David G | Mar 21, 2020 | 0
Balanced Vietnam Motorbike Route For First-Timers
We’ve traveled from Hanoi to Saigon and then from Saigon to Hanoi again. There are still so many places you can explore northern from Hanoi (Ha Giang loop) and southern from Saigon, but if you’re on limited time, this Vietnam motorbike route is perfect for 3 – 4 weeks!
Since we were writing this motorbike itinerary during our first Vietnam trip in 2018., we’ve completed a few more road trips through Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam. You can find all of these experiences and separate routes through the article.
Keep reading as we’re going to talk about amazing, stunning, and breathtaking places! I know it will be tough to pick the locations if you have a limited time, as in every place, you’ll want to stay longer! So let’s start! 🙂
Vietnam Motorbike Route & Detailed Map
The map above shows the exact route we took during our motorbike trip. We have a few more stops than usual since we stayed in a small industrial town Cau Giat where Antonio was volunteering as an English teacher. The city features an authentic local lifestyle, deserted beach, lovely hiking trails, and gives you a glimpse of local culture.
Also, we’ve added a few day trips we did, mainly from central Vietnam.
Check out our epic Hanoi to Saigon road trip and learn about specific routes, places to visit, accommodation options, budget, and more.
For the majority of people, Hanoi is the first destination in Vietnam. It’s a perfect destination for people who’re interested in learning as much as possible about the Vietnamese culture or people who decided to travel around Vietnam on a motorbike. The motorbike market is enormous in Hanoi, and the bikes tend to be cheaper to buy than in Saigon. People usually buy their bikes in Hanoi for a lower price and later sell it in Saigon for the same price.
If you’re not a bike expert, be sure to read our detailed checklist before buying a motorbike in Vietnam to be sure you’re not driving a crap that will leave you in the middle of nowhere.
Hanoi is a huge city, and it will give you surprising insights into Vietnamese culture. Many people call Hanoi a huge village as it’s a city with a population of more than 8 million people, but still, the local vibe is very present. You will see locals doing their things, not minding tourists.
Hanoi is a great city to dip yourself into Vietnamese street food. Also, there are some beautiful places around the city to explore and museums that will educate you about the history and will help you in understanding the people and culture.
People usually spend around 4 – 5 days exploring the city’s attractions and cuisine. After you’re done with Hanoi, there are a few ways to continue your trip. One is going on the north exploring Sapa and driving a northern loop, and the other is to visit stunning Halong Bay that is just on the corner!
More on Hanoi:
- 48 hours in Hanoi itinerary
- Awesome Things to do in Hanoi at night
- 8 Street Food Dishes You Have to Try in Hanoi!
#2- Halong Bay
If you’re lacking time to ride a northern loop, but you want to experience the magic of the north, then head to stunning Halong Bay. The place is one of the natural worlds wonders as the bay is the home of more than 1000 limestone islands. My advice is to get a motorbike there (rents are very cheap, and the average price is around 100,000 VND per day) as you will have total freedom while exploring the place.
The other option, which is a bit more expensive, is booking a boat tour around the islands. The tours usually last for a night, and you will have a chance to experience one of the most secluded beaches around the bay.
For hiking lovers, don’t forget to check out the Bai Tho Mountain in the center of the city. The hike is not so challenging, and it takes only around 45 minutes to get to the top, but the views over a whole bay are merely breathtaking and worth the struggle of getting up!
#3- Ninh Binh (Tam Coc & Trang An)
For people who enjoy nature and infinite drives around stunning views, the Ninh Binh area is the perfect spot. Ninh Binh area, especially Tam Coc and Trang An are usually called Halong Bay on earth. The reason for the name is that the place is a home of hundreds of limestones in the middle rice paddies.
It’s awe-inspiring as you can explore the place with a bicycle or motorbike without paying a massive price for a boat tour, and also you’re free while driving and exploring around. The area has many attractions, but also many hidden places where you can just lose yourself in the beauty the area offers. If you’re an adventurous soul like me, don’t forget to bring a tent and camping equipment.
Also, simple picnic equipment and food near the river in the middle of the rice fields will give you an unforgettable experience in this beautiful place. My advice is to rent a motorbike and check out some of the greatest Vietnam temples, try some delicious food (their goat dishes are more than delicious!), take a boat tour through the caves and then just relax in the middle of the rice fields while wandering the stunning views around countless limestones!
#4- Phong Nha
Heading south from Ninh Binh is a bit monotone route as it gives you only the experience of the rural countryside. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should experience the countryside and interact with beautiful people there. If you’re on limited time and you want to explore most of Vietnam, then I advise you to head over to Phong Nha.
This part of the country is a bit laid down, but tourism is popping out like crazy in the town. This place is the home of the biggest cave in the world with a whole ecosystem, but it’s accessible only to people who have permits and equipment that costs about $5,000. Anyway, the place has stunning scenery, and a vast national park is just around the corner.
