

The 100km stretch from Phong Nha to Pheo (Tan Ap) continues in much the same way as the previous couple of sections: more jagged, jungle-clad limestone forests stretching to the horizon; more majestic mountain passes climbing above the dense, shimmering jungle canopy; more clear blue rivers cutting valleys through the limestone; and more small villages where everyone comes out to wave as you ride by. In fact, many people I ride with consider this to be the most scenic section of the entire Ho Chi Minh Road.

Boy on a bicycle, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamA boy cycles by carrying a rudimentary spearfishing gun, near Pheo

There are numerous places to stop and gaze in awe at the limestone landscape and, if you’ve got time to do some exploring, there are dozens of small paved lanes leading off the highway through idyllic-looking hamlets of wood and thatch houses, and terrific swimming spots in aquamarine rivers below jungle-clad limestone cliffs. Sadly, freight traffic has started to increase on this bit of the highway. This, I suspect, will only get worse, as truck drivers realize that the Ho Chi Minh Road from Hanoi all the way down to Dong Ha is a much better alternative to taking Highway 1. However, it’s still nowhere near busy….yet.

Clear river on the Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamTake the time to find some gorgeous swimming spots between Phong Nha & Pheo

Slowly, as the day goes on, settlements get bigger, concrete houses replace wooden huts, agriculture swallows up the forests, mountains give way to flat valleys, and traffic increases slightly. There’s still some great scenery – rubber, tea and cinnamon plantations, and the misty, forested slopes of Vu Quang National Park to the west – but when compared to the dramatic landscapes of the previous few days, it seems tame and tainted.

Huong Khe is a surprisingly big and lively settlement with a large lake, lots of food and accommodation, and a deafening chorus of cicadas in the evenings. Huong Khe’s high street runs parallel to the Ho Chi Minh Road, so you have to take one of many connecting streets between the two. Son Ha Hotel and Hoang Ngoc Hotel both have good rooms by the lake, where there’s lots of beer and food stalls at night. For breakfast, head to the market and try the fresh, thick, doughy bánh canh noodles at 406 Tran Phu Street, near the corner with Nguyen Hue Street.

Local food in Huong Khe, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamRustic local food stalls in the north often look like perfect still life paintings

From Huong Khe to Pho Chau it’s easy to make a wrong turn onto Highway 15 towards Ha Tinh City: at the junction make sure you bear left, signposted to Vu Quang. It’s a very green ride to Pho Chau, and the Ho Chi Minh Highway is incongruous to the life and landscape surrounding it, which seems to belong to another century; a time when people used buffaloes not cars, and bamboo not plastic. The lush and seductive slopes of Vu Quang National Park abut the road, where some of the last remaining wild Indochinese tigers roam. These forests are also where Phan Dinh Phung fled, to muster a resistance force against the colonial ambitions of the French, in the 1880s.

Agricultural landscape on the Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamIt’s a wide, green and agricultural landscape around Pho Chau

At the crossroads with Highway 8 turn left (due west) for the small town of Pho Chau. This is a dusty, off-the-beaten-path place to spend a night. The town centre is at the crossroads before crossing a bridge. Here you’ll find a couple of OK hotels for a cheap night’s rest: Bach Dai Dung Hotel (039 3875 490; rates from 150,000vnd a night) and Ngan Pho Hotel (039 3516 678; rates from 200,000vnd a night). There are food stalls around the market. However, if you stay on the Ho Chi Minh Road past the Pho Chau intersection, there’s a new hotel (with a swimming pool!) just five minutes up the hill. Minh Tu Hotel (rates from 250,000vnd a night) is more comfortable and better value than staying in the town. Pho Chau is on the road to a remote border crossing with Laos, and the only bit of notable information about the town that I’m aware of, is that it’s the first stop in Vietnam for all the trucks full of dogs that have been illegally smuggled in from Thailand via Laos, and destined for the tables of restaurants in Hanoi.

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SECTION 7:

Route: Pho Chau – Tan Ky – Cam Thuy | Distance: 250km [MAP]

This is a ride through the neck of Vietnam or, as I like to think of it, the throat of the dragon. The Ho Chi Minh Road spears its way through Ha Tinh and Nghe An – vast provinces of forests, fields, farming and rivers – following the railroad north. These wide agricultural expanses hold little interest to most foreign travellers, but this is the revolutionary heartland of Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh Trail – the wartime supply route from north to south – started from Nghe An Province, before plunging into the jungles and mountains of Laos. This section is easy, swift riding, making it possible to cover large distances in just a day or two. On the way, you’ll notice several roads spreading west of the Ho Chi Minh Road. If you have time, follow some of these Laos-bound routes, as they offer some of the most isolated and beautiful scenery in Vietnam.

River swimming on the road to Laos from VietnamMake a scenic detour on one of the many roads spreading west to Laos

Not far out of Pho Chau town, the road passes a Vinamilk dairy farm. Milk and yogurt are hugely popular in Vietnam, which has made Vinamilk one of the biggest companies in the country. (Rather worrying, there’s not a cow in sight.) Wending its way through a rolling landscape – blanketed in eucalyptus, lemongrass, sweetcorn, cassava, cinnamon and tea – the Ho Chi Minh Road leaves Ha Tinh (the Province of Rivers and Peace) and enters Nghe An, the largest province in Vietnam, but one of the least visited by foreign travellers. Known as ‘Nghe An Buffaloes’ (because of the hard labour involved in working the land and the harsh climate they must endure throughout the year – massive heat and typhoons in the summer; cold and bleak days in the winter), the people of Nghe An are known for their resilience. Indeed, this province has produced some of the biggest names in the Vietnamese history of revolution and resistance, chief among them being a certain Ho Chi Minh, whose childhood home is a short ride to the east of his namesake’s road.

