Hanoi - Mai Chau - Phu Yen - Than Uyen - Sa Pa - Xin Man - Ha Giang - Meo Vac - Cao Bang - Ban Gioc Waterfall - Mau Son - Ha Long - Hanoi
6 nights in homestays, 5 nights in hotels and 1 night on a cruise boat
any skill level
Ha Long Bay; Ban Gioc Waterfall; Sa Pa; the Muong Hoa Valley; the rural district of Mai Chau; the Moc Chau Plateau; the stepped rice fields of Mu Cang Chai; the mountain province Ha Giang; the Kun, Hua Tat, Khau Pha, O Quy Ho, Hoang Su Phi, Ma Pi Leng and Ma Phuc mountain passes
Day 1: Hanoi - Mai Chau
the rural district of Mai Chau; the Kun Pass
Heading west from Hanoi, you'll pass through small villages and acres of rice fields with huge limestone cliffs sticking up out of them. Then, riding alongside the Da River and over the Kun mountain pass into the territory of the White Thai minority, you'll witness the plains give way to the mountainscapes for which North Vietnam is famed. You'll spend the first night of the tour in a homestay, most likely in one of the Thai minority stilt houses that are so characteristic of the region.
Day 2: Mai Chau - Phu Yen
the Moc Chau Plateau; the Hua Tat Pass; crossing the Da River by ferry
After breakfast, you'll ride the mountain roads north over the Hua Tat Pass to the Moc Chau plateau, where you'll have a great view of the Da River and the surrounding countryside. Then you'll head down to the river itself, crossing it by ferry, before heading up to the little town of Phu Yen. This whole region, home to the Thai and Muong ethnic minorities, has plenty of fun backroads. Once you arrive in Phu Yen you'll have time to explore the town, perhaps checking out a traditional market, eatery or beer place, before turning in for the night at a small hotel.
Day 3: Phu Yen - Than Uyen
the stepped rice fields of Mu Cang Chai; the Khau Pha Pass
Next comes a longer day's riding, this time heading northwest over the Khau Pha mountain pass. The stepped rice fields of Mu Cang Chai, the area you'll be riding through, are second only to those of Sa Pa. There are plenty more dirt roads there, too, passing through villages belonging to the H'mong, Dzo and Thai people, that are perfect for testing your offroading skills. You'll spend the night in the peaceful district of Than Uyen, which is situated next to a massive lake just south of Sa Pa.
Day 4: Than Uyen - Sa Pa
Sa Pa; the Muong Hoa Valley; the minority village of Ta Phin; the O Quy Ho Pass
The way from Than Uyen to Sa Pa skirts the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and will take you over the O Quy Ho mountain pass, which looks out onto the mountain range and has a collection of small eateries with viewing platforms at the end. Because the distance between the two towns isn't too great, you'll have plenty of time to explore the Muong Hoa Valley and Thac Bac Waterfall, as well as Sa Pa Town itself with its Old Quarter and traditional marketplace. In the evening you'll take a little dirt road out to the minority village of Ta Phin, where you'll spend the night in a homestay.
Day 5: Sa Pa - Xin Man
the mountain district of Xin Man; the market town of Bac Ha
You'll continue northeast from Sa Pa to Lao Cai, a city that sits on the banks of the Red River, right on the Chinese border. Then it's on through the mountains, pausing in the market town of Bac Ha before heading on to the mountain district Xin Man. Xin Man has all the charm of rural Sa Pa with little to none of the development, so it's a good place to get a feel for the North Vietnamese way of life. (The lack of development means there are a lot of fun wee roads, too!)
Day 6: Xin Man - Ha Giang
the mountain province Ha Giang; the Hoang Su Phi Pass
You'll then take a shortcut to Ha Giang, which is really a series of dirt roads skirting the Chinese border. It's a far more interesting route, though, than the highway and heading this way will give you the chance to meet lots of friendly locals when you stop for refreshments in their villages and it also takes you over the massive Hoang Su Phi mountain pass. In any case, the elevation and the sheer size of the mountains in the area with their winding roads and epic views are the reason this area of Vietnam is fast becoming a world famous motorbike touring destination.
Day 7: Ha Giang - Meo Vac
the Ma Pi Leng Pass
On the way now to Meo Vac, you'll continue along the mountain range that forms Vietnam's natural border with China. This is the day you'll ride one of the most impressive mountain passes in Vietnam, Ma Pi Leng. It's more than 20km long, cut into the side of a cliff, and provides an impressive view of the meandering Nho Que River far below. Meo Vac itself is extremely remote, and is populated pretty much entirely by minority folks.
Day 8: Meo Vac - Cao Bang
the forests of Cao Bang
Cao Bang means high plateau. The area is home to some cool smaller mountain passes and the forests on the ride there from Meo Vac are huge, and it's also the site of the Battle of Cao Bang, one of the Vietnamese Resistance's first major victories over the French. You'll arrive Cao Bang reasonably early, and spend the evening exploring it once you've checked into your hotel. The food there is good, and you're likely to notice some real differences between it and Hanoian cuisine: they say because of the harsher climate and terrain, Cao Bang's cuisine tends to be heavier and contain a lot more meat—foreigners tend to love it.
Day 9: Cao Bang - Ban Gioc Waterfall
Ban Gioc Waterfall
This is the day you'll visit Ban Gioc Waterfall—the biggest in Vietnam. Riding the scenic route from Cao Bang through the villages of the Dzao, Mong and Thai peoples, you'll arrive there for lunch and a swim around noon. Situated right on the border (and subject to a longstanding international territorial dispute) with China, it makes for some fantastic dirt biking. You'll spend the night in a homestay close to the waterfall, most likely one run by people of the Tay minority.
Day 10: Ban Gioc Waterfall - Mau Son
Mau Son Mountain; the Ma Phuc Pass
There are some good offroading opportunities on the way from Ban Gioc to Mau Son, and the Ma Phuc mountain pass you'll ride on the way there is spectacular. In addition, this area has some of the highest mountains in Vietnam and Mau Son Mountain, just 30km from Lang Son City, is a good place for an afternoon trek if you're so inclined.
Day 11: Mau Son - Ha Long
the little island of Tuan Chau; Ha Long Bay
Riding down from the mountains towards the coast you'll notice a real contrast in the landscape after more than a week in the mountains. Before you arrive Ha Long you'll take a detour across a road bridge onto the little island of Tuan Chau which offers a wide view of the bay, and that night you'll check into a hotel in Ha Long City in anticipation of the next day's cruise.
Day 12: Ha Long Bay by Boat
a cruise around the bay
kayaking and caving in Ha Long Bay; a night's sleep on the water
There is little that can prepare a traveller for the spectacle that is Ha Long Bay—it's Vietnam's most famous destination for a reason. As you cruise around the bay, stopping off at a few of its myriad islands to go caving and kayaking, you'll eat some of the freshest seafood in the world before drifting off to sleep that night on the boat on the calm water.
Day 13: Ha Long - Hanoi
the coastal ride home
Your cruise will continue well into the day, finishing at around noon. Our guests regularly comment on the visit to Ha Long Bay as being the perfect finale to the tour, both because of its contrast to the northern mountains and the beauty of the area itself. After lunch, it's back to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.