Which Road Map to Use on a Motorbike Trip?

Introduction | Maps | Additional Resources

First published March 2014 | All words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

One of the most important things to take with you on a motorbike trip around Vietnam is a good map. However, because Vietnam is such a rapidly developing nation, the road system is in a constant state of change: good, up-to-date maps are hard to find. After years of riding all over the country, I’ve found that the best way to get an accurate picture of the roads in Vietnam is to refer to three sources: two road maps published in Vietnam, and Google Maps. By doing this – and with the help of some additional resources – you’ll be able to find your way from the highest mountains in the north to the most secluded beaches in the south. See below for my advice on which maps to take on a road trip in Vietnam.

If you want to find places like this on a road trip, you’d better take the right maps with you!

Find roads less travelled
Find roads less travelled
Country lanes lead deep into rural Vietnam
Country lanes lead deep into rural Vietnam
Climb mountain roads in the far north
Climb mountain roads in the far north
Find your own private beach
Find your own private beach
New roads have eased access to remote regions
New roads have eased access to remote regions
Take back roads & discover sites like this
Take back roads & discover sites like this
This sublime ocean road isn’t marked on some maps!
This sublime ocean road isn’t marked on some maps!
Mountain roads suffer from landslides in the wet season
Mountain roads suffer from landslides in the wet season
Take the scenic route: the Ho Chi Minh Road
Take the scenic route: the Ho Chi Minh Road
Leave the crowds behind
Leave the crowds behind
You won’t be able to find this without a good map!
You won’t be able to find this without a good map!

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MAPS

The maps listed here should be used together: don’t rely on just one of them. If a road is marked on one map, check it against the other maps before deciding to take it. New roads are being built all the time in Vietnam, and (for some reason) it takes a while before they show up on printed and online maps. On the other hand, some roads that are marked on these maps are little more than animal tracks through the jungle: Always cross-check. For more helpful tips see the additional resources further down this page.

Road Atlas of VietnamRoad Atlas of Vietnam (Tập Bản Đồ Giao Thông Đường Bộ Việt Nam)

Published by: Vietnam Publishing House of Natural Resources, Environment and Cartography

Price: 300,000VNĐ ($15)

Where to buy it: Most big bookstores in Vietnam: try Fahasa (www.fahasasg.com.vn) bookstores, which have branches in most Vietnamese cities.

Detailed: Road Atlas of VietnamDescription: On the face of it this is the perfect companion for a road trip in Vietnam: a detailed, colour-coded map of the country’s roads. But in reality, although it is the most detailed road atlas of Vietnam, it is rarely updated thoroughly. So-called ‘new editions’ are published annually, but this atlas still doesn’t include some big roads that have been in existence for years. It also includes roads that are currently under construction – this would be useful if the map was competently updated, but, as this is not the case, you’ll find that some roads marked as under construction (bright yellow with a green centre line) have already been completed while others have barely begun. Overall, it’s still an essential item to have with you – just remember to check it against the other maps in this list.

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Travel Map of VietnamTravel Map of Vietnam

Published by: Vietnam Publishing House of Natural Resources, Environment and Cartography

Price: 40,000VNĐ ($2)

Where to buy it: Most big bookstores in Vietnam: try Fahasa (www.fahasasg.com.vn) bookstores, which have branches in most Vietnamese cities.

Yearly updated: Travel Map of VietnamDescription: This handy little map is produced by the same publishing house as the Road Atlas of Vietnam (above). However, unlike the latter, this map really is updated year on year. Make sure you buy the current edition (the year is marked on the cover at the top right hand corner). While it might not appear at first to be as detailed as the Road Atlas of Vietnam, it’s often more reliable, and it includes many of the smaller, scenic roads along the coast and in the mountains. Its fold-up format makes it more compact and convenient to carry around, and the ‘pamphlet’ design also makes it easier (and more fun) to work out a route without having to flick from page to page. Don’t buy any other fold-out map of Vietnam as they are useless – this is the only one that has good roads on it. As always there are some inconsistencies, so always check it against the other two maps in this list.

