Last updated January 2020 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS
A romp through the Central Highlands, the Truong Son Dong Road is a ride to be savoured, both for scenery and for sheer riding pleasure. Many sections are brand new: in excellent condition as they pass through dense jungle, cutting dangerous passes along steep ravines, meandering, like a river of asphalt, through rolling farmland. And yet, traffic is light and the land sparsely populated, with minority towns with strange and exotic sounding names, like Ayun Pa, K’Bang, and Ea Ly. The name of the road in Vietnamese, Đường Trường Sơn Đông, has romantic connotations: literally ‘Road East of the Long Mountains’. Historical, poetic, and mystical overtones run throughout this journey: the Central Highlands has long been a place of spirits and ghosts, of myths and fairy tales, of unknown peoples and wild animals, and of war. The geographical ‘abdomen’ of the nation, control of the Central Highlands has always been strategically important: to the Vietnamese, the French, the Americans. As such, there’s a military undercurrent to this route which, at times, feels like a highway built to aid guerrilla warfare. If you haven’t ridden the Truong Son Dong Road yet, you’ve got to do it; if you have ridden the Truong Son Dong Road, you’ve got to do it again, because this road keeps getting longer, better and more spectacular with each year.
GUIDE: TRUONG SON DONG ROAD
The Truong Son Dong Road is one of the best on-road rides in Vietnam. On this page, I’ve compiled a detailed and thorough guide to riding the entire length of the Truong Son Dong Road, including an annotated map, a complete introduction to the route (with information about road conditions, weather, where to start/end, where to stay, and what to see), and a full guide with descriptions of each of the 6 sections of the Truong Son Dong Road. To get the most out of this guide, map and route, please consult the map carefully before riding each section, and read the About This Route, Guide & Map below before proceeding to the Full Guide.
The Truong Son Dong Road
- Blue line: Truong Son Dong Road
- Purple lines: connecting routes
- Black lines: roadworks & incomplete sections
View in a LARGER MAP
About this Route, Guide & Map:
Below, I’ve written a few brief paragraphs covering general details about the Truong Son Dong Road, such as road conditions, how to use the map, where to start/end, and what to see and do. Please read these short paragraphs before proceeding to my Full Guide with detailed descriptions of each of the 6 sections of the Truong Son Dong Road:
- What is the Truong Son Dong Road
- How to Use the Map
- Road Conditions
- Connecting Routes & Where to Start/End
- Where to Stay, Eat & Drink
- What to See & Do
- Weather & When to Go
The Truong Son Dong Road is essentially the ‘middle way’: an attempt by the Vietnamese government to construct a major road through the middle of the southern and central highlands of Vietnam, running parallel to the country’s two other major north-south arteries, Highway QL1A along the coast to the east, and the Ho Chi Minh Road along the mountainous ‘spine’ of Vietnam to the west. The hope is that the road will open up previously poor and isolated regions, stimulating growth in agriculture, industry, tourism and trade. When it’s complete, the Truong Son Dong Road will extend over 700km between Dalat in the south and Thanh My in the north. At least 600km of this is already complete and in excellent condition. But, at the time of latest research, in January 2020, three short sections are currently still under construction and not yet open to traffic. These are: Krong No River to Yang Mao, Cu Dram to M’Drak airstrip, and parts of the northern-most section between Que Binh intersection and Thanh My. I encourage readers to write updates in the Comments Section at the bottom of this guide, especially about the condition and state of progress of the these as yet unfinished sections of the road.
I’ve taken poetic license with my translation of the name, ‘The Road East of the Long Mountains’. In Vietnamese, the name Đường Trường Sơn Đông literally translates, ‘Road’ (Đường), ‘Long Mountains’ (Trường Sơn), ‘East’ (Đông). In Vietnamese, Trường Sơn is the name of the mountain range which runs along most of the western border of the country from north to south: Trường means ‘long’, Sơn means ‘mountains’ (at least, as far as my limited knowledge can tell: I’m not a scholar of Vietnamese language or history). Thus, there are more prosaic ways to translate the name, such as ‘Eastern Truong Son Road’. But, personally, I prefer the more poetic interpretation, ‘The Road East of the Long Mountains’, which I think does both the road and the landscape justice in that it evokes the mysterious and enchanting qualities of this region and this route. Either way, the Truong Son Dong Road is currently one of the greatest rides anywhere in Vietnam.