The national park is the home of the Paradise cave and many windy roads overlooking the limestones, rivers, and lively countryside. We stayed two days in Phong Nha, but we’d like to spend at least a week there as the scenery and a laid-back life recharge your energy for the trip ahead. Also, not to forget, the road to Phong Nha is terrific, but a bit challenging as you’re going inland heading to Laos border.
The road you’ll be probably taking is an infamous Ho Chi Minh Road, which leads you through stunning scenery. It will take you a lot of time as you will probably stop so many times to admire the view and take a picture or two!
Hue is an imperial city of Vietnam that was once a capital during the reign of the Nguyen dynasty. The city was in ruins during the Vietnam war, but locals and international investments helped the city to get on feet again. Hue radiates with a beautiful vibe, especially during the night, but it is a bit touristic, and the prices are set accordingly to tourists.
I advise you to visit an imperial city. Do it in the morning since it can take a few hours to walk around it. It’s a massive complex with a lot of information that will give you great insights into that part of history. The entrance ticket costs 150,000 VND.
Another great place around Hue is the Ho Thuy Tien abandoned water park that is located on the skirts of the city.
The place is so beautiful, and you will get that vibe instantly when you get there. Sometimes it can be tough to get there as there is a security guy on the doors, and he will act like there is no way to enter, but just give him a bit of money, and he will let you in with a wide smile on his face. Also, inside the park, there is a local lady selling beverages and many people exploring the place each day, so the place doesn’t look abandoned at all. It was my favorite place in and around Hue.
#6- Da Nang
Da Nang is by far my favorite city in the whole of Vietnam (I’ve been living in Da Nang for almost a year), if not in a whole SEA. The city lies on the coast, and I usually call it ‘Vietnamese Miami’.
I would say that the city has a perfect balance of nature and cool things to explore and do. There are many mountains, stunning beaches, scenic roads that can be found just on the skirts of the city. When you’re in the city, don’t forget to check the Marble Mountain, Son Tra Peninsula and also, rent a bike to drive through an iconic Hai Van Pass.
The food is fantastic there, and it differs a bit from the northern cuisine, so don’t forget to try their specialty called Mi Quang and Bun Bo Hue. If you find yourself in the city during the weekend, head over to Dragon Bridge at 9 pm to see a fire-spitting show there.
Coffee culture is a massive part of daily life in Da Nang for locals and expats. Coffee is always potent and delicious, so it will keep you awake and alert. If you’re coming to Da Nang to work or relax, check out the best working cafes in Da Nang.
More on Da Nang:
- Best Time to Visit Da Nang?
- Cost of Living in Da Nang (Jan.2020)
- 3 Days in Da Nang – Things to Do, What to Eat & Where to Stay?
#7- Hoi An
Hoi An is a small town with the old town core that was built during French colonization, so it looks like a small French village. It sounds lovely, but if you’re not ready for being in an overcrowded little town, then maybe you won’t enjoy the city. It is a magical city during the night as countless lanterns, and many boats are floating on rivers around.
Hoi An is usually called ‘Vietnamese Venice’ as many small islands and rivers are crossing and dividing the town. Try out their food market for a delicious specialty, and don’t forget to try their Mi Xao – fried noodles with many spices and vegetables. Hoi An is just about 30 km south of Da Nang, and it has many homestays and hostels in the middle of the rice fields.
It’s a perfect way to relax and recharge your batteries for the trip that is in front of you since you might take an inland route, which is very challenging at times.
#8- Kon Tum
Not many tourists visit Kon Tum, but it’s one of my highlights in the whole of Vietnam! It’s a city located in the middle of the Highlands and you can get there from Hoi An. The distance is around 300 km, but the trip can last a whole day since you’re driving through scenic windy and mountainous roads and the weather conditions are totally unpredictable at times.
Prepare yourself for a trip by getting enough food and extra gas in the bottles as there are parts on the road where there is not a single sign of any civilization. The trail is beautiful as you will stumble stunning mountains, windy roads, random rivers and lakes, and few waterfalls that pop up out of nowhere.
The city itself is impressive as it’s a home of many ethnic groups, and you don’t need any extra permits to get there. We were just sitting in the countryside and observing the lifestyle of the ethnic people. These people are thrilled and very welcoming to foreigners. Also, a few museums are showing the history of Kon Tum and ethnic groups in Vietnam.
After a whole day of exploration, check out the food market in the city center to get some delicious soup and glass of their famous Che (bean cream)! Also, don’t forget to try their coffee as once you get to the highlands, you will notice coffee fields all around. Coffee has a different taste than in the north, any, in my opinion, is by far more delicious and higher quality.
The majority of Vietnamese coffee is Robusta, but around Kon Tum, and Highlands in general, there are a lot of Arabica beans. If you’re looking for an authentic traditional Vietnamese coffee, Kon Tum is the place to be.