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Google Maps, Vietnam

Free online: click HERE to view

Google Maps, VietnamDescription: Google Maps is a great resource for motorbike rides in Vietnam, but don’t always trust it. To some extent Google Maps has made independent travellers ‘map lazy’: many people use this as their only tool. Just because it’s online doesn’t make it more accurate than printed maps, and even satellite images can’t keep up with the pace of Vietnam’s road building. Some roads on Google Maps simply aren’t there, and some big, recently completed highways take months or even years to show up online. And, if you want to escape the highways and see great scenery, don’t use the ‘Get directions’ function to work out a route – it’ll only keep you on main roads and miss out all the quiet, scenic back roads that make road trips in Vietnam so memorable. The same rules apply to Google Maps as to printed maps: always cross-check with the other maps in this list.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

No map of Vietnam is 100% reliable. Road conditions are constantly changing: a quiet, one-lane paved road in the countryside one year might be a building site full of dust and mud the next year, and a brand new six-lane highway the next. Severe weather in Vietnam also affects roads: heavy monsoon rains can cause landslides, and newly laid surfaces quickly deteriorate into potholes. Below are some ways to stay up-to-date on road conditions and routes in Vietnam.

Check out Vietnam Coracle's suggested motorbike routesVietnam Coracle Motorbike Guides & Maps: Have a look at this list of my own extensive guides to motorbikes rides in Vietnam. There are mountain routes, coastal routes, and popular rides such as the Ho Chi Minh Road and the Hai Van Pass. Each motorbike guide has its own detailed map (designed using Google Maps), on which I’ve marked all roads (even ones which Google has missed), places of interest, food and accommodation. Or you can browse all of my Motorbike Guide Maps here (please allow a few minutes for this page to load as there are dozens of embedded maps on it). I update my guides whenever I can, but I encourage readers to email me if they come across any significant changes on these routes.

 

Friendly locals know the roadsAsk Locals: When it comes to the current conditions of small back roads in the countryside, local people are the best source of information. However, the same goes for people as for maps: cross-check the information you receive. If I come to a road I’m not sure about, I’ll consult all three of my maps, then ask a good percentage of the population of the local village, in order to get a general consensus, before deciding whether the road ahead is worth taking or not. In mountainous areas, especially in the far north, where bad weather can cause landslides, local people can tell you if the road is blocked or has been closed for clearance of debris. Of course, there’s the language barrier. But, you’d be surprised how widespread English is in Vietnam, especially among the younger generation, so it’s always worth asking around. Also, as an independent traveller on a road trip in Vietnam without a guide, you should familiarize yourself with some basic Vietnamese, such as directions and “is the road ahead open?” At the very least you should have a good grasp of ‘International Travellers’ Sign Language’!

Google it: You can sometimes find good information about roads and routes online. The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum usually has some questions and answers regarding road conditions on some of the more popular routes. Travelfish Vietnam forum is a useful resource too. Or just type your query into Google and see what comes up – maybe there’s an article from a Vietnamese newspaper about the opening of a new road to your destination. You can also email me with any questions about routes: vietnamcoracle@gmail.com

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Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats:  What's this?

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30 Responses to Which Road Map to Use on a Motorbike Trip?

  1. Tom says:

    Hello Tom, thanks for the great website. I’m planning to cycle some of the northern provences after crossing the border at Lao Cai and was wondering if you know of anywhere in Lao Cai to buy these maps?

    • Hi Tom,

      As far as I know, the road atlas is now out of print, but the travel map of Vietnam is still updated every year, and is still good. However, I think you’d be better off looking for the map in Sapa than Lao Cai – check out the tourist shops, you should be able to find it in one of those.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  2. WOOKK says:

    Hi tom.
    I’m WOOKK.
    I work and live in HCM.
    anyway… When I was searching “Vietnam Pitch tent avaliable” in Google, I found Your site.

    Thank you for Your map “SGN-NHA camping site” It was very helpful post to me.

    And I have some question for you.

    1. Is it pitching tent in any place(like some beach or forest) possible?
    2. Do you have any information camping site from NHA-HAN?
    3. How do you think 1 people camping In Your camping sait map?

    thank you~have a good day.