A tea farmer in Nghe An Province, VietnamA ‘Nghe An Buffalo’ working a tea plantation on the Ho Chi Minh Road

It’s a big province, and the journey across Nghe An’s vast agricultural landmass can be long and monotonous, but the road is in great shape and traffic is light. You’ll find hotels, food, gas and supplies at fairly regular intervals. Tan Ky is a good place to break the journey if you need a lunch stop or to spend the night. There are lots of nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) signposted from the road here, but by far the best accommodation is the KM0 Hotel (038 3979 888; rates from 300,000vnd a night) at the main intersection. This smart place seems a bit out of place here, but it’s a welcome oddity. Next door, the Truong Son Hotel (038 3882 457; rates from 200,000vnd a night) offers cheaper rooms. There’s lots of rice and noodle eateries lining the road. Tan Ky is notable as the start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail: there’s a monument and small museum across from the KM0 Hotel. There are also guesthouses and hotels at Khai Son, Thai Hoa, and Yen Cat.

The Ho Chi Minh Road, Nghe An Province, VietnamRiding through Nghe An, the largest province in Vietnam, can be monotonous

North of Tan Ky, the Ho Chi Minh Road is in a bad state. Expect fairly frequent but minor roadworks for about an hour on this section. Coupled with the roadworks, brick factories, trucks and dust make this little stretch a bit unpleasant. But, when the Ho Chi Minh Road enters Thanh Hoa Province, limestone karsts appear on the horizon, bamboo grows on the hillsides and the road is smooth once again. A good little place for a night is Lan Anh Hotel (037 8996 886; rates from 250,000vnd a night). The hotel is located a short way from the birthplace of another hero in the Vietnamese pantheon, Le Loi. Born in 1384, Le Loi led the uprising (1418-27) that expelled the Ming Dynasty Chinese from Vietnam, and established Le Loi as the first emperor of the Later Le Dynasty. He achieved this with the help of a special sword which, after the Chinese had been defeated and the sword had done its work, a turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi took back from Le Loi: this is where the lake gets its name, Lake of the Returned Sword. Le Loi’s home citadel and temple can be visited in Lam Son, near the Lan Anh Hotel.

The Ho Chi Minh Road, Thanh Hoa Province, VietnamNghe An and Thanh Hoa provinces are rarely visited but offer several historical attractions

A wall of limestone karsts greets you as the Ho Chi Minh Road reaches Ngoc Lac, hinting at what lies beyond to the west, on the Limestone Loop and in Pu Luong Nature Reserve. There are lots of nhà nghỉ and hotels lining the road around Ngoc Lac if you need somewhere to stay. Thanh Hoa Province is also the home of the Dong Son civilization, a bronze age culture dating back nearly 3,000 years. The Dong Son centred around the Ma River, a mystical body of water snaking sluggishly through limestone outcrops, in whose caves the Dong Son lived. At Cam Thuy, there are great views of the Ma River from the bridge. This is also a good place to spend a night. Try Thanh Nhan Hotel (037 3280 555; rates from 250,000vnd a night), on the right just before crossing the bridge. Rooms are good and the hotel is set around a pleasant courtyard. If you prefer to be in town proper, there are some hotels and guesthouses lining Cam Thuy’s high-street, where there’s also plenty of food. For breakfast, try to find Ms Thai’s bánh cuốn  shop (steamed rice flour rolls): it’s near the centre of the main street, opposite Phuong Spa and next to a big red shopfront for Tiem Vang Hai Ngoan.

The Ma River, Thanh Hoa Province, VietnamThe mystical Ma River was the cradle of the Dong Son bronze age culture

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SECTION 8:

Route: Cam Thuy – Cuc Phuong – Hanoi | Distance: 150km [MAP]

Leave Cam Thuy on the Ho Chi Minh Road heading north. Just after the bridge, Thanh Nha Ho is signposted to the right (due south-east). Thanh Nha Ho is an ancient citadel dating to the early 15th century. The citadel walls are imposing and in an attractive state of decay among farmland. It’s an interesting 25km side trip if you’re in need of some history and culture (read my guide to Ho Citadel here). While riding through Thanh Hoa Province, make sure to stop and pick up some nem chua Thanh Hóa. These are delicious pork salamis wrapped in banana leaves with garlic and chilli. They are sold in bunches of about a dozen by the roadside. Several places all over Vietnam specialize in nem chua but these, in my opinion, are the best.

Nem chua Thanh Hóa, Ngoc Lac, VietnamNem chua Thanh Hóa is a Vietnamese delicacy that’s most delicious in this province

Not ten minutes out of Cam Thuy, the Ho Chi Minh Road plunges into what appears to be the set of Jurassic Park. This is Cuc Phuong, declared Vietnam’s first national park by Ho Chi Minh himself, in 1962. Characterized by forested limestone cones, the Ho Chi Minh Road cuts straight through the park, following the course of the turquoise Buoi River, as it swerves between rocky peaks. Although the park entrance is some 50km to the east, you can get a good taste of Cuc Phuong by staying at Quang Duc Homestay (70,000vnd per person per night), on the left just after crossing the first bridge. Sleeping is on mattresses on the wooden floor under mosquito nets in a stilt house. The food is also excellent here and staff are hospitable. The only problem is that passing trucks during the night slightly spoil the ambience.

Cuc Phuong National Park, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamThe Ho Chi Minh Road is elevated above jungles & rivers as it passes through Cuc Phuong

The homestay is near several swimming spots. The first is down the dirt road (soon to be paved) just beside the homestay. After a couple hundred metres there’s a weir where you can swim lengths or jump off rocks and branches into the water. A good 10-15km further up this road, there’s a makeshift sign for ‘Thác mây‘, Cloud Waterfall. Up a steep and slippery slope, these falls are a terraced cascade of gin-clear water, creating perfect bathing pools. It’s a special place and, if you come during the daytime on a weekday, you may have it to yourself.

River in Cuc Phuong National Park, VietnamThere are some excellent swimming spots on the river near Quang Duc Homestay

Continuing north from Quang Duc Homestay, the Ho Chi Minh Road glides through the jungled hills of Cuc Phuong on an impressive elevated roadway. The procession of limestone hills continues on both sides of the road for a long time after passing through the park. To the east is Ninh Binh. Famous for its mysterious landscapes that have recently been used in Hollywood movies (such as Kong: Skull Island, which is to be released in 2017), Ninh Binh is connected to the Ho Chi Minh Road by several potholed back-roads. Although the scenery remains good, it’s blighted by many large brick and cement factories, which are destroying the landscape by quarrying deeper and deeper into the hills. There are also minor roadworks and rough patches, largely due to all the trucks that ply to and from the quarries and the factories. Settlements get larger, soot and dust hang in the air, and it’s not long before the inevitable march of trucks clog the road around the industrial suburbs of Hanoi. The last 50km to Xuan Mai and Hoa Lac can be a very nasty, dirty ride indeed.

