Are you looking for a wild adventure, one that takes you off the beaten path and immerses you in a world of stunning natural beauty and heart-pumping thrills? Look no further than motorbiking in Vietnam, where your 8-day motorbike trip in the North will take you on a journey of a lifetime.
When we booked our flights to Vietnam to finish the North that we didn’t manage to see last time because of the pandemic, I had no specific expectations. Unlike many travelers who literally dream about it and long for the stunning landscapes and rich culture of North Vietnam, I simply went with the flow. But little did I know, motorbiking in Vietnam would become one of the best experiences of my life.
So if you’re looking for an adventure that will push you out of your comfort zone and leave you with memories to last a lifetime, I highly recommend you to continue reading.
Why Should you Go Motorbiking in Vietnam
First of all, motorbiking gives you a freedom and flexibility to explore Vietnam at your own pace and on your own terms. If you have ever rode a bike or even scooter, you know what I mean. You can stop whenever you want to take in the scenery, try some street food, or chat with locals. You also have the flexibility to change your itinerary on a whim, without having to worry about catching a bus or missing a tour.
Motorbiking in Vietnam is also a crazy adventure. While Vietnamese people ride since they are babies and master it, you sometimes wonder how you ended up in such a situation. You’ll navigate winding mountain roads, cross over narrow bridges, and weave through bustling city traffic. You’ll also encounter unexpected challenges and surprises along the way, which can make for unforgettable memories and stories to tell.
Last, motorbiking in Vietnam allows you to experience the country in a more authentic way than other forms of transportation. You’ll be able to see and interact with the country’s people and culture up close, without the barrier of car windows or the detachment of a tour group. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit off-the-beaten-path destinations that may not be accessible by other means.
Planning your Vietnam Motorbike Trip
Best Time to Visit Vietnam
If you’re looking for cool and dry weather, then the months of October to April are generally the best for motorbiking in Vietnam. During this time, the temperatures are comfortable, and the skies are clear, making it a great time to explore the cities and countryside of North Vietnam.
However, if you’re interested in seeing the famous rice terraces of Sapa, then the best time to visit is from September to early October when the rice fields are turned gold and yellow and you can witness the local farmers harvesting their crops.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more tropical experience, then you might prefer to visit between May and September when the weather is hot and humid, but the rainforests and waterfalls are at their most vibrant.
Keep in mind that the weather in North Vietnam can be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to check the forecast before you go motorbiking in Vietnam. And bring appropriate clothing for the season, i.e. a rain jacket.
How Much Time Do You Need
Usually, the question is more about how much time you’ve got for motorbiking in Vietnam. If you’ve got all the time in the world, then just follow our itinerary! But if you’re on a tighter schedule, no worries – you can still experience the beauty of the north by tackling the legendary Ha Giang Loop, which is what most bike tours do anyway.
To fully explore North Vietnam, I recommend setting aside at least one to even two weeks for your trip. This will give you ample time to check out all the must-see sights like Sapa and Ha Giang, as well as some hidden gems in the smaller villages and off-the-beaten-path spots.
And, if you’ve got some extra vacation days to burn, nothing prevents you from extending your trip to three or even four weeks! That way, you can really take your time to soak up the local culture and scenery while motorbiking in Vietnam, and venture even further into the remote regions. Who knows what kind of wild adventures await you out there!
Buying vs Renting a Motorbike in Vietnam
When we first went, we were so excited to buy our own motorbike in Vietnam with the intention to sell it to another traveler at the end of our trip. We spent around €280 for our motorbike and you should have seen our proud faces, riding it through the country. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit and we had to sell it within one day to a motorbike garage, lost lots of money and had to leave the country. But that’s for another story.
Renting a motorbike in Vietnam is a popular choice for many travelers, especially those who are short on time or budget. Renting allows you to avoid the upfront costs and hassles of buying a motorbike, and it gives you the freedom to explore different areas without worrying about selling the bike at the end of the trip.
Additionally, rental companies often provide insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance, which can give you peace of mind while you’re on the road. For our second trip, we rented one from Style Motorbikes in Hanoi for a price of $18/day. While we were motorbiking in Vietnam, we had an issue on the way and got a replacement bike in one of their other shops further north, which was really convenient.
