Last update: 23/03/2015
Our Road Trip Through Vietnam
Ladies and gentlemen, we have big news. Our little Us on the way gang has a new member – a motorbike:D! We planned to get one on our own, to be more flexible and free during our travels, and finally in Hanoi we got a little green monster. Together we planned to do a road trip through Vietnam – we chose to go on one of the most famous roads: Ho Chi Minh Highway. 2700 kilometres of grey dusty asphalt in between green rice fields and rocky mountains. Once in a life time!
Below every day we will write some practical information for those who plan to do a similar road trip through Vietnam, including fuel rates, driving hours, and some interesting places to visit. At the day of writing fuel prices were around 16.000 Dong per liter with exchange rates of 1 euro = 25.000 Dong. Additionally, we were travelling with the two of us and two bags, so if you are travelling alone you will for sure use less fuel.
Day 1, Hanoi to Tan Ky (317 km)
I knew it would be hard, but damn, I forgot how hard! Sitting on a motorbike for 6 hours straight is not one of my favourite ways to spend a day, but I guess a trip like that can’t be both easy and cool. We chose the longer and harder route and we didn’t regret it, yet. Ho Chi Minh Trail is amazing from the very beginning. We passed the most green (I think there is not such word as ‘greeniest’, hehe) rice fields I’ve ever seen. It was a misty day, but the weather only added some charm to the surroundings. The tips of the rocks were hidden in the fog, cows and buffalos were looking at us as we passed them, and we were soaked by the moisty air. I was screaming every now and then, because the road bumps gave me the biggest butt pain ever, but still I was trying to stay alive and make a picture of this route in my head. Our road trip through Vietnam has only started and I’m pretty sure it will be great!
The road is starting very busy in the city life of Hanoi, but within half an hour you will have escaped this. Heading west of Hanoi towards Xuan Mai takes you over a very dusty, a bit industrial road, of around 30 kilometers. Just before arriving in Xuan Mai, you head south, where the Ho Chi Minh Road adventures start. The closer you get to Tan Ky, the more beautiful the road will be. Surrounded by rice fields and some rocky hills makes this road a good start of the trip. Once you arrive in Tan Ky, you will immediately find a couple of hotels before entering the town. Prices will vary between 150.000 and 200.000 Dong.
Fuel costs: 105.000 Dong (7 liters), which is between 4 and 5 euro.
Driving time: ± 6 hours
Day 2, Tan ky to Phong Nha (271 km)
When I woke up at 6:30 in the morning my whole body hurt from the muscle pain. I don’t know why, but riding a motorbike for a few hours is harder than the hardest exercise I’ve ever done. The route, on the other hand, became sooo much better! The views were amazing. There were more mountains around us today and together with people working in the fields below, wearing traditional round hats, the scenery looked like a postcard. I tried to take some photos, but you can imagine how they look like, when the photographer sits on a scooter and moves with a speed of 80km/h. I had my headphones in and was singing out loud until I was short on breath. When we arrived we had a few mangos and bananas for an afternoon snack and we ate it on a branch by the river. Hard-earned relax.
Views are getting more and more beautiful every hour during our road trip through Vietnam. In the beginning the road is still flat surrounded by rice fields and small villages with cows every now and then on the middle of the streets. But later you will be surrounded by mountains, forests and beautiful views. Especially the last 50-100 km are very beautiful once you have entered the Phong Nha National Park which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Phong Nha is a more touristic city with plenty of hotels, cafés, and restaurants. Most tourists come here to see one or more of the spectacular caves which are surrounded all around Phong Nha. One of them (the Son Doong Cave) containing the largest cave passage of the world and others with inside rivers which you can visit by boat and unique stalactites and stalagmites.