How to Use the Map:
The purpose of my map is to show all of the complete sections of the Truong Son Dong Road (the blue lines), and the incomplete sections (the black lines), as well as the many potential connecting routes with the Truong Son Dong Road from the south, west and east (the purple lines). The only exception to this is the blue route between Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot and M’Drak, which follows roads QL27 and QL26 respectively, because the Truong Son Dong Road between Dalat and M’Drak is not yet finished, therefore it’s necessary to take this alternative route. The green motorbike icons represent road names and intersections. The black roadworks icons signal bad road conditions, while orange bed icons are accommodation options. The red pins mark villages, towns and cities, all of which have at least some food, drink, gas stations and accommodation. I have also included some sights and attractions along the route.
Because my map covers such a large area, you’ll need to zoom in on whichever section you’re focusing on in order to see it clearer. Please consult my map carefully before riding each section of the Truong Son Dong Road and check the Comments Section at the bottom of this guide for other reader’s updates. Bear in mind that some sections of the Truong Son Dong Road don’t appear on Google Maps yet, so I’ve had to draw them on manually. (For descriptions of each section of the Truong Son Dong Road see my Full Guide.)
On my map I’ve outlined the entire length of the Truong Son Dong Road & connecting routes
In general, road conditions on most of the length of the Truong Son Dong Road are very good, sometimes excellent. But there are still some parts that are in the final stages of construction, and other sections that have not yet been completed. At the time of latest research (January 2020), the Truong Son Dong Road is fully complete from M’Drak in the south all the way to Que Binh intersection in the north, all of which is perfectly ridable on any motorbike (or bicycle) with the possible exception of a short 7km section between Son Tay and Tra Giac intersection, which is still undergoing the last stages of construction, but is passable for most riders and most bike models (see the black line on my map here). However, the final, northern-most section of the Truong Son Dong Road, between Que Binh intersection and Thanh My, is not yet passable, because the central section is still not complete (see the black line on my map here).
And, in the south, the Truong Son Dong Road starts in Dalat and heads north for 65km along what I call the Pine Tree Road, all the way to the Krong No River, which forms the border between Lam Dong and Dak Lak provinces. However, there is no bridge over the river and no sign of road construction on the other side through Chu Yang Sin National Park, which will eventually link-up to the Truong Son Dong Road just south of Yang Mao (see the black line on my map here). There is also no road linking the short section from Yang Mao/Cu Dram to the ‘airstrip’ section of the Truong Son Dong Road just south M’Drak (see the black line on my map here). I’ve marked road construction and rough road sections on my map as best I can with black lines and a black roadwork icons. For other reader’s updates, see the Comments Section at the bottom of this guide.
Connecting Routes & Where to Start/End:
You can start and end this route at pretty much anywhere along the length of the Truong Son Dong Road. In my full guide and on my map, I’ve chosen to start the route from Dalat in the south, because this is where the Truong Son Dong Road will eventually lead when it’s complete, and because Dalat is a major hub in the Central Highlands. However, you can choose to start/end or link-up with the Truong Son Dong Road at multiple points along its length by using any of the east-west connecting roads marked with purple lines on my map. In this way, you don’t have to ride the entire length of the Truong Son Dong Road; rather you can join it wherever you like, and incorporate it into a wider road trip.
