Lam Son Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam

Lam Son Loop | Motorbike Guide

First published June 2024 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

Tom, Vietnam Coracle

Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and worked in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 countries (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, whenever he has the opportunity to make a trip, he rarely looks beyond Vietnam’s borders and his trusty motorbike, Stavros. Read more about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.

This loop starts and ends at the tomb of one of Vietnam’s greatest warriors, Lê Lợi, who vanquished the powerful armies of the Chinese Ming Dynasty before being laid to rest in his homeland of Lam Sơn in 1433. Using a combination of small backroads and empty main roads, the Lam Sơn Loop traverses the lush and mountainous landscapes to the west of Lê Lợi’s homeland, where many of his battles were fought. This is the heartland of Thanh Hóa and Nghệ An, two neglected but spectacular and historically significant north-central provinces bordering Laos. Not only was this the birthplace of one of Vietnam’s most celebrated heroes and site of one of its greatest military victories, but the fertile river valleys and caverns in the limestone karsts were also home to some of the earliest known human life in what is now Vietnam. Today, this region is sparsely populated and seldom visited: you’re unlikely to encounter any other travellers on this loop and traffic is very light.

Lam Son Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam

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Selected Resources What’s this?


Backroads through the Lush Landscapes of Lê Lợi’s Homeland

I have written this route going anticlockwise on the loop, but you can ride it in either direction. The start/end point is Lê Lợi’s tomb and temple complex in Lam Sơn (also called Lam Kinh), partly because this is an historic, interesting site, but also because it has good, easy connections: Thọ Xuân Airport (12km east), Thanh Hóa train station (50km east) and the Ho Chi Minh Road (3km west) which links directly to Hanoi (180km). In addition, this route merges seamlessly with the Mường Lống Loop to the south and the Limestone Loop to the north, or as a detour from the Ho Chi Minh Road which comprises the loop’s eastern flank. Road conditions are generally good, but there are some rough patches on backroads which might cause problems in very wet conditions. Weather is best from March-September with sun, heat and rain; the winter months can be surprisingly cold and grey. Click from the contents below for more details:


Route Map

Overview & Details

Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Related Routes

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Lam Sơn Loop | 425km

Blue Line: Main Loop | Red Lines: Detours & Alternative Routes

*Road Safety & Disclaimer: Riding a motorbike in Vietnam – or anywhere in the world – has its dangers. I would hope & expect anyone who chooses to pursue a self-drive road trip based on the information on this website does so with care, respect & due diligence. I encourage careful riding & adherence to road rules, but I am not responsible for the legality or manner in which you ride, nor any negative consequences which may result from your decision to ride a motorbike in Vietnam: you do so at your own risk. Read more >

Lam Son Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Lush scenery on the Lam Sơn Loop

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Selected Resources What’s this?

Overview & Details:

Below is a brief at-a-glance overview of the Lam Sơn Loop, followed by more specific details about important considerations, such as accommodation, traffic, food and drink, weather conditions, duration and more:


  • Route: a seldom-travelled loop on empty roads through lush, mountainous landscapes, home to a national hero
  • Distance: 425km (complete loop)
  • Duration: 2-4 days
  • Scenery: limestone mountains, jungles, rivers, valleys, borderlands
  • Attractions: historic sites, empty roads & good riding, remote villages, waterfalls, caves, bamboo waterwheels
  • Road Conditions: good paved roads & narrow back-roads, light traffic, some rough patches
  • Best Time: March-September


  • Section 1: Lam Sơn→Lang Chánh→Quan Sơn | 100km
  • Section 2: Quan Sơn→Yên Thắng→Yên Nhân→Tiền PhongQùy Châu | 160km
  • Section 3: Qùy Châu→Thái Hòa→Như Xuân→Lam Sơn | 165km


Start & End: I’ve chosen the Lê Lợi tomb-temple complex in Lam Sơn as the start/end point for the loop because it is a significant and interesting historic site and because it is easy to get to. But, in reality, you can start or end the route at any point on the loop, particularly if you are linking to the Lam Sơn Loop from other routes in the region, such as the Mường Lống Loop, the Limestone Loop or the Ho Chi Minh Road.

Distances & Sections: The total distance for the loop is 425km. I’ve divided the loop into 3 sections, each of which could relate to one day on the road. However, the distances are relatively short, so it is up to you how long you spend on each section.

Duration: 2-4 days is ideal for this loop. Bear in mind that many of the roads are quite mountainous and some are single lane backroads, which makes riding slower than you might expect. Also, the longer you spend, the more opportunity you’ll have to really make the most of the region, including some detours and sights.

