Last updated July 2022 | Words and photos by 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.
Nowhere in Vietnam is there such variety of landscape and richness of culture in such a compact area as in the central provinces of Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng and Thừa Thiên Huế. Geographically, climatically and historically, this is the region of Vietnam where north and south clash. As a result, Central Vietnam has got it all: from long, sandy beaches to dramatic, forest-cloaked mountains; from low-rise, centuries-old boulevards to high-rise, modern metropolises; from the sounds of the jungle to the sounds of the sea; from chic rooftop bars to some of the most complex regional street food in Asia; from some of Vietnam’s most famous roads and sites to some of its most remote and untrodden back-roads. Riding the Golden Loop by motorbike packs everything that’s great about Vietnam into one, memorable, easily digestible road trip that can be ridden in as little as 3 days or as long as one week.
GUIDE: THE GOLDEN LOOP
Hoi An→Da Nang→Hue via the Ho Chi Minh Road & Hai Van Pass
On this page, I’ve written a guide to the Golden Loop, including a route map and separate sections for accommodation and food and drink. This route can be ridden in either direction, starting and ending from any of the three central cities: Hội An, Đà Nẵng and Huế (all of which have motorbike rental). However, I’ve written this guide in three sections going clockwise on the loop, starting from Hội An. On my map, I’ve marked the main Golden Loop in blue, which avoids Highway QL1A almost entirely. But there are dozens of optional detours, alternative routes, attractions, and opportunities for further exploration, some of which I’ve marked on my map in red. If you wanted to, you could complete the Golden Loop in two (long) days, but it’s much more enjoyable to spend at least three days on this route:
*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 >
The Golden Loop | Central Vietnam by Motorbike
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Thank you, Tom
- Route: Hoi An→Ho Chi Minh Road→Hue→Hai Van Pass→Da Nang
- Distance: 455km (main route)
- Duration: 2-5 days
- Scenery: mountains, jungle, rivers, valleys, beaches, waterfalls, fishing villages
- Attractions: spectacular views, freshwater bathing, empty beaches, great riding, seafood, historical sites, swimming
- Road Conditions: mostly good, smooth, paved roads, generally light traffic
- Best Time: April-September
- Section 1: Hoi An→Thanh My→Prao | 125km
- Section 2: Prao→A Luoi→Hue | 165km
- Section 3: Hue→Hai Van Pass→Da Nang→Hoi An | 165km
Hoi An→Thanh My→Prao | 125km [MAP]
Get an early start and weave your way out of the echoey, ancient streets of Hội An at dawn. With its enormous popularity among domestic and international tourists, dawn is now the only time of day when Hội An is quiet. It’s very beautiful, indeed, and well-worth the effort of getting up early for. There are many options for leaving Hội An, heading west through pretty countryside towards the mountains. For this route, I’ve chosen a more southerly way, crossing bridges over the Thu Bồn River and on back-roads riding atop flood dykes through glittering rice paddies, before briefly hitting Highway QL1A and then turning off again almost immediately. Travelling west along the southern banks of the Thu Bồn River, a pretty road leads through the village of Trà Kiệu. There’s a sense of timelessness to this landscape, underlined by the presence of the ancient Cham ruins of Mỹ Sơn, just a few kilometres south of here, in the shadow of the unmistakable Cat’s Tooth Mountain. If you have time, make a detour to the temples: early morning is the best time to visit – before the coachloads of tourists arrive.
The route crosses the Thu Bồn River north of Mỹ Sơn and begins to follow the south bank of the Vu Gia River all the way west until it meets QL14B, the main road to Thạnh Mỹ. The further west you ride, the more the road becomes folded into the green valleys of Central Vietnam. The farmland here is crisp and shimmering, as if a light spring shower had recently passed over it. These valleys are constantly fed by fresh water running off the Trường Sơn Mountains to the west. Buffalo work and wade in the wet fields. Before joining QL14B, a road leads up to Khe Lim ecotourism site, a lovely place to visit if you have time for a detour (the road was still under construction at the time of research, but should be finished by the time you read this). Also at the intersection with QL14B, there’s the option to take a new back-roads route over the mountains to Prao. Otherwise, continue on the main route by heading west on QL14B for a pleasant ride (although somewhat spoiled by the increasing number of trucks and buses on this road) climbing into the mountains and up to the town of Thạnh Mỹ.