In particular, riders might like to join the Truong Son Dong Road from my Coast Road route, to the east, or from my Ho Chi Minh Road guide, to the west. Another option is to link-up with the Truong Son Dong Road after riding my Dak Nong Geopark Loop or my Back-Ways to Dalat routes, all of which are to the southwest. There are myriad potential ways to join the Truong Son Dong Road or to connect to it, or to use it as part of a longer road trip. For more ideas, take a look at my Related Posts. [Note: at the time of latest research (January 2020), it was not possible to ride the central section of the final stage of the Truong Son Dong Road in the north, between the Que Binh intersection and Thanh My (marked with a black line on my map here), because road works were not yet complete. See the Comments Section at the end of this guide for other reader’s updates]
Where to Stay, Eat & Drink:
Some sections of the Truong Son Dong Road are among the most isolated and sparsely populated in Vietnam. However, you’re never too far from the next village or town, where there’s always a place to get some food (quán cơm phở), a coffee (quán cà phê), and probably a local guest house (nhà nghỉ) for the night. On my map, I’ve marked all villages, towns and cities on the Truong Son Dong Road where you’ll find food, drink and accommodation with a red pin. In some cases, I’ve marked specific guest houses or hotels with an orange bed icon. If you’re really stuck, you can always head away from the Truong Son Dong Road on one of the connecting east-west branches (the purple lines on my map), which will take you to a bigger town, either on the coast to the east or in the mountains to the west. Gas stations are quite regular along the Truong Son Dong Road – most villages and towns have at least one. However, you should always make sure you start the day with a full tank, and don’t let it get too low before you fill-up again: if you’re a third or a quarter full and you see a gas station, use it.
What to See & Do:
The Truong Son Dong Road leads through the heart of the Central Highlands. The riding alone is enough fun to make the trip worthwhile: gliding along good, empty roads, soaring over vast agricultural plateaus, winding up and rolling down lofty mountain passes, weaving through mist-shrouded forests; eating up the miles and feeling Vietnam’s highlands wash over you. This is the thrill of riding the Truong Son Dong Road. Indeed, the road itself is an ‘attraction’: seeing it snaking through the landscape, at times so animated and agitated, that it appears to be alive. At two points, the road widens into multiple lanes and becomes an airstrip, capable of landing large aircraft: these are south of M’Drak and north of K’Bang. Both are surreal and haunting spectacles.
But there are other ‘sites’, too, many of which I’ve marked on my map. Lots of waterfalls can be reached just off the route, including a trek to K50, which is one of the most impressive and isolated falls in Vietnam, and only just beginning to attract visitors. But to get there you’ll need to arrange a trek at the Kon Chu Rang Nature Reserve HQ. This part of the highlands was a major staging point for the US during the war: there are several old airbases on the route, now overgrown and inactive, thank goodness. Also, many memorials of major battles and victories dot the road.
Weather & When to Go:
Because the Truong Son Dong Road covers so much distance – passing through many provinces, over varying terrain, in different climatic regions of the country – it’s very difficult to say what the ‘best’ time of year to ride it is. In my experience of riding the Truong Son Dong Road, October to December is pretty good, especially for the southern sections of the route; but as you get further north as this time of year, it can become quite cold and grey. March to June can also be good, and the temperatures on the higher passes of the route should be warming up by then. In short, there’s no ‘best’ time to ride the Truong Son Dong Road. Whenever you go, you’ll encounter some dry, sunny spells, and some cold, wet patches. But this is part of the fun: weather is always fairly unpredictable in the highlands, and it wouldn’t be the same without a chill morning, or a misty mountain pass, or a torrential downpour in the back of beyond. Ride the Truong Son Dong Road at any time of year and you’ll almost certainly enjoy it.
THE GUIDE: Truong Son Dong Road
I’ve written this guide in 6 sections, going south to north: starting in Dalat and ending in Thanh My (see the blue line on my map). It’s also, of course, possible to ride this route from north to south, or to link-up with this route at multiple points along the way, by following any of the purple lines on my map. Each of the 6 sections is relatively short and can be comfortably completed in a day. The total distance of the blue route is roughly 770km. The duration can be as short as 3 days or as long as one week. Click a section below to read my full description. (For more details about this route, map and guide, please read my introduction.)