However, renting a motorbike in Vietnam also has its downsides. Rental motorbikes may not always be in the best condition, and they may not meet the safety standards that you’re used to back home. Additionally, you may need to pay extra fees for helmets, locks, or other accessories that can add up quickly. Plus, rental companies may have restrictions on where you can take the motorbike, which can limit your options for exploring the country and motorbiking in Vietnam.
On the other hand, buying a motorbike in Vietnam can be an attractive option for travelers who are planning to stay in the country for a longer period of time. Buying allows you to customize your own motorbike, which can be fun. Additionally, owning a motorbike gives you more freedom and flexibility to explore different areas at your own pace. And if you’re planning to sell the motorbike at the end of the trip, you may even be able to recoup some of the initial costs.
Ultimately, the decision to buy or rent a motorbike in Vietnam depends on your individual needs and circumstances. If you’re planning a short trip or you’re on a tight budget for motorbiking in Vietnam, renting may be the best option. However, if you’re planning to stay in the country for a longer period of time and you’re willing to take on the responsibilities of owning a motorbike, buying may be the way to go.
Where to Rent a Motorbike in Vietnam
You might be wondering where the best place to rent a motorbike in Vietnam is. The answer really depends on your itinerary and preferences. If you’re planning to spend most of your time in and around Sapa, then it might be more convenient to rent a bike there. This way, you can explore the stunning rice terraces and scenic countryside at your own pace, without having to worry about transportation.
But, if you’re planning to travel to other parts of North Vietnam, such as Ha Giang, Cao Bang, or Ban Gioc, then it might be more practical to rent a bike directly from Hanoi. You can then easily explore multiple regions without having to worry about returning the bike to Sapa.
In any case, there are many rental shops and agencies in Sapa, Ha Giang, and Hanoi that offer a variety of bikes, from small scooters to large motorbikes, depending on your level of experience and comfort.
Should you Go with a Tour or Alone
According to me, if you feel comfortable enough to drive by yourself – i.e. without guide or organised tour – then go alone or with a travel buddy. It is so much more fun to follow your own itinerary while motorbiking in Vietnam, meet new people on the road and have this freedom feeling I was mentioning earlier.
However, some might prefer going with a tour and that’s ok too. There are many tours that you can book already in Hanoi, or Ha Giang or Sapa for example.
Tips for Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam
Below, you will find a few tips that might seem basic but are always good to bear in mind:
- Pack light and don’t forget your rain jacket. Just take clothes for a few days – worst-case scenario, you can wash them at a hostel or homestay. Pack closed-toe sneakers, lightweight and breathable clothes, a long rain jacket, warmer clothes for the north, sunscreen, and sunglasses! You can find rain ponchos almost everywhere when motorbiking in Vietnam.
- Wear a helmet. First, helmets are required by law in Vietnam, and in any case they can help protect you from head injuries in case of an accident. Usually, they come with the bike or you just rent one on top.
- Be aware of traffic. The traffic in Vietnam can be chaotic, with lots of motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians all sharing the roads. Be extra cautious when merging into traffic or crossing busy streets. Don’t panic and just go your way. Usually, Vietnamese people know how to deal with foreigners and will just go around you. So stick to your path.
- Take breaks. You will anyway take a lot of breaks just to admire the landscapes but in any case, be sure to take frequent breaks to rest, stretch, and hydrate when motorbiking in Vietnam.
- Get a Vietnamese SIM card. Affordable and reliable, they can be incredibly useful, especially when traveling by motorbike in Vietnam. We relied on ours heavily, using it to book last-minute accommodations.
- Use offline maps. Just to be on the safe side, you may want to consider downloading offline maps from Google Maps or apps like Maps.me before traveling to remote areas with limited internet connectivity. This will allow you to access maps and directions even when you don’t have a data connection while motorbiking in Vietnam.
- Consider installing a phone mount (and USB charger) on your motorbike in Vietnam, especially if one is not already included. This will allow you to use hands-free maps and make your journey much more easier.
- Don’t overplan your itinerary. When motorbiking in Vietnam, be open to dealing with unexpected situations and adjusting your plans accordingly. Even the most experienced riders may encounter breakdowns, late starts, heavy rain, or flat tires, so don’t stress about it and take things as they come.
