The final part of Don Morgan’s Vietnam Biking series concludes with suggestions of easy routes for beginners to take to the road
Danang to Hoi An
The best piece of road to start off on is the beach road between these two cities. It’s still sparsely travelled, it’s good road with a wide shoulder, and it’s all flat. It’ll only be about 30 km from wherever you are in either city to where ever you want to go in the other. Cheap rentals are available in both cities, so you can stay in once and visit the other on a day trip. I always recommend this piece of road to beginners.
Cat Ba Island
This is another great place to get started. The roads are never very busy, and while there are some hills, nothing a beginner can’t handle. It’s also a beautiful area to explore. Try the trip to the Hospital Cave for your first outing.
The White Sand Dunes, Mui Ne
Cheap rentals are easy to pick up in Mui Ne, and the white sand dunes make for a perfect, first-time day trip. The coastal vistas along the route are a real highlight, and you can go ‘dune sledding’ once you reach the white sand.
Muong Lay to Phong To, or vice versa
A unique opportunity in northwest Vietnam’s Lai Chau province is available through the Lan Anh hotel, which has one hotel in each town, 74 km apart. There’s good, easy road through great countryside between them, though it does get a bit hilly. Best of all, you can rent a bike for 10 USD at one hotel and drop it off at the other without having to back track.
And, once you’re feeling confident, the trip I recommend to everyone:
The Ho Chi Minh Trail (Highway 14), Central Highlands
This route is often done on an Easy Rider tour. (see below) There are a bunch of ways to do it, but there’s no wrong way to do it. Getting from the coast to the highway is not really the best part, so if you want to put your bike on a bus, you can. Just make sure you hit the 188 km piece of road between Tanh My (Nam Giang on old maps) and Kon Tum. It’s a little slice of paradise on a high, hilly, plateau. There are more turns and hills than the other routes, so it’s more for advanced beginners than absolute newbies. Also, it’s a multi-day trip so you’ll have to strap your stuff to your bike, or pack a small kit in a day pack. I’d suggest bailing out at Kon Tum and heading east back to Highway 1 rather than continuing all the way to Dalat, if it’s your first time on a long bike trek.
For Those of You Who Can’t Be Bothered…
The second best thing is to hire someone else to do the driving for you. The going rate is 50 USD a day for a driver with a big bike. They strap on your pack, you sit in the back, and you take in the views while they take on the roads. Dalat is a very popular starting point, and it’s the city where the bonefide, original Easy Riders got started. But copycats have cropped up in Saigon, Nha Trang, Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hanoi. For many, this is actually a better option–none of the hassles, and just as much fun.
Some General Advice
If you want to do the whole country on motorbike, you’ll need three months. If you only have a month, pick a region–North, Central or South. If you only have two weeks, stick to half a region.
Highway 1 is all good road, but very heavily trafficked and not very picturesque for most of the route. The exception would be the 119 km between Nha Trang and Tuy Hoa, which hugs the coast, passes the sandy Hon Gom peninsula and courses through the Quan Cau pass. Otherwise, plan a north-south route that avoids Highway 1 whenever possible.
The northwest loop is all good road, execpt for the 170 km from Son La to Dien Bien Phu. Put your bike on a bus or be prepared for a rough ride.
Highway 70 from Hanoi to Sapa is in a terrible state at present. Go through Thai Nguyen to the east, or put your bike on the train. The SP3, LC1 and LC3 trains all take motorbikes as freight.
Finally, don’t turn your vacation into hard work. When you get the hang of biking in Vietnam it can be addictive. You never really need to do more than 180 km in a day, and that gives you time to stop and smell the roses.