ROAD TRIP CONTENTS:
- SECTION 1: Dalat to Lake Lak/Buon Ma Thuot: 160/210km
- SECTION 2: Lake Lak/Buon Ma Thuot to M’Drak: 130/90km
- SECTION 3: M’Drak to Ayun Pa (via Ea Ly): 110km
- SECTION 4: Ayun Pa to K’Bang (via Dak Po): 110km
- SECTION 5: K’Bang to Son Tay (via Xa Hieu): 135km
- SECTION 6: Son Tay to Thanh My (via Tra My & Que Binh): 150km
Route: Dalat to Lake Lak/Buon Ma Thuot | Distance: 160km/210km [MAP]
Although the Truong Son Dong Road starts in Dalat and heads north into the pine forests for 65km, past the hamlet of Dung K’No and to the banks of the Krong No River (a fantastic ride on mostly perfect asphalt roads, which I like to call the Pine Tree Road), it then, however, dead-ends at the river. This is because the bridge over the river hasn’t been constructed yet, which will eventually continue, on the other side, through Chu Yang Sin National Park (see the black line), after which it will meet another short, complete section of the Truong Son Dong Road between Yang Mao and Cu Dram, before this, too, peters out again (see the black line), until the ‘airstrip road‘ just south of M’Drak. When it’s complete, you’ll be able to ride the Truong Son Dong Road from Dalat all the way north to M’Drak, but that is still at least a year or two away. So, for now, in order to get from Dalat to M’Drak, it’s necessary to take a westerly detour by combining Road QL27 to Lake Lak or Buon Ma Thuot, and then Road QL26 to M’Drak.
Although the Truong Son Dong Road begins in Dalat, due north on the Pine Tree Road, it’s a dead-end
To do this, start by heading west out of Dalat, leaving the greenhouses, tourists, and increasingly heavy traffic of this mountain city behind. Hang a left (due southwest) on Road DT725 down the mountain to Ta Nung Village. Recently upgraded, this mountain pass zigzags through pine trees and mist to a heavily cultivated valley. Continue south through Ta Nung, perhaps stopping for a look at the impressive Elephant Waterfall and snapping a few photos of the coffee plantations at the ‘Instagram-ready’ cafes (although there are many better view points to come on this road trip), all the way down to the intersection with Road QL27. Bear right (due northwest) onto QL27 and follow it through a featureless, farmed valley, until the road begins to climb.
NOTE: some riders might be tempted to take the Pine Tree Road north of Dalat until Dung K’No hamlet and then turn left (due west) on Road DT722, which eventually meets up with Road QL27 (see the purple lines). This would be a good shortcut, but the first section west from Dung K’No (see the black line) is a very rough dirt road which should only be attempted in dry conditions if you have a suitable bike and off-road experience. If not, don’t bother: many a rider has been stranded on this road.
A necessary westerly detour, take roads DT725 & QL27 via Elephant Falls to Lake Lak or Buon Ma Thuot
Continuing due north of Road QL27, two consecutive passes (the first quite slow and bumpy; the second very smooth and great for riding) take you around the western edge of the Lang Biang Plateau. It’s quite a scenic ride, with jungled mountains broken by coffee, banana and corn plantations. This is coffee country, and, depending on which season it is, the cool mountain air is either heavy with the nutty, earthy aroma of the coffee bean, or the sweet, flowery fragrance of the coffee blossom. Vietnam is currently the second largest producer of coffee in the world: cultivation of the bean is on a massive scale in this region. It provides an income to millions of Vietnamese, but it also comes at huge cost to the forests. Much of the landscape you see from Road QL27 was primary forest not long ago, but now, in some areas, there’s barely a tree left standing for all the hundreds of thousands of coffee bushes that have been planted. It’s a plundered but productive landscape as you ride northwards on QL27: up and down more mountain passes, over valleys flooded for hydroelectricity projects, past minority hamlets of wooden longhouses choked by smoke from the hearths, on an excellent, meandering, tarmac road all the way to Lake Lak.
A natural lake in a wide valley ringed by mountains, Hồ lắk (Lake Lak) has long been touted as a tourist attraction. It’s a very pretty place with a friendly little town (called Lien Son), a large ethnic minority population, and several accommodation options. But, although there’s something magical about the silence here and the pink sunsets over the placid waters, Lake Lak has yet to grow into a destination in its own right. Rather, it’s perfect for a stop on a road trip to somewhere else, as in this case. Stop early in the afternoon so as to have time to soak up the atmosphere here and choose your place to stay. Cheap guest houses with clean and simple rooms include Moi Truong and Nha Nghi Ho Lak (both around 200,000vnd a night). More expensive options are lakeside cabins at Lak Lake Resort ($25), or the new, very atmospheric, lake-view wood-and-canvas longhouses at Lak Tented Camp ($65). Good street food, including noodle soups and bánh xèo (Vietnamese savoury pancakes) can be found on the high street near the local market in the mornings and evenings. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like staying in the quiet surrounds of Lake Lake, continue on Road QL27 all the way to Buon Ma Thuot, a big, lively city thriving on the coffee industry, with lots of accommodation options for all budgets.