Power lines, Xuan Mai, Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamIndustry, dust and trucks make the last 50km to Hoa Lac quite unpleasant

There are plenty of nhà nghỉ guest houses by the road in Xuan Mai if, for some reason, you had to stay there. At Hoa Lac, the end of the Ho Chi Minh Road, turn right (due east) onto the Thang Long Expressway towards the capital. (Avoid taking Highway 13 from Xuan Mai to Hanoi, it’s nasty). The expressway is in excellent shape and, if you were feeling depressed by the slow crawl through the industrial outskirts, the sight of central Hanoi is certain to lift your spirits. The serene waters of Hoan Kiem Lake signifies the end of a memorable 2,000km road trip from south to north Vietnam. For great value flashpacker beds try Hanoi Impressive Hotel, where rooms with balconies sometimes go for $35; for chic, boutique mid-range rooms try Silk Path Hotel; or reward yourself with a night in a lake-view room at the new Apricot Hotel.

Huc Bridge, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, VietnamHuc Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi: the end of a 2,000km road trip

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RELATED POSTS:

        •  Saigon to Hanoi: Suggested Routes: Five fantastic routes from south to north

        •  The Golden Loop: Central Vietnam: A classic ride from coast to mountains

        •  The Ha Giang Extreme North Loop: The most thrilling ride in Vietnam

        •  Expenses for a Road Trip in Vietnam: How to budget while on the road

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183 Responses to Ho Chi Minh Road: Motorbike Guide

  1. Lewis says:

    I just arrived in a loui tonight and the same thing happened. Tried all the larger places and they all said no and they didn’t look busy at all. A small place behind the petrol station finally said yes but wanted to charge 250k. I got her down to 200k but it was really weird.

  2. Brian says:

    Hi Tom.

    What a wealth of info on your site. I booked a last minute 6 week trip and am planning on buying a bike to ride up the country – may go for your classic route. Any notes on proper mapping for the routes? Is it easier than I think as far as the logistics go?
    Also, as far as gear, should I bother bringing a leather (old style motorcycle jacket) with me? And you think I’d be okay with some high-top sneakers for the trek? Having a tough time sorting out my gear.
    I have so many other questions, but I will try and find the answers rather than having you do my work!

    I leave tomorrow, pretty excited and hopefully prepared.

    Best,

    Brian

  3. Carly says:

    Hello! I plan to ride solo from Hanoi to HCM in about a week. Would you recommend using your guide backwards to help me with this route? Or are there any other websites/guides out there travelling north-south that you would recommend? Thanks!

    – Carly

  4. Just wanted to say Thanks!! Your guide was amazing really helpful to pre-load the google maps into our phone and set out on the road. We just finished 2 days ago and was incredible!

    Just a couple notes for updates. The construction to Cam Thuy is pretty much done now so it was only around 20 minutes of construction so really not a bad road to pass through. There is also a new hotel in Khe Sanh called the Green Hotel.

    In A Louie though we had a unique experience where every single hotel or guesthouse was full and didn’t have a room available for us around 330 pm, even guesthouses that didn’t look busy at all, so at 5 pm we had to drive all the way to Hue to get a room for the night (we were worried about the same thing happening on the way to Khe Sanh. It was very odd, almost like the hotels didn’t want us to stay with them. Otherwise, turned out well because we traveled the Hai Van Pass loop as well.

  5. François says:

    Hi Tom,
    Just completed the Khe Sanh to Phong Nha section yesterday. Amazing ride but it rained for 7 hours out of 8. Still it was qui te a nice atmosphere riding alone in the mist and rain! Just wanted to point out that there is now a gas station around the town of Long Ky ( if i recall the name correctly ). Did not stop myself but it seemed open with a car and motorbike at the pumps. Might be useful for others. I think i will continue on the hcm road to Hanoï as i have heard Ninh Binh was quite touristy and a bit disappointing. What is your view ob this? Thanks again for your super useful information!

  6. Jono says:

    Hey Tom,

    first of all thank you so much for your incredible blog and website. Never have I ever seen something so helpful for planing my journeys.
    I`ve got one questions left though, since I don`t have too much time and still would prefer not to rush I decided to start my trip from Hoi An, jump on to the Classic Route and go to Hanoi from there. Since I don`t want to miss out on the central highlands completely I thought that I should make a short trip towards the direction of Kon Tum first, just wondering how far. Is it more the way itself that is worth seeing or is it the place Kon Tum itself?

    Thanks a lot!

  7. Suzie Tyler says:

    Hi Tom

    First of all we just want to say a huge THANK YOU for your blog, we have been following your Classic route and it has been absolutely fantastic and has made our trip unforgettable and the best experience of our travels so far!
    Just a quick question for you if that’s ok, we are heading to Ha Long Bay rather than Hanoi, and are unfortunately running out of days, where would you suggest we leave the Ho Chi Minh road and head across to Ha Long Bay? We are currently in Phong Nha and heading to Pho Chau now. We really only have 2 days to get to Ha Long Bay after today.

    Thanks so much!

    Best wishes
    Suzie and Dan

  8. Tom says:

    Hi Tom, me and my girlfriend are riding from Saigon to Hanoi (possibly Sapa if there’s time) and have been using your guide and found it amazingly helpful. We did our first stop in Mui Ne and used your Saigon escape route guid to get there and loved the coastal road, then we did the route up to De Lat where we are know. Im looking at your Ho Chi Minh route guide for the next bit as we want to go to Buon Ma Thuot then Kon Tum but after this we would like to head to Hoi An. Do you think its possible to do the route from Kon Tum to Hoi An in a day and what route should we take? If its not possible where would you recommend we stay for a night?
    Thanks
    Tom

  9. Peter Link says:

    I used your guide for my cycling trip along the HCM HW, it was very helpful, thanks a lot and it was a great trip. I thought you might be interested in my short video, that I made. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kcDNYAgkho
    Next summer I want to do the north east maybe approaching from Kunming.

