Northwest Vietnam used to be a far and difficult part of Vietnam. It’s more famous with the war against the French Army in Dien Bien Phu. It now turns into a major tourist attraction that grabs attention from old to young people. Some travel there to see the former battlefield of Dien Bien Phu while more people choose to ride on a motorcycle tour to take in the breathtaking views and conquer the high mountain passes. More roads are being built, but there are still many areas that can only be accessible by motorbikes. You start from Hanoi, head up the mountains on the historical Highway 6 and snake up and down the zig zag mountain roads, meet colorful hill tribe groups and visit their week-end markets. Places you see include Mai Chau, Phu Yen, Moc Chau, Son La, Tuan Giao, Muong Lay, Sin Ho, Dien Bien Phu, Sapa, Bac Ha, Luc Yen and Vu Linh. There are home stays in Mai Chau, Sapa, Bac Ha, Luc Yen and Vu Linh. In other places we use hotels that offers better facilities. A mix of home stays and hotel is great and you will have many good things to tell your friend after this ride. Allow at least 7 days to have a good loop, please let us know your expectation and we will tailor make an itinerary together.
2013 Update: This is the most challenging area for motorbike tours at the moment due to the recent construction of Lai Chau hydro electric plant, road works and landslides in rainy summer. You will need to be a very competent off road rider to make it. For a better riding experience we would highly recommend riding to Ha Giang and Northeast which is our most popular trip and is a prefect alternative option.
Booking code: OV01
If you don’t see the video clip below, click here (Special thanks to Mr. Blaise Paris from Australia).
Day 1: Hanoi – Mai Chau, ~160 km, ~5 hours, (L, D)
Leaving Hanoi on dyke roads to avoid the heavy traffic and breaking out of the delta plains we pass through endless limestone karst scenery as we travel south through “Perfume Pagoda” country and extensive farming lands comprising a sea of paddy fields split by tree-lined roads. Striking northwest and over two passes, finally dropping down to the mountain valley settlement of Mai Chau. Here we stay overnight with friends of the White Thai minority in a traditional stilt house. In the evening, after feasting, we can enjoy a cultural show of Thai dancing and a range of special local liquors. Overnight in Mai Chau.
Day 2: Mai Chau – Phu Yen. ~140 km, ~5 h (B, L, D)
We go from Mai Chau to the direction of Moc Chau and turn to the less travelled Road 43 leading to the Da River. After crossing the reservoir of Da river at Van Yen ferry, we ride on a beautiful winding secondary road until Phu Yen where we stay in a guest-house.
Day 3: Phu Yen – Son La, ~160 km, ~6 hours, (B, L, D)
Continuing on the almost empty Road 37 we enter mountains heavily populated with Black Thai people, who work on large terraced rice fields. The winding road passes through many Thai villages and fields and provides a great opportunity to watch country life passing by. We continue through rolling hills before rising up to the sugar cane growing areas on the cooler Son La plateau. Overnight in Son La.
Day 4: Son La – Tuan Giao, ~140 km, ~5 hours, (B, L, D)
Heading out northwest from Son La, the road crosses a series of mountain passes and areas of busy Black Thai activity. Children walk to school, kids tend buffaloes, women plant rice seedlings and men pull the buffalo. Then we come to the beginning of the very long and steep Pha Din pass where at the top we have vast views of the surrounding mountains, then down the other side on very steep sealed road. Overnight in Tuan Giao.
Day 5: Tuan Giao – Sin Ho, ~180 km, ~6 hours, (B, L, D)
Heading out northwest from Tuan Giao the road passes isolated communities of Hmong and Thai people, whose small villages settle on the banks of dark green rivers and on the steep slopes of the mountains. After lunch by a forest stream the road begins to climb up the high Sa Tong pass. At the top for sunset before dropping sharply into the deep Lai Chau valley. Muong Lay town was sunk in early 2010 and our new place for overnighting is Sin Ho, a small remote town.
Day 6: Sin Ho – Sapa, ~120 km, ~4 hours, (B, L, D)
We head straight toward the main Fansipan Mountain range. There is also the option for a very challenging back route which takes us through several river crossings. The massive mountain range dominates the road until finally we must make a splendid climb up from Binh Lu and up to the top of the highest road pass in Vietnam (Tram Ton Pass). Crossing into Lao Cai Province at over 2,000m the views looks out over the main range for miles and miles, before we descend to the mountainous Sa Pa valley. Overnight in Sapa.
