Saigon to Hanoi: The Scenic Route

*Please note: this is a very old post; for more recent information read Saigon to Hanoi: 5 Routes

Eight years ago I came to Vietnam to do a TEFL course in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). On the first day of the teacher training course I met lots of new and interesting people. One of them, Sam, became one of my closest friends. Sam left Vietnam after 7 months, but now he’s back for three weeks to finish what he started eight years ago: riding the length of the country on a motorbike: Saigon to Hanoi!

Our journey will be just shy of 2,500km. The vast majority of the roads will be quiet and scenic: from dry, sandy, coastal back-roads in the south, to meandering mountain passes in the central provinces, and the increasingly famous limestone landscape along the Lao border on the Ho Chi Minh Road, near Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Only 200km of the entire route will be on the notoriously dusty, dirty, and busy Highway 1: most of the time – if all goes according to plan – we’ll have the roads to ourselves.

I’ll be adding photos to this post over the next couple weeks as we make our way from Saigon to Hanoi. You can also follow our road trip on my Twitter, Facebook and Google+ pages, where I will be posting updates, photos and videos along the way. Below are a map of our route and a video of some of the places we are going to see. (Thanks go to the ever-efficient staff at Rent a Bike Hanoi for providing us with one of our bikes).

Me (left) & Sam (right)

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Route Map

Key:

  • CLICK on any of the PINS to see a PHOTO and DESCRIPTION of the place it marks
  • RED PINS: some of the bigger towns and cities on the route
  • BLUE PINS: scenic spots and places of interest
  • GREEN PINS: places I’ve written guides to on VietnamCoracle.com and links to them

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Photos

Saigon: 1-3 Aug

Finding a helmet that fits isn’t easy!
8 years of waiting for that hit of Vietnamese caffeine: strong!
Just another lunch in Saigon
Reunion: meeting up with old acquaintances
A bit of tennis in the sunshine
Searching for some ‘pick-me-up’ herbs for our long journey, in Saigon’s Chinatown
1-2-3 YO!! Last night in Saigon

The Coast: 4-10 Aug:

Taking time out on the ocean road
Street food doesn’t get any better than this! (Phan Thiet city)
Riding through dramatic storms on the coast road
Breakfast on the street: the graffiti on the wall says ‘noodle soup’
Lunch on the rocks on Hòn Góm sandbar: miles of empty beach
Sea snails with lemongrass & coriander in Quy Nhơn city
Admiring the view south of Quy Nhơn.
Delicious little bánh bèo rice cakes by the roadside in the countryside
Sam’s birthday present: cocktails by the pool at Life Wellness Resort, Quy Nhơn

The Mountains: 11-20 Aug

View from the first of many mountain passes (Quang Ngai Province)
View from the first of many mountain passes (Quang Ngai Province)
Camping on our first night in the mountains, by a river in the jungle
Bathing in the river by our campsite
Bathing in the river by our campsite
A warming lunch of 'mountain' food in rainy, misty Kon Tum Province
A warming lunch of ‘mountain’ food in rainy, misty Kon Tum Province
At A Luoi my speedomter reached 100,000 kilometres!
At A Luoi my speedomter reached 100,000 kilometres: took 6 years to get there
Fueling up for a day on the road with 3 strong Vietnamese black coffees (A Luoi, Thua Thien Hue Province)
Fueling up for a day on the road with 3 strong Vietnamese black coffees: A Luoi, Thua Thien Hue Province
Campfire in the Truong Son Mountains, near the Lao border
Campfire in the Truong Son Mountains, near the Lao border
The West Ho Chi Minh Road is spectacular & completely empty
The West Ho Chi Minh Road is spectacular & completely empty
Taking it all in!
Taking time on the road to stop & take it all in!
Dog meat is very popular in northern Vietnam...and it's delicious.
Dog meat is very popular in northern Vietnam…and it’s delicious.
Waterfalls offer great massages!
Waterfalls offer great massages!
A last goodbye to the mountains at sunset
A last goodbye to the mountains at sunset

Hanoi: 21-23 Aug:

Made it! Sam & I after a celebratory run around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Made it! Sam & I after a celebratory run around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Street food in Hanoi is always excellent: this is Bun Rieu Nam Bo
Street food in Hanoi is always excellent: this is Bun Rieu Nam Bo
Sam bids an emotional farewell to his bike (The Red Growler) in Hanoi
Sam bids an emotional farewell to his bike (The Red Growler) in Hanoi

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Video

A montage of scenery & sights on our route (for more videos from our trip click HERE):

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126 Responses to Saigon to Hanoi: The Scenic Route