  10. Silver says:

    Thank you so much! This webpage has been our Vietnam motorbiking bible over the period of one month, and perhaps another few weeks if we’re going to do the north loops. You’ve helped us have the time of our lives!

  11. Lynn says:

    Hi Tom,

    I read that the 100km stretch from Phong Nha to Pheo (Tan Ap) is said to be the most scenic by some people.

    I’m planning to go as far as Phong Nha by motorbike to explore the caves for a day or two from Hue via Khe San, with a overnight stop at Long Son. After Phong Nha, I’ll be taking the same route back to Hue as I will have to reach Da Nang eventually for my flight back (will break the route over a couple of days).

    Say if i got time on my hand, I wonder if it will be worth the effort to continue riding from Phong Nha to Pheo (Tan Ap) and then riding back down the same route to Phong Nha- Hue- Da Nang (over a couple of days). Thus, do you think that the extra 100km will be worth it and if there are any hostels in Tan Ap to stay the night?

    Thanks!

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  13. Amaury says:

    Hi Tom,

    My friend and I just did the Ho Chi Minh Road. It was fabulous! Even if most of the time the weather was foggy and/or rainy, it gave some kind of mysticism to the scenery. And all of this thanks to you. Really a great job this website. Plus the historical and cultural insights are very interesting.

    Happy travels,
    Amaury

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  16. Troy says:

    Hi Tom,

    Your website is awesome!
    My partner and I are planning a trip soon that I’ve mapped out myself referencing your maps and some others I’ve come across. As far as accommodation goes it’s pretty easy to find places online and most of the bigger cities seem loaded with hotels and guesthouses but I’m just wondering if there are many guesthouses or hotels in Kham Duc or close by as we’re planning to ride from Kon Tum to around there in a day and the only info I can find for places to stay are the two you’ve mentioned in Kham Duc.

    Thanks for all the hard work/riding!
    Troy

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  19. Matus says:

    Hi Tom,

    Great site, great inspiration and source of joy reading all these people’s experiences. And you clearly are a culprit there. Congratulations!
    I am doing your Beach Bum Route on bicycle between Nov 25 and Dec 18- well, that’s the plan.
    I wonder what’s your thought- would it be too cold for Sapa circuit; should we get back to Hanoi by train/bus or could we simply join HCM Road somewhere; is Duc Tuan still the only place to stay at Western HCM Road; are we set for wet central part of VTNM and just cheat by taking bikes on the bus, or we have to play it by ear on daily basis.
    Pls advice, tx,Matus

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  21. Rens says:

    Hey Tom,

    I just wanted to thank you. I did the south to north Vietnam trip on crappy yet incredible Honda Wins with three Dutch friends, and due to the discovery of your website in Hue, our trip has transformed from rememberable to unforgettable. The moment we left the highway and turned into the mainland (following your HCM-road directions) it has become an even more incredible experience. And for the icing on the cake, the ”extreme northern loupe” could possibly be the most beautiful place in the world. Thank you so much for your awesome website and your help.

    Greetings from Holland,
    Rens
    Pho Riders

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  25. Rachelle says:

    Hey Tom!

    I am a female traveling alone by motorbike on the way to Hanoi and am looking to follow your guide up the rest of the way. Would you say that I would be safe in these rural areas by myself? I would ideally like to meet people to ride with but haven’t found anyone heading my direction yet. Thoughts on female solo travel this route?

    Thanks!

    Rachelle

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  27. Richard says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’m planning on doing this trip in early November this year. I was thinking about what kind of motorbike to buy.
    Probably an automatic one. I have a manual motorbike so shifting is not an issue….but why would I bother? Is the Honda Nuovo a good choice? How much did it break down and what is the oil change interval?

    Thank you for this amazing post. I found it by accident a few days after I decided to take the journey on :)

  28. Sinead says:

    This website has been so useful when planning my trip from HCM to Hanoi.

    I’m now in Phong Nha after an epic ride from Khe Sahn which was a highlight of the trip. Long Son was a great little stop off and if I head back there I think I will definitely spend the night so I have more time to relax, swim and enjoy the beautiful countryside.

    There is now a petrol station being built which was about half finished which is good to know for the future.

    I now need to head to Hanoi and was looking at going via Ninh Binh. I’m looking at going to Pho Chau and then Dan Luc. As my friend is arriving in the next few days I was thinking about skipping Ninh Binh for now and going straight up the HCM from Dan Luc to Hanoi. Do you know if this would be a good option. I’m basically looking to get to Hanoi, avoiding any horrible highways and traffic. Any recommendations would be great !

    Thanks, Sinead

  29. Chris says:

    There is a good hotel in Yen Cat named Dai Lam Hotel. It is just as you’re passing out of Yen Cat on your way north. To get in Yen Cat you exit off HCMH onto a parallel road that then comes back onto the highway. Where it reconnects is where the hotel is located. It also has a gas station in front of it. The cost is 250000. They were grilling duck a couple doors down and that was actually a good dinner.

  30. Chris says:

    Just a heads up:

    The hotel five minutes north of pho chau has two tiers and actually two separate buildings. The bigger hotel with the pool is 500000 for room with pool use and breakfast.

    To get the 250000 price you stay in the smaller hotel next door. You do not get breakfast nor pool use. Actually I think the price is 200000 for a single bed (250000 for two beds) but she could not get the door open…

    At the reception I had to ask for the 250000 price, referring to your notes. It was not listed there.

  31. Peter Link says:

    Thanks for this very comprehensive tour information, it was very helpfull to plan my next cycling trip. The pictures are great too, nice job.

  32. Andy says:

    Hey!

    Thank you for all the information you provide.

    Honestly I’m a little bit concerned about the overnight thing.
    Do you find possibilities for sleeping quite often on the Ho chi Minh road?

    I tried to figure it out on the Internet but that didn’t work that good :/

    Cheers, Andy

  33. Damian Modernell says:

    This guide was so helpfull, i just got to hanoi from saigon, 21 days and did almost everuthing on this guide, such a great trip. Only diference is i jumped off the ho chi minh road in kham duc towards hoi an and did the hai van pass. Now trying to seell my honda
    Anyway just wanted to thank you for this post
    cheers

  34. Daniel says:

    Tom,

    Great guide, but I was wondering how dangerous this trip would be for someone that hasn’t driven a bike before. I’ve heard some horror stories about people getting run off roads by trucks etc. Could I get your opinion on this?