#9- Qui Nhon
Some people might be overwhelmed by the countryside and mountains, and they miss the beach vibe. If that’s the case with you, then head over to coast again to a coastal city Qui Nhon. It’s a fascinating city that has similarities to Da Nang but without tourist crowds. A perfect place to chill for a few days to recoup the energy. The city is becoming more and more popular as you will see resorts are popping out each month.
The beaches around the place are so amazing, and also, there is a desert island with so many sandy beaches and fisherman villages around. Few places around the city are perfect for hiking as while you reach the top, breathtaking looks over the whole city will award you.
A pretty laid back city with not so many things to do except relaxing on the beach, eating delicious seafood, and enjoying a cup of Vietnamese coffee.
#10- Nha Trang
The next awesome city that is stretching along the southern coast is called Nha Trang. It is a fantastic city if you’re looking for wild nightlife and partying at the beach, but also, the place is surrounded by a surreal landscape featuring many islands, peninsulas, and stunning roads. Don’t forget to try their iconic seafood!
If you’re looking for a fantastic adventure, then do snorkeling in Nha Trang. There are a few natural heavens for divers, and it’s a thing to do once in Nha Trang.
#11- Buon Ma Thuot
Are you a coffee addict? Believe me, Vietnamese coffee is one of the most delicious and most potent coffees I had a chance to try. Buon Ma Thuot is a city of Central Highlands, and its second name is ‘the capital of coffee in Vietnam’. The city didn’t get the name by accident!
The coffee is terrific there as this area is one of the biggest coffee producers in the whole of Vietnam.
The city itself doesn’t have many exciting things to do except stunning landscape, ultra-delicious coffee, and fantastic food at night. Coffee lovers should check out this city as there is a vast selection of beans, and also, you can learn so many things about the coffee and way of preparation there.
#12- Da Lat
Ah, that Da Lat! When you talk with locals and ask them about their favorite place in Vietnam, the majority of them will tell you about Da Lat.
The city is located in the middle of the mountains and with few lakes in the center of the city, it looks very peaceful. The coffee is also very amazing there, and you can find many places with stunning views to enjoy your coffee in Da Lat. Also, traditional Vietnamese food and Korean food are trendy in Da Lat, so foodie lovers will enjoy it.
The city is called ‘the city of the eternal spring’ as the weather is chilly during the whole year. During the day, it’s charming weather, but in the mornings and during the night, the temperatures will be lower. Don’t go there without long sleeves as you’ll be freezing like me. 🙂
#13- Mui Ne/Phan Thiet
Mui Ne is a small place that set its borders on the southern coast of Vietnam, around 200 km away from Saigon (HCMC). If you’re looking for partying with locals and foreigners, that’s the place you want to head! Also, there are many cheap options when it comes to resorts and bungalows for people who want to relax a bit.
The town is widely known for its huge waves and perfect winds, which attract thousands of surfers and windsurfers. You can learn to surf or windsurf there for a very affordable price. Also, don’t forget to try their seafood, especially in a local restaurant. The place is filled with massage shops, so if you’re driving a motorbike, believe me, you will need a message here and there.
If you’re coming from Nha Trang, be sure that you visit a small city called Phan Rang. The food is authentic, and the city is known as the capital of kitesurfing in Vietnam. Check out our experience while kitesurfing in Phan Rang to get a better idea of the place.
They have a vast selection of massages, so it’s up to you to choose the one you prefer the most. Also, the place is the home of Red and White sand dunes. Literally, this place is set in the middle of the desert, and it’s very stunning to visit.
Be careful if you’re riding a motorbike as there is a known police blockade between Red and White dunes, and they are targeting foreigners to get the bribes that are usually not small. Always ask travelers who’re around the area about the police situation and learn how to deal with Vietnamese police.
#14- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is the biggest city in Vietnam with whooping 10 million people living in. The city is very modern and doesn’t look like any other city in Vietnam. Saigon is the economic capital of Vietnam, and the city is very developed in some parts. However, there are many places where you can experience local Vietnamese culture.
Ho Chi Minh City features a wild nightlife and excellent living standards, especially for expats. The traffic is exceptionally crazy there, so be extra careful when riding a motorbike as there are millions of motorcycles around. The good thing to visit there is a War Remnants Museum that will teach you so much about the history of war and will give you a good knowledge of the people and culture today.
Be aware as the museum presents very vivid pictures and scenes, and you will feel the emotion. I personally didn’t like Saigon so much, so I can’t tell you more about it since I’ve stayed for only 2 days and start my journey to the north one more time.
Exploring Vietnam by a motorbike was by far one of our best and most bonding experience so far. If you’re planning to visit Vietnam anytime soon, and have at least 3 weeks, don’t hesitate and explore the country by bike.
You can use our Vietnam motorbike route when planning your own itinerary, or you can simply add or remove some places from the route. If you have more time, we really suggest exploring West Ho Chi Minh Road!