Great North loop in 14 days / 13 nights.
Great North Ride Introduction
Vietnam Motorbike & Motorcycle Tours provides this exotic Great North ride on two wheels to people who want to explore a complete Northern mountain loop of Vietnam. In fact, the Vietnam Great North ride was designed for intermediate and advanced riders. However, less experienced riders can pay a riding lesson in Hanoi to join this trip.
On this specific motorbike adventure, you will ride on many high mountain roads. It can be either in the Northwest via Sapa or Dong Van karst Geo-Park. In addition, you meet friendly and colorful people. Moreover, a rich culture and a diverse lifestyle will certainly make this one of your lifetime adventures!
Below is a video clip that has some portions of this Great North Ride. In case you want to watch more videos please check our YouTube channel.
GREAT NORTH LOOP DETAILED ITINERARY
Day 1: Hanoi – Mai Chau. ~170 km, ~5 hrs.
Heading out of Hanoi on road number 6 to Mai Chau, an idyllic valley populated by mainly White Thai ethnic people. Visiting Mai Chau, you have a chance to enjoy folk songs and the traditional colourful culture of White Thai in Mai Chau. The scenery of the arrival to Mai Chau is characterized by beautiful limestone mountains and colourful hill tribes that can be seen and visited on the way. We also have an opportunity en route to learn about the culture of the rice-cultivating inhabitants in the Red River Valley and Da River downstream.
After lunch, we have the whole afternoon free to climb up to the top of Thung Nhuoi pass. From the top of the pass, there is a beautiful view of Mai Chau valley. Sometimes it’s too cloudy but still a sight to be enjoyed. After visiting this wonderful site, we drop down to explore more of the area of White Thai people.
In the evening, we can enjoy a local dinner and overnight in a beautiful village at the edge of a river. After dinner, you can spend the evening sitting together around a fire and join in a Thai traditional music show. In their traditional attire, typical of their culture, Thai women invite visitors to participate in the Xoe dance. To the rhythmical and ebullient music, the hosts and guests will dance for hours hand-in-hand. When they get tired, they stop for a while to drink special sticky rice liquor called “ruou can”. Visitors who participate in the Xoe dance once. This show is by the light of a fire at night and you likely remember it forever.
Day 2: Mai Chau – Thung Man. 100 km, ~4 hrs.
This is, in fact, the most relaxing day of this Great North motorbike ride.
Today we continue venturing onto Northern Vietnam by following the old National Highway No 6. This road is wild and was without much maintenance for over 20 years. The narrow and bumpy road cuts through many hill-tops make the topography difficult to maneuver. Therefore, inter-transportation is very limited. Sometimes, if lucky you might catch the appearance of a horse-drawn carriage or buffalo-drawn carriage. Apart from that, this road is quite deserted. Along the way, we have excellent opportunities to learn about the people of a different culture, such as the Red Dao, Dao Tien, Muong, and Thai ethnic groups. The people living here are very friendly and live a simple lifestyle. They typically live on cultivating dry rice, vegetables, and fruit at high altitudes. In addition, men also hunt in the wild forest.
At noon we stop for lunch at the top of the pass. From here you have a beautiful view of the massive Moc Chau grassland and the Da River.
The afternoon will provide a real challenge. After heading out of New Highway 6, we make our way onto the torturous and bumpy road. However, the exploring of the H’mong hill tribe’s colourful customs and majestic mountainous scenery, it will make the hardship all worthwhile.
Day 3: Thung Man – Phu Yen. 130 km, ~4 hrs.
After breakfast and farewell with the hosts, we pay a visit to Thung Mai. This is the most timeless village of the H’mong ethnic people residing at an altitude of over 1,000 meters above sea level and in complicated topography. The H’mong people have been living here for nearly 100 years. While on the way to Ha Giang, French colonialists forced them to run away. That’s the reason they moved in this remote area.
To reach Thung Man, it takes about one and a half hours to the top of the mountain. Upon arrival, you will see a pretty village with about 20 houses built from “stone” surrounding a small, fairy pond at the mountain top. The village seems isolated from the mainstream world. There is no appearance of motorbike and karaoke here. The owners of this mountain still retain their age-old culture and traditions.
After lunch, we have the afternoon free to explore the dreamlike grasslands. These beautiful grasslands of Moc Chau have the best of both worlds, breath-taking scenery and it’s favoured by nature and covered with clouds all year round. So it seems to have an ideal climate condition in Northwest Mountain. Moc Chau’s flora is diverse, ranging from forests and tea plantations to fruit hills.
Besides, we can enjoy a walk to visit the local dairy farms and try products from the local processing factories. Dairy produce is Moc Chau’s specialty being exported to many other countries.