  1. Surinder Mann says:

    Hi Tom,
    Just this morning I thought of traveling to Vietnam for three weeks coming March, and was lucky to hit your site which is very informative and useful, though I still need to go through all the emails and your responses to them,
    I intend taking a road trip and have the following queries please and seek your assistance.
    1. Which route covers the maximum ‘must see places’ in Vietnam; as well as covers the mountains as well as the beaches.
    2. I am quite comfortable riding a bike, but is there any chance of getting a car or a camper for the trip.
    3. Is it convenient to find home stays, back packers hostels along the route, or is hotels the only option. I prefer these to hostels.
    4. I would be traveling solo, how safe would that be.
    5. Is there a possibility to find like minded travel partners for the road trips,.
    6. What kind of comfortable budget must one be planning on a three week trip.
    7. Which bike would you recommend which is stable on the road and has power as well.
    8. Does one need an international driving licence for riding a bike.
    My apologies , if that was too much to ask, may have some more as well 🙂
    Thank you for the good job you are doing in assisting the travellers with your experience.
    Cheers,
    Mann

    • Hi Mann,

      For a choice of routes take a look at my 5 Suggested Routes from Saigon to Hanoi. Some of them cover the mountains and the coast. And then for the northern mountains, take a look at my Northern Routes Archive.

      At the moment, foreigners are not allowed to rent cars.

      In the bigger towns and cities you can always find lots of hotels and hostels, but in smaller places you can find ‘nhà nghỉ’ – these are local Vietnamese guest houses – you can read more about them here.

      Yes, travelling solo in Vietnam should be fine. It is still a very safe country to travel in. Just take all the normal safety precautions you would when travelling in any other country and you should be fine.

      You will probably meet other riders on your road trip and in the towns you stop at. You can also post on the Vietnam Back Road Facebook page if you want to find other people to travel with.

      I’ve written a guide to expenses for a motorbike road trip in Vietnam here.

      There are lots of bikes to choose from. Personally, I use an automatic scooter, which is fine for all the routes on this website. But some people prefer a semi-automatic, or a bigger bike that can also go off-road. Try contacting some of the trusted and reliable motorbike rental companies listed in the right sidebar and bottom of every page of my website to see what bikes are available. Try Rent a Bike Vietnam, Tigit Motorbikes, and Dragon Bikes. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.

      Technically you need a local driving license to ride in Vietnam, but in reality very few foreigners riding in Vietnam have one. You can ask for more information about this from the rental companies too.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  2. Laura says:

    Hello,
    That looks so amazing what you did! I’m going to Vietnam tomorrow and thought about doing a bike tour as well…
    Do you think this route is okay for a solo female traveler ?
    And did you rent the motorbikes there or are those yours ?

    Cheers Laura

    • Hi Laura,

      Yes, doing this kind of trip as a solo female is fine – and you’ll definitely bump into other travellers along the way.

      This is quite an old post now, so for much more recent route advice and information take a look at my 5 Suggested Saigon-Hanoi Routes.

      I own two bikes, but renting is easy and efficient these days. Check out the links in the right sidebar and bottom of this page (and all my pages) for my recommended and trusted bike rental companies. Just email any of them for more information. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.

      For more helpful bits and pieces, browse my Resources Archive.

      I hope this helps get you started.

      Tom

    • sandro says:

      Laura i wish you all the best! i plan doing that in february and am now collecting informations. can‘t wait to do this trip. enjoy jour time and good luck & great memories.
      cheers, sandro ??

  3. David says:

    Hi Tom —

    For first time visitors to Vietnam, do you recommend taking the direct coastal route from Nha Trang to Mui Ne or the inland route from Nha Trang to Dalat to Mui Ne?

    Thanks.

  4. Mark says:

    Hey, you say that your friend came back to Vietnam to finish what he started. Does this mean he failed the first time? Or did he come back and pick up where he left off?

  5. Gavin says:

    Hi Tom,

    Website has been very helpful, originally with my 27 day trip i planned to do 10 in Cambodia but now im thinking do all of it in Vietnam by bike and skip Cambodia, especially since i go from Jan to Feb through the spring festival so i think it would be good for me to shack up somewhere for a few days over that and take my time with the whole trip. Unless you have any alternate suggestions, maybe you think I could do both? I start HCMC finish in Hanoi 27 days later but would need days either side to buy and sell bike.

    Unfortunately none of your maps work on my computer. When i click them and sign in google says ‘admin.google.com is for G Suite accounts only. Regular gmail accounts cannot be used to sign in to admin.google.com.’ Dont really know that that means but maybe its down to me being in China and having to use a VPN, could you please privately email me all of your recommended routes if its not too much trouble: [email protected]

    Secondly, how easy are road signs to follow in vietnam? are they numbered or are they in vietnamise which would be more difficult to follow.