    Thanks, Daniel

  35. Toshy says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for the great guide! We just wrapped up a tremendous trip. We used your guide most every day from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, now we just have to sell it! If anyone’s interested in a reliable bike, we rode a Honda Win which gave us very little trouble.

    Thanks again for the help!!

    Toshy

  36. Reed Bernstein says:

    I love this guide and I’m going to start the Ho Chi Minh road on June 15 with Yamaha from Tigit. This is a minor suggestion, a quibble at best, but I decided to go from North to South and to do a reverse route would be easier on the brain. Again just a minor suggestion and I’ll make do with how your excellent guide is set up.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

    Reed

  37. Tommy says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for all of this valuable information. I’ve read through your camping articles (Dalat and Ocean Road) and your comments on this article. I’m taking my eno hammock and I’m wondering if there are many places to camp in a hammock along this section of the road. I saw your response to one message about being hidden while being careful for unexploded mines. How would you recommend picking a spot to set up a hammock? I plan on staying in Khe Sanh, Nha Phuong (here, I’ll probably stay at Easy Tiger or one of the other hostels) and Pho Chau. Also, on a related note, is there opportunity for hammock camping in Ha Giang?

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  40. Liviu Chis says:

    Tom, I just did a trip to Phong Nha and this blog helped so much! The map you put together was on point. I thought that I should make my own but then I realized that you had covered everything and I would have very little to add. Thanks for making this a smooth trip man!

  41. Julia says:

    I’m back with a road update on the HMC Road, beginning at Phong Nha and heading South.

    The first 100 km from Phong Nha to Long Son (where the hotel is that got recommended in the comments), the road was beautiful but there is a bit of construction going on at the moment. There’s lots of gravel in the corners and the occasional stone pile which you have to avoid. The road itself is still in top shape and is entirely rideable, but the constructions slowed us down a bit. This should be kept in mind if anyone wants to ride the entire 240 km in one day.

    The rest was in pristine shape and we had an amazing time! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t playing along, so we got wet a few times. Now we are relaxing in Kon Tum for a bit before we’re heading to the coast.

  42. Hello Tom,

    Checking in from Hue this time after successfully surviving the Northeast Loop :) Still a big fan of your work!

    This time, I have a question: We want to drive to Vinh Moc from Hue and visit the tunnel systems. From there, I now pieced together a route taking us inland over QL15 East. Here, we meet QL15 west on a crossroads and continue south to Khe Sanh.

    It’s a 176km section, which seems to be doable. Or are we missing some vital information, like a horribly bad road, constructions or other obstacles?

    Here’s a link, in case anyone else is interested: https://goo.gl/maps/xfTdNW7GzZt

    We don’t want to miss out on your favourite stretch of the HCMR, but the question is: Is this part also worth it? Would you suggest a better route? Should we go further North and join the section there to see the highlights?

    If you have some input for us, we’d be very grateful!

    All the best,
    Julia

  43. Josh says:

    Hi Tom,

    We are in Hoi An going to Da Nang after. Would you recommend taking the Hai Van pass to Hue then over to HCM road or straight to HCMR from Da Nang and head north from there.

    Thanks,

    Josh

  44. Nasci says:

    Great site Tom. I’m using it a lot for a Saigon-Hue trip I am contemplating in June.
    I’m wondering how many days one would need for following QL1 out of Saigon, turning inland south of Quang Nga onto QL24 ito catch the HCM Road at Kon Tum, taking that to QL 49 into Hue? It’s about 1400km, so I’m figuring 7-9 days with some leisurely stops.

    If anyone has ridden this route, any advice would be appreciated.
    If there’s a more scenic/adventurous route using QL 1 and the HCM Rd, would love to hear about it.

    And is the fastest way back from Hue on a train? Unsre if I will load bike on train or try to organise a drop-off in Hue, if that is even possible.

    Thanks in advance.

  45. Don says:

    Good day Tom ,
    Have a little unusual question this morning. I am headed south from Pleiku returning to Saigon as I have to return to the US do to my mother falling extremely ill. I will make Boun Ma Thout this evening and wondered if you know what my fastest route south from there?
    Some friends last week told me ql27 headed south toward Da Lat was nice but very slow and south of there I have no idea on any of the roads.

    Thank you very much Don

  46. Noemi says:

    Ps: we had driven past the mountain pass that is north of Khe Sanh, and made that right turn about 10km after exiting the pass, if helps locate our turn, and road construction location.

  47. Noemi says:

    I just drove from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha but due to steady rain we turned right at a fork on a “shortcut” about 70-80km after Khe Sanh, on a road that was getting us to Ho Chi Minh road east. It turns out this is a major construction sites over 10km long, with bridges being built, and we had to ride through rivers and very slippery mud, taking us 3hrs to get to the Eastern portion of the HCM road. Don’t make the same mistake, don’t take that right turn!! And if anyone knows which road I ended up being on that has this massive construction linking the east and west Ho Chi Minh road above Khe Sanh, please let me know.

  48. Vy Nguyen says:

    Hello,
    I love your blog. It not only gives travellers useful tips but also shows how beautiful Vietnam is. As a Vietnamese, I would like to thank you so much for that. I would like to ask you along HCM road (from Kon Tum to Phố Châu) which section (which day) is the most beautiful in your opinion. Because I dont have much time to go all the route you did, I want to choose the best section to conquer. I have 2-3 days only. How about West HCM road from khe sanh to Phong nha? Is it the best?
    Thanks.

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  51. Slawek says:

    Hi Tom,

    First of all I wanted to thank you again for superb guides that helped me plan my trip. So far it was awesome! I did the costal road and camped in several places and now I’m doing HCM road and Golden Loop.