    • Hi WOOKK,

      You can pitch your tent in the countryside if there is not a campsite, but you should be as discreet as possible: try to make sure no one sees you pitching your tent; try not to be easily visible from the road; in general, don’t draw attention to yourself; and lastly, make sure you don’t leave any trash behind.

      I haven’t written a guide about camping from Nha Trang to Hanoi yet.

      I don’t understand your last question: do you mean, is it OK to camp alone at the campsites? If so, then yes it’s fine to camp be yourself at the camping sites along the Ocean Road; you’ll probably meet other campers there anyway.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  3. Chris Sables says:

    Hi,

    The two maps recommended can you please give me the ISBN number? I live in Thailand and presume they are available here.

    I am planning a trip later this year or maybe early next year touring alone the whole country, it would be nice to have maps to route plan alongside your routes.

    Many thanks

    Chris

    Many t

    • Hi Chris,

      The ISBN for the Travel Map of Vietnam is: 978-204-904-589-9

      Most people report that the Road Atlas of Vietnam is no longer in print – which doesn’t really matter because it was never thoroughly updated anyway!

      I hope you find the Travel Map in Thailand and have fun planning your trip.

      Tom

      • Chris Sables says:

        Hi Tom,

        Many thanks, i will get it ordered!

        I have ridden all around Thailand and always use a map, never GPS, i just prefer it that way. So along with your trip reports this shoul be fun.

        I see you recommend Sept for the North East loop, as i prefer mountains i would intend to spend time there and make my way South, how would the weather be usually heading South from there?

        Thanks again for your assitance.

        Chris

        • Hi Chris,

          Yes, in general I would say the north is best in late spring and early autumn. Once you head south from the mountains the weather can be pretty bad in north-central Vietnam at that time of year. But south of the Hai Van Pass it will be fine. I’ve written more about weather and when to go here.

          I hope this helps,

          Tom

  4. Neil R says:

    Hi Tom,

    just back from a 3 weeks trip from Saigon to Hanoi.
    A map I would recommend is the International Travel Maps Vietnam. I compared it with the map that you recommend in your blog and it seemed pretty much identical.
    The great thing about this map is I was able to buy it before my holiday, so I could mark hotels and routes on it.
    Make sure you get the latest edition, which at the moment can be found by googling “ITMB Vietnam 2015″

    Thanks for your blog. I loved travelling along the “Best section” from Kon Tum to Pho Chau. Other highlights were; the smiling, incredibly freindly Vietnamese people and on our first night off the plane, we did the “Vietnam Vespa Adventures Saigon After Dark Tour”.

    Enjoy :) Neil R

    • Hi Neil,

      Great to hear you had such a good road trip. Thanks for recommending the map – I have looked at that map in the past but there were some good roads that it didn’t have marked on it. However, perhaps they’ve updated it now – I’ll have another look the next time I see it.

      I’m actually on the ‘Best section’ of the Ho Chi Minh Road right now – it’s fantastic :-)

      I hope you get the chance to come back to Vietnam for another road trip.

      Tom

  5. Heather says:

    Cheers Tom

  6. Heather says:

    Hi Tom,
    On arrival in HCMC yesterday I proceeded to Fagasa bookstore to purchase the road atlas that you recommend. Unfortunately they didn’t have any in stock. Can you suggest other bookstores I could try to purchase one.
    Thanks Heather.

    • Hi Heather,

      I’ve been hearing a lot recently that the road atlas is no longer in print. However, the Travel Map of Vietnam (the smaller map in this post) is definitely available and is updated every year. The new 2016 edition has a picture of an ethnic minority woman and girl on the front cover. You should be able to find this map in bookstores or around the backpacker area in Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien and De Tham. It’s an excellent map.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  7. Nate says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for this article! About how much time do you need to motorbike through vietnam? My allotted time is about 4 weeks and I’m unsure if this is enough. I know it can vary by distance, but if I start in Hanoi, how far down do you think I can go while still being able to enjoy each location without having to zoom through it? Thanks!

    • Hi Nate,

      Yes, 4 weeks is a great amount of time to have for a road trip from north to south. For more details about time and routes please take a look at this guide which I have just published, because it deals with these issues in more detail.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  8. Kristian says:

    Hi,
    Im planning to do the mototbike trip in April, which route is the most common? North to south or south to North?