    Any maps you recommend buying beforehand?

    Weather across Jan- Feb looks dry and mild, so just some warm clothing for on the bike?

    Also any apps you recommmend for any aspect of being in Vietnam but particularly for maps, as i saw previously you mentioned google maps is not perfect.

    Thanks in advance
    Gavin

    • Hi Gavin,

      Yes, I think you should spend all 27 days in Vietnam, but of course I’m biased. There’s plenty to keep you busy in Vietnam for a 27 day road trip. But you should be aware that the weather will be progressively colder and wetter as you move from south to north at that time of year. Take a look at my Weather Guide for more details.

      Strange about the maps, but yes maybe it’s because you’re in China. I have emailed you links to the 5 route maps.

      Road signs are not too difficult to follow in Vietnam, but don’t rely only on them to find out if you’re going in the right direction. If you constantly cross-reference my routes maps, the GPS on your phone, a paper map, road signs, and your own instinct and sense of direction you should be absolutely fine. My favourite paper map is the Travel Map of Vietnam, it’s updated every year. More details about that here (note: the road atlas is now out of print)

      You’ll definitely need cold weather clothing in the north at that time of year – don’t trust the weather forecasts for Vietnam, they are generally unreliable.

      Maps.me is another good map app to have, but Google Maps is better now than it was before – just don’t put you’re faith in any one map – always cross-reference.

      If you’re planning on buying a motorbike and then selling it at the end of your trip, I recommend you contact Tigit Motorbikes. There are links to their website in the right sidebar and bottom of all my pages. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me. For a bit more information about buying/renting motorbikes read this.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  6. Nynne Munk says:

    Hey,

    Awesome post about your trip – sounds absolutely amazing! I’m planning on doing the same trip from December 21st till January 13th – do you think that would be fine for a timeframe? Also, I really wanted to spend a couple of days at Ha Long Bay, but don’t know if I can fit it into the trip – would that require extra time, or do you think it’s doable? Last question – do you know if there are any particular places to find a travel buddy? I don’t mind doing parts of it alone, but would also like company (especially if the bike breaks down and I panic 😉 ).

    Thanks for all your advice!

    Nynne

    • Hi Nynne,

      2-3 weeks is a decent amount of time to do it, but the more time you have the better your trip will be. How long it takes depends on which route you choose. For a more south to north route ideas and details about the time it takes, have a look at my 5 Suggested Routes from Saigon to Hanoi.

      You could do a quick day/night tour of Halong Bay direct from Hanoi if you really want to fit that in.

      For finding travel buddies, you can try posting on the Vietnam Back-Roads Facebook page.

      You might also want to think about the weather at that time of year (it’s better in the south in December), and take a look at my Expenses guide too.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  7. Charline Moreau says:

    Hello!
    Thank you so much for the info and your posts!
    In december during christmas and NYE I plan to do a motorbike ride in the south of vietnam, wanting to start from Da Nang/Hoi, ride to Saigon, maybe explore some outlaying islands if I have enough time and take my return flight directly from Saigon
    Is there any possiblity to give the bike back in Saigon??
    Also, I am a girl and 24 years old. Do you think it is an issue to travel alone? I will make overnight stops at backpacker hostels most probably.
    Any recommended routes along the coast?
    Thanks a lot for your help in advance!
    Charline

    • Hi Charline,

      Travelling as a solo female in Vietnam shouldn’t be a problem. Vietnam is still a very safe country in which to travel. Take all the usual precautions that you would when travelling to any other country and you will be fine.

      Yes, you can arrange a bike from Danang and give it back in Saigon. Try contacting Rent a Bike Vietnam (they have an office in Danang) and Tigit Motorbikes in Saigon – there are links to both of them in the right sidebar and bottom of this page. For a bit more information about renting motorbikes read this.

      For coastal route ideas from Danang to Saigon, take a look at the relevant parts of my Beach Bum route. Also, browse through my Coastal Routes Archive to see what appeals to you. Definitely don’t miss the superb Ocean Road from Nha Trang to Saigon.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  8. Luke says:

    Hi Tom,

    Very impressed n interested these your trail stories, also I have a plan to motorbike trip during 10days from HCMC till Hanoi.
    Every your pictures makes me happy and fun.
    Is it possible to ride this trail within 10days? I’m opened with any your tip or comment.
    I’m really lookin forward to flight Vietnam on next week. XD
    Thanks for these your stories.