There are several rice eateries, snack shops and a couple of local guesthouses at Thạnh Mỹ should you need them. This is also the start of an optional one-way detour towards the Lao border on QL14D – a fascinating ride if you have the time. Thạnh Mỹ is the point at which the Golden Loop hits the Ho Chi Minh Road. (Incidentally, Thạnh Mỹ is also the most northerly point of the Trường Sơn Đông Road.) Head due northwest at the main junction across a high and impressive bridge. Almost immediately, the Ho Chi Minh Road starts to climb steeply into the mountains. Within minutes, the town of Thạnh Mỹ is no more than a speck in the valley. Forested limestone ridges rear up, towering over deep crevices with sky-blue torrents at the bottom. There are very few buildings, people or vehicles. It’s difficult to believe that Đà Nẵng, Vietnam’s fifth most populous city, is only 60km away. But this is by no means a ‘pristine’ landscape. Huge swathes of forest have been chopped and burned, and giant hydroelectric dams have been constructed on the mountain rivers. It’s very sobering to see the ‘development’ or ‘deterioration’ (depending on your view) of this area. Deforestation and illegal logging are huge problems here, and the dams are attempting to keep up with the demand for power from Vietnam’s burgeoning population.
The second half of the 60km stretch between Thạnh Mỹ and Prao is a helter-skelter of hairpin bends, curling up and down mountains that are so lush they appear to spray foliage over the road. This is an excellent riding road and the scenery is wonderful, including a large blue lake formed by a hydro dam. After a dizzying descent, the small town of Prao appears in the middle of a tight valley. Tiny and remote, Prao is ideal for a night’s rest. There are several local guesthouses (nhà nghỉ) lining the main street as it passes through town. I’ve settled on Dũng Thùy (from 250,000vnd/night) as my regular place to stay. It’s also within walking distance of lots of local rice and soup eateries (quán cơm phở) for dinner and breakfast, coffee shops and the town’s gas station. (Prao is also the end point of the alternative route from Đà Nẵng on road QL14G.)
Prao→A Luoi→Hue | 165km [MAP]
Remember to fill up at the gas station in Prao, because the next 100km due north along the Ho Chi Minh Road is very sparsely populated, as well as very scenic. The ride from Prao to A Lưới, echoing the Lao border, is one of the best stretches of road in Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh Road follows a series of rivers along steep valleys until, eventually, the tarmac leaves the valleys and heads up and up, in a series of looping switchbacks curving around the contours of the mountains. It’s an extraordinary ride and the views over the unbroken jungle canopy are sensational. Even the road itself – when you look back at its twisting and turning course across the landscape – is a majestic sight: a Jackson Pollock in asphalt. What’s more, you’re likely to have the road and the landscape all to yourself: throughout the 100km ride, you’ll probably only see a handful of other vehicles and people.
This is a remote and relatively pristine corner of Vietnam. Farming and agriculture haven’t yet torn down the forests, meaning the ridges are blanketed in jungle and the rivers run clean and clear. One gets the feeling when looking out over the misty mountains cloaked in damp tropical foliage, that this is a special, somehow magical place. Indeed, it is home to a semi-mythical creature: the sao la, or as it’s also known, Asian Unicorn. Only known to science since the 1990s, this elegant, deer-like animal has yet to be seen in the wild by any Westerner (locals and trip cameras in the forest prove its existence). There are forestry cabins along this stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Road for the conservation of the sao la, reminding you that, somewhere out there in those jungles, the Asian Unicorn still roams.
An optional detour due west goes ever deeper into the mountains towards an excellent viewing platform called Đỉnh Quế. In fact, there are several small paved roads around here that beg exploration. However, as a foreign rider you are highly likely to be turned back at some point by officials, because this is a border region, and therefore considered militarily ‘sensitive’. But no matter, because the Ho Chi Minh Road is more than enough to keep you stimulated, engaged and awed by the majesty of the scenery. Before starting its long decent to A Lưới, the road goes to within a stone’s throw of the Lao border, carving two short, eerie tunnels under the mountainside, where waterfalls stream off the slopes, down through the giant tropical trees into the valley below. It’s hard to believe that this beautiful, serene, fertile and empty valley was once the scene of fierce military conflict. This is the A Shau (A Sầu) Valley, where a battle was fought in 1966 between the U.S and South Vietnamese troops against the People’s Army of Vietnam (North Vietnam). You can still see the bomb craters in the rice fields and remnants of the U.S forces’ base. Today, thank goodness, the valley is in peace.
Down in the valley, the land is flat and farmed. The Ho Chi Minh Road runs straight and true, with the mountains of Laos rising to the west. It’s a smooth ride to the junction with QL49. However, if the hour is late, continue north for a few kilometres to the small town of A Lưới where several local guesthouses line the broad main street. Đô Thành Hotel is OK for a night; Paco Tua Homestay is nicer, but too expensive for the quality. There are plenty of local rice and noodle eateries in A Lưới, too, and even a couple of pretty waterfalls just north of town.
Take QL49 due east in the direction of Huế. This pleasant 60km stretch of road meanders down a series of mountain passes through a pretty landscape of fruit and spice trees – cinnamon, lemongrass, pineapple, mango, cashew, jackfruit – and into the Perfume River Valley. After a day or two in the empty and peaceful mountains, it can be quite a shock to return to the densely populated (and polluted) coastal plains. Nonetheless, the Perfume River carves a lush, peaceful valley through undulating hills, where the emperors of the Imperial Nguyễn Dynasty were laid to rest in elaborate tombs along the banks. One of the most impressive is Emperor Minh Mạng’s tomb. If you have time, the Golden Loop passes several royal mausoleums and historic sites on the way into Huế, not to mention the imperial palace itself. Alternatively, check into the Pilgrimage Village for a night of comfort after ‘roughing it’ in the mountains – it’s ideally located for some ‘tomb-hopping’ the next morning.