Traffic: There’s hardly any traffic on any of the roads, with the exception of QL48 and the Ho Chi Minh Road, but even these are fairly empty.

Gas Stations: As this is a relatively off-the-beaten-path loop, gas stations are quite irregular. Don’t let your tank run too low before looking to fill up: if you’re below half-full and you see a gas station, fill up! In particular, there is no gas station for 80km on the Tây Nghệ An Road on the east of the loop.

Weather & Time of Year: You can ride the Lam Sơn Loop at any time of year, but March to September has more chance of rich colours, sun, heat (and humidity) and tropical showers, whereas October to February can be dry but bleak and surprisingly cold.

Accommodation: I have marked several places to stay on my map. There isn’t a wide variety of accommodation on this loop, but most hotels are clean, cheap and comfortable if quite basic.

Food & Drink: All towns and villages on the loop have local rice and noodle eateries – look for signs saying cơm-phở. However, as is often the case in rural areas in this part of the country, food is usually only available at mealtimes, so make sure you eat during these hours: 6-8am, 11am-1pm, 5-7pm. Rice dinners are often excellent, large and cheap; breakfast usually consists of phở or bánh mướt (wet rice rolls).

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Limestone karst on the Lam Sơn Loop

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Aromatic bowl of phở in the mountains

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
The Chu River

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Le Lợi tomb & temple complex at Lam Sơn

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Riding the Lam Sơn Loop

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Typical local guest house on the Lam Sơn Loop

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Section 1:

Lam Sơn→Lang Chánh→Quan Sơn | 100km

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Fittingly, the start point for this loop is the tomb and temple complex at Lam Sơn. Also referred to as Lam Kinh, this is birthplace and final resting place of Lê Lợi, who fought a guerilla war against Ming Dynasty troops in the mountains, plains and valleys of Thanh Hóa Province and further afield between 1418-1427. After his victory, Lê Lợi became the first emperor of the Later Lê Dynasty, the longest ruling imperial line in Vietnamese history. Although the area surrounding this historic site is grey, dusty and grim, the complex itself is very well maintained and a pleasant place to wander around – beneath a canopy of ancient trees humming with cicadas – and learn about a man who is regarded among the greatest Vietnamese military heroes. The complex includes Lê Lợi’s modest tomb set among the jungle and a collection of new temples where he is worshipped. The tombs of other Later Lê Dynasty emperors, queens and princes are also scattered about the grounds. It’s worth spending some time here at the beginning of this road trip, because it will establish an historical context for the landscapes that the route will take you through, hopefully making the experience all the richer.

Ride west from Lam Sơn, taking QL47 through a series of bustling towns all with ‘xuân‘ (spring) in their names. After 20km turn off QL47, heading due north on a backroad towards Lang Chánh. Passing through an agricultural valley surrounded by limestone hills, this road is a taste of things to come. An optional detour veers due west to Ma Hao Waterfall (Thác Ma Hao), which is worth it on a hot and humid summer’s day. Lang Chánh is an intersection for several rural roads. Take the backroad heading northwest of town, winding through bamboo forests, remote hamlets and a pretty river valley (including some bumpy sections of road) until it hits QL217. This road is in excellent condition as it heads due west towards Quan Sơn, echoing the meanders of a large river. The scenery is fabulous, with limestone karsts rising vertically from the riverbanks and the Trung Tiến bamboo waterwheels rotating slowly and irrigating the rice paddies, as they might well have done even in Lê Lợi’s time. Enjoy the wonderful ride for 20km until the riverside town of Quan Sơn, where there are shops, rice and noodle eateries and a couple of hotels.

Lam Sơn temple & tomb complex, Thanh Hoa, Vietnam
The stele house at Lê Lợi tomb & temple complex

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Backroad leading through bamboo forests north of Lang Chánh

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Limestone karst above a river on Road QL217

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Bamboo waterwheel for irrigating the fields

Ancient banyan tree, Lam Sơn temple & tomb complex, Thanh Hoa, Vietnam
Ancient banyan tree at Lê Lợi tomb & temple complex

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Section 2:

Quan Sơn→Yên Thắng→Yên Nhân→Tiền PhongQùy Châu | 160km

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This section, from Quan Sơn to Qùy Châu, comprises the western flank of the loop, including the best roads and scenery of the entire route. Cross the river at Quan Sơn and take a backroad heading south towards the hamlet of Yên Thắng. The road immediately leads along a pretty valley with a clear-running stream dwarfed by limestone pillars, casting shadows on the wooden-stilt homes and bamboo waterwheels that dot the banks. Although it starts out as a single-lane paved road, the further south you ride, the wider and better the road conditions get. Curving through thick jungles, the road drops sharply to a junction at Yên Thắng. Here, continue due south in the direction of Yên Nhân. The jungle slowly gives way to agriculture and fertile, farmed valleys before the road hits QL47.