    Luke

    • Hi Luke,

      Firstly, please take a look at my 5 Suggested Routes from Saigon to Hanoi.

      With only 10 days it is possible to ride from HCMC to Hanoi but you will be riding a lot every day, and with 10 days you should only do it if you have experience riding a motorbike.

      If you do a shorter ride you will have more time to enjoy it. There are lots of good rides in the south that are easily accessible from HCMC. Take a look at my guides to road trips in southern Vietnam HERE.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  9. Alex says:

    Nice Layout Tom.
    Gonna Be In Vietnam from Sept 20-0ct 25
    Considering doing your Classic Route.
    Just wondering how weather will be riding this time of year.
    Foresee any problems?
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Hi Alex,

      September is a good all-round time of year to do it – it’s hot, sunny, wet and humid across the country. If you’re unlucky then you might run into a typhoon in the north-central provinces, but there’s not much you can do about that except wait it out for a couple of days.

      For more detailed information about conditions, take a look at my Weather guide.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  10. David says:

    Hey Tom
    Just started to look into doing a road trip from South to North Vietnam and your blog is a great way to start when it comes to excellent information.I havent had time to read all the comment to see if someone else has asked or not ,but when on your motorbike in the hills and more rural routes how often are there stops to fill up with petrol? I have problems and worry in the Highlands of Scotland sometimes ,is it the same as Thailand/India where there are random stalls with Evian bottles filled up?
    Hope you can help and many thanks for saving me a lot of time.

    Plus answering all of the comments !!! in this busy world so very commendable!

    Cheers

    David

    • Hi David,

      For the vast majority of areas in Vietnam, getting gas is not a problem at all. Just as you say, either there’s a gas station or a rudimentary gas ‘station’ in the form of a small pump or bottles of gas. In most of my guides, if there’s a section of road that has limited gas stations on it then I will mention it. In particular, the Western Ho Chi Minh Road between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha is very isolated. However, there is a gas station under construction there right now which will probably be finished by the time you visit.

      I’m glad you like the site. If you’re riding Saigon to Hanoi, don’t forget to have a look at my 5 Suggested Routes. I hope this helps.

      Tom

  11. Ross Chandler says:

    Hi Tom,
    This is a great resource. Thank you!
    I’m organising my first bicycle tour for Dec-Jan riding from HCMC to Danang. I’m looking at taking this route. From my research a lot of people have commented that the ride from Dalat to Nha Trang is very nice. I’m wondering if I should head straight for the coast from HCMC as you describe or head North-east first till I hit Danang and then get on the coastal route. Have you done both of these routes?

  12. Nasci says:

    Hi again Tom.
    The recent news about ex-HCMC trains to Da Nang now leaving from Bien Hoa has made me slightly nervous, as I was planning on taking the train, along with my bike on it, back to Da Nang in mid-July after coming down the coast from Da Nang.
    I was wondering if you’ve heard of tix being hard to get bc of the station change, or if you would know when tix for July would be on sale, if there is any system like this for tix?
    Tix for passengers can be bought online in English I see, but I was wondering what can be done to get a tix for the bike ahead of time, perhaps from overseas. I’d be stuck if I was not able to put my bike on the train when I arrive at the station in Bien Hoa sans tix for the bike.
    Any advice?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Nasci,

      According the the government, the bridge should be fixed by July.

      Anyway you can still send your bike by train from Saigon to Danang, it just takes a bit longer than usual. You should probably allow at least 2-3 days for your bike to be transported from Saigon to Danang by train. Alternatively, you should be able to transport it by bus – in which case you will be travelling on the same bus as your bike (when you go by train, your bike will not be travelling on the same train as you).

      As far as I know, it is not possible to book bikes on the train online. However, you should be able to book your passenger and your bike tickets at Danang train station before you ride south to Saigon. The bike transportation company is called Door to Door – look for their office at Danang station – they are usually very efficient and have all the prices listed. Or you could ask your hotel in Danang to book it for you.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  13. Tommy says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for all of the information on your website. It is beyond helpful. I’ve been living in HCMC for the past year and have yet to visit the rest of the country so I’m planning the motorbike trip.

    The part I’m unsure about is Pu Mat National Park. I’ve just calculated my route and distance at about 270 kilometers from Phong Nha National Park. I’m using your route from Phong Nha to Pu Mat. Were you able to drive there in one day? And was accommodation available at Pu Mat National Park? I read briefly about Thai or Dan Lai Village on their website, but I can’t seem to find more on it.

    Thanks,
    Tommy

    • Hi Tommy,

      Take a look at my more recent article: 5 Suggested Routes from Saigon to Hanoi. You’ll find more information on routes there.

