Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: 5 Suggested Routes

Last updated March 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | ROUTES & MAPS | RELATED POSTS

Riding from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike is probably the most popular road trip in Vietnam, and it’s unquestionably one of the best ways to experience the country. For years, travellers simply took the most obvious route: Highway 1. Today, however, thanks to ambitious road building programs, there are far more scenic, pleasant and less trodden ways to ride between the country’s two main cities. Having ridden south to north on numerous occasions (the first time, predictably, on Highway 1), I’ve put together the following 5 suggested motorbike routes from Saigon to Hanoi, so that travellers who are planning this road trip have more of an idea of the kind of options available to them.

Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: 5 Suggested RoutesNew roads have opened up exciting & scenic routes for riding between Saigon & Hanoi

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SAIGON TO HANOI: 5  SUGGESTED ROUTES


ABOUT THESE ROUTES:

The main objective of these routes is to get from Saigon to Hanoi on good roads, passing good scenery, and avoiding traffic-clogged arteries, such as Highway 1, as much as possible. New roads are constantly being constructed, thus improving journey time and opening access to more parts of the country. The suggested routes below are based on my own experience of riding south to north. I’ve designed each route to suit the needs of different travellers; based on scenery and/or time frame. For each of the 5 routes I have: given it a name, written a short description and bullet points of essential information, illustrated it with an image, and plotted it on a map. The route maps include markers containing links to any Vietnam Coracle guides that are relevant to the route, where you’ll find more detailed information about that particular section of the road trip. For other useful resources that will help you plan your Saigon to Hanoi road trip, such as expenses and weather, see Related Posts.


THE ROUTES:

Click a route from the list below to view the map and read the details:

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1. THE CLASSIC:

  • Total Distance: 2,770km
  • Average Duration: 2-4 weeks
  • Road Conditions: paved rural & coastal back-roads, new & old highways
  • Navigation: mostly simple, some tricky bits in central areas
  • Scenery: coast, highlands, mountains, limestone, cities, villages, cultural sites

IMAGE: The Classic route between Saigon and Hanoi

Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: The Classic Route


DESCRIPTION: Weaving a course between coast and highlands, The Classic route is equal parts beach and mountain. Quiet, stunning coastal roads in the south and central provinces yield to a mighty landscape of limestone karsts on the Ho Chi Minh Road in the north-central region. Popular towns and sights, such as Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, the Hai Van Pass, Phong Nha Caves and Ninh Binh are all covered; but so too are off the beaten path areas, such as the beaches around Quy Nhon, the coastal back-roads north of Hue, and the Western Ho Chi Minh Road. It’s the perfect balance of must-see sights and hidden gems. Zoom in on the map below and click the map symbols for links to my guides to specific locations. Enjoy the ride!


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ROUTE MAP: red pins mark major towns, all other markers are links to my guides to specific areas.

  • [View this map in a separate window HERE]

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2. THE BEACH BUM:

  • Total Distance: 2,050km
  • Average Duration: 10 days-3 weeks
  • Road Conditions: new coastal highways, paved rural back-roads
  • Navigation: fairly simple, some tricky bits on the central coast
  • Scenery: coast, beaches, fishing villages, farmland, beach towns, cultural sites

IMAGE: The Beach Bum route between Saigon and Hanoi

Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: The Beach Bum Route


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DESCRIPTION: Echoing Vietnam’s curving coastline for nearly 1,300km, this is the route to choose if you enjoy sand between your toes, playing in the surf, and the sound of the sea at night. Avoiding Highway 1 for most of its course, The Beach Bum route uses jaw-dropping new coast roads and rarely-ridden coastal back-roads to take you to countless deserted beaches, sleepy fishing villages and hedonistic beach towns. Calling in at established beaches, such as Mui Ne and Nha Trang, this route also covers up-and-coming coastal regions, such as Phan Rang, Cam Ranh and Quy Nhon, where the sand and sea are almost completely undisturbed. When the beaches lose their gloss in the north-central provinces, this route takes to the hills along the Ho Chi Minh Road, for a good dose of limestone magic, including the caves at Phong Nha. Zoom in on the map below and click the symbols for links to my guides to specific beaches and coast roads. Enjoy the ride! 


