Hanoi - Mai Chau - Phu Yen - Than Uyen - Sa Pa - Bac Ha - Ha Giang - Dong Van - Bao Lac - Ba Be lake - Thac Ba Lake - Hanoi


 5 nights in homestays and 5 nights in hotels

 any skill level

 the lakes of Thac Ba and Ba Be; Sa Pa; the Muong Hoa Valley; the mountain province Ha Giang; the Dong Van karst plateau; the mountain town of Dong Van; the palace of the H'mong King; the rural district of Mai Chau; the Moc Chau Plateau; the stepped rice fields of Mu Cang Chai; offroading around Dong Van and Bao Lac; the Kun, Khau Pha, O Quy Ho, Ma Pi Leng and Ba Be mountain passes

Day 1: Hanoi - Mai Chau



 the rural district of Mai Chau; the Kun Pass

You'll ride west from Hanoi towards the rural district of Mai Chau in Hoa Binh Province, famous for its mountainous landscape and the unique stilt houses of its Thai minority inhabitants. One of the things we love about Mai Chau is all the dirt roads you can find there: built by locals to connect their small communities, many of them remain completely unmapped. Spending the night in a Thai homestay, you'll get a taste for the type of food they like to eat, and will more than likely be invited to share a few drinks with them, too.


Day 2: Mai Chau - Phu Yen



 the Moc Chau Plateau; the Hua Tat Pas; crossing the Da River by ferry

After breakfast you'll head higher into the mountains, over the Hua Tat Pass and on to the Moc Chau plateau, an area famed for its plums, flowers and green tea. This region, home to the Thai and Muong ethnic minorities, has plenty more offroading opportunities. After crossing the Da River on a little ferry, you'll have time to explore the little town of Phu Yen before turning in for the night.

some chill offroad
quick photo op beside a waterfall Vietnam

Day 3: Phu Yen - Than Uyen



 the stepped rice fields of Mu Cang Chai; the Khau Pha mountain pass

Next comes a longer day's riding, this time heading northwest. You'll ride the Khau Pha Pass and pass through Mu Cang Chai, an area covered in mountains and stepped rice fields, before arriving in Than Uyen, a peaceful district situated on the banks of a massive lake not too far 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

From Than Uyen, you'll take the O Quy Ho Pass towards Sa Pa. It runs east, overlooking the northern edge of the Hoang Lien Son mointain range, and has a collection of traditional eateries at the end with viewing platforms that jut out over the valley. Since it's not such a long ride, you'll have the opportunity to visit Thac Bac Waterfall and ride the Muong Hoa Valley when you arrive in Sa Pa District, before heading into town to check out the Old Quarter. That evening, you'll take a dirt road to the minority village of Ta Phin to spend the night: it's nearby, and very peaceful.

riding through Ta Phin in the morning
riding through a stream
the view from the viewing platform on O Quy Ho

Day 5: Sa Pa - Bac Ha



 the market town of Bac Ha

Heading deep into the mountain range that forms Vietnam's natural border with China, through narrow valleys and across mountain passes, you'll arrive at the little market town of Bac Ha. During weekends the place gets unbelievably busy for somewhere so remote, as people from the surrounding villages come to trade. It's a great place to do a bit of souvenir shopping, or just to relax and get a feel for the way the people there live.


Day 6: Bac Ha - Ha Giang



 the mountain province Ha Giang; the Hoang Lien Son mountain range

After Bac Ha you'll continue into the mountain province of Ha Giang, right on the Chinese border. This is one of the most remote areas of Vietnam, has only recently begun allowing foreigners to visit, and is perhaps the country's most famous riding spot.


Day 7: Ha Giang - Dong Van



 the Dong Van karst plateau; the mountain town of Dong Van; the Ma Pi Leng Pass; the palace of the H'mong King

The journey from Ha Giang to Dong Van, characterised by its unique karst limestone topography, is where you'll ride the Ma Pi Leng Pass, a 20km road that was built cooperatively by people from the minority villages of the surrounding area. It's also where you'll get to visit Dinh Vua Meo, the palace of the H'mong king who formed an alliance with Ho Chi Minh before Vietnam finally achieved its independence. Like Sa Pa, Dong Van is an old market town that became favoured by the French during the colonial era because of its landscape and its cooler climate. It has an old quarter with quite a few colonial buildings and, though it receives far fewer foreign tourists, some fantastic eateries, too.

really high up in the mountains
taking a break in Ha Giang

Day 8: Dong Van - Bao Lac



 the Nho Que River; the Bang River; the Ma Pi Leng Pass; offroading around Bao Lac

Bao Lac is another market town, where minority folks congregate each weekend to trade. On the way there you'll ride the Ma Pi Leng Pass once again, and you'll also have the opportunity to do some more offroading since there are so many dirt trails to be discovered around there.


Day 9: Bao Lac - Ba Be Lake



 Ba Be Lake; Ba Be National Park

From Bao Lac you'll wind your way south, and as the mountains give way to the lowlands you'll find yourself riding through the great evergreen forest that makes up most of Ba Be National Park. Ba Be Lake is a great place for a swim and, time and weather permitting, you'll have the opportunity to take a boat ride through one of the cave formations for which it's famous. A homestay not too far from the huge freshwater lake is where you'll turn in for the night.

a very muddy road

Day 10: Ba Be Lake - Thac Ba Lake



 the hydroelectric power plant; Thac Ba Lake; the minority area of Vu Linh; the Ba Be Pass

Next, it's on to Thac Ba Lake, one of the largest in Vietnam. Created by damming three rivers for Vietnam's first power station, the islands you'll see dotted around it were once mountaintops. On the way there, you'll pass by the hydroelectric power plant for which it was made, as well as through a variety of minority villages belonging to the Tay, Mong and Dzao people. You'll stop for the night in a homestay in Vu Linh, an area on the eastern edge of the lake populated mainly by people of the Dzao minority.


Day 11: Thac Ba Lake - Hanoi


 flat rice fields and limestone cliffs

It's a long ride back to Hanoi, but the relaxing past couple of days spent by the lakes should have prepared you well enough.