Day 7: Sapa, trek or relax (B, L, D)
Depending on the group’s mood, we can either take it easy in Sa Pa town, or make excursions back to the top of the highest pass in Vietnam, or down deep into the amazing Sapa valley. All options are dominated by the crest of the enormous Fansipan mountain range that looms over 2,000 metres above us. The entire region is populated by Hmong, Giay, Tay and Dao people. Stay in Sapa.
Day 8: Sapa – Luc Yen, ~180 km, ~6 hours, (B, L, D)
Ride down from Sapa and then through palm forest all the way to Luc Yen and stay in a Dao family who live in the Tay territory. It’s a great home stay, very typical of Vietnam hill tribes and the hosts are very welcoming.
Day 9: Luc Yen – Vu Linh, ~80 km, ~3 hours, (B, L, D)
Explore the Luc Yen area and visit our friends’ families before riding to our Dao friends’ village of Vu Linh. The hosts are “drinkers of Vietnam” and they like to party. The welcome is exceptional and we hope you will not be too much tired.
Day 10: Vu Linh – Hanoi, ~180 km, ~6 hours, (B, L)
After breakfast we cruise southeast on Highway 2 and then branch off to the sleepy town of Phu Tho. We follow the edge of the Red River along the dyke, almost to the point where it merges with the Black River after which they flow together to Hanoi. By now we are very much in the lowlands of the delta plains and the north’s main agricultural areas. Harvest time here is a sea of activity. Crossing the Black River by bridge, we pass through Son Tay and then return to Hanoi on the highway.
Mai Chau: A Thai village in Mai Chau district of Hoa Binh province. 160km from Hanoi but we usually ride on a more quiet road and it is 200km. In early 1990′s Lac village is the first to open homestay overnighting business. It became so popular that all surrounding villages stepped into this business, making Mai Chau the largest homestaying complex in North Vietnam. Luckily, friendly people and great food make the night here very entertaining and enjoyable. You will stay in a stilt house, or pile dwelling which is made of bamboo and timber. A house is normally elevated 10-12 feet off the ground in order to avoid water damage and provide shelter for animals.
Phu Yen: A small town, ~170km Northwest of Hanoi, in the heart of the third largest rice field in North Vietnam. The road from Phu Yen to Son La is quite scenic and quiet. It is one of the less travelled places in North Vietnam, therefore the accommodation in Phu Yen is basic.
Son La: ~320km from Hanoi, famous during the war with French Army. Son La prison was one of the biggest at that time, fallen into disrepair and only ruins remain. This prison was well-known as the Hell on Earth, the prisoners were tortured, leg cuffs, starvation, prison broke, and hung up…The government rebuilt the prison but still left the part that was heavily bombed by American airplanes. A new and largest hydro electric plant was inaugurated in late 2012 and is expected to solve the increasing demand for power.
Tuan Giao: ~450km from Hanoi, just a small town of Dien Bien province. Another hydro electric plant on the Da (Black) river is being built in Muong Lay (former Lai Chau, ~80km North of Tuan Giao). There is a muddy part in Muong Lay but we have to take it to continue to Sin Ho. The town has basic accommodation.
Sin Ho: A small town in Lai Chau province with many new buildings and there is a good hotel in town. This place is usually ignored by mass tourism because the tourists opt out for the new Lai Chau (former Tam Duong)
Sapa: A hill station built by the French in early 20th century, ~400km North of Hanoi, Sapa district, Lao Cai province. This town is about 1,600n above sea level and is one of the few places in Vietnam that had snow. Accommodation is good. With the fast extension and more tourists, the town itself usually have more foreigners than local people.
Bac Ha: A new Sapa, ~400km from Hanoi, ~120km from Sapa. The town is famous for its Tam Hoa plum which must bloom three times before they are ripe. Vietnamese whisky distilled in Bac Ha is also a favourite drink.
Luc Yen: We use a homestay in Tan Linh village. The host is a Tay who lives in Red Dao territory. The surrounding area is typical of the Vietnamese countryside, home of the palm trees that people use the leaves to make to famous hat (non in Vietnamese).
Vu Linh: A commune of mainly Dao people in Yen Binh district, Yen Bai province, 180km North of Hanoi. The village is on the lower end of Thac Ba lake. The homestay we use is not far from the lake where we could have a boat ride and swim in the clear water. In late 1990′s Ngoi Tu village started to welcome the first foreigners and now it’s a popular place for home stays. However, Ngoi Tu faces a garbage disposal problem and this is evident in the diminishing quality of water courses and a gradual influx of tourists puts strain on the local environment.
Contact us at email@example.com for more details.