The beaches route
If you like the feeling of digging your toes into sand day after beautiful day, then Vietnam’s southern coastal route is just what you need. You could start in Da Nang and head south, but we recommend you make your way out of Ho Chi Minh City instead. For starters, it’s much easier to find gear in the big city – motorbike to buy/rent, camping gear, clothing, etc – but it’s also so much more pleasant to finish your drive in Hoi An or Da Nang. Many riders stick to the main highways to make their schedule, but that’s not what we have in mind. We want you to see the coast as much as possible. Start south to Ho Tram beach and make your way north, with stops in La Gi, Mui Ne, Phan Rang, Cam Ranh, Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa, Quy Nhon, Quang Ngai and, finally, Hoi An – or any place along the way that you like. Just try to stay as close to the sea as possible.
Ma Pi Leng Pass
This route is almost too scenic to believe. It skirts the Chinese border in the north and snakes through beautiful towns and villages, including some amazing ethnic communities. You spend a lot of time up in the clouds, as this is a mountainous route, but the views are simply spectacular. When you’re driving on Happy Road, you’ll understand why Ma Pi Leng Pass is a name that’s gaining traction among motorbike enthusiasts from around the world. It likely won’t be off-the-beaten-path for long. For this one, stick to QL34 and QL4C.
The Nam Ma River Route
In the region south of Hanoi, most backpackers and tourists flock to the beauty of Ninh Binh, with its postcard-perfect limestone karsts and rivers meandering through rice paddies. It really is spectacular, but it’s also no secret. Thousands of tourists trek there daily. To find a similar landscape without the tour buses and crowds, make your way to the Nam Ma River and follow it until it spills into the sea just east of Thanh Hóa. If you’re making your way the length of Vietnam, this is an easy one to include in your travels. Get on the Ho Chi Minh Highway south of Hanoi until the QL217. This road pretty well follows the river until the town of Vĩnh Minh. From there, follow the road called Đê tả sông Mã until it meets back with QL1A. Stop at Sầm Sơn Beach to enjoy the rewards of long hours on the road.
Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc
Most people who travel to lovely Phu Quoc island fly there. Flights are cheap and it takes less than an hour from Ho Chi Minh City, so it makes sense. But we’re not here for the easiest route, we’re here for the interesting route. To add a flair of excitement and novelty to your Phu Quoc experience, drive through the Mekong Delta and catch the ferry. Along the way you’ll see floating markets, gorgeous rice paddies and all kinds of towns and villages you won’t find in any tourist brochures. There are about as many routes as there are rivulets in this region, so you might have to get creative. We recommend you go in this order: Cần Thơ, Rạch Giá and then finish in Hà Tiên, where you catch the ferry to Phu Quoc island.
North of Hue
When most riders make the journey from north to south, or vice versa, they stick to the main highways for long stretches. It saves time, and they figure there isn’t all that much to see on the more time-consuming back roads. While that may be true for some places, the area north of Hue isn’t one of them. There’s untouched coastline, stunning lagoons and all kinds of funeral plots with elaborate and colorful statues. Even if you don’t have a lot of spare time planned into your Vietnam holiday, we think this area is worth getting sidetracked for. But, as Tom Storrup at Vietnam Coracle points out, you should try to go between April and September. Otherwise, the scenery is cold and gray and a bit depressing. Take QL49B until the town of Điền Hải, and then turn towards the coast and follow that road until you meet up with DT64. Then make the same turn to the coast in the town of Tân Lợi. Ride along Quốc Phòng until An Đức. After that, find your way back to QL1A, which is the main highway.
Camping trail out of Dalat
Here’s a pine-scented trail for those of you with an affinity for tents, hammocks and waking up to fresh mountain air. The routes to Dalat from Ho Chi Minh City are no secret – they’re on just about every motorbike itinerary – but there’s a road north of this sleepy little city that not too many people bother to explore. Instead of taking the QL27C highways to Nha Trang, you want to find DT722, farther inland. The road is a dead end, so you’ll have to backtrack to make it into a route, but it’s nice enough that you won’t mind doing it twice. Just pick a spot to camp and make an adventure out of it.
Cao Bằng Province
Here’s another route that goes along the Chinese border, and also has some amazing views. In addition to the incredible mountain roads, there are also several interesting detours you can make along the way. There’s Bản Giốc waterfall, which hugs the border, and also Cốc Bó cave, where Ho Chi Minh gathered revolutionary forces in 1941. This is the region where Vietnamese people lived before expanding south, so there’s a lot of history in the area. There are plenty of roads to explore here, but the easiest would be to stick to QL34. For an extra dose of adventure, try DT208 or DT206.
Kom Tom – Quảng Ngãi – Hội An
Riders have several routes to choose from when they travel between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Two of the more popular routes are either along the coast – with stops in places like Qui Nhơn and Nha Trang – or inland, along the border with Laos. Both are fine choices, but there’s another option that will show you another side of Vietnam that many foreigners don’t see. If you’re heading north and not taking the coastal route, you’ll likely pass through Pleiku on your way to Kom Tom. Instead of following the AH17 by way of the QL14E, veer onto the QL24 instead. And when you get to Quảng Ngãi, be sure you try their signature dish: Mì Quảng.