Motorbike tours in North Vietnam group tour are unforgettable for travelers and are often one of the most fulfilling and life changing experiences they do on their tour of Vietnam.
Infinite views on Ha Giang loop (Source: Our Earth & Us)
One of the main reasons people like to do a motorbike tour in North Vietnam (other than it being insanely fun) is that it is a full sensory experience. When riding a motorbike in Vietnam on the open road, you feel the gentle rush of wind wash over you, you hear serene white noise swish past your ears. You see 180 degree views of landscapes you’ve never laid eyes on before and you smell the sweet scent of fresh air, overgrown natural vegetation, recently harvested rice or the regional delicacies being grilled over charcoal barbecues. And of course, you pull over to taste and devour the incredible local cuisine to replenish your energy for the next leg of your trip!
Rice harvesting in North Vietnam (Source: Flickr)
Here are 3 of the best motorbike tours in North Vietnam which are suitable for groups, couples, or solo travelers wanting a concentrated hit of this country’s natural beauty!
1. Sapa-Sin Ho Loop
This motorbike loop connects the towns of Sapa, in Lao Cai Province, and Lai Chau and Sin Ho, in Lai Chau Province, via beautiful mountain passes in the Hoàng Liên Sơn Mountain Ranges of northern Vietnam. The Sapa to Sin Ho loop can be broken into 3 sections: Sapa to Lai Chau (via road QL4D, 70km), Lai Chau to Sin Ho (via Phong Tho, 115km) and Sin Ho to Sapa (via road 4D cũ, 135km).
Sapa Town (Source: Mr Linh’s)
The journey begins in Sapa which is a popular base for travelers coming to the district to escape the urban areas of Vietnam for a few days of trekking. The town neighbors Vietnam’s tallest mountain Phan Xi Păng (Fansipan) which stands at 3,143m. Mount Fansipan is also the tallest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula so is aptly nicknamed ‘the Roof of Indochina’. You’ll pass this giant on the first leg of your journey from Sapa to Lai Chau, but if you’re interested in summiting the Roof of Indochina the quickest way is by cable car! What would take two days to climb now takes under an hour by riding the cable car from the station in Sapa up to just 630 steps below the summit. Getting to the top is a surreal moment as often Fansipan is wrapped in cloud cover so it seems like the top of the mountain is floating. Even so, you’ll get amazing views through the mist of the dramatic mountain ranges while feeling like you’re on top of the world!
View of Mount Fansipan (Source: Flickr)
Continuing on your motorbike tour to Lai Chau, you’ll also pass some charming waterfalls. There’s the Silver Waterfall (Thac Bac) at 200m tall, and Love Waterfall (Thac Tinh Yeu) at about 100m tall. They are two good excuses for you to pull over for a break and immerse your senses in the falls’ relaxing atmosphere.
Further along the road from the waterfalls you’ll reach the top of Tram Ton Pass, known as Heaven’s Gate. The pass is the highest mountain road in Vietnam, at around 2000m above sea level, and marks the border between the provinces of Lao Cai and Lai Chau. Standing at the top of the pass, at Heaven’s Gate, is exhilarating as you look over what seems like an unending valley below. You’re surrounded by the untamed jungle covering the peaceful mountains providing a great sense of serenity and satisfaction. Heaven’s Gate is not to be missed, to look at the ridiculously beautiful views of Mount Fansipan ranges, before the first leg of your journey brings you to the town of Lai Chau.
Sin Ho (Source: Internet)
After Lai Chau your next destination is Sin Ho, which is rarely visited by travelers but is definitely worth the journey through the mountain pass to witness some of the most epic alpine views of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. If you can, visit Sin Ho during the weekend to go to the local market and see all the colorful, embroidered clothing worn by the hundreds of ethnic minority ladies who travel to the market each week on foot! This is a traditional market, so you’re unlikely to be hassled by hawkers, and you can see all the lovely, vibrant local products for sale such as: flowers, fruit, vegetables, meat, and more.
Time and Distance:
The round-trip is around 320km and can be completed in either direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise). You should allow 3-4 days in the total North Vietnam group tour to give yourself plenty of time to stop and take in all the views. The route is best tackled in good conditions, to avoid strong winds and heavy rain, so April-May and September-October are the ideal months to visit the Sapa region; when the weather is warmer and you can see the rice terraces’ gorgeous yellow colors! Sin Ho and Sapa are often surrounded by mist so a waterproof jacket is a must as well as warm clothes to wear at night.
2. Northeast Loop
This is one of the longest motorbike loop tours in Vietnam. The northeast loop starts in Cao Bang City in Cao Bang province, which borders China, and it should comfortably take 5-7 days to complete. The loop can be separated into 3 sections: Cao Bang to Quang Uyen (via Pac Bo Cave and Ban Gioc Falls, 250km), Quang Uyen to Bac Son (via Lang Son, 280km) and Bac Son to Cao Bang (via Ba Be Lake, 320km). The loop is not the most direct route to each town along the way, however, its scenic value makes it the most rewarding way around!
Cao Bang City (Source: Lotus Asia)
Starting in the quaint city of Cao Bang, your journey out of town will begin on the northernmost part of Ho Chi Minh Road (of which the southernmost part starts in Ho Chi Minh City!). This is a treasured part of the road because this is where Ho lived in Pac Bo Cave on the border of China in the early 1940s, before leading the country to declare its independence from French colonization in Hanoi on 2nd September 1945. You’ll find the cave at the end of Ho Chi Minh Road, which is an 8km detour from the loop but it’s an amazing place to visit for its historical significance and outright beauty.