After visiting this scenic site, we drop down to Da River and take a specialized boat to pass the river. Then we ride along the river to visit Phu Yen valley, one of the most prosperous and beautiful villages of Thai people in the Northwest.
Day 4: Phu Yen – Tuan Giao. 210 km, ~6 hrs.
The journey north continues onto Son La, following 113 Highway. Along the way, there are superb landscapes with green valley and rice fields in terraces. Passing the Bac Yen Mountain top, through Chen Pass to the largest “maize” and “manioc” forest, we arrive at Son La plateau.
After lunch in Son La town, we will visit the former French Prison and provincial museum. It’s also time to keep our willingness to climb over a range of passes, such as Son La, Chieng Pac, and Pha Din. While passing these scenic sites, you can enjoy the beautiful landscape on your way from Son La to Lai Chau town. The afternoon will provide free time to climb over the top of the Pha Din Pass – known as the interference between Heaven and Earth. Pha Din forms a natural border between Son La and Dien Bien Phu, the site of the decisive battle in Vietnam’s struggle for independence in 1954. Then we take the time to travel to Tuan Giao to view the sunset.
Day 5: Tuan Giao – Sin Ho. 150 km, ~5 hrs.
Today we continue venturing into northern Vietnam with the 98 km remainder of the historical Highway 6. The road is rough, but the scenery is unbelievably beautiful and magnificent with the 7 tall passes cutting through steep mountain along the Da River flowing around the foot of the passes, which you can’t find anywhere in the Northwest route. Moreover, a part of the pleasure of travelling by motorbike in this region is the simple joy of seeing the friendly smile and waving from the local people, which makes the hardship all worthwhile. Along the way, we stop to visit the Black Thai, Kho Mu, Lu, Black H’mong, Green H’mong, and White H’mong. These hill tribes are just some of the many groups who settled there. Then we have time to discover their simple lifestyles and colourful cultures.
After lunch at Lai Chau, we take a boat to travel along the Nam Na River, passing the high, dangerous, and sheer rocks, the pretty villages on the two sides of the river, and the hillside green rice fields. The boat is not a big one, but the coxswain is skillful enough to make your cruise safe and adventurous to the next destination. After that, we make our way to Sin Ho.
Day 6: Sin Ho – Tam Duong – Sapa. 110-170 km, ~4-5 hrs.
Due to the environment and a height of 1,700m, getting there is a very hard journey. Therefore, the people living here mostly keep to their very long-lasting lifestyle. The old way of life from ancient days is still in action. However, it should be said that there is no way for urbanization to occur in these areas. Moreover, only a handful of travel agencies can bring their customers to this remote area. The reason Sin Ho is the richest mountain market in the Northwest province is that anybody who is courageous enough to visit the area has the fortune of visiting. This does nothing to limit the motley colours of traditional clothes of various ethics such as the Green H’mong, the Black H’mong, the White H’mong, the Dzao Dau Bang, and the Lu.
We will enjoy a picnic lunch at the top of Tram Ton Pass, the most beautiful one in Sapa. In the afternoon we are free to explore Sapa, usually being engulfed by clouds. After enjoying a cup of Artichaux local herbal tea, a special drink from Sapa, we embark on a walk to discover this charming town and meet the host people who are the soul of this area.
Sapa was founded in the early years of the last century as a hill resort for the French administration at the time. It soon became famous in Indochina for its ideal climate. Nowadays, Sapa’s breathtaking scenery is some of the best in SE Asia.
Day 7: Sapa – Bac Ha – Xin Man. ~140 km, ~4 hrs.
In the morning, we go down to Lao Cai town with a visit to Lao Cai border gate with China. Then roll along the route 70 to Bac Ngam for a nice break, taking pictures of the beautiful scenery of mountain and river view. We head up the mountain pass to Bac Ha for our lunch and short hiking to some H’mong villages there.
In the afternoon we continue the small trail to Xin Man in the rocky wild road. This part is one of the most challenging rides in North Vietnam, as muddy as in Pu Luong, Muong Lay, and That Khe.
Day 8: Xin Man – Thac Ba. ~170 km, ~6 hrs.
One special day of this Great North begins by heading South direction on the bumpy, dirty, and muddy road. Luckily, we climb up to the top hill on a good condition road, then enjoy your riding down the hill with beautiful scenery of rice paddies on the mountainsides toward Xin Man which seems to be impossible in the rain. Stop at many villages to chat and talk with local people and discover their culture.
After about 3 hours of riding, we reach a good road, but still small and wild. That would be great for rolling a bike through rice fields, limestone mountain karsts of Luc Yen.
After lunch, we keep riding for another 60 km to a beautiful village of Dao Quan Trang people on the lakeside. Leave our bikes there to the buffalos, jump on a small boat, and enjoy swimming.