ROUTE MAP: red pins mark major towns, all other markers are links to my guides to specific areas.

  • [View this map in a separate window HERE]

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3. UNCLE HO’S ROAD:

  • Total Distance: 1,880km
  • Average Duration: 10 days-2 weeks
  • Road Conditions: highways & paved mountain roads
  • Navigation: simple & straightforward for the majority of the route
  • Scenery: agricultural plateaus, mountains, limestone, minority villages, war vestiges

IMAGE: Uncle Ho’s Road: the Ho Chi Minh Road from Saigon to Hanoi


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Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: The Ho Chi Minh Road


DESCRIPTION: Surely one of the most evocative road names in the world, The Ho Chi Minh Road is now a fully paved passage from the south of Vietnam to the north. Uncle Ho’s Road might be the shortest route in this list, but it’s also the most mountainous; following the Truong Son Range, which forms the jagged, high-peaked spine of Vietnam. From vast agricultural plateaus, where tea and timber grow in equal number, to the ragged edge of the frontier lands along the border with Laos; from teetering passes above roaring rivers on the western branch-road, to the limestone wonderland at its northern ‘neck’: you’ll bear witness to some of the most dramatic scenery Vietnam has to offer. Sparsely populated for much of the route, some thriving cities (such as Buon Ma Thuot) and charming towns (such as Kon Tum) offer human interaction, as do the multitude of ethnic minority hamlets lining the way. Geological wonders abound, punctuated by war vestiges with hauntingly familiar names, like Khe Sanh. Enjoy the ride!    


ROUTE MAP: red pins mark major towns, all other markers are links to my guides to specific areas.

  • [View this map in a separate window HERE]

[Back to Routes]


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4. THE BIG ONE:

  • Total Distance: 4,180km
  • Average Duration: 3-6 weeks
  • Road Conditions: highways, new coast & mountain roads, paved back-roads
  • Navigation: requires regular map checks & occasionally asking locals
  • Scenery: coast, rivers, limestone, mountains, minority villages, cities, cultural sites 

IMAGE: The Big One: the scenic route between Saigon and Hanoi

Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: The Big One Route


DESCRIPTION: If time is no object, and you want to see everything there is to see between Saigon and Hanoi, both on and off the beaten path, The Big One has it covered. This meandering route zigzags up the country on mountain passes, coastal back-roads, the Ho Chi Minh Road, and new national highways, to create a road trip of epic proportions. Taking in all the best beaches in southern and central Vietnam, twisting through remote valleys in the Central Highlands, corkscrewing through limestone forests on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, and following shimmering rivers from source to mouth; this is the definitive south to north route. Major towns and tourist hotspots, such as Nha Trang, Dalat, Hoi An, Phong Nha Caves and Ninh Binh, are woven into this itinerary to balance all the off-the-grid exploration. Don’t forget to zoom in on the map below and click the symbols for links to my guides to specific regions and sights. Enjoy the ride!


ROUTE MAP: red pins mark major towns, all other markers are links to my guides to specific areas.

  • [View this map in a separate window HERE]


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5. THE EASY RIDER:

  • Total Distance: 2,230km
  • Average Duration: 2-4 weeks
  • Road Conditions: good highways, some back-roads
  • Navigation: easy to follow, a couple of tricky bits on the central coast
  • Scenery: mountains, farmland, coast, cities, fishing villages, cultural sites

IMAGE: The Easy Rider route between Saigon and Hanoi

Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: The Easy Rider Route


DESCRIPTION: Specifically designed for travellers who want a less complicated (but no less scenic) passage from south to north, The Easy Rider route sticks to good-quality roads on a relatively direct route from Saigon to Hanoi which is easily navigated. Switching from coast to highlands on several occasions, this route threads an arcing path through some of Vietnam’s most attractive eye candy: Dip your toes in the southern waters of Mui Ne, Nha Trang and Quy Nhon; escape to the cooler climes of mountain towns such as Dalat and Kon Tum; enjoy the cultural delights of Hoi An and Hue, connected by the Hai Van Pass; and gaze in awe at the limestone dreamscape of the Phong Nha Cave system and along the Ho Chi Minh Road. This is a good, time-saving alternative to The Classic route. Make sure you zoom in on the map below and click the symbols for links to my guides to specific sites along the way. Enjoy the ride!