If tombs aren’t your thing, weave your way into the bustling streets of Huế, which is easily one of the most likable cities in Vietnam. There are loads of good accommodation options in all price ranges and the food is famously fantastic. (Check out this Hue Food Guide and this guide to Drinking in Hue.)
Hue→Hai Van Pass→Da Nang→Hoi An | 165km [MAP]
There are two options to get from Huế to the Hải Vân Pass: the direct route on Highway QL1A (the red line on my map), or the scenic route on QL49B (the blue line on my map). The former is fast but full of trucks and cars; the latter is longer but quieter and more interesting. Therefore, unless I’m in a rush, I usually choose to go via QL49B. Head north out of Huế until you hit the Thuận An Peninsula. This long finger of land is essentially Huế’s beach. There are long stretches of empty sand and some good cafes, bars and places to stay at the northern end. However, the 40km promontory is not all sand and sea: it’s also a huge cemetery. While riding along you can’t fail to notice the astonishing amount (and variety) of tombs by the roadside. Vietnamese burial grounds are traditionally determined by the principles of phong thủy or feng shui: the two words literally mean ‘wind and water’, of which there’s plenty on the Thuận An Peninsula! The road has been upgraded, but traffic has increased in recent years. It’s an intriguing ride all the way down the promontory until a wide bridge crosses the mouth of the Tam Giang-Cầu Hải Lagoon, the largest in Southeast Asia. On a clear day, this serene, almost ghostly, body of water is a wonderful sight.
From the bridge, QL49B veers south, skirting the eastern edge of the lagoon, before hitting Highway QL1A at Phú Lộc. If the weather is good and the beauty of the lagoon has cast its spell on you, consider a night at Verdana Lagoon Resort, an isolated property with cabins jutting out into the lagoon: very romantic. Turn off Highway QL1A almost immediately to take a quiet back-roads route via Cảnh Dương Beach and Chân Mây Bay to Lăng Cô. This is much longer than taking the highway, but in my opinion it’s always worth avoiding QL1A if you can. However, if you choose to stay on the highway, there are several worthwhile detours due south to waterfalls, springs and, best of all, Bạch Mã National Park.
Lăng Cô is a spit of land with the sea to the east and Lập An Lagoon to the west. With a good, long beach, a handful of resorts and mini-hotels, and lots of decent seafood restaurants, Lăng Cô is fine for a night’s rest if you need it. Highway QL1A roars through town, but I prefer to take Trịnh Tố Tâm street, a scenic road leading around the western shores of Lập An Lagoon all the way to the start of the Hải Vân Pass. Dwarfed to the south and east by green mountains, the road clings to a narrow ribbon of flat land next to the lagoon where oyster farms float on the water. It’s a beautiful little road and there’s no other traffic.
When the mountains meet the ocean, Highway QL1A goes under them, creating Southeast Asia’s longest tunnel, accessed via a long bridge above the mouth of Lập An Lagoon. However, motorbikes aren’t allowed through the tunnel. But that’s a good thing because, instead, they must take the original route: the twisting Hải Vân Pass. Famous through the centuries as a difficult and dangerous passage that once divided kingdoms, today, the Hải Vân Pass is one of Vietnam’s best-known scenic roads. Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team did wonders for motorcycle tourism in Vietnam when, in 2008, he declared the pass ‘one of the best coast roads in the world.’ On a clear day, it’s hard to argue with him. However, as the name suggests (Hải Vân means ‘ocean mist’), you may well find that the incredible ocean views are obscured by cloud. Either way, it’s a superb ride, including optional detours down to some beaches. (See my guide to the Hải Vân Pass.)
Dropping down from the Hải Vân Pass, Đà Nẵng sprawls along the coast in the distance. Not long ago, Đà Nẵng was considered a grim city, best avoided. But today, it’s one of the most exciting, up-and-coming, modern and desirable cities in Vietnam. Đà Nẵng occupies a fabulous natural position, with the curving Bay of Danang to the north and Municipal Beach to the east; the Hàn River cutting a north-south line through the city and the rugged Sơn Trà Peninsula at its northern tip. (A spectacular optional detour circumnavigates the entire Sơn Trà Promontory). Đà Nẵng has lots of sleeping, dining and drinking options. Alternatively, complete the Golden Loop by continuing due south along the coast road, passed the rows of gigantic international resort complexes, the Marble Mountains, and An Bang Beach back into Hội An’s old town.