    I was wondering if you know how is it when it comes to nha nghis during the Tet? It seams that I’ll be on the HCM road again at that time. I know people go to their homes to celebrate it with their familis but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find any accomodation during that time. I still have my tent but the weather here is slightly different from what I experienced at the south ;P

    Thanks in advance!
    Slawek

  52. Galpie Wieland says:

    Hi,
    Awesome trip, I’m defintly thinking of doing the same trip as you made. I actually have around 18/19 days. Im with a friend were quite young and don’t mind driving like 250 km a day. would it be possible for us to that between the time we have? The setting of our vacation will be a roadtrip/party/holiday chilling isn’t that important for us! i would really appreciate your tips and comment!
    Thanks in advance!

    Kind regards
    Galpie Wieland
    Netherlands

  53. Sundari says:

    I can not even express my gratitude in finding you. Your amazing adventure has completely changed my plans around. I have been doing research for weeks and I was starting to get a little sad about my trip. Everything seemed based around guided tours and that’s just not my thing. Also the throngs of pictures with tourest everwhere also isnt my thing (even though I am one) so finally I find your site and my spirits are renewed. I am beyond excited for the ride ahead. Not sure though if I can make it. I have exactly 23 days in Vietnam from April 22 to May 16th starting in Saigon. I want to make it over to Ankor wat for sure. I will probably do this first. 1st question have you taken this trip on bike? Is it okay to cross border on rented scooter or should I just take the bus? I also want to travel up north to Hanoi. I would like to follow your route all the way. I would though like to just fly back to Saigon so I have a little time to chill and not feel rushed. Is this possible? Just renting a bike from Saigon and leaving it in Hanoi. I am.going to check that link to see if they would deliver it that far. I am an experienced rider and not afraid to travel alone Vietnam so no worries there. Vietnam seems safer then India and I did that by myself. I would have to do that whole trek in under 2 weeks. Is that even possible? Wish I saw you before I bought my ticket I would stay longer. Thank you so much for the insperation, the writing, the vidoes. I cant wait to read all your other articles.

  54. Cynthia Sneath says:

    Driving the Ho Chi Minh Highway. So many of us Ho Chi Miners use your site as a bible for the ride.

    I was hoping you could add the following info about the route between Khe Sanh to Phong Nha.

    There is a village a bit north of Tan Ky close to the valley of rice fields where there is petrol and a hotel called Duc Tuan Hotel – 0949 522 331.

    Thank you for your wonderful site!!!

  55. Don Evans says:

    Tom,
    Been following your web site for awhile and must say it is of great value and thank you for your work.

    I am flying into Ho Chi Minh on the 30 th of Jan for 10 weeks. Plan on buying a bike in the south and slowly working north trying to catch the last couple weeks of March in the far north depending on weather..

    Your route will be invaluable not to mention the rest of your site. I spent a month in Vietnam in 2014 and just loved it and have been riding for 40 plus years though I have never ridden anywhere else in the world like Vietnam..lol

    Cheers
    Don

  56. Slawek says:

    Tom,

    Thanks again. I’ve read the posts you mention before. Maybe I’ll try camping around Dalat too, being woken up by buffalo might be shocking experience though ;) When I was asking about safety, leaving tent and chances of charge electronics I had these designated camping areas from your guide in mind – sorry for not being specific. But from you say it should be OK there.

    Thanks a lot and Happy New Year!
    Slawek

  57. Slawek says:

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for super useful and inspiring guide! I’m heading to Vietnam in the beginning of January planning to ride from HCMC to Hanoi and can’t imagine deciding to do that without your guide.
    My plan is to buy a bike & tent and take Coastal Road up to Quy Nhon and than Ho Chi Minh Road. I’m traveling solo and have more than five week’s time on my hands for this trip.

    I have some questions and will appreciate your (or other riders’) reply.

    1. I definitely can’t say I’m experienced driver. I’ve only ridden through some parts of the Ma Hong Son Loop in northern Thailand and in Chiang Mai. Is it gonna be very hard to get out of Saigon and get to the coast?

    2. I’ll be doing my trip in January/February and I’m not sure about the weather. From what I know this part of year is okay when it comes to the south. Is it also true that central highlands and north will be dry but chilly? Will it be super cold in the night if I’ll be forced to camp somewhere there being unable to find a guesthouse in the evening or simply deciding that I want to spend the night in the tent?

    3. I don’t want to miss any part of HCM Road but still want to see some places on the coast, Hoi An and Hue to name a few. Does it make sense to ride there back and forth?

    Thanks in advance,

    Slawek

  58. Clifford Wadge says:

    Hi Tom

    The last two days from Kon Tum to Aluoi have been great days with heavy white clouds in the mountains between the two tunnels.

    Do you know of the exact location of the accommodation mentioned in the above posts at Thuong Son ( Long Son). The 250km is a little to long for my wife in one day. Therefore i need an alternative or I my have to skip this section.

  59. Clifford Wadge says:

    Hi Tom

    I am currently doing a south to north trip. I started in HCMC and took the train to Mui ne. The coastal road along the Mui Dinh Promontory is under construction again the new road that they have built is covered with landslides they are blasting all the hanging rocks off the hill side now. The road at the time we went through last week was open but only to motorbike and bicycle as there was only small path opened by the locals. It looks as if they will be working on this road for a while still. But a beautiful section of road.

    Other than that all other ocean roads are all ok up to Nha trang.

    From Phan rang we drove up to Nha trang to Buon ho.

    In Buon Ho we found a new Nha Nghi called Thuy Tien just before the town. Very clean, very helpful staff and beds very hard($9).I have uploaded it to google.

    Last night we stayed in Kon Tum at a small place just off the river called Khách sạn Kon Tum. Very clean and helpful staff. ($12)

    We have just completed day one of your ho chi minh road guide.

    If today is only the start I am so excited to see the rest.

    I will give further updates.

    Thank you all the effort you have put into these pages it has really helped.

    If there is anyone currently on this trip please let me know.

  60. Mark says:

    Hi Tom,

    Your guide was one of the main source of inspiration as I did my loop from Hoi An to Khe Sanh, Hue, Da Nang and finally back. I’ve made a video for this trip: http://youtu.be/5Tcsj_eMndk
    Once again, thanks!

  61. Max says:

    I would be SO depressed if I ever saw dog being served anywhere. I’d love to go to Vietnam and take a trek like this, but the dog thing…I would be so disturbed.