ROUTE MAP: red pins mark major towns, all other markers are links to my guides to specific areas.


Selected Resources What’s this?

  • [View this map in a separate window HERE]

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RELATED POSTS:

        •  Expenses for a Road Trip:

        •  23 Differences from South to North Vietnam:

        •  Weather in Vietnam:


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393 Responses to Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: 5 Suggested Routes

  1. Bob Vermeulen says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’ll give an update for the QL48C – QL7A loop west of the Ho Chi Minh Road which is shortly mentioned in “The Big One”
    West of Quy Hop QL48C is all the way up to the small settlement of Xieng Lip in good condition. Wide, empty and in good condition.
    Don’t miss the beautiful sight of 6 wooden/bamboo watermills standing in line just next of the bridge at the H4-61 roadmarker.
    From Xieng Lip to Ban Ve the road suddenly becomes much smaller and road conditions degrade. In fact, at Xieng Lip the best road goes south on what looks like a small road on Google Maps but actually it is an much better road serving as a shortcut to QL7A. After 18 km at the bridge over Ca River the main road goes left for another 9 km along the borders of an artificial lake (only visible on Maps if you zoom in) but just before the bridge, a smaller and more scenic road goes right (as shown on Maps). At QL7A right direction Laos or left direction Con Cuong for Pu Mat National Park.
    Pu Mat is well worth exploring for a full day. There’s a beautiful, paved, road all the way up in the mountains to the incredible 150 metre high Khe Kem waterfall. Sun could be shining in the valley and rain at the top. In Pu Mat you can make a beautiful 40 km loop through gorgeous valleys surrounded by karst mountains, along orchards and teagardens. At the most southern end of the loop near Mon Son there’s a boatlanding for rivertrips. But beware: you entered the border area with Laos (there’s a sign next to the road). Not all officials like foreigners going around without a guide and I was told to immediately go back same way I came.
    Several hotels and guesthouses in Con Cuong including new Muong Thanh hotel. Room with great views over the river and mountains for 680.000 VND. Inside the park homestays in the small village of Yen Khe.
    So, if time permits, it’s a beautiful loop with mostly good roads, great scenery, karst mountains, valleys, waterfalls and very kind people.
    Best regards,
    Bob

    • Tom says:

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you for sharing this information. It’s really great to hear that QL48C is now in good condition; and that’s a great tip about the short cut back to QL7A.

      I’ve enjoyed Khe Kem Waterfall and the roads surrounding it for many years – it’s a wonderful little corner of Vietnam that generally gets overlooked by travellers.

      Thanks again, and I’m looking forward to getting back to this area and riding around.

      Tom

  2. Chi says:

    Hi.
    So glad to have find your blog and thank you for the great information.
    Just like to ask, how much can the GIVI box carry in real use? because the spec of most of the box is only 4-5kg, I can’t imagine that is practical.

    • Tom says:

      Hi,

      Yes, that’s what I thought when I first bought a GIVI box. But you can buy a reinforced frame for the box – this means you can load your GIVI box much heavier. I’ve used it for over 10 years for road trips, camping trips etc and it’s never let me down, never broken the frame.

      Tom

  3. Stephen says:

    Hey Tom,

    Awsome website, thanks so much for putting all this together! My brother and I are heading to Vietnam next weekend. I was planning to ride Saigon to Hanoi but my brother only got 2 weeks off work so might be a little ambitious given our 12 days or so. Was wondering if you had a suggestion for best route to take with that amount of time, considering average weather for late January? Also seeing as we may have to end the ride south of Hanoi, any suggestions on places to stop where it would be a short connection to Hanoi via plane/train/bus?

    Thanks!