The three main cities on this route – Đà Nẵng, Hội An and Huế – have some of the best standards and variety of accommodation anywhere in Vietnam. However, outside of these cities – especially in the mountains – places to stay are infrequent: mostly local guesthouses or homestays. Most people will start and end the Golden Loop in one of the three main cities, but it will be necessary to spend at least one night in the mountains. See below for some specific recommendations (I’ve also marked accommodation options on my route map):
Da Nang, Hoi An & Hue: As these three cities are among the most popular destinations in Vietnam, the range of accommodation from budget to luxury is excellent and so too is value for money. Hội An has the best choice, and competition keeps quality high and prices low. I particularly like Lasenta Boutique, but there are hundreds to choose from: you can use this Agoda link to browse them all. In Đà Nẵng, accommodation is more high-rise than the boutique style of Hội An. Dozens of big hotels line the beachfront and riverfront: you can search them all on this page. Huế has some great accommodation in the city but also among the surrounding countryside and beaches. In the city, I love Villa Hue, a mid-range hotel run by a hospitality school. On the edges of the city, near the royal tombs, Pilgrimage Village is a beautiful, tasteful boutique resort. On the beach at nearby Thuận An, Villa Louise is a cool beach boutique. And Vedana Lagoon Resort has a fabulous position on the shores of Đầm Cầu Hải Lagoon. But there are loads more good options in all price ranges that you can browse on this Agoda page.
Prao, A Luoi, Lang Co: Beyond the main cities, there are local guesthouses (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese), mini-hotels and occasional homestays. In the mountains on the Ho Chi Minh Road there are very few places to stay. The small villages of Prao and A Lưới represent the best options to overnight, both with a handful of guesthouses offering simple but comfortable and clean lodgings. Most travellers will have to spend at least one night at either Prao or A Lưới because the distances are too far to ride in one day. In Prao, several guesthouses line the main street. Dũng Thùy is a good option for a night (around 250,000vnd), but others are a similar standard and price. A Lưới also has guesthouses on the main street, including Đô Thành Hotel with sparse but clean rooms (around 250,000vnd). Paco Tua Homestay has recently opened, offering decent rooms, but it’s overpriced. Along the coast, Lăng Cô has lots of cheap mini-hotels along the highway – I like Ngọc Hằng for clean rooms. Or you can trying camping on Cảnh Dương beach.
Food & Drink:
Along the coast and in the major cities on the Golden Loop, the seafood is excellent and the street food scene is lively. But, in the mountains, dining options are more limited. However, this being Vietnam, you’re never far from a great meal. Cafes can be found throughout this route, so too can local beer. In the cities, there are sophisticated bars and hip coffee shops; in the country there are rice wine watering holes and local cafes:
Seafood: Look for signs saying ‘quán hải sản‘ (seafood restaurant) whenever you’re on the coast and feeling hungry. Vietnam’s seafood dining culture is informal, fresh and delicious. On the Golden Loop, try stopping at Lăng Cô for a seafood lunch or dinner. There are good local seafood shacks along the beach on the east side of the highway: try Biển Ngọc. And, on the west side of the highway, fronting the enormous lagoon where they farm oysters, try the floating seafood restaurants that jut out over the serene water. For something even more local, head to the seafood shacks along Cảnh Dương beach.
Street Food: Hội An and Huế have some of the best street-side cuisine in Vietnam. The former is famous for mì quảng and cao lầu noodles, both of which you’ll find at street food vendors throughout Hội An. Huế’s cuisine is famous for its variety and flavours. Eating in Huế should be a highlight of any visit. Get to know the best dishes and where to eat them with this Hue Food Guide. Even in the small villages on the Ho Chi Minh Road, such as Prao and A Lưới, there are street-side eateries serving rice and noodles (cơm phở) at mealtimes. When on the road, look out for signs saying ‘quán cơm phở‘ (rice and noodle eatery).
Drinking & Cafes: Vietnam has a rich cafe culture. No matter where you are in the nation, there will be coffee shops. Obviously, the main cities on the Golden Loop have a huge range of cafes – from hip roasteries to local hole-in-the-walls. Even the small villages on the Ho Chi Minh Road have a selection of coffee shops serving both Vietnamese-style and Italian-style coffee. When it comes to alcohol, the big cities have bars, cocktail lounges, pubs, craft beer breweries et al. But, in the countryside, the drink of choice is rượu (rice liquor), often served with meals. And, of course, cheap local lager is available everywhere. For a treat, head to the rooftop Horizon Bar in Đà Nẵng. In Huế, get to know the drinking culture with this guide to Nightlife in Huế.
*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 them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page
Just want to say a big thank you to whoever made this guide I’ve started From Ho Chi Minh City and making my way to Hanoi and this guide has pretty much been my Bible for the journey. and I’m going to do the Golden loop. Would just like any advice or tips on doing the loop and the Ho Chi Minh Road, I don’t want to miss out on anything but at the same time I don’t want to do same roads but it looks like I’ll have to
Thank you. It’s great to hear my site has been useful for you while travelling in Vietnam.