  62. Fabian says:

    Hi Tom

    What an awesome article thank you so much! Me and my friend just bought some bikes yesterday and made our way up to cat ba. What an awfull road haha! Roadconstruction and tons of crazy trucks. Was a nice adventure anyway. As we’re just have a bit more than 3 weeks we propably will not make our way up to Muong Lay and Lai Chau :( I would like to ask you if you have any recomendations from the way from Cat Ba (Halong) down to Phố Châu?

    As i’d love to do the hai van pass as well as the pass you described (wich seems INCREDIBLE) and hai on (for the tailors!) aswell as hue do you think thats possible? How long would id take you to do both? Any suggestions how we could do that?

    Do you have any expirience with selling bikes in cambodia? we were thinking taking them over there as we have some more time there and sell them in phon phen.

    Thank you so much for your help already

    Just the best for you

    Fabian

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  64. Hi Tom,

    Really great site you put together and especially very informative when it comes to the motorbiking. It’s something I’m debating doing. This would be my first time on a bike and I am also traveling alone (female backpacker), thus the hesitation. This route seems great though: very scenic and paved roads. Currently I am in Saigon but I want to work my way up to Hanoi next week. I was thinking of doing the coastal route going north by bus then come December, working my way back down again via the Ho Chi Minh Road on a bike. Any thoughts on going North to South vs South to North? I also figured maybe along the way I might meet some people who would want to do this with me (if anyone reading this is interested please reach out! I’m also open to going South to North but would want to leave next week :)) I also have some questions about purchasing a bike, if you could please reach out via email that would be great. Thanks Tom!

    Jessica

  65. Noemi says:

    Hi again Tom:-) I’m spending 3 weeks motorbiking in Vietnam in January/February 2016, and my brother will join me for 8 days, so wondering which 5 days worth portion of this trip you would recommend that we could do together (I want to keep 3-4 days for him to visit Hoi An and Hanoi, short I know…). Obviously we also need to get there, and not sure if makes a difference if approached South to North or North to South (I can fly in & out of either Hanoi or Danang).

    Many continuing thanks for this amazing blog, and for your contagious enthusiasm!

    Noemi

  66. Alex says:

    Hi tom,

    Amazing guide we are just about to start this adventure from hcm.

    Couple of questions what bikes would you recommend would be better for backpackers and would you suggest biking all the way from hcm to your starting point or get transport their then start? We were gonna go all the way to Hanoi

  67. William says:

    HI,
    I found your website so useful! Thanks! I made a video about my trip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0Z9IHZ1ge8

  68. Ivar Arash says:

    Hey Tom thanks for this.

    I’m leaving in the morning on my trip from Hanoi to HCM.

    I would love to take the scenic route but like people are saying, no one around for 100 km. What to do if your bike breaks in that place :/

    Drving Highway 1 does not sound like so much fun.

  69. Beau says:

    Hey again, figured id report back regarding the condition of the road I mentioned previously. It’s all good! It’s looks pretty newly completed and was smooth the whole way (aside from going through a couple of towns).

    Cheers!

  70. Beau says:

    Hey Tom! Really liking your site. Full of some really great information and has been super handy on our trip so far.
    Just wondering if you have an experince on the Ho Chi Minh road south of Kon Tum to Saigon? I really enjoy the inland roads and mountains. I saw the route on your map cuts out to the ocean after that. Is that because its a nicer ride along the ocean roads?
    Cheers!

  71. Timesh Pillay says:

    Thanks a lot Tom for a great source of information.

    A friend and I travelled by bicycle from Hoi An to Phong Nha via the HCM west road. A fantastic trip. As you mentioned, there was very little north of Khe Sanh. We were close to deciding to head back to the coast for the last 250km. However! We got a tip-off from a tour guide about a place to stay in Thuong Son (marked as Long Son if you zoom in enough on google maps), about 135km north of Khe Sanh.

    Sure enough, a rudimentary hostel was there, in the beautiful village. It was pretty clean. The owners seemed surprised to see us. And the building was distinctly empty. There was no food in the hostel itself but a few places to get rice and pho in the village. We were charged 300,000 VND for the room. The best food was turning left out of the hostel, and left again at a sign for food up a track to a house with a large terrace.

    For other cyclists’ sake, we didn’t end up going by the HCM west all the way from Thong Son to Phong Nha since we predicted no opportunity for food or drink north west of Rinh Rinh (fork in road and river 25km north of Phong Nha). We turned right at this split and joined the HCM east instead, then retraced the HCM west from Phong Nha as far as we dared.

    All hugely recommended, especially the 135km north from Khe Sanh to Thong Son!

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  73. Fiona says:

    Hey Tom,

    Just a question re the day 4 part of this trip, Im so keen to do this but just concerned if anything happens to my bike as Im travelling alone, I assume there is no chance of finding mechanics on this road?!

    Thanks for your help!

  74. David says:

    Hey Tom,

    Thank you for this post. My girlfriend, good friend and I used your guide to take the HCMH West from Hoi An to Hanoi mid April. I’ve been traveling for the last 2+ years and the week on the bike to Hanoi was probably the highlight of my whole trip. I’m still in awe of the roads, the mountains, the karsts, the people and the adventure. Thanks again for bringing this ride to my attention.
    We still have the bikes in Laos and hope to sell them soon in Ving Vieng or Vientiane. The roads and views rival that part of Vietnam, but it’s much harder and more expensive to fix the bikes and get parts. Still a great time though.

    Best,
    David

  75. Kez says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for your incredibly useful guide. We’ve just ridden HCM road starting at Phong Nga and turning east at Thanh My for Hoi An. Here are some trip notes people may find useful:

    1. Phong Nga
    Yr right – it is touro madness with mediocre foods. But get up early and grab some Banh Mi rolls being made in the street. Also bought cooked corn and pineapples from local market and that set us up for the ride to Khe Sanh. We stayed at new hotel Kach San Thanh Phat across the road from Easy Tiger.

    2. Connector road down to HCM West from Phong Nga:
    This is a great 21k section of road that spits you out at a 4 way junction. it’s well signed turn left to Khe Sanh 223kms & yr on yr way.