Day 9: Thac Ba – Ba Be. ~160 km, ~5 hrs.
Follow beautiful green tea fields and villages to Tuyen Quang town, then ride on the National High Way 2 for half an hour. However, it is boring there, so we turn left on wilder mountain tracks through a forest before arriving at Ba Be National Park and lake. Overnighting with a family of Tay ethnic family from which we have a beautiful view of rocky mountain and rice fields surrounding the biggest natural lake of Vietnam.
Day 10: Ba Be – Bac Me – Ha Giang. ~130 km, ~5 hrs.
In the early morning, we put our bikes on boats to take 2 hours exploring Ba Be lake and National Park before landing on a maize field. Unloading our bikes and have a good breakfast with the owner of the Nang river restaurant; Mr. Pirrate, who then will give you a lot of helpful advice for an adventure day.
The day begins with 3 km riding along an old hillside trail along Nang River, which is spacious, and more than enough for motorcycle touring. Catch your breath while you can, it’s worth it! Then, it’s time to master all your skills, techniques, and experiences for the 80 km of a forest road which without the help of our experienced guides you will likely get lost into one of the 16 branching roads. Along the way, we climb over many tall passes and deep river valleys. This road trip will take you only 3-4 hours during the dry season, but at least 7-8 hours during the rainy season. However, the impression from ‘conquering nature’ makes the hardship all worthwhile. Upon arrival, we will cross 3 rivers between 20-30m wide but only 70 cm deep, all managed with the instruction of our experienced guides.
The last 50 km will be easy even with some passes to go to Ha Giang.
Day 11: Ha Giang – Meo Vac. ~160 km, ~4 hrs.
This day is probably one of the best days of this Great North motorbiking adventure.
Rise and shine for a few hours trek to many of the Heaven Gates such as Quan Ba, Yen Binh, and Dong Van. In fact, you get the feeling of touching the sky, hence the name the heaven gates. This is the best time and place to enjoy the wonderful sightseeing of the vast limestone mountain range and perpendicular walls of rock. In fact, this place brings you a feeling of adventure while being lost in a magic land.
Here we are surrounded by many rocks of all shapes and sizes. After lunch at Yen Minh town, the scenic route climbs over a pass before arriving at Pho Bang, which was built many centuries ago and features multi-story houses made of clay bricks and tile roofs. Visit some of our local friends, who are Hoa minority. Then we continue our trip to visit the infamous Vuong Palace. This Palace is an H’mong family of high rank during French colonial rule. Vuong Chi Sinh was supported to be the H’mong King in Vietnam. Vuong’s palace attracts keen interest from architecturally minded visitors due to its mixed style of European and Chinese architecture. Overnighting in Meo Vac.
Day 12: Meo Vac – Quang Uyen. ~170 km, ~6 hrs.
After bidding farewell, we climb over the Ma Pi Leng Pass. From the top, we can see and enjoy a beautiful view of the sunset overlooking the Nho Que river.
Visiting these remote areas, we will bear witness to how hard the local people struggle with their environment for their survival and development. Because the living conditions are extremely hard, there is barely any arable land within the rocky mountains. So the people who live there survive on a diet of corn, which is the only crop able to grow in the rocky soil. Despite this hardship, the local people are very friendly, simple yet have developed a strong attachment to other people. They are the soul of this remote area.
Keep following the river until we meet RC 4C, near China. Then cross Gam River on a bamboo raft into the land of Cao Bang province. Here you meet many hill tribes like Lo Lo, Bo Y, Dao, and Giay, etc. and visit their villages just at the roadside on the way to Bao Lac town.
A good road on RC 4 with beautiful picturesque on the Pac Lung pass before the stop in Nguyen Binh valley with the green colour of maize and rice fields.
Keep rolling up wild mountain pass into Cao Bang town for lunch and a short walk to see traces from the French colonialism and many stories of the 1940s.
The national vestiges are some of this hill town’s major sights. We have a chance to visit these before we head out in the direction of Ma Phuc Pass. We later enter an area of innumerable vast steep limestone karsts and visit the North and North East’s district which is home to Nung and Tay ethnic people.
Day 13: Quang Uyen – That Khe. ~120 km, ~4 hrs.
Head down from the most beautiful area of Karst Mountain in the Northeast. A full day to discover the history of the heroic national road 4 made famous in the 1950s. We visit the Battlefields in That Khe and Dong Khe. In fact, today is one of the most beautiful days but a quite demanding ride of this Great North loop.
Day 14: That Khe – Hanoi. ~230 km, ~6 hrs. End of Great North motorbike trip.
The easy road to Hanoi. On the road, we pass through many beautiful villages of Tay people surrounding the mountain feet. We try to arrive in Hanoi before rush hours, preferably before 4pm. End this 14 days Great North loop on two wheels.