      There wasn’t much at Pu Mat National Park when I was there. But there are guesthouses in the towns on Highway 7. Yes, if you wanted to you could ride from Phong Nha to Pu Mat in one day, or you could stop for the night in Pho Chau instead.

      Last time I was in the area, some homestays were starting up around Con Cuong but I couldn’t find information online about it.

      If this is your first road trip out of Saigon Pu Mat is fairly off the beaten path.

      I’m currently on the road in order to update my Ho Chi Minh Road Guide (which includes Phong Nha and Pho Chau). It should be finished in the next few days – if you want to get a notification when it’s published you can subscribe to my posts here.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  14. Tom says:

    Great article, thanks for taking the trouble. I am planning to do this next year in two weeks, i see from some other comments that this is do-able providing we are happy to ride every day. Is it generally easy to walk stright into accommodation when you arrive or is it better to try to book the next night’s stay in advance? there will be 6 of us traveling.

    Thanks in advance
    Tom

    • Hi Tom,

      Yes, two weeks is OK for this route, but as you mentioned, you’ll be riding every day. For much more about routes, time and distances from Saigon to Hanoi take a look at my most recent guide here.

      It’s not really necessary to book accommodation in advance unless you are travelling on a national holiday. However, with 6 of you in the group and with a relatively short amount of time for the trip, it might be a good idea to book at least some of your hotels in advance. If you do decide to book any in advance it would be great if you started your hotel search from the Agoda search box (in the right sidebar of this page and all my pages) as I will receive a small commission from Agoda if you end up making a booking – which is, of course, much appreciated.

      Have a great trip,

      Tom

  15. Rich says:

    Hey Tom,

    Trip had been fantastic so far, but I have another question for you.

    I’m currently in Hue and want to make it to Khe Sanh to pick up the Ho Chi Minh Road. I know I can take highway 1, but I could also take a more indirect route of rt 49 to the HCMR south of Khe Sanh and work my way north. Is there any reason, aside from the extra hour of travel time, that I might not want to do that (bad roads perhaps)? Is the drive significantly nicer? don’t mind the extra time, just want your opinion on which would be the better route. Thanks!

    • Hi Rich,

      Yes, Road QL49 is a better option, however a couple of readers have mentioned that there is some construction on that road at the moment. Another option is to take the coastal back-roads from Hue to Dong Ha and then head up to the Ho Chi Minh Road at Khe Sanh on Road QL9 – zoom in to the relevant section of this map to see the coastal back-roads from Hue.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Rich says:

        Tom, this was great. Thanks so much.

        If you had three days of riding between Photo Chau and Hanoi, what would your ideal route be? Doing my planning now and would love to hear your thoughts.

        • Hi Rich,

          I’d head north on the Ho Chi Minh Road to Hanoi, but with some detours and stops along the way: If time allows, I’d go up west on Road QL7 to the limestone landscape, rivers and waterfalls around Con Cuong; I’d ride at least some of the Limestone Loop; I’d spend a night somewhere near Cuc Phuong National Park (the Quang Duc Homestay, if it’s still there), or take a look at Ho Citadel.

          I hope this helps,

          Tom

  16. Rich says:

    Hey Tom

    I’ve been following your route the past few days and it’s been truly wonderful. Thank you so much for all the work you put into the site. Its been my primary resource. I bought the day pass at the Ho Tram Resort and Spa yesterday and really enjoyed it. Unlike anything I could ever afford in the states.

    Anywho, I have a question for you. Right now I’m in Mui Ne. Do you think, provided I start at dawn, that I could get to Nha Trang before dark tomorrow and still be able to properly enjoy the beauty of the coast? I’ve read the three guides between the two cities and there seems to be a ton of beautiful spots. If I were to stop for some pictures, a few bites to eat and a dip or two, is getting to nha trang by sundown doable? I lost a few days of my trip due to visa issues, so I’m looking to make up some ground where I can. I have a friend in Nha trang who I’d like to spend 2 nights with while still reaching Hanoi by April 3rd.

    Thanks again for the guides and appreciate any insight you might have.

    • Hi Rich,

      Great to hear you’ve been using my site and that you’re having an awesome time!

      Yes, the ride from Mui Ne to Nha Trang is very scenic indeed. And yes you can do it in a day including stops for photos, food and swims.

      However, make sure you follow the exact route laid out in this map. Almost the entire route is on excellent, new, beautiful coast roads (only a total of 50km is on Highway 1). So whatever anyone else says, follow that map! 🙂

      I did it again just a couple of days ago. Enjoy!

      Tom

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