Fuel costs: 140.000 Dong (9.5 liters), which is around 6 euro
Driving time: ± 6 hours
Day 3: Phong Nha to Vinh Moc Tunnels (285 km)
I knew that the 3rd day would be a hard one, but geez, that was a real challenge. We started after breakfast, around 8:30. The weather was quite oke, the motorbike was still alive, everything went according to plan. The beginning of our route went through Phong Nha national park. First, it was a very beautiful and peaceful road between the bushes. But the best part of it was just about to start – an empty old road hidden in the mountains, with no civilisation in 150km. I was a bit anxious, but I tried to be a brave girl (at least I didn’t cry hihi), so there we went. In about 5 minutes we were in the mountains and one hour later we were in the middle of the clouds. Seriously, we entered a part of our route that looked like a sea of milk. We didn’t see ANYTHING. Well, anything further than 1 meter from us. Corners and valleys were appearing suddenly from nowhere, I have really no idea how on Earth Kevin kept us both alive up there. After 60 kilometers we realised that we have no water, only half a tank of fuel left, and no one around for another 75 km. If there would have been a tiny little problem, we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere covered by clouds, and probably dead by now. Lovely. We turned around and rushed to the more common road with people and mechanics smiling to us. Three-and-a-half hours after the beginning we were back in the same place where we started. We run away from the mountains and entered a warm, flat, area. After some time we arrived to Vinh Moc tunnels – an old shelter from the war times. It was quite a big experience to walk in endless corridors under the ground, where not so long time ago people lived and tried to survive.
From Phong Nha towards the south the Ho Chi Minh road splits up into two parts: one through the mountains in the Phong Nha national park in the west and one via a fast highway in the east. We tried both of them. The mountain road is very worth riding since you will almost meet nobody there and you can enjoy lots of nature. But be sure to bring extra fuel, since we were not sure if we could make it that far, and there is nothing around in more than a hundred kilometres where you don’t want to get stuck. The road is about 125 km until the first village (which we were not sure if they have fuel there). The east Ho Chi Minh trail is way faster and you can drive high speed here all the way and is also not too busy. From here you can visit the Vinh Moc tunnels where you can see shelter tunnels from the war where whole villages used to live for years. Entrace: 80.000 Dong
Fuel costs: 135.000 dong (9 liters), which is around 6 euro
Driving time: ± 7 hours
Day 4: Vinh Moc tunnels to Hue (111 km)
After three days of a nightmare ride (my butt still didn’t forgive me for that) finally we had a great adventure. This route was wayyyy easier, a little bit shorter, and we had many small breaks on the way. Our first stop was by the Hien Luong bridge – a historical way that connected north and south Vietnam during the war. The bridge itself was just a normal one, but still it’s quite an experience to see it, when you think about all the people struggling on both sides and bombs flying around. After a small tour around this area we went further on. Ohhh, that was so pleasant! We passed many small fishing villages where people looked at us like we were some weird creatures from another planet. On the way we noticed something really odd – the houses were very simple and modest, but around and in the village itself there were HUGE Chinese graves and graveyards. Really HUGE ones. It was quite creepy, because we were on an empty road and all around us were coffins, brr.
Ladies and gentlemen, I also have a little announcement. After many, many questions coming from Kev ‘When you will finally try to drive a motorbike, he??!’ I did it. And I loved it! Well, I drove for 10 minutes, alone, and around 2 km/h, but that was fun!
From the Vinh Moc tunnels you can head back to the main 1A highway, where you will see the famous Hien Luong bridge in a couple of kilometres. This bridge separated North- and South-Vietnam during the war. There is a museum and some monuments around, which you can visit on this short trip. Once over this bridge we followed the 1A highway for about 15 kilometres, where you can take a left towards the coastal road through many fishing villages, which will go on all the way through small and bigger roads up to the eastern side of Hue. The roads vary here from very good, better than the main highway, to sandy and rocky roads.
Fuel costs: 45.000 dong (3 liters), which is around 2 euro
Driving time: ± 4 hours
Day 5: Hue
We decided to stay one day in Hue and give our bike some rest (oke, we wanted to give ourselves a rest). We met our friends there (hi Tomb Raider, hi Jessabelle!) so we enjoyed an evening with a great company. It was quite an intense night, beer after beer and things like that, so the next day we decided to chill out and take it easy. Girls were already gone, so with Kev we visited the Imperial City, which is an old Emperors’ residence (a little bite of culture, sometimes we do that also hehe), but the rest of the day we spend in our hotel room watching ‘Prison Break’. Sometimes it’s necessary to do nothing, reset your brain, and lie in bed hihi.