Route: Lake Lak/Buon Ma Thuot to M’Drak | Distance: 130km/90km [MAP]
From Buon Ma Thuot to M’Drak it’s a straight (but fairly boring) shot east on Road QL26 (90km). The road is in good condition so the riding is easy, but there are plenty of trucks and buses plying this route, because it’s a major link between the Central Highlands and the coast, and the landscape is pleasant but not spectacular.
From Lake Lak to M’Drak there are two very different options. The first is straightforward and easy: continue north from Lake Lak on Road QL27 to the outskirts of Buon Ma Thuot, then turn right (due east) onto QL26 for the 85km stretch to M’Drak. It’s simple, easy to navigate, fairly quick, and also fairly uninteresting, but it gets the job done.
The second option is more adventurous and more scenic, but also involves negotiating some rough roads and unpredictable conditions. Continue north from Lake Lak on QL27 – passed shimmering rice paddies, grazing cattle and a backdrop of mountains – until the junction with Road DT12. From here, Road DT12 (see the purple line) leads east all the way past Cu Dram (where you can make a brief, scenic detour to ride the short, complete section of the Truong Son Dong Road due south to Yang Mao and into the mountains before it dead-ends: see the blue line) until it hits QL26, about 25km south of M’Drak. However, road conditions on DT12 are unpredictable: some sections are severely potholed, some have large muddy puddles, some are under repairs, and some are fine. If it’s dry and you have time to spare, then by all means give DT12 a go; but if it’s wet and you want to get to M’Drak quickly, take the first route option on Road QL26 instead.
NOTE: although it looks like there are other, more direct routes between QL27 north of Lake Lak which join up with QL26 to M’Drak [such as Road DT9, for example], in my experience these roads are often in bad condition and not worth the risk. However, roads are constantly being upgraded and repaved in Vietnam, so perhaps conditions will have improved by the time to you ride this route.
Although the town of M’Drak isn’t really a place to linger, it has a couple of OK guest houses if you need them, including Yen Nhi (tel: 0834 405 078) with simple but clean rooms for around 200,000vnd and a friendly owner. There are plenty of food and drink options on Road QL26 as it passes through town. Just south of M’Drak there’s another dead-end section of the Truong Son Dong Road (see the blue line), which is worth the detour because it’s in perfect condition, including a surreal stretch where it widens into a giant airstrip before abruptly ending in a dirt road. This section will eventually continue south to Yang Mao (near Cu Dram) where it will meet the other dead-end section of the Truong Son Dong Road that is already complete, and that too will continue south to join the Pine Tree Road section at the Krong No River (see the black lines). But it will be a long time before this is completed.
Route: M’Drak to Ayun Pa (via Ea Ly) | Distance: 110km [MAP]
Just north of M’Drak, take a turn due northeast at an intersection on QL26. This incongruous turning marks the beginning of the central section of the Truong Son Dong Road. From this point on it will lead you across plateaus, over mountains, and through jungles for over 500km, and most of it will be deserted: a whole new road through the middle of the Central Highlands almost all to yourself. In its current state it’s about 90% complete: from M’Drak to beyond the Que Binh intersection, in Quang Nam Province. But, when it’s finished, it will continue for another 50km or so, all the way to Thanh My, on the Ho Chi Minh Road (QL14). This road is so new, in fact, that parts of it are not yet marked on any maps, including Google Maps (although I’m sure this will change very soon).
Ploughing north from M’Drak to the intersection with QL29, parts of this section of the Truong Son Dong Road, are made of large concrete slabs (much like the Western Ho Chi Minh Road), but other parts are smooth tarmac. It’s an undulating route, rolling up and down steep slopes covered in coffee, sugar cane, eucalyptus and rubber plantations. The riding is excellent and the scenery is very pretty as the road soars through Ea So Nature Reserve, with large stands of jungle and mountain rivers – great for a refreshing dip if the weather’s warm. Even in bad weather, it’s a thrilling stretch of road.