There’s lots of information in the guide above for the Golden Loop. It’s best to do that whole loop if you can.
I’ve just completed Hoi An to Khe Sanh by way of Hue following your routing.
The village roads alongside Song Bu Lu were pretty choppy and I was glad to be off of them. At the end of the village, the route Ts off into a highway. I didn’t realize there’s actually a fork at that intersection; I took the leg nearest to the village/lagoon, and I was glad I did. It squiggled up and around a mountain with a nice little vista, avoiding what looks to be a mile of straight highway on the indicated route.
Here’s the waypoint for my happy accident route:
The only caveat is that you have to cross train tracks at the bottom of the mountain to get back onto the Golden Loop. You might have to wait a minute if there’s a train coming.
I was quite happy with my detour, even having waited for the train, and I suggest others try it.
I’ve already completed the coastal loop from Dalat, also following your posts. Now I’m making my way up to Phong Nha and Hagiang, always with your routes loaded into my navigation. Thanks for all the work you’ve put into documenting this stuff!
Sorry for my slow reply – your comment went into my spam folder for some reason.
Thank you for your trip report. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying your ride. I hope your experience on Phong Nha and Ha Giang is as good.
Finished this loop today, took 2 days. Catch thunderstorm at first day between Prao to Luoi and sheltered in tunne with herd of cows lol, very creepy moment with no signal and just 1 car passed by within 1 hour, thankfully i took jumper with me asi it get very cold if raining, second day Hue-Hoian was sunny and cooked me a lot but views are amazing, longest roadtrip ever 500km+ over 2 days! I met a guy at homestay who told me about this website and loop, keep up good work!
Thanks. Sounds like you had the best of everything in terms of weather! 🙂
Thank you so much for putting together this great route guide, I just finished it going clockwise starting in Danang and wow, what a ride! It was really nice to be able to hit so much solid riding when I only had a few days to spend in the central part of Vietnam.
A couple of suggestions on accommodations – along the beach just past Hue is the “Beach Bar Hue”, they have rustic bungalows within earshot of the ocean, highly recommended. I paid $36 a night for a private bungalow. As I said rustic, open air so no air conditioning and there’s bug nets over the beds. They don’t have locks on the doors so take your valuables with you when you go out. But going to bed listening to the ocean is something that never gets old for me. And it did have running water, shower (no hot water but didn’t need that with the heat) and a flush toilet, so not too rustic.
The budget option listed for Danang – the Sion Hotel – definitely the worst place I’ve stayed in Vietnam, possibly anywhere. I get that for $20 a night you can’t expect too much, but it’s abysmal. I can handle the peeling paint on the walls, the curtain rod that is about to fall off the wall, the TV that doesn’t play anything but static and the door you have to slam to get shut once locked (probably because there’s only one screw holding the side plate on). But the beeping modem on the first floor (I’m on the third) is like some kind of water torture. It appears there is just zero up keep at this place. Tom, I’m not sure if this place has just fallen into disrepair since you’ve been here, but I would suggest removing it from your guide, they don’t deserve your recommendation.
On a lighter note, I just realized that the Saigon to Dalat route that I took a couple of years ago was also one you put together. That was another great trip! Again, thank you so much for putting together these awesome routes helping people get off the beaten path. Cheers!
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the route.
Yes, the Sion Hotel is an old recommendation. Thanks for the update. It’s impossible to keep everything current, especially in a country that’s changing as fast as Vietnam is.
Just finished the golden loop, going from Hoi An through Hue and on to A Luoi on the first day. Day 2 was A Luoi to Prao, Than My and back to Hoi An. All road conditions were good. A Luoi to Than My was particularly uncrowded, with us passing maybe two or three cars and maybe five motorbikes. Totally doable in two days, but they are somewhat long days. About 7 or 8 hours of riding each day.
Thanks, Chris. Glad you enjoyed the ride and that the road conditions were good and there was little traffic.
Thanks so much for this helpful info! Some friends and I are planning to do this loop this weekend/first part of next week. I was wondering whether in light of the roads this loop is do-able on an automatic bike, or whether you would really recommend semi-automatics?
Yes, an automatic is fine – just try to make sure you get one that’s in decent condition.
I hope you enjoy the ride,
Thank you for what you are doing!
Your guides encouraged me to give it a try and it was simply the most beautiful ride of my life! Thank you!
Thanks, Andy. It’s great to hear you enjoyed the ride.
I have driven all the way from HCMC to Hoi An following your guides and it has been a real pleasure. Heading west tomorrow to have a shot at the A Luoi – Prao stretch of road. Thank you so much for your guides it has been really precious , everything I need to know is in here. I’m sure I will continue coming here for the rest of my trip.
Quick question : Should I stock up on gas to do Hoi An -> Prao ? It seems pretty remote and i am not sure on the availability of fuel on this road ? Thank you again so much for this resource.