Hue is a very nice city to spend one or two nights, especially for cultural visits for which the city earned its place on the UNESCO world heritage site. The Imperial City is the main cultural visit around Hue, which is definitely worth a visit. The entrance fee for tourists is 105.000 Dong. Good private double rooms in the main touristic area can be found for 250.000 Dong, such as the Why Not hotel.
Day 6: Hue to Hoi An ( 162 km)
So this day has come. The day when we were finally about to cross the most famous Hai Van Pass. Everyone who comes to Vietnam HAS TO do this road. It became famous because of one of Top Gear’s episode, where the crew do it as well, and now you can meet many ‘bas-ass’ old guys riding vintage manual bikes. We rode a bit along the coast road, passed the lake, and… And we crossed one mountain route, which took us about 20 minutes and was oke. I mean, it was pretty and all, but nothing more than that. Sorry Jeremy, but try to ride a motorbike in Flores in Indonesia, THAT’S a good one.
(btw. I just read that Jeremy Clarkson was fired from the Top Gear, I swear I didn’t do anything with it!)
We started our trip along the coastal road, east of Hue, towards the Hai Van Pass. Compared to the famous stories of this route and the Ho Chi Minh Road, this route was not very special. The beginning of the trip along the coast and the Hai Van Pass were very good, but the parts on the 1A highway in between are very busy and lots of work on the road. Next time we will try the DHCM between this part to compare!
Fuel costs: 50.000 dong (3 liters), which is around 2 euro
Driving time: ± 4 hours
Day 7 and 8: Hoi An
I’m completely in love with Hoi An. As soon as we entered the city I knew it would be one of my favourite ones and I still stick to it. It is amazing!! The old city is old (hehe) and adorable, across the river are many streets with maaaany pubs, and there are lanterns and lights, oh lights everywhere! The first evening we spend together with the girls (hi, Tomb Raider, hi, Jessabelle!). For the first time in 6 months we were drinking wine and I enjoyed every single sip. I’m a wine lover, so imagine the feeling after such a long break! We tried Cao Lau, a traditional soup from this area (I loved it), we went to a shisha bar (I loved it), and we hit the bar with cheap beer and free shots (I loved it!). This was definitely one of the most fun night we had during our trip.
The next day there was supposed to be a good weather so we headed to the beach. But first we had a very, very special breakfast. Have you ever heard of the ‘white rose’? It’s a speciality from Hoi An, a little dumpling with shrimp filling and with the dough shaped as a flower. In whole Hoi An only one family knows the recipe and supplies all the restaurant around. There was no other way, we had to try it! And oh, it is good. After that we went to the beach, where actually were only a few sunny moments the wind was unbearable, so we rushed home and watched ‘Prison Break’ (of course hihi).
Maizey is a very organised girl, so our 3rd day in Hoi An was planned hour by hour.
- Breakfast at 10 o’clock – DONE
- Boat trip (only if cheap!) – DONE
- Donut with 1kg of sugar – DONE
- Cake (only the luxurious one!) – DONE
- Dinner in this one pretty restaurant – IN PROGRESS
As I write this post it’s almost dinner time, I go to enjoy my last night in this great place! Kisses and stay tuned.
The city of Hoi An is also listed on the UNESCO world heritage site like Hue, because of its beautiful old city on the riverside. Double rooms can be found here for around 200.000, such as the Nguyen Phuong Hotel.
Day 9: Hoi An to Kon Tum (261 km)
This was the best and the worst day so far. We left Hoi An a little bit too late, but Kevin felt bad in the morning, I was eating delicious fried rice, and there is always time for a fresh mango juice, so it was not too bad. The road itself was the best one ever. It was sunny, but fresh in the wind, the views were AMAZING, and we felt free and happy. It was all going good until noon. Then our beloved motorbike broke for the first time (don’t worry, he is still oke.. a bit tired but stabile), luckily only 15 meters from the mechanists. Together with Stefan and Etienne (hi guys!), our two Dutch friends, we crawled in the sun to the local place where they would take a good care of our little green buddy, but there by accident it turned out that Stefan’s motorbike was also a bit broken. While our vehicles were being repaired we had some cold drinks and rested in the shadow. It was finally time to go, and then Stefan’s bike fell on the ground and was broken again, so we stayed there a little bit longer. We were already quite late, so we knew it would be a hard day. After a while the lovely sun and fresh wind became annoying and tiring, I was all dirty from the dust, and then (of course) it started to rain. I think arriving in the darkness to the destination place, wet, dusty, and with pain in the butt is not my favourite way to spend an evening. Keep fingers crossed that tomorrow it will be better!