Turn east onto QL47 for just 2km before veering due south on a road that’s one of the least well-known great riding roads in Vietnam. Numbered DT541, this is actually the northern extension of the Tây Nghệ An Road which runs all the way from Mường Xén, 235km southwest of here. This stretch, from Yên Nhân to Sốp Chảo at the junction with QL48, is virtually deserted as it ploughs through a lush landscape of jungled mountains, enormous reservoirs and blue rivers. Road conditions vary from good, single-lane to excellent, newly paved wide sections. The riding is fantastic and so is the scenery. Allow 2-3 hours for this 80km stretch of road, and remember to fill-up with gas beforehand, because there are no filling stations on this road.

At the junction with QL48, head south towards Tiền Phong, perhaps taking a detour to the waterfalls of 7 Tầng, near the Lao border. Tiền Phong has a decent hotel or there’s also the option to continue a little further southwest to Kim Sơn which has several good places to stay. Otherwise, continue on QL48 southeast to Qùy Châu for the night. Alternatively, overnight at one of the homestays in Hoa Tiến village, nearby the bamboo waterwheels and Bua Cave, all set in pretty countryside.

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
DT541 leading through the jungle

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
View of the Chu River from DT541

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
The Tây Nghệ An Road climbing a pass

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
The Chu River Reservoir seen from the Tây Nghệ An Road

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
A new, empty backroad through the jungle

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Section 3:

Qùy Châu→Thái Hòa→Như Xuân→Lam Sơn | 165km

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From Qùy Châu head due southeast on QL48 through a rolling landscape of farmland and forests until the busy, truck-clogged crossroads of Xóm Dinh. Just after this fairly unpleasant intersection, turn due northeast on DT531 to escape the traffic (another option is to continue on QL48 a bit further to Thái Hòa). DT531 weaves through a flat river plain that’s home to the TH True Milk dairy farms and factories, one of the largest produces of dairy products in Vietnam. It’s not scenic, but it is interesting to see where the milk, yogurts and ice cream come from. The road eventually hits QL15, which is the Ho Chi Minh Road. Ride north on this wide, easy-to-ride highway to a small junction at Làng Chuối (alternatively, continue north on the Ho Chi Minh Road all the way back to Lam Sơn to complete the loop).

Turn due west at Làng Chuối onto a small backroad leading through pretty lowland countryside to Như Xuân village. After passing through this remote settlement, take a turn onto an even smaller backroad (with some bumpy sections) heading north into isolated hamlets and lush, hilly scenery all the way to the Chu River (Sông Chu). Cross the bridge and continue due east along the riverbank, past an huge dam and connect with QL47. From here, ride a few kilometres east to return back to the starting point at Lam Sơn, thus completing the loop.

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Bánh mướt for breakfast

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Backroad across a river near the Ho Chi Minh Road

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Buffaloes bathing in the mub

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
Backroad to Như Xuân

Lam Sơn Loop, Motorbike Guide, Vietnam
The Chu River

*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this route and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page


Leave a Comment

Questions, updates and trip reports are all welcome. However, please keep comments polite and on-topic. See commenting etiquette for details.

  1. James says:
    June 10, 2024 at 5:06 AM

    Thanks for another great article Tom.
    Interestingly, my son is a 16th generation descendant of Le Loi. We attended a gathering last year at Lam Son which was quite a unique event for a foreigner.

    1. Tom says:
      June 11, 2024 at 11:35 AM

      Hi James,

      Wow, that’s an impressive lineage! Amazing.



  2. Ryan says:
    June 9, 2024 at 8:26 AM

    Great route! I’ve patched together sections of this over the last two years, except for the section between Yên Nhân and Quan Sơn. The route by the dammed river south of Yên Nhân is spectacular road, but the road really does twist and turn out there as it’s super mountainous and goes through several valleys. I think it took me like 2 hours just to do 40km. I’m leaving Thanh Hoa province soon and am glad to see a bit more love to this part of the country. Less traveled but worth it!

    Also, if you shoot out west towards the border with Laos from Yên Nhân, you’ll reach the “friendship crossing” which foreigners are not allowed to go through, even with a visa. However, it’s really good mountains out there as well but very rough riding.

    1. Tom says:
      June 11, 2024 at 11:31 AM

      Hi Ryan,


      Yes, I’ve always loved Thanh Hoa Province too – in fact one of the first guides I ever wrote for this site was the Thanh Hoa Loop! 🙂