Great to hear you’ve been using my guides and that you’re enjoying your Vietnam road trip.
There are gas stations on the road between Hoi An and Prao so there shouldn’t be any problems if you start the day on a full tank. However, the stretch from Prao to A Luoi (100km) is very remote indeed, so make sure you fill your tank in Prao.
I hope you enjoy the ride,
Thanks a lot Tom,
Your site is an awesome ressource
Thanks for the indispensable blog as always!
I’m planning on doing an extended version of this loop in two weeks time.
We will keep going past A Luoi and all the way up to Phong Nha, following your western HCM road guide.
After a rest day (and cave tour!) we will ride back down to Hue before finishing with the Hai Van pass and onward to Hoi An.
My question is this: Is there a route you would recommend from Phong Nha to Hue which avoids the main roads, other than back down the HCM road? ie. we want to do a loop and head down the east coast if possible.
I have checked the map and see a couple of potential routes but would be interested to know if there’s any roads you would or would not recommend.
Thanks in advance if you have time to reply.
Yes, you can stick to the Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road on the way back from Phong Nha and then cut down to the small coast roads leading all the way down to Hue and beyond that all the way to the Hai Van Pass (you only have to stay on Highway 1 for a little while). For the exact route you can zoom in on the relevant sections of my Beach Bum Route, or just open this map which should be zoomed at the right section.
I haven’t ridden those coastal back roads for about a year, but last time I did they were in good condition.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom, greatly appreciated!
Just a quick one – can you buy gas in Prao? Are there gas stations or can you buy it in bottles?
We’re heading hp there from A. Luoi today.
Yes, there are gas stations in Prao.
I was looking on Google Earth while in my living room in Boulder, Colorado and this loop looked amazing. I have been exploring the internet putting together little bits of information from different sections of this loop and then I stumbled across this post! So very helpful! My wife and I are leaving Phu Quoc tomorrow and will be spending a few days in Hue before heading out on this adventure. Quick question: is Prao the best place to stay along the way between Hoi An and Hue? Or, are there other options?
Thanks so much for the helpful information. This is awesome.
Yes, Prao is a good option for staying along the way. If not, you could stay at A Luoi, 100km north of Prao. You can also read a bit more about Prao, A Luoi and the route between them in section 4 of my Ho Chi Minh Road guide here.
I hope this helps,
One more follow up question: is it possible to ride from Prau all the way to Hue in one day? How long should we allow for this?
Yes, you could do it in one day, but you should start at a decent time in the morning to allow yourself enough time to do it.
We just finished this loop. It was incredible. We spent three days in Hoi An and have just now returned to Hue. That section between Prao and A Luoi is magical. We had a perfect combination of sunny and beautiful, which instantly turned to misty and foreboding after going through the first (super creepy) tunnel, only to turn to nice and overcast for the whole ride down to Hue.
All in all, this was an incredible experience. It is a wonder why the whole loop is not more common – especially when you see so many people riding between Hue and Hoi An.
Thanks for the help and please keep putting up good content!
Brilliant to hear that you enjoyed the ride. Yes, it does seem strange to me that more people don’t do it, but at the same time it’s pretty nice to have it all to yourself, for now 🙂
Thanks for you comment,
my partner and i are visiting vietnam for the first time in a couple weeks. and after reading some of you bike tour routes i’m totally keen to try a couple. regarding motorbikes in general and carrying a passenger….. are most rentals basically automatic ‘scooters’ instead of actual motorcycles? and can you rent ones with panniers to help with baggage or do they have racks for bungies and etc? are they grunty enough to carry a passenger? my partner has driven scooters before, but i’m a bit wary of her on any high mountain roads without guard rails or something to keep her flying off the road in case of mishap. what’s the typical speed for travel on most roads?
thanks for the help and keep up the good work.
Yes, most of the bikes are essentially automatic or semi-automatic scooters (although ‘real’ motorcycles are available too). Carrying baggage and a passenger is absolutely fine as long as the bike is in decent condition – which it should be if you rent from one of the reputable companies (see the links in the right sidebar and bottom of all my pages). Most rental bikes will have either a rack on the back or panniers to carry your stuff.
The average speed is fairly slow compared to roads in Western countries: 40-60kmph on good, straight roads, or 30kmph on small, windy, mountain roads.
I hope this helps,
oh, one more question. my partner is concerned about breaking down in the middle of nowhere. are people willing to help out stranded tourists? or how hard is it to get help?
Yes, people will always help. In fact, the further from the beaten path you are the more likely it is that local people will help you out in such a situation. You’re never that far from a repair garage in Vietnam, but even when you are, people will certainly stop to help if you’re in trouble.