After about 20 kilometers on the highway you turn left towards the Ho Chi Minh trail. In the beginning it’s still a bit busy but after a while the road gets very quiet and very beautiful. After the end of this road you turn left onto the DHCM and follow this roads towards Kon Tum. After a new bougi, which costed 50.000 Dong, we couldn’t make it all the way to Kon Tum so we stayed in a good hotel around 20 km before.
Fuel costs: 140.000 Dong, which is around 5.5 euro
Driving time: ± 7 hours
Day 10: Kon Tum to Nhon Hoa (230 km)
Did I say that our yesterday’s adventures were the worst ever? I take that back. Day 10 can be officially called ‘Sit at a mechanists for 5 hours’ day. It started easy – we had breakfast with boys, the road was fine, and everything seemed to be good. Then came this bad moment, when we decided to take the small road. I thought it would be just a normal way, but in a totally different, local surrounding. It was hell. First, there was only half of the road, the other half was covered with huge holes, stones, rocks, sand, and everything else that is not the best for driving. Then, there was even a smaller road, which turned out to be a red sandy pathway. It looked like we were on Mars – no one around us, red dust everywhere, and there were only some dry trees on the background. That was terrible. After a while, when we were trying to get through this deserted middle of nowhere, Stefan slipped on the sand and fell. His brand new lamp was broken (and it was just repaired the day before :() and he wounded his knee. Suddenly, there was a road. We survived. We had a little celebration with ice cold coke, and then… ‘Sori, can’t go, go away’. The local police officers told us to go back on this sandy road again. Why? Well, we wanted to cross the village and get on another highway. A small part of this road goes through the Cambodian border, but we didn’t think it would be a big problem. Apparently there was something going on, because we were INVESTIGATED by the police guys, they took a sneaky photo of us, send us back to the red sand hell, and followed us all the way to the main road. I’ve never seen anyone trying to get rid of tourist so desperately. (I think we almost discovered some super-top-mega-national-secret, but shh.)
This day wouldn’t be so bad after all, if we didn’t get a flat tyre later. 4 times in a row. Yes, FOUR. When we saw the first hotel somewhere on a dark road at 10pm we were grateful to live and to have a bed.
If you stick to the main highway it is easily possible to reach Buon Ma Thuot in one day from here, but unfortunately in our way we didn’t get much closer than the day before. Although the small side road was very worth taking, because there were so many local villages with people waving that looked like they never saw tourists before.
Fuel Costs: 120.000 Dong, which is around 5 euro
Driving Time: 9 hours
Day 11: Nhon Hao to Buon Ma Thuot (132 km)
Well, I could start complaining again, tell you a whole big story how terrible it was, and how long it took, and how many times we stopped, but it would be all the same again. So, statistics of this day:
- 2 flat tyres (one ours, and one in Stefan’s bike)
- 4 new bougis (some small piece that starts the engine)
- 100 stops, because our motorbike didn’t work
- 6 black coffees
- 4 black coffees with milk
- 10000000000 holes in the road
- 5 km normal road
- 500000 km of a ‘road’ (rocks, stones, sand, dust, holes, all that)
That’s all, I guess.
The straight road from Kon Tum toward Buon Ma Thuot you can better try to avoid, perhaps later the road is fixed, but now it is all the way under construction with big rocks everywhere and almost no stable roads the whole way. The average speed of us was around 20 km per hour.
Fuel costs: 70.000 dong, which is round 3 euro
Driving time: 7 hours
The road was so ugly that we didn’t take any photos
Day 12: Buon Ma Thuot to Da Lat (212 km)
Beautiful weather, a working motorbike, and a great road. That was enough to make our day! We drove with smiles on our faces and it was sooo relaxing. It was still long and our butts were screaming in pain, but finally it was normal again after those 3 days in hell. We stopped a few times for some cold coke, delicious Vietnamese coffee, and landscape photos. This part of the road was the best in whole Vietnam. I mean, THE BEST. The views were amazing, we drove over some mountain passes, and we really loved every single moment of it. Da Lat came closer and closer every kilometre. Finally, WE WERE THERE! After 4 tiring days, endless problems, and crazy adventures we arrived. Big, cheesy pizza and cold beers were our prizes!