- Avoid highways as they are typically off-limits for motorbikes. When using Google Maps, make sure to select the appropriate options. However, one advantage of motorbiking in Vietnam is that you don’t have to pay tolls. Just follow the designated motorbike paths and you’ll be fine.
Your Epic Vietnam Motorbike Itinerary
I’ll share with you our motorbike itinerary in North Vietnam, which, in my opinion, was the best route we could have taken for motorbiking in Vietnam. While it was longer than what most people typically do, the experience was incredibly rewarding. We were able to see and do things that we might have missed if we had stuck to a more popular or shorter route, so let’s see if you will feel inspired.
Day 1: From Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai (approx. 300km)
We rented our bike in Hanoi and started our adventure early the next morning, leaving our bulky backpacks behind at the bike rental shop and taking only a small backpack with us. Just a heads up, this first leg of the journey may not be the most exciting, since there aren’t too many scenic spots to ogle at. It’s basically just the road that takes you up north.
But if you do decide to follow our Vietnam motorbike itinerary, you’ll eventually make your way to Mu Cang Chai, a charming rural district in Yen Bai Province known for its rice terraces, which have even been recognized as a National Heritage site by the Vietnamese government.
After our first long day of motorbiking in Vietnam, we finally arrived at our destination late at night. One of our bike lights had gone out, but luckily a friendly car driver came to our rescue, leading us through the rainy darkness. When we finally arrived at the homestay we’d booked at the last minute, we were greeted with a steaming bowl of chicken feet soup – a local delicacy we politely declined. Let’s just say, if you know, you know!
Day 2: From Mu Cang Chai to Sapa (approx. 150km)
Day 2’s journey will take you through some scenic landscapes in Vietnam and end up in Sapa, a remote yet well-known town situated at an altitude of 1600m and famous for its terraced rice fields, cool mountain atmosphere, and community of ethnic minorities.
If you have a bit of time to spend in Sapa, I would highly recommend it. The views are stunning, and there are many activities and hikes to do in the area, including climbing Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam.
Day 3: Sapa to Ha Giang (approx. 250 km)
Day 3’s road winds and rolls through lush forests, rice paddies, and charming local villages. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to stop and take in the stunning views of the mountains and valleys while motorbiking in Vietnam and living the dream.
As you approach Ha Giang, you’ll notice the landscape becoming more rugged and mountainous, with steep cliffs and deep valleys. Nestled on the banks of the Lo River, Ha Giang is a small town and the capital of Ha Giang Province known for its many high rocky mountains and limestone formations. Ha Giang is also the start point of the legendary Ha Giang Loop, where backpackers and explorers alike flock for adventure.
We had originally planned to stay in Ha Giang for only one night, but fate had other plans! Our replacement bike was delayed, giving us two full days to relax, prepare for the biggest part of our trip, and make some new friends. While waiting at the bike repair shop to see what was wrong with our bike, we met this lovely Scottish couple with whom, little did we know, we would be spending incredible days motorbiking through Vietnam.
Days 4-5: Ha Giang Loop (Revisited)
Here I’m calling all adventure junkies and scenery enthusiasts! The Ha Giang Loop is the ultimate 350-kilometers trip that will blow your mind while riding your motorbike in Vietnam! From charming towns to jaw-dropping landscapes, this loop has it all. Expect to spend 2-5 days on the road, depending on how many times you stop to snap Instagram-worthy photos (and trust me, you’ll want to stop a lot!). We didn’t complete the full Ha Giang loop because we couldn’t resist the urge to add other stops further East to our itinerary.
From Ha Giang to Dong Van (approx. 150km)
Start of day 4 of our Vietnam motorbike loop: we were finally able to hit the road again with our new bike and clear skies above us. Well, our luck ran out as rain caught up with us a bit further down the road. Luckily, we were able to stop in Yen Minh for a quick change of clothes and a bite to eat before setting off again. And what a surprise it was to run into our Scottish pals again! We quickly decided to ride together. Riding solo is cool, but cruising with like-minded spirits is next level!
Our next stop was Lung Cu. Situated in Vietnam’s Ha Giang province near the Chinese border, this village is famous for the Lung Cu Flag Tower, often called the “North Pole” of Vietnam. The tower is a 33-meter-high symbol of Vietnamese sovereignty and is decorated with the national flag. Its nine floors represent different phases in the country’s history. Visitors can climb to the top for a panoramic view of the countryside.