    Steve

    • Tom says:

      Hi Steve,

      The best weather at that time of year is in the south. Most places south of Danang should get at least some good weather, but the best weather is best south of Nha Trang. Most places north of Danang at that time of year can get surprisingly cold and grey at times. But of course you can’t guarantee anything when it comes to weather.

      12 days isn’t really enough time to ride south to north. With your time frame I suggest taking a look at the Classic and Easy Rider routes. And to get a ‘head start’ you could consider getting the rental company to ship you bike somewhere, such as Phan Thiet or Nha Trang.

      As for where to end, I’d suggest finishing in Phong Nha, from where you can send you bikes on the train to Hanoi.

      Remember also, that the Lunar New Year holiday is the last week of January – this is one of the worst times to travel because popular destinations get extremely busy with domestic tourists.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  4. Chelsea says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you so much for your detailed posts about the various trip options and necessities. My partner and I are leaving from Hanoi this coming Sunday, and we have referred to your insight numerous times during our planning (attempts). We will be traveling for roughly 16-18 days (hopefully) from Hanoi to Saigon. I’m not sure if this has been addressed elsewhere, but I wanted to ask: do you suggest a stop between Ninh Binh and Phong Nha? If so, where? We are working out our projected stops still, and I am concerned the distance between those two places is too much for a single day on the motorbike.

    Please let me know your thoughts if you have a chance. Nevertheless, thank you again for your information on your site!

    All the best,
    Chelsea

  5. Jerome Honorio says:

    Hello Tom!

    marvellous blog! I ahve devoured most of it already.

    I m planning with my father(64yo but fit) from the 25th December to do the Huncle Ho road in 10 to 12 days.
    is it worth the landscapes this time of the year?
    is it a too big detour to go to the Golden Bridge from this track?
    last question its “easier” Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh or Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi on this time of the year?

    big thanks on advance!

    • Hi Jerome,

      Your itinerary is fine, but you will be riding every day if you only have 10 days.

      The weather at that time of year can get worse the further north you go. So which way you ride it depends on whether you want the good weather at the beginning or end of your trip.

      I don’t think it’s worth the detour to see the bridge – it’s just an Instagram photo stop.

      The best landscapes on Uncle Ho’s Road are between Kon Tum all the way to 100km north of Phong Nha – this is some of the best scenery and riding anywhere in Vietnam. However, because it’s the mountains, there’s always the chance of bad weather.

      For much more detail about this route, see my Ho Chi Minh Road Guide.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  6. Matt S. says:

    Tom,

    Thank you so much for all of your info. I am planning my route using “the big one” heading south from Hanoi in a week. Had a few follow-ups after digging through your various guides:

    1. I didn’t find any linked guides (south of Golden Loop but North of the beaches) that addressed the stretch between Non Tum and Quy Nhon. Per Google, this is +300 KM, which is two days of comfortable riding for me. Can you recommend a town and place to stay in between, and maybe some additional info on this stretch? Please point me to a guide if I have missed it.
    2. Same for #1 but from ~Tuy How -> Buon Ma Thuot -> Dalat -> Nha Trang. Although, each of these segments feels reasonable to do in one day (by distance at least), I couldn’t find any linked guides.
    3. How would you adapt the Big One route at all for this time of year? Particularly concerned with the weather in Phu Yen and Quy Nhon per your mention of monsoons, etc. but the beaches look amazing and I wouldn’t want to miss.

    Thank you in advance!

    Matt

    • Hi Matt,

      You could take a look at my guide to the Road East of the Long Mountains to connect some of those places.

      As for places to stop, you’re never too far away from a nhà nghỉ (local guest house) – see this page for details.

      If there aren’t linked guides on the map then I either haven’t written a guide to that particular area, or if I have it’ll be marked on my Vietnam Coracle Map.

      Regards weather conditions, at that time of year it is quite likely that conditions between Hanoi and Danang (particularly between Vinh and Hue) could be grey and wet. South of Danang should be OK, but it can also be wet around Nha Trang and Quy Nhon at that time of year.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Matt S says:

        thank you for the reply! one follow-up: is it possible to use your custom routes as step-by-step directions/navigation in google maps or other apps? I’ve searched around online a bit and cant figured it out. In other words, how do you recommend we use your routes day-to-day, while riding?