When you hit Road QL29, turn due east at the junction and follow it for a few minutes to Ea Ly village. Here, take a turn due north onto a road that’s only a slim white line on Google Maps, but in reality is the continuation of the Truong Son Dong Road. Switching from freshly laid asphalt to large concrete slabs, the road blazes up hillsides, across farmland, over rivers and lakes until it meets Road QL25 at the Cau Le Bac junction. Mango, cashew, and cassava plantations decorate a flat basin, surrounded on all sides by forested mountains. There’s hardly any traffic: goats, cattle, pigs, and chickens own the roads here. Minority villages, consisting of wooden plank homes raised on stilts a metre above the dirt, are scattered across the landscape. Many of the women and girls wear their colourful, highly decorative, traditional dress. Adults have handsome faces, big smiles, and their kids are playful when you stop by the roadside. But it looks like a rough, tough life here: the daily work is physically demanding and starts from a very early age: young girls carry wicker baskets full of wood on their backs; the same labour that has bent their grandmothers double.
At the Cau Le Bac junction, turn due northwest for a brief stint on Road QL25 up to the exotic sounding town of Ayun Pa. It’s a good 25km ride, including a lush, wide pass. Ayun Pa makes a convenient lunch stop (try the coffee and snacks at Green Coffee Shop), and there’s a guest house (Nha Nghi Hoang Lan; 059 3852 180) as the road enters town, if you need it. Also of interest is the old US airstrip of Cheo Reo, just west of town, which is now used by local to dry their harvest on. Otherwise, you can bypass the town altogether by bearing right before the high street along a fabulous dyke road above a sea of rice paddy.
Route: Ayun Pa to K’Bang (via Dak Po) | Distance: 110km [MAP]
Just out of Ayun Pa, take a right off QL25 heading due north on Road DT622, which is, in fact, the Truong Son Dong Road once again. After a bumpy, potholed and busy section at the beginning, the road smooths out and it’s an easy, unimpeded ride for 80km all the way to the intersection with Road QL19 at the Dak Po crossroads. Characterized by an enormous agricultural plateau, which the region is famous for, this is a relatively featureless but quick ride across a patchwork quilt of large, windswept fields, and past minority villages that either look grim and bleak in the grey highlands drizzle, or warm and attractive in the sharp light of a good highlands day. The road is arrow-straight as it crosses the wide, treeless plain, ringed by distant mountains: it feels like riding across a vast crater. A small pass leads over a forested ridge, after which the terrain is undulating, and the Truong Son Mountains – the jagged spine of Vietnam – rise tall and menacing, covered in cloud, to the north and west.
At the Dak Po crossroads, continue straight over the intersection, heading north towards K’Bang. This is a pleasant and easy stretch of road through a rolling, rural landscape dotted with red-tile-roofed farmhouses. The lower slopes are cultivated with banana, sugar cane, eucalyptus and cassava, but the higher ground is still cloaked in dark green jungle. It’s a peaceful, bright and warm valley. Traffic is light, the tarmac is freshly laid, and the riding is good as the road weaves across this agricultural landscape.
Buffalo wade through streams and bathe in muddy puddles, children play in the red dirt of dusty front yards or herd cattle, while their parents cook, clean, hoe and harvest the fields. This is a gentler version of the Central Highlands: not overly farmed or exploited on an industrial scale like some parts of the region are. But, in a country like Vietnam, where almost any crop can be cultivated, and with a rapidly increasing population and a growing economy, the pressure on land is huge, both for agriculture and for urbanization. Land is precious and must be made the most of, which, for now, means farming and building. In a few years, the forests on the high ground here will surely be replaced by crop fields. Indeed, that is one of the reasons for constructing the Truong Son Dong Road: to open up areas like this for agriculture, industry, commerce and tourism.
After 25km the Truong Son Dong Road drops into the likable town of K’Bang (which sounds like the onomatopoeia used in comic books when a superhero punches a villain: K-Bang!). A friendly place with several decent guest houses and food joints along its main street, K’Bang makes a good night stop. Hoang Long Hotel (tel: 0385 360 770) is the best place to stay in town, but Nha Nghi Ly Kinh (tel: 0963 223 244) and Nha Khach Tuan Vu (tel: 0269 3880 015) are also fine. There are several coffee shops along the main street, including Goc Pho Cafe which does a decent espresso. If you’re not staying in K’Bang, continue straight on the road as it bypasses town and heads northwards into the jungle.
