How to Build the Ultimate Vietnam Road Trip

Ha Giang's minority tribes market fair. Photo by: Quinny

Ask any local how to get the most authentic experience when traveling in this country, and you'll get a common answer:

“Go on a road trip in Vietnam!”

I want you to travel Vietnam like a local as I did, so in this blog, I will share some of my takeaways and lessons from this journey of a lifetime I undertook with a travel partner, a 3000 km Vietnam road trip.

Tip #1: Have a trip outline in mind

Day 18: The sun sets on Hoang Su Phi in Ha Giang. Photo by Quinny

Having a great plan is a must.

Knowing what to expect from the journey will help you feel more satisfied and sure of your journey. You may spend a lot of time and quite a bit of savings on it, so it's important to make good use of your resources.

Take it from me: after a couple of journeys without clear aims, I changed my approach and was lucky enough to realize this before making this Vietnam road trip.

Tip #2: Save & plan carefully

Day 21: Having drinks in Ha Giang’s market. Photo by Quinny

The next step is to save money for the trip. For me, I started saving half a year ahead. Here are some tips when it comes to planning.

Travel at a time that makes sense for your itinerary

Typically, road trips in Vietnam take place in the March to late September timeframe.

During this time, the weather is typically dry and the temperature is pleasant enough to be on a motorcycle for long hours. Scenery will also be at its most beautiful state in the time. There will also be abundant local fruits and food available during this time of the year.

If you're willing to tolerate rain or have time constraints that don't permit travel during this time, ask Google to see what will be available outside of this window. You may be rewarded for going off the beaten path.

Tip #3: Choose Destinations Based on You

Do some research to find the most suitable places for you in Vietnam based what you'd like to see and when you can go.

Look for important cultural landmarks but don't skip a review of a fun things to do in those areas! You can find some suggestions here for the top 20 best Vietnam destinations.

Day 3: Visit Binh Ba Island. Photo by Quinny

Tip #4: Find trusted places to hire good, trustworthy motorbikes

This is a step that will assure you peace of mind during the whole journey. If your vehicle doesn't work well, you will feel insecure and unsafe throughout the journey.

You may have to leave an ID or money to rent a vehicle. When you return the bikes or car to them, your deposit money and papers will be returned. Some rental agencies have branches across Vietnam, so you can return the vehicles in any of their locations without needing to send it back yourself or ride the motorbike back to the initial rental place.

My travel partner is vibing. Photo by Quinny

Tip #5: Don’t Stress on the Schedule! Relax

An old cliché: “ Happiness isn’t any destination, but rather be the journey." After the long trip, I realized those words are so true.

Sometimes, my traveling partner and I are too focused on making it to the destination in time without remembering to enjoy the sensations and experiences of being on the road.

So, my advice is ...

Determine a reasonable daily traveling distance

For me, it was about 200 km per day.

This is an average, flexible figure with two people riding alternately. The trip should be enjoyable, not exhausting due to overwork. Setting the bar too high can lead to sleepiness, and that’s no good on a motorcycle.

Note that if you picked the route that goes through the mountain area, it might take you much more time and effort to go through the same distance, compared to a flat road.

Pick your perfect road

From one destination to another, there are going to be a couple of routes for you to pick. If you love to get straight to the destination, the A1 or AH1 highways (depending on the areas, the names could be different on the map).

On the other hand, if you want to experience local life, pick a smaller, slightly longer road into towns and villages. I can assure you that the local hospitality will be worth the extra effort you put in.

Relax, and enjoy the ride.

Find places to stop and rest at the end of the day

Please note that not everywhere has the proper accommodation for you to stay the night, especially if you plan to go to remote areas or want to go to a destination with more nature and less development.

In big cities and towns, you can book rooms months ahead of your trips. However, when it comes to small towns, Google Maps might be find accommodation for tourists but may not include all hotels or rented rooms.

A motorcycle tour can bring you not only lots of freedom but also risks at the same time, especially driving in unfamiliar places after dark. It's a good practice to know ahead of time where you can stop for the night so you're not stranded in an unfamiliar location with no place to stay.

Tip #4: Stop Often, Take an Unplanned Turn, Wander

Lovely granny, I met on the road. Photo by Quinny

If you suddenly spot some exciting side destinations, don't hesitate to stop by or change your plans. The unexpected things that come with your road trip are what will make it exciting.

Thanks this, I had the chance to see beautiful spots that probably few tourists know, places you wouldn't see on any travel review articles.

Asking locals about must-see spots in the area is also a good idea. Vietnamese are so open and enthusiastic at helping others, especially tourists. By doing that, you might also make some new local friends on your Vietnam road trip.

Tip #5: Rest, Eat and Drink Properly

To guarantee a great experience, don’t take these things for granted.

Sometimes, the energy you get from adrenaline when riding can ease the hunger and the feel of eating, but so many yummy local dishes are waiting for you wherever you are in Vietnam.  Therefore, enjoying local cuisine is not only what makes this trip memorable, but it's also a key part of taking care of yourself while on the road.

Still, be careful with food safety because you don’t want to ride your motorbike with an ill stomach.  

Day 13: Stopping in the countryside in Quang Binh. Photo by Quinny

Keep yourself hydrated!