    3. The road to Khe Sanh on HCM West is awesome:
    Yep you were right there! We saw no one and nothing for at least 100kms. It’s very peaceful.

    4. Staying in A Luoi
    The Thanh Quang was definitely a brilliant guest house – the lady who runs it made us very welcome and our bikes secure at night.

    5. Ride from A Luoi & stay in Thanh My
    The ride on this section was SENSATIONAL. The only thing on the road was cow poo.

    Eat lunch in Prao – there’s a family noodle place on rhs as you ride through, their soup and noodles were great and that made a good coffee.

    The ride from Prao to Thanh My – get ready, it’s 50kms of pure cornering clinic! Vietnamese road engineers Australia needs you! Road conditions are so good but take it easy last few ks into Thanh My.

    There are guest houses in Thanh My, we stayed at a brand new one on the left as you ride into town.

    Like Tom says, embrace the guest house, they’re great! They looked after us heaps better than hotels.

    Google translator:
    Works great from English to Vietnamese but Vietnamese people told me its a shocker the other way around.

    For 2700ks across Vietnam it helped us a lot though, installing the Vietnamese keyboard on my phone was incredibly helpful.

    Enjoy!
    Regards
    Kez

  76. bas says:

    Hi
    Thank you for this, very well writen en perfect guidance.
    Really enjoyed the trip too :-)

    ps towards Phong Nha you’ll find people selling fuel from the barrel.
    Best, Bas

  77. Michiel says:

    Hi Tom,

    Just wanted to thank you for your amazing blog! Just plowed my way through highway 17 from Ea Drang to Pleiku. Mostly under construction right now, but that makes you appreciate the good bits even more! Thanks to your extensive coverage of the ho chi min road. I can’t wait to experience this delight from Kon Tum onwards!

    Thank you,
    Michiel

  78. Andrea says:

    Xin Chao Tom!

    Your blog is brilliant! My boyfriend and I are not only your followers online but also on the road!
    We bought two bikes in Hue a few days ago and followed your ‘Ho Chi Minh Road’-Tour from Khe Sanh to Kon Tum. It was amazing! Your blog is hugely helpful and very inspiring :)

    We are planning on riding on to Da Lat. Can you recommend a route through the backroads?
    The last 10km towards Kon Tum were on a Highway under construction (only one lane or a bumpy gravelroad with loads of trucks – yuck!!) and we would love to avoid more of this! :)

    Cheers,
    Andrea & Raffael

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  80. Lukas says:

    Hi,

    thank you for the post! It helped a lot to see different Vietnam. We have enjoyed HCM road a lot. And you tips about Homestay was extremely good. We loved it. The only thing we didn’t like so much – it was the rain.. It rained a lot, and clouds hidden the best parts of mountains.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Lukas

  81. JR Woon says:

    Hey man, your guide sounds really awesome. I’m attempting to start my first solo 2 wheeled trip relying based on your really comprehensive and informative guide. I have many questions to ask, so yeah, firstly, may I know how do you reach Kon Tum? Do you take a plane to Ho Chi Minh City and then take a bus to Kon Tum? Also, how do you exit the country from the last checkpoint, Pho Chau? Do you take a bus to Hanoi and exit from the Airport at Hanoi, since its nearer?

  82. william churchill says:

    Too old to drive a motor bike (never driven one either). Any other means to take tis wonderful trip? Please sed copy or reply to email address also.

  83. Anhtoan Nguyen says:

    Have you ever made a trip out to the border of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia? I recommend it especially its only 30 minutes West of Plei Can (Where you head north near Kon Tum). Definitely the most scenic part of anything I’ve done in Vietnam. although I have yet to motorbike the north part of Vietnam. Google maps won’t show all routes that can be taken once you hit dirt roads. You will have to use Bing maps for more details. There is one route that is completely paved however, it lacks most off the scenery until you get to the top. Most of the other routes will be dirt and on the ridge line of the mountains as you bypass locals carrying sugarcane across the borders to make some extra money. Be warned you most likely will encounter few people. Even less than the HCM Road West.

    This link wasn’t when I went but some other people. The don’t have an pictures of anything scenic like there should be. Lots of rolling hills and beautiful country side. The do have pictures of the survey stone to mark the junction of the three countries. It also looks like they took the non-scenic road when it was still under construction. http://me.zing.vn/zb/dt/ktringotngaolalanohssiw/13916487?from=tag

  84. Donald Capper says:

    Hey Tom,

    Firstly, great site, well put together, informative and well written. After attempting India solo on 2 wheels I gave it up as a bad idea. Here the roads look great though. I became super excited to ride, so much so I searched for a bike in the old quarter here in Hanoi, as suggested by my hotel front of house staff. A rather dodgy looking $300 bike and a around 3 weeks to head south to HCM, using your map. It’s been serviced, I rode it all day to appease my mind before I leave, with one more day to buy a few supplies and plan the route.
    My question here is, do you recommend the ride between Hanoi and the start point on your map? Home stays are my first choice. Guest houses and if necessary, hotels. Do you perhaps have a list of recommend places with contacts I could reach from prior booking and availability? It would be a big help. Lastly, any essentials you recommend to take along?

  85. Hi Shelia,
    Between October and January will still be OK. In October you’ll probably still get some rain and towards January the temperatures in the mountains can get quite cold.
    Do you mean 10 days to get a motorbike licence? The majority of travellers don’t get a licence when they drive a motorbike in Vietnam, they just rent a bike and go.
    Hope you have a great trip.
    Tom

  86. sheila lowe says:

    Another question?-does it really take 10 days to get a licence?We would be coming from Goa india,hoping to have just a short stay. Can you not apply in advance?

  87. sheila lowe says:

    We would like to do this trip but could only make it during Oct to late Jan. would the weather be suitable?

  88. Mike says:

    Thank you so much for this guide, I would never have done this trip without this website. I never would have even known about it.
    I am writing this from Khe Sanh right now. I just wanted to let you know I found a new hotel that must have been built recently bc it super modern w/ flat screen TVA in every room and only $10 per night. Much better than that “miserable” hotel you recommended for $15 I’m sure. The name is Khanh Phuong Hotel if you want to edit your guide.
    Thanks again

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