        All the best,
        Matt

        • Hi Matt,

          You can’t get google directions on my maps. Most people would simply open my routes maps on their phone and follow it. You can, for example, export my maps then open them in maps.me app. To do this: open one of my maps, export the map to KML, then upload that file to maps.em, then you should be able to follow my route on your phone in real time. Sometimes the process is different for different devices and browsers, so if it doesn’t work try googling something like ‘how to export a google map to KML using (device name) and (browser name).

          I hope this helps,

          Tom

  7. Jack Wood says:

    Hi Tom

    Some very insightful information provided so thank you for that. I am planning on travelling one of the routes during January – February. How is the weather likely to be during these times in South and North Vietnam

    Jack

    • Hi Jack,

      At that time of year the weather in most places south of Danang should be OK, but in many areas north of Danang it can be quite bleak and surprisingly cold. For more about weather in Vietnam take a look at this page. And some more about the Southern Dry Season on this page.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  8. Jonas says:

    Hey Tom,
    Great Routes!
    We are planning to travel from Saigon to Da Nang in December. We have 10 days time but are unsure about the weather conditions. Do you think weather will be good in December to make this trip by motorbike?

    Greetings from Singapore

    • Hi Jonas,

      10 days is OK to ride between Saigon and Danang.

      In December the weather should be OK between Saigon and Nha Trang, but it might start to get worse (more rain) as you move north from Nha Trang up to Danang.

      The week before you go try looking at the satellite weather map rain for rain & thunder on Windy.com – it’s quite accurate.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  9. Steph says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much, not sure how to pick between some of those routes!

    If you were to pick any time of year to go, when would you choose? I’m flexible to go anytime but not sure what months would be most suitable.

    Cheers,
    Steph

    • Hi Steph,

      In general, the best times of year to ride the length of the country are: April-May and September-October. This is when the weather conditions are pretty similar throughout the country.

      Vietnam has a very complex and difficult to predict climate. You’ll find some more information about weather in Vietnam and when to go where on this page.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  10. Devante C. says:

    Hey Tom,

    First off, great info man. This is extremely helpful for people who have never done anything this epic, like myself.

    Now, to my question;

    I am looking to ride through Vietnam starting from Hanoi down to Saigon in mid November for about 10-14 days. My friend and I want to definitely ride through the country but also we would like to spend a day or two in the places we actually liked. At this time of the year, what route would you suggest for seeing beaches and country (weather permitting) and would we need possibly include trains w/ bikes in our itinerary?

    Again, the info is a lifesaver brotha and would like to pick your brain a bit more before my trip.

    Cheers from Seattle,
    Devante

    • Hi Devante,

      Because the weather at that time of year can be quite bad between Hanoi and Hue, I would suggest starting your trip from either Dong Hoi (near Phong Nha) or Hue or Danang – you can arrange to have you rental bikes sent there. From there, you can take any of the first three routes on this page above – they’re all suitable for good scenery and towns – although obviously the Beach Bum has more beaches and beach towns, whereas Uncle Ho’s Road has more mountains and highland towns.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  11. Andy says:

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for all this info. I’ll be heading to Vietnam in late Sept and spending a little longer than two weeks doing your Easy Rider route. Any tips on what to pack other than clothing/rain gear/the usual personal items? Specifically, I’m seeing the packs on the back of most motorbikes and wondering if that’s something I should arrive with or something I should buy once I’m in Vietnam. Is a backpacking pack the most convenient to travel with?

    • Hi Andy,

      Not much in particular. Good sunglasses for using on the bike. Clothes for getting dirty during the day on the bike and a change of clean clothes for the evening.

      Yes, most people strap backpacks on the back of their bikes, but some people also do that with cases, too. Another option is to rent a bike with GIVI boxes, which are secure, waterproof and very convenient – some of the rental companies offer bike with these boxes.

      Tom

  12. Michael says:

    Hi Tom,

    I am motorbiking down from Hanoi to Saigon in either late September or start of October. From what I understand, this is a good time of year to visit the North, and by the end of the trip (late October/early November) it should be a good time to visit the South. However, the central part is in the height of its rainy season. I want to make the most of the weather so am thinking of visiting Ha Giang before starting and also visiting Pu Luong.