Route: K’Bang to Son Tay (via Xa Hieu) | Distance: 135km [MAP]
North of K’bang is where the wilderness begins. Not 10 minutes out of town, the Truong Son Dong Road (marked on Google Maps as DT669 & DT669B) turns into concrete slabs, like a giant pack of dominoes laid on their sides on a rolling path through thick jungle. The scruffy patchwork of highland farmland fades away, as towering tropical trees close in on the road. Coffee plantations threaten the forests here – an environmental hazard made worse by the easy access which this road affords – despite government signs in the local ethnic minority dialect promoting the protection of the jungle canopy. Not long after leaving K’Bang, the road widens into a 6-lane, dead-straight, utterly deserted highway in the middle of the remote jungle. This is known as the ‘airstrip‘. Initially, I had assumed it was an old US air base, a relic of the ‘Vietnam War’. But locals tell me it’s new; just a few years old, constructed at the same time as the Truong Son Dong Road . It’s a surreal and strangely haunting sight. Apparently, parts of the U.S road network were designed in a similar fashion: with long, wide, straight sections purposely built to double as landing strips in remote areas to facilitate military and civilian aircraft in the event of war.
NOTE: remember to fill up with gas in K’Bang, because there’s precious little available on this stretch of road, or indeed, on the next. If you really do get stuck for gas, some of the local wooden homes should be able to supply you with some: just ask for xăng.
After the ‘airstrip’, all people and traffic disappear as the road plugs you deeper and deeper into a rich seam of highland forest. The riding is excellent: the road is in good condition with multiple switch-backs, long meandering stretches, and fast straights. For pure riding sensation and pleasure, it’s on a par with the passes between Thanh My and Prao on the Ho Chi Minh Road. It’s as if a Moto GP race track had been laid in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle. Stop to wash in mountain streams and gaze over the endless canopy of trees – echoing to the strange sounds of unknown animals – and enjoy the peace and absolute quiet of this place. Somewhere, deep within this jungle, is K50 Waterfall, one of the most impressive cascades in Vietnam, and only just beginning to attract visitors. Within the protected confines of the Kon Chu Rang Nature Reserve, the falls can only be accessed on foot via a long hike through the jungle, starting from the nature reserve HQ, which is down a lane off the Truong Son Dong Road. Arrangements can be made at HQ, but it’s best to organize in advance: check their website for details. There’s also accommodation available in a beautiful communal house dormitory near HQ.
Just over 80km north of K’Bang, the road meets a remote intersection with QL24 (also marked as AH132) at the Xa Hieu crossroads. Head straight on (due north) over the crossroads and continue on yet another superb section of the Truong Son Dong Road towards Son Tay. This is one of the wildest and most scenic stretches of the entire route, especially the first 10-20km after the Xa Hieu crossroads, featuring a recently completed, death-defying pass, crawling along a mountainside draped in dense jungle, high above a raging river (please read the note below). In bad weather, when visibility is sometimes less than a few feet, this can be a terrifying ride, with landslides, mudslides and rockfalls sending whole trees tumbling down the cliffs. But, in good weather, it’s an extremely beautiful section of mountain road through alpine scenery laced with pretty rivers and waterfalls. Either way, it’s important to ride carefully, and make sure you bring a jacket, because it can get chilly up on this pass.
NOTE: a few kilometres north of the Xa Hieu crossroads, there is a new and as yet unmarked detour on the Truong Son Dong Road, which deviates west of the route shown on Google Maps. See my map (on which I’ve drawn the correct route with a red line) to make sure you don’t take the wrong road, otherwise you’ll end up in a lot of construction and landslides.