First of all thank you so much for sharing such comprehensive and inspiring stories and infos about this beautiful country! We were inspired by your Golden Loop motorbiking guide and we are so glad we followed the advice. We just completed it yesterday (we started in Hoi An and drove counterclockwise). We did it in 3 days with 2 nights in Hue (as I wanted to visit the Imperial Palace and look around a bit) an 1 night in Prao. Stunning views and so peaceful (when up in the mountains).
We are soon heading to Nha Trang and would love to take another motorbike ride for a few days. Is there a ride that you would recommend that would hit Dalat and possibly Mui Ne? Either one-way (if we can find a place where we can rent the bikes one-way and they transfer our bags) or as a loop back to Nha Trang. In looking at Google Maps there seems to be some options but I am curious if you drove it before and what are your thoughts.
Thank you for your help,
Great to hear that you enjoyed the Golden Loop.
Yes, there are lots of good routes from Nha Trang. (I don’t know much about the one way bike rental from Nha Trang to Dalat but you can definitely do it). However, a loop makes a lot of sense, because it’s a great area.
My advice would be to head south to Cam Ranh Bay and Cam Lap Promontory, then take the Nui Chua Coast Road down to Phan Rang. Then you can either continue south to Mui Ne on the Dragon’s Graveyard road followed by the Sand Dune Highway. Or take Road QL24 from Phan Rang straight up to Dalat, and then from Dalat back to Nha Trang take road DT652. All of these roads are fantastic and make great loops. You could also include the Burnt Road or the River Road if you want to go inland from Cam Ranh and towards Dalat instead on continuing along the coast.
I hope this helps
Thank you so much Tom!
Keep sharing your Vietnam adventures … so inspiring.
great blog 🙂
The ‘Golden loop rout’ looks great. We’ll be in Vietnam in mid April and we only have 13 days that we want to split between the Hanoi area and Hoi An area. Are two days enough for this rout?
Yes, you could do the Golden Loop in 2 days, just make sure you start early in the morning and expect to spend most of the day on the bikes 🙂
Thanks for all of the info! We are heading to Vietnam in late March. We’d like to do Hoi An-Prao-Hue (280km) all in one day as we have a tight schedule and want to be able to stay in both of these towns. I know this equates to about 6-6.5 hours on the bike at 50km/h. Would you say this is doable given the terrain/road conditions etc? We’ll be able to leave Hoi An at day light so we’d have plenty of time in terms of light but wanted to make sure we aren’t over doing it. Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks!
Yes, you could do that in one day, but you will need to leave Hoi An at first light: between 5-6am would be good. Driving time will probably be around 7 hours because the terrain is so mountainous, but with stops it will be at least 10 hours. If you leave early in the morning, you’ll enjoy it a lot more too, because you’ll have more time to take in the scenery and stop for a drink and food. In general the road conditions are pretty good, but there were some road works on QL49 a few months ago.
I hope this helps,
Thank you- that really helps! Good to know that it’s doable (but would certainly be a long day). We may just decide when we get there depending on weather and how we’re feeling. If we don’t do the full loop Hoi An-Prao-Hue, we were thinking of going up to Hue via Hai Van Pass and 49B instead. However, the day after that we fly out of Da Nang and thought about taking Highway 1 all the way back from Hue to Danang for a little change of scenery so we aren’t backtracking the same route. Is Highway 1 motorbike-friendly from Hue to where it intersects with 49B further south? Or would you recommend avoiding that section and returning to Danang the same way? Thank you again!!
There’s not much to gain by taking that section of Highway 1. It can be busy as it’s the main artery, but it’s also faster. So perhaps just wait and see how much time you have: if you’re in a hurry take the highway, if not take 49B again.
Hello again, Tom! Unfortunately, Rent a Bike Vietnam in Da Nang doesn’t have any bikes available on the days we were planning to do our trip. Is there another bike rental company in Da Nang that you would recommend? Thank you again!!
Yes, did you try Tigit Motorbikes yet? They have an office in Danang. It works a bit differently to ‘renting’ a bike, but it’s a very efficient system.
Do you have a question?
sorry Tom- see second comment above. total typo and hit enter too soon!
Love your website and the way you live & ride Vietnam. We are traveling through the country this week.
Tomorrow morning we will be in Hue for the day and the following day (Sat) we are planning to take a motorbike from Hue to Hoi An following your coast map. Any specific recommendations for the road in this time of the year? Or where we can rent a bike in Hue and drop it in Hoi An? Appreciate you thoughts on this. Thank you!
The ride from Hue to Hoi An should be great, although you may get some bad weather at this time of year.
I don’t know of any specific company that offers one-way bike rental for that route. You could try contacting Rent a Bike Vietnam (check the right sidebar and bottom of my pages for a link to their site). They have an office in Danang and are in the process of setting up a one-way rental option. Although I don’t think it’s in operation yet they might still be able to give you some more advice.
Other than that you will just have to ask around for bike rental at your hotel. One option might be to send the bike back to Hue by train.