    What places are best to visit/avoid at this time of year? Do you think it will make much of a difference starting from the 20th of September or the 1st of October?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I am a huge fan of this blog, it’s incredibly detailed and helpful. Thank you for the effort you have put in to it.

    Cheers

    • Hi Michael,

      Yes, that’s generally right about the weather. And, yes, I would definitely start earlier rather than later. This is partly because of the weather, but also partly because of the harvest colours: by October the rice might be harvested already, which means you will miss the incredible colours of the rice terraces.

      Yes, starting with Ha Giang, then on to Pu Luong is a good idea. Unfortunately, it is quite likely that many areas south of Pu Luong all the way down to Danang could be quite grey, rainy and miserable at that time of year.

      In the south, check out the coastal regions of Quy Nhon and Phu Yen, and the coastal road between Nha Trang and Phan Thiet (perhaps stop by Cam Lap). Or head inland on the Truong Son Dong Road, and the Back-Ways to Dalat.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Michael says:

        Thanks so much for the advice.

        If I were to skip Ha Giang, and head to Pu Luong around the 21st of September, would that mean it would be a bit more sun/less grey and rainy between Pu Luong and Danang?

  13. Eline says:

    Hello Tom,

    Thank you for all these precious info, your blog is great!
    I am planning to do the Easy Rider from Hanoi to HCMC from 3rd August. I have my flight back on 19th August but I would like to do 1-2 days in Mekong area before leaving, do you think I’ll have enough time?
    Thanks for your help,

    Eline

    • Hi Eline,

      Well, if you think about it terms of average daily distance that might help: the total distance of the Easy Rider is 2,230km, divided by 14 days is around 160km each day. This is very doable. As a general guide, your average speed (not including stops) will be roughly 40-50km per hour.

      Depending on what your plans are for the Mekong Delta, I would suggest spending those extra two days on the Easy Rider route instead. This is because the best parts of the Mekong are much deeper in the region than any 1-2 days tour can access.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  14. Roy says:

    Hi Tom,

    I was thinking of doing uncle ho’s road from HCMC to Hanoi, I’ll be in the area for the next 1.5 months, the thing is I’m a rather beginner biker, I wanted to ask for your suggestion about this route considering weather and road quality.

    Thanks a lot,

    Roy

    • Hi Roy,

      The road quality is mostly good on that route. For a beginner, the most difficult parts will be getting in/off of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – this can be very busy, chaotic and polluted. You need to take it very carefully and expect it to be quite a grim ride for the first hour or two. After that, conditions and traffic are much better.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  15. Roy says:

    Hi Tom,

    I am visiting Vietnam from mid June to the end of July, I wish to do uncle ho’s road from Saigon to hanoi, but I am a rather beginner biker, also I was wondering about the weather during this time and I ask for any suggestions you might have.

    • Hi Roy,

      Weather at that time of year will be quite similar all over the country: hot and humid in the mornings, clouding over towards the afternoons, and some heavy tropical downpours. Therefore, you should plan to do most of your riding in the first part of the day, so that you can avoid the rains.

      For much more details of the entire Uncle Ho’s Road route, see this guide.

      Tom

  16. Jan says:

    Hey Tom,

    my friend and me want to make a 2.5 week long motorbiketour through Vietnam during July and August. As these months are in the middle of the rain season we are struggeling in doing this. In some blogs they highly recommend not to go during this time. Did you experienced a motorcycletour through Vietnam in this time? Is there a special “rain season tour” you would recommend? We were even thinking about travelling to an other country in Asia to make a motorcycle tour but the rain season might be in whole Asia, isn’t it?

    It would really help us to get information out of first hand.

    • Hi Jan,

      It should be fine to ride during those months – the weather at that time of year is pretty similar all across the country: dry, bright, sunny and very hot in the mornings, then getting more humid and cloudy in the afternoons followed by heavy tropical showers. Just try to do most of your riding in the first part of the day.

      Tom

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