14 DAYS BIG NORTH LOOP MOTORCYCLE TOUR OF VIETNAM
14 Days Big North Loop offers 14 days of riding and 13 nights of accommodation. By doing this tour, you see the best of Northern Vietnam like scenery, hill tribes, culture, and a real Vietnam off the tourist trail.
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14 DAYS BIG NORTH LOOP ITINERARY
Day 1: Hanoi – Mai Chau. ~170 km, ~5 hrs.
Our first day of this 14 Days Big North Loop. We start at 9am after rush hours.
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 spacious 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. You can’t find this kind of scenery 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 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. You can take pictures of the beautiful scenery of mountains and a river. 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 – Ha Giang. ~130 km, ~4 hrs.
This is a beautiful ride for 100 km on the mountain through many villages of Tay, Nung, Dao, H’Mong, and Giay ethnic minority. While riding, we have chances to stop to visit local cultures and talking to villagers. In reality, this part of the trip is very very challenging in the morning. Then the afternoon is easier.
Day 9: Ha Giang – Meo Vac. ~175 km, ~4 hrs.
Today is one of the best riding days of this 14 Days Big North Loop.
Rise and shine for a few hours trek to many of the Heaven Gates such as Quan Ba, Yen Binh, Dong Van. They are called so because one gets the feeling of touching the sky, 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, which brings one 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, also called Bang Street, which was built many centuries ago and features much-story houses made of clay bricks and tile roofs. Visit some of our local friends, who are Hoa – Chinese minority. Then we continue our trip to visit the infamous Vuong Palace, an H’mong family of high rank during French colonial rule. Vuong Chi Sinh was the H’mong King in Vietnam. This palace attracts keen interest from architecturally minded visitors due to its mixed style of European and Chinese architecture.
After bidding farewell, we climb over the Ma Pi Leng Pass. At the top, we can enjoy a beautiful view of the sunset overlooking the Nho Que River.
Day 10: Meo Vac – Nguyen Binh. ~140 km, ~5 hrs.
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. Therefore, the people who live there survive on a diet of corn. In fact, this 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. Honestly, they are the soul of this remote area.
Keep following the river until we meet RC 4C, near the Chinese border Then cross Gam River on a bamboo raft to Cao Bang province. In this town, you will meet many Lo Lo, Bo Y, Dao, and Giay and visit their villages just next to the roadside onward to Bao Lac town.
The good road on RC 4 with a beautiful view at Pac Lung before arriving in Nguyen Binh valley with the green color of maize and rice fields.
Day 11: Nguyen Binh – Quang Uyen. ~80 km, ~3 hrs.
In the morning, rolling up wildly mountain pass to Cao Bang town for lunch. Then a short walk around town to discover this place during the French colonial and many stories during the years of the 1940s.
We stay with a local family, sharing stories with old generations about their Uncle Ho who lived much closer to them and had a very simple life.
Day 12: Quang Uyen – Ban Gioc – Ha Lang – Quang Uyen. ~150 km, ~4 hrs.
Continue along the China border. While riding, we pass through thousands of innumerable vast steep limestone karsts area. In addition, we visit many villages which are home to Nung and Tay ethnic people. They all migrated from the neighboring area on the other side of the border. In reality, they have the same local dialect and cultures.
Arrive at Ban Gioc, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Vietnam. This frontier forms a natural border between Vietnam and China. You can hear the echo of the falls kilometers away. In the rainy season, the waterfall makes the scenery even much more magnificent. We will take a bamboo raft trip and have a picnic lunch.
A more beautiful ride along the Quay Son River, on the other side of the river, is China. Then go south direction to Ha Lang. Finally, turn to Quang Uyen at sunset.
Day 13: Quang Uyen – Mau Son. ~180 km, ~6 hrs.
Ride in the middle of magic landscapes with many lovely smiling faces. They wave hands to you on the road. Just right at the conjunction of Bac Vong and Bang Giang river, there is a border gate called “Thuy Khau” – river mouth bordering gate – known in Chinese as Shuikojie.
Cross Bang Giang river down to the other side of Dong Khe valley. This was the battlefield of Viet Minh and the local army in the past.
Ride on the RC 4 to That Khe with visits to more battlefields until Lang Son. Stop at Friendship Border Gate “Huu Nghi Quan” and Dong Dang town where you will see Chinese products flood the town. Motorbike riders here drive at full throttle with Chinese products at the back.
Mau Son is about 30 kilometres from Lang Son. The winding narrow mountain path, like a snake, lies tucked between 2 steep mountains. Climb to reach the top of Mau Son which is 1,542 m above the sea level. This area’s picturesque scenery turns it into another Sapa with beautiful steep mountains. In the late afternoon, we can enjoy comfortable sightseeing at sunset in Mau Son and observe China at the foot of the mountain.
Day 14: Mau Son – Hanoi. ~180 km, ~5 hrs. End of 14 Days Big North Loop.
On the way going downhill, we will stop for a short walk to visit Dzao Ta Pan, Nung Phan Sinh villages on the hillside. In these villages, you can have a good time with the family specializing in wine brewery. For hundreds of years, Mau Son wine is the Lang Son’s specialty. This sells well in Hanoi, the South of Vietnam, and even China.
Then we will visit some war relics in the centre of Lang Son town. Otherwise, ride to the International Friendship border gate for purchasing a variety of Chinese goods. Return to Hanoi on the National Highway No 1 with a possible visit to Chi Lang vestige which is surrounded by the steep mountains.
Arrive in Hanoi around 3pm. We end this 14 Days Big North Loop before rush hours.
More Guided Motorbike Routes
– The Heart Of North Vietnam
– Northeast Vietnam
– Northwest Vietnam
– Ho Chi Minh Trail
– One Day Short Ride
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