Pac Bo Cave (Source: VTC Pay)
After visiting the cave you’ll return to the loop route to head east and after many kilometres of winding through tall karst formations, passing remote traditional villages, many fields of farmland and climbing mountain passes, you’ll eventually find yourself at another impressive natural gem: Ban Gioc Waterfall. The hypnotic falls are 30m high and 300m wide making it the widest waterfall in Vietnam. The cool jade-green water flows from China through the rich natural landscape on Quay Son River. It’s the perfect place to stop and relax for a while on your motorbike of the North Vietnam group tour.
Ban Gioc Waterfall (Source: Crossing Travel)
After Ban Gioc Waterfall you’ll follow the river for a few kilometres, driving within metres of the Chinese border, before continuing on the beaten track towards Quang Uyen to complete the first section of the loop.
Next, you’ll be riding the second section of the loop along a pretty road towards Lang Son, and eventually onto Bac Son. After Bac Son is the final section of the northeast loop, but another mesmerizing natural wonder will enter the midst of your journey: Ba Be Lake National Park. Ba Be Lake is Vietnam’s largest natural lake and you’ll notice the trees and vegetation surrounding the lake are much taller and more lush than the forests you see on your way there, perhaps because of the area’s minerals and vast volume of water. The sheer tranquility of the park and calmness of the lake will help to relax your body and mind before you proceed on to the last part of your motorbike tour on the northeast loop.
Ba Be Lake National Park (Source: Ba Ba Lake)
From Ba Be Lake, your journey towards the final destination, Cao Bang, takes you through a gorgeous river valley but just before you ride over one of the highest mountains in the region, you should take time to see the scenic tea plantation. Look out for signpost saying ‘Tea Production and Processing Enterprise’ and head down the narrow lane to visit the tea plantation and, of course, to sample the delicious bounty of this special tea crop!
Time and Distance:
As with the Sapa-Sin Ho loop, the best time of year to ride the northeast loop is September-October when there is less rainfall, and before winter sets in! The round-trip is around 850km and can be completed in either direction over 5-7 days. If you want to extend this motorbike tour and your North Vietnam group tour, the loop can be joined effortlessly onto the Ha Giang loop - the next northern Vietnam motorbike tour/ North Vietnam trekking tours you need to know about!
3. Ha Giang Loop
Last but by no means least, is the well revered and adored Ha Giang loop. Ha Giang, bordering China, is the northernmost province of Vietnam and has been called the most beautiful place in the north. It’s known to have the most scenic roads in Vietnam which stretch through mountain passes, hug the sides of rushing rivers and wind through striking limestone karsts, and is an absolute dream for photographers! The loop can be divided into 3 sections: Ha Giang-Yen Minh (via Tam Son, 100km), Yen Minh-Meo Vac (via Ma Pi Leng Pass, 70km), Meo Vac-Ha Giang (via Du Gia, 180km).
Your journey begins by riding from Ha Giang towards Tam Son, and within a short distance you’ll be face to face with lush mountains covered in dense forest. You’ll soon arrive in the very attractive Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, of which 80% of the area is covered by limestone. The road then winds up to the Heaven’s Gate Pass (yes, another Heaven’s Gate namesake in northern Vietnam) where the views looking back over the snaking road are spectacular. From there you’ll descend towards the endearing town of Tam Son.
Heaven’s Gate Pass, Ha Giang (Source: Wander by Design)
From Tam Son you’ll drive towards a valley of rolling hills, over Mien River and to a canyon bordered with bamboo and traditional little houses. You’ll ride through another alluring forested mountain pass before the first leg of the Ha Giang loop brings you to Yen Minh.
Think you would’ve seen a lot of limestone mountains by now? Well, the next section from Yen Minh to Meo Vac is like an ocean of limestone peaks and the roads winding through are just as special! On route towards Dong Van you’ll eventually come to an optional 45km detour loop to visit Vietnam’s ‘North Pole’, Lung Cu, where you can see views of China from the top of the tower.
Vietnam’s ‘North Pole’, Lung Cu (Source: Ha Giang online)
The leg from Dong Van to Meo Vac takes you through the amazing Ma Pi Leng Pass, a road which sits like a shelf attached to a giant limestone wall. The pass overlooks the intimidatingly deep but phenomenal Nho Que River valley. This stretch of road will keep you on your toes as you navigate your way around the mountainside on route to the town of Meo Vac.
Hmong women, Dong Van (Source: Hmong Thai Story)
From the ambient Meo Vac the final section of the loop back to Ha Giang will first take you through an incredibly scenic valley landscape to Du Gia before the very last leg of your Ha Giang loop journey. The vibrancy of the rice fields and farms are hard to beat in this part of north Vietnam group tour.
Rice fields, Du Gia (Source: for91days)
Time and Distance:
Ha Giang loop covers around 350km of road around the province. You should allow 3-5 days depending on your comfort level on a motorcycle. Again, the best time of year for north Vietnam motorbike tours is April-May and September-October to avoid the rainy and cold seasons. Regardless of where you are in Vietnam, and at what time of year, you should always have a rain jacket with you, for those unexpected periods of showers or drizzle!
The panorama of surroundings you’ll see in northern Vietnam is nothing short of breathtaking, like the rolling limestone mountains and infinite rice terraces - many of which are occupied by the cherished water buffalo. People can truly experience the majesty of northern Vietnam on a motorbike tour. Think about all you would miss out on seeing, smelling or feeling if your North Vietnam small group tour was just limited to a car or bus.
Water buffalo, Sapa (Source: Ben Ashmole)
Before you ride off into the sunset, here are some quick tips for motorbike tours in northern Vietnam:
- Regularly check the road and weather conditions throughout your tour.
- Always wear your safety helmet.
- Take your time and drive to the conditions.
- Only drive during daylight hours.
- Allow time for sightseeing!