Vietnam is a tropical country, which means the temperature is usually quite high, and the sun drains water from your body fast. It’s a good habit to stop by small, local cafes along the way. Usually, locals sell coconut water and cane juice as well as Vietnamese traditional coffee. Stop to hydrate yourself, do some stretching, and chat with locals.

Those cafes also provide hammocks for travelers who need a quick nap to recharged for the upcoming miles ahead.

Tip #6: Don't Let a Vegetarian Diet Stop You from Trying Local Cuisine

Vegetarian? No problem at all!

Day 19: We sat with an old man in Hanoi selling sweet soup, tobacco & green tea. Photo by Quinny

This may even be an advantage: non-meat dishes are cheaper and you can save quite a lot of money on food while traveling. You can also get the chance to eat local, vegan versions of familiar dishes and get to try new yummy vegetarian food too.

However, these restaurants may be hard to find ahead of time. My tip here is to ask the locals if nothing comes up on Google. Remember the keyword “quan chay” (which means "Vegetarian restaurant") or “com chay” (which means "Vegetarian dishes") would be helpful.

Tip #7: Ask for help when needed

If unfortunate things happen on the road like a flat tire or an empty gas tank, don’t hesitate to seek help. Local people will do whatever they can to help you!

I once got a flat tire in the middle of a remote area located in the west Highland where there was no one living within a 30 km radius. Although we did bring tools to fix the tire, we couldn't figure it out after 15 mins trying. So we stood on the side road and asked for help from any passing travelers. Since this was a remote area, not many people passed by. Luckily, one young man stopped and fixed the tire for us without asking for anything in reward. We also exchanged contacts and accepted the invitation to visit his farm if we got any chance to go back to this area.

Tip #8: Focus on the Offline!

Day 5: Sun breaking through clouds in Da Lat. Photo by Quinny

Many of my friends who constantly updated their social media on their trip shared with me that, looking back, they should have spent more time enjoying the moment rather than focusing too much on taking pictures, recording the scenes, and posting them online. Studies also show that your memory about a place will be more detailed and last longer if you focus more on experiencing nature rather than your phone.

My trip itinerary

My Vietnam road trip was approximately 3,000 km and lasted 20 days starting from Ho Chi Minh City and going up to Tay Nguyen (the west Highland), to the central coast of Vietnam, then straight to Hanoi.

In Hanoi, I stopped my road trip and hopped on a bus to Ha Giang due to my limited traveling time, which didn't allow me to ride my motorbike to the northern frontier. This route alone from Hanoi to Ha Giang would take up to 10 days if you sincerely want to discover and enjoy the area.

  • Day 1-2: Ho Chi Minh City - Vung Tau - Mui Ne.
  • Day 3-4:  Binh Ba Island - Cam Ranh
  • Day 5-6: Da Lat
  • Day 7: Gia Lai
  • Day 8: Buon Me Thuot
  • Day 9: Qui Nhon
  • Day 10: Phu Yen- Quy Nhon
  • Day 11: Tam Ky- Da Nang - Hue
  • Day 12:  Khe Sanh- Lao Bao
  • Day 13-15: Quang Binh
  • Day 16-17: Ninh Binh
  • Day 18-20: Hoa Binh- Thai Nguyen- Hanoi
  • Day 21-24: Ha Giang
  • Day 25-28: Cat Ba Island

In some places like Quy Nhon, Quang Binh, Ninh Binh, Ha Giang & Cat Ba, I chose to stay two or three days to experience those magnificent destinations to the fullest. Those destinations are packed with national parks, well preserved sights, and great deals of local hospitality.  

Day 3: Taking an exciting bumpy ride on Binh Ba Island. Photo by Quinny

The bottom line

My travel partner wrote some words on his social media after those 20 days of traveling. I offer them to you here to help you decide whether or not to go on your own Vietnam road trip.

“HCMC - Hanoi 28.05.2020. 20 days. Around 3000 km. Some of the most amazing things: Traveling with someone I never met before, who didn’t assassinate me and sell my organs during the trip. Seeing buffalo pee on the road. Passing many long containers on highways, mountain byways with one mistake which nearly put our life at risk. Been thru darkness, heavy rain, thunder, UV 11. Screaming fuck, fuck, fuck loudly on the road when my friend drove 70km/h. Doing squats in front of the locals to battle against potholes. Hearing Vietnamese indigenous languages. Learning about physics, names of flowers, Feng Shui, chemistry, what the health, history of Vietnam from my driving partner. Exceeding my driving speed (40km/h to 60,70km/h) from day 12. Climbing competition with a goat that shit a lot on its way. Paying for random toilets with a smile. Calling mom twice a day to tell her I was alive. Braking abruptly on the road three times to save lives of other clown drivers. Using two-third of my saving money. Swimming in many non-touristy beaches. Witnessing the beauty and mysteries of Quang Binh & Ninh Binh caves. Wandering on the sand in a loader bucket of a tractor. Being in the present.

Next goal: + Conquering the four great mountain passes in northwest Vietnam.

+ Visiting all of the western provinces in Vietnam.”

Now, it's time start to plan your Vietnam road trip, my dear friends!

See you soon!