Continuing north on this excellent section of road, waterfalls crash down the sides of mountains, roaring as they pass under the road. Next to one of the cascades is a bold, proud sign reading Đường Trường Sơn Đông – ‘The Road East of the Long Mountains’: a monument to this feat of engineering (and a good photo opportunity). Slowly, the road helter-skelters down the mountainside and brushes the banks of a cold river. The peaks looming in the distance become higher as the road nears the foothills of Ngoc Linh (2,598m), the highest mountain in all of central and southern Vietnam. The air is cooler here and the valleys tighter, planted with cinnamon and eucalyptus trees. It’s a beautiful ride and road conditions are very good all the way to Son Tay.
The town of Son Tay clings to the banks of a great river, tamed by a hydroelectric dam. A small, quiet place in a magical position, Son Tay is a logical night stop on the Truong Son Dong Road, especially after the long crawl through the mountains. There are a couple of nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) of which Châu Phong Diễm Châu (tel: 091 412 0145) is O.K and cheap. Rooms are simple but clean and the family are hospitable. The high-street has several cơm phở (rice and noodle) places for meals: try to find one selling mì quảng, a delicious and much-loved noodle dish, famous in this part of Central Vietnam.
Route: Son Tay to Thanh My (via Tra My & Que Binh) | Distance: 150km [MAP]
This section – the northern-most stretch of the Truong Son Dong Road – is the newest of the entire route. It’s so new that, in some places, the road doesn’t yet appear on online maps, and some sections are still in the final stages of construction. On my map, I’ve manually drawn on the sections of road that don’t yet appear on Google Maps (see the black lines) and I’ve included roadwork icons for sections that are either rough because of ongoing construction or not yet open to traffic. But the bottom line is that, at the time of latest update (January 2020), it’s possible to stay on the Truong Son Dong Road from Son Tay all the way north to just beyond the Que Binh intersection with Road QL14E. Only the middle part of the last section (between the Que Binh intersection and Thanh My) isn’t open to traffic yet. (Note: please check the comments at the bottom of this guide for any updates from other readers).
From Son Tay, head due north out of town, past large hydroelectricity dams before climbing steadily into the hills. This is another wonderful ride over mountains bursting with tropical foliage and fruits, and excellent views over valleys and villages tucked into the folds of misty mountains. However, a 7km stretch of this section of the Truong Son Dong Road is still under construction (see the black line). The condition is such that most motorbikes and most riders with at least some experience should be able to pass without any trouble, especially in dry weather. What’s more, the road conditions will improve with every week that goes by from the time of the last update of this guide (January 2020). Therefore, unless the weather is appalling, most riders can now continue north from Son Tay without too much difficulty. But, obviously, you must ride very carefully on the unmade, muddy sections. After the 7km of roadworks, the road becomes smooth, new, and wide once again, twisting through the jungles and mountains of one of the most remote parts of the Truong Son Dong Road.
The next intersection is at Tra Giac, with Road DT616. Join this road heading due north and east for several kilometres around a pretty reservoir. Then take a left turn at the Tra My intersection, heading due north over a bridge and onto another brand new section of the Truong Son Dong Road. Swirling above the reservoir, around a mountain and through a wooded agricultural valley, this perfectly-smooth, completely empty road slides through the landscape for 40km to the Que Binh intersection with Road QL14E. It’s an easy, fun, fast and enjoyable ride, but some of it isn’t on Google Maps yet (see the black line).
And so, to the final section of the Truong Son Dong Road, between the Que Binh intersection and Thanh My. At the time of writing (January 2020), it was possible to continue north from Que Binh for a little while before the road ended in construction (see the black line). And, coming from Thanh My, it was possible to follow the brand new section of road south all the way to the river, where construction of the bridge was not yet finished (see the black line). Surely, it won’t be long until the two ends of this final section of the Truong Son Dong Road meet up, making it possible to ride all the way from the Que Binh intersection to Thanh My. (Please leave a comment at the bottom of this guide if you have any new information about this section.) However, for now, in order to get to Thanh My from Que Binh, it’s necessary to join Road QL14E due west to Kham Duc (see the purple line), from where you can turn due north on the Ho Chi Minh Road (QL14 & AH17) to Thanh My.
To extend your road trip from Thanh My, you can continue through the mountains north or south on the Ho Chi Minh Road, or head east down to Danang or Hoi An and then join the Coast Road going north or south. See Related Posts below for more suggestions.
Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this motorbike route & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here
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