    • Hi Kristian,

      I don’t think either direction is more common. Generally, it depends on personal preference: the south is more about the coast, and the north is more about mountains, so it depends which you want to do first and which you want to save until the end :-)

      Tom

  9. Hieu Dovan says:

    Hi Tom,

    I just saw that you had visited Dien Bien Phu on your 2-month trip. We plan to ride out bikes from Ha Noi to DBP before heading south to join the HCM Road that you had recommended. Looking at the maps, we don’t know if we can go from Ha Noi to DBP then “turn south” without having to retrace your steps. We would prefer to not backtrack as it would save us time and also not to travel the same road again. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again for being a great resource.

    Hieu

    • Hi Hieu,

      Yes, you can do a kind of stunted Northwest loop: from Hanoi head up to Sapa on Road 32 via Nghia Lo and Mu Cang Chai – this will give you the chance to see the rice fields on the Harvest Route. From Sapa head west to Sin Ho on Road 4D and then south to Dien Bien Phu on Road 12 (read more HERE). From Dien Bien Phu take Road 6 all the way to Mai Chau. From Mai Chau head south on Road 15 until you meet the Ho Chi Minh Road at Ngoc Lac.

      This is a great loop and very scenic – but remember December is very cold in the north, so just be prepared for that.

      Also, the Ho Chi Minh Road is fantastic, but after Kon Tum you should consider dropping down to the coast for the terrific coastal back-roads, which you can read more about HERE

      Have a great trip,

      Tom

  10. Pingback: Two Months on a Motorbike » Vietnam Coracle

  11. Alan Murray says:

    Hi Tom

    On a recent trip to Dalat I ran out of 3G on most of the route so could see only major roads.
    Is it possible to save areas of google maps beforehand in .pdf or whatever?
    The alternative is to take prints of your proposed route at an internet cafe before you set off.
    Another option is to download the Vietnam map from MAP.me

    Cheers

    Alan

    • Hi Alan,

      I would buy one of the maps listed in this post to supplement Google Maps – no 3G needed for those :-)

      Also, be careful – especially around Dalat – when using Google Maps. One or two large roads near Dalat are quite simply not there.

      You can open any of my route maps on Google Maps when you have an internet connection and just save them or leave the browser window open on your phone. Then you can look at it even when there’s no 3G. The same goes for any Google Map. Just make sure you zoom in and out a few times so that it remembers the data, otherwise it won’t load when you’re away from internet. At least that works for me.

      I hope this works.

      Tom

  12. Kez says:

    Hi Tom,
    As at 24 March, Road Atlas of Vietnam (Tập Bản Đồ Giao Thông Đường Bộ Việt Nam) was easy to find but we couldn’t find the red and yellow Travel Map of Vietnam anywhere in either HCMC or Hanoi.

    The Road Atlas along with google maps and the National Geographic Adventure series map of north Vietnam, all used together worked fine.

    You’re definitely right – no one map source is perfect.

    However the blue and white road signs as you ride out of a town we found to be accurate.

    As you ride, the white, rounded concrete roadside distance markers painted with town name and kms are also very useful.

  13. Neville foley says:

    Thanks for a informative read I will be travelling south to north by motorbike on my own. All info will be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Neville,

      Well, there’s a lot of informative info on this site about motorbiking south to north Vietnam. Browse through my Motorbike Guides Archive to find any articles that are relevant to you.

      If you have any specific questions regarding your trip then feel free to email me or leave a comment of the relevant page and I will reply as soon as I can.

      Tom

      • neville foley says:

        Hi Tom i will be travelling Saigon Mekong delta to Phu Quoch by motorbike 24th Jancould you reccomend the best route as i want to have alook around and take time and with Tet on the horizon the do’s and dont’s your information very much appreciated thanking you .Neville Foley

        • Hi Neville,

          Take a look at my Guide to Driving to Phu Quoc. You can modify the route to take the back road along the Cambodian border to Ha Tien if you like – check the comments at the bottom of the guide for more information.

          Roads might be busier with Tết just around the corner, and once you get really close to Tết you may even have trouble getting a boat ticket from Ha Tien or Rach Gia to Phu Quoc.

          Tom

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