That day we decided to head to Dong Van to spend the night as all hostels and homestay around Lung Cu were fully booked. Oops, we should have planned ahead, but where’s the fun in that when motorbiking in Vietnam?
Happy us in Dong Van, we stumbled upon a fantastic Italian restaurant – Roma Italian Restaurant – that I highly recommend. And fun fact: it turned out to be the hotspot for all the other riders we had encountered that day. An unexplainable need for European comfort food I guess. Riding a motorbike in Vietnam can sometimes make you feel like you’re part of a secret community, connected by an invisible bond.
From Dong Van to Bao Lac (approx. 80-100km)
Day 6: Bao Lac to Ban Gioc (approx. 150km)
On day 6 of our adventure, we decided to go to Ban Gioc, thanks to some great advice from our Scottish friends. They were staying behind to explore a bit more, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road. The ride to Ban Gioc was smooth and easy, with the road in quite great condition. We were racing against the clock to get to the Ban Gioc waterfalls before sunset, with Nicky pushing the throttle to the max. But, luckily, we had no idea that our watches were actually an hour ahead! So, we arrived at the perfect time, thinking we were running late.
The Ban Gioc waterfalls are simply stunning, situated right on the border between Vietnam and China. And, from where we stood, we could even see the border fence and markers, as well as the hills and mountains on the Chinese side. It was such a great way to end the day, and we felt so grateful for our friends’ suggestion, which is not on lots of tourist itineraries.
Day 7: Ban Gioc to Lang Son (approx. 200km)
After much last-minute consideration, we ultimately decided not to travel all the way from Ban Gioc to Hanoi in one go, as we didn’t want to risk arriving after dark and be too tired. Instead, we opted to stop in Lang Son.
During the first part of the day, we passed through some of the poorest villages we had seen on our trip, but we found the locals to be the most welcoming. It’s official: North Vietnam has set the bar for hospitality sky-high!
The road from Ban Gioc to Lang Son is generally in good condition, with even some traffic congestion in certain areas closer to Lang Son – we were not used to that anymore. Lang Son itself is a bustling city located near the border between Vietnam and China, and is renowned for its rich history and cultural heritage.
Day 8: Lang Son to Hanoi (approx. 150km)
Last day of our Vietnam motorbike itinerary! The journey from Lang Son to Hanoi takes around 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on traffic conditions. Which means that compared to previous days, it was a relatively short journey. The road between Lang Son and Hanoi is a major highway, so it’s generally in good condition and easy to navigate but not very exciting.
The day was also bittersweet as we realized it was the end of our trip with our beloved motorbike in Vietnam. It’s hard to explain the feeling of freedom that comes with motorbiking, but it’s something you have to experience for yourself. I want to give a huge thank you to Nicky for being an amazing driver and making it all possible. I wouldn’t trust myself to ride a bike alone; I’m just too clumsy for that. Plus you can’t imagine how comfy it is to sit behind and enjoy the ride!
Returning to the chaotic and bustling city of Hanoi, we reluctantly returned our bike. We would have loved to keep it longer, but our visa was expiring soon, and we had an important birthday to celebrate. So, we headed to Ha Long Bay for a 2-day, 1-night cruise. To our surprise, we were upgraded to the most amazing cabin, which made for an epic end to our North Vietnam motorbike trip.
Final Thoughts on Motorbiking in Vietnam
If you’re looking for an epic adventure that combines stunning scenery and plenty of thrills, then this 8-day motorbike trip in North Vietnam is just the ticket! If you follow our itinerary, the journey will take you on a wild ride through winding mountain roads, incredible landscapes, and even on a bamboo raft across a river.
I never would have thought that Ha Giang and North Vietnam would end up on my list of top recommendations. Motorbiking in Vietnam, and especially up north, was just one of the best experiences of my life but I think it has a lot to do with driving our own motorbike, not being tied up to a group and just enjoying the freedom of the road with our Scottish friends.
But don’t just take my word for it – hop on your own motorbike and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime! And if you have any questions or concerns while planning or along the way, just reach out – I’d be happy to help make your experience as unforgettable as possible.