I hope this helps,
thanks for sharing your experience. I follow the the Golden loop’s path, but from Da Nang to Hoi An. And i must say was fantastic. I enjoy every single part of it, overall 4 days. Such an experience. Love it!
Just one advice for people which ride a small bike (Honda Wave or similar): carry with you 1L of petrol because you might need to refill your tank.
Thanks a lot for building this website full of good tips.
Thanks! It’s great to hear that you enjoyed this loop. I love it too. And thanks for the advice about petrol.
Hi Tom, awesome guides and cool information thanks.
Last year I spent three weeks on a motorbike in the north and it was wicked!, love the people, food, scenery etc.
Heading back in a couple of weeks with my mountain bike and after a week in Hcmc city/Dalat I will ride through the central section and pop down at A Luoi to Hue, Danang and finish in Hoi an 🙂
Keep up the great work…….it helps a lot.
Mountain biking Kiwi
Thanks. Great to hear that you’ve already enjoyed a road trip through the north of Vietnam.
There are lots of serious climbs on the Golden Loop if you’re doing it on a bicycle! But I’m sure it will be even more rewarding because of the physical effort involved 🙂
Great work Tom, love the detail. Me and girlfriend are planning to do the golden loop (the same route mentioned by you) this month. We however, would like to start all the way from HCMC. Could you suggest a route off the Highway. We have about 2 weeks in hand!
To get to the Golden Loop from HCMC and stay off the highways, take a look at the relevant parts (the southern parts) of these routes and create your route from that.
I hope this helps,
Just got back to Hoi An. The Golden Loop was amazing. Did it in 2 days. Day One up to Hue. Day two was exhausting. Hue to Hoi An. 7 hours of driving. About 275km. But amazing roads. Like you said you almost have them by yourself. Loved it.
Great to hear that you did this loop and enjoyed it. That’s a lot of riding for 2 days! 🙂
For anyone considering this loop and want to include My Son.
I made a side trip to My Son from this loop. I discovered that they are currently building a bridge over the Thu Bon River near My Son. It might be complete in 2017 or 2018. When complete, this bridge will take you directly back to the golden loop without having to back track to Hoi An. Though the bridge is not yet complete, there is a ferry running that will take you and motorbike across the river. I was charged 20,000 VND. Here is the exact of the ferry.
Updated: Here is the exact location of the ferry.
hoi tyler,Thanks for the tip on the ferry,planning to do the golden loop. in the near future…
did you leave the loop to go to the ferry to my son and did you then backtrack te same way to the loop (take the ferry again?), or did you leave the loop just outside Hoi An to then take the bridge at mong bay lep and drive parralel to the river to My son?
What is your advice on wich road to take?
Txs Tom for the info!
Thanks, that’s a very valuable update! It’s great to know that you can combine My Son into the Golden Loop. I’m sure many readers will benefit from this information.
Another nice loop that I did during my current trip in Vietnam, starting from Hoi An and doing the loop clockwise in two days. The highlights of this loop are of course the 150km on the Ho Chi Minh road (I saw more cows on the roads than vehicles, that’s nearly scarry) and Hai Van pass, especially for going up, with a sunny blue sky. As compared to Northern vietnam roads, those roads are much esasier, however the section between A Luoi and Hue is quite bumpy except the first ten km when you leave A Luoi.
This loop is a great way to explore the region beyond the touristy, but beautiful cities of Hoi An and Hue.
Thanks again for your website
Happy to hear that you enjoyed this loop. Thanks very much for the road update on the conditions of Highway 49 between Hue and A Luoi – sounds like it’s best to skip that for a while until they have resurfaced it.
I love the Ho Chi Minh Road between Thanh My and A Luoi – such easy and beautiful riding but so few people there!
I’m really enjoying your website.
I arrive in June and am considering buying a motorbike at tigit. I’ll have the motorbike for about 45 days. I was very curious about the coastal area and your site has given me a great feel for what to expect.
I may spend more time in the south/central than I had originally planned.
Great to hear that you’re enjoying my site.
The coast is great as long as you follow the right roads – stay off Highway 1 as much as possible. Take a look at my Beach Bum Route if you haven’t already.
Happy trip planning!
I just want to mention that when I tried spending the night in Prao all 3 hotels there refused me. I’m not sure why because they looked empty.
Excellent route BTW I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Thanks for sharing that (rather puzzling) experience of Prao hotels. That’s a shame – I heard from a group of riders just a week ago who found a couple of good guesthouses in Prao. I wonder why you were refused?!
Glad you enjoyed the rest of this route.
Thanks for putting the information for this trip out to the public. We have just arrived home from The Golden Loop trip and have been so impressed that we are planning the next trip, using your guides. Unfortunately, it was very misty when we traveled so the photos did not do justice. Next trip is further on to Khe Sahn.
Good to hear you enjoyed your trip – shame about the mist. I hope it clears up a bit for the next stage of your Vietnam adventure – the Western Ho Chi Minh Road is superb (in the sunshine) 🙂