This road was one of the most pretty ones with great weather all the way. Crossing three beautifull long mountain passes and villages on the way with good roads makes this part an easy good trip.
Fuel costs: 120.000 dong, which is around 5 euro
Driving time: 7 hours
Day 13 and 14: Da Lat
Da Lat is a really cool city. There is a touristy part with many cheap hotels, restaurants, and pubs, and a local market and food stalls as well. We decided to spend 3 whole days here, doing nothing and resting after the trip. On Friday, our second day in Da Lat, together with Macy Grey and Jessabelle we went to the Crazy House (actually, I stayed in the hotel and took a nap, but we went there later anyway hihi). It was awesome! Some crazy lady designed this place and now she lives there with her family, while the other big part is open for tourists as an attraction park and a hotel. OH MY GOD. This place looks like taken straight from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. All the buildings are in crazy shapes, you can walk around through a magical maze, and the rooms are just great! We really, really wanted to spend one night there, but all the rooms were already booked. That broke our hearts, but well, now we have a reason to visit Da Lat one more time!
Another trip was to the Da Lat Waterfalls. It’s a small, pretty park, where you can go on a rollercoaster over the waterfalls and, the best part, you steer it yourself! You accelerate when you want and you brake when you want! Of course we were lucky enough to sit behind 4 families with kids, so the speed was around 1 km per day, but still we had fun! In the evening we had a cosy dinner in a restaurant and just hanged out together. Out Vietnamese adventure is almost over, so we try to take as much from it as possible!
The next day was extremely exciting. Jess went for a canyoning adventure (BORING!!), so together with Maizey we drove around and spend 2 hours at the police station. Kevin’s phone got stolen (rest in peace), so all day we were looking for it. After a loooooong report taken by the policeman (when did you lose it? What time did you take a taxi? Which taxi? How many minutes did you spend in this taxi? Was the taxi driver tall? Small? Fat? Slim? Happy? Sad? Old? Etc, etc…) we went to a lake café to enjoy overpriced and not good coffee. We left Da Lat the next day, heading straight to Ho Chi Min City!
Best and cheapest hotels are found around the one touristic street. Prices are around 200.000 dong for a good double room. The main attractions around Da Lat are Canyoning, waterfalls, and the crazy house.
Day 15: Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh City (305 km)
We heard that it’s not so easy to make this trip in one day. We thought it will be better to take it slowly with a stop in between. We left late, around 10 o’clock, and drove away. In the wrong direction. After making 40 extra kilometres and trying to get on the right road we were sure it will be a nice and slow ride, just to get closer to Saigon. Suddenly, we made 150 kilometres. It went super smooth and super fast. Still, we were thinking about spending the night somewhere in a small city, so we took an afternoon nap in a hammock somewhere on the road. With our batteries charged, we started again. And then, out of nowhere, we were in Saigon! Yes, it was crowded, and yes, it was a little bit long, but without noticing we made it all in one day!
Ho Chi Min City is our last stop in Vietnam. Our adventure in here is over and for sure we will never forget it! We had the best company on the way, we survived some scary roads, we had some bad and better days, and we had the best fun ever.
As I write it, I have a delicious ice coffee in a café, Kev is reading a book, and we plan to enjoy Saigon as much as possible for another 4 days. Life’s good!
The last road was pretty boring but very fast. On the way you will cross one nice pass, and most of the way is down towards to heat of Ho Chi Minh city.
Fuel costs: 130.000 dong, which is around 5 euro
Driving hours: ± 6 hours
Kevin’s phone got stolen in Da Lat, so we don’t have any more photos Plus from now on I’m the photographer, which means way less photos and way worse quality. Still, we will try to make as many as possible to keep our blog alive:D! For this post we borrowed pictures from Stefan and Maizey, thanks guys!