This is a tough tour only for experienced riders that can handle a motorbike on rough terrain and who are able to get themselves out of a sticky situation, if necessary. This is not for the new, novice rider or the inexperienced traveller. Two sections on this tour are really difficult to drive and navigate but the reward is the awesome Hang Te Cho Waterfall and a feeling of great satisfaction.
Distance / Duration
The total distance for this tour is some 650km, which ranges from 100 to 170km per day. Of this, there are days that are long distance and short duration (Day 1 for example), some that are long and hard (Day 3) and others that are short and easy (Day 4).
You can choose to take the full 5 days as we have outlined. Or you could split up the more difficult day (Day 3) and combine the easier days (Day 1 with 2, or Day 4 with 5).
This is something that you might like to decide once you are on tour as there are many factors, in particular, the weather that can affect this.
You can expect to drive for between 4 to 6 hours per day, depending on whether it is an easy or a difficult day, and you will travel for between 6 to 8 hours to get to each place. Again, this depends a lot on you and how you drive etc..
The majority of the roads that you will take on this trip will be tarmac and generally of good quality. However, there are parts of this trip that make it tough and you will need a good strong bike with good suspension.
Ta Xua to Tram Tau – This is a very difficult stretch of road. Only drive this if you are experienced at handling a manual bike on rough terrain. Do not take this road alone; you should ride with someone, just in case.
Tram Tau to Hang Te Cho – Again, a really difficult stretch of road. You will need a good bike, good skills and a friend to help out, just in case.
The stretch from Tram Tau to Nghia Lo is narrow and precarious but nothing awful. Also, the back route on the QL37 (Day 4) is a little tricky.
Most other roads will be ok. You may not like some of the potholes or the traffic but they are easy enough to drive on.
If you tackle this route in Winter you will find it quite cold up in Ta Xua. You will also find visibility could be very low and make life difficult on Day 3.
In Summer, you should take plenty of water and you should also be aware of landslides in July / August. This might mean that roads are blocked and massive detours or a change of route are necessary.
Full Route Map
Day 1: Hanoi - Da Bac, Hoa Binh
120km / 4 - 5hrs
This first day is quite an easy drive so you can use it to get used to the road conditions in Vietnam. Most of the road is good tarmac and either highway or slightly smaller road. There is one stretch that is often a bit bumpy and the roads down by the lake might have had landslides.
You can leave Hanoi on the CT08, which is a main highway out of the West of Hanoi. This is not for motorbikes so you will have to take the road along the side. You can head for Hoa Lac and then get on the Hoa Lac – Hoa Binh Highway. This is a really new and fast road that will get you most of the way to Hoa Binh very quickly.
If you prefer to take a more relaxed route, you can turn off the CT08 at Quoc Oai and head for Xuan Mai. From here, it is quite quick to get to Hoa Binh on the AH14, but there is a bit more traffic on this route.
From Hoa Binh, you take the DT433 for 10km to turn off to Hien Luong or 20km to turn off to Sung and Da Bia. If you prefer, you can turn off to Hien Luong and then take the road around the lake to Da Bia or Sung Village. This is what I would do.
In Hien Luong and Da Bia you are on the lake and so you can swim or kayak. But, Sung is a Dao village and you may see the Shaman or some of the herbal medical practices that go on there.
Day 2: Da Bac - Ta Xua
170km / 5 - 6hrs
Now, you are out in the countryside and things are much quieter and more pleasant. The roads are smaller but there are still a few large vehicles to watch out for.
You need to make your way back to the DT433 and then head westwards towards Cao Son. This is where you will meet the junction with the DT433. This road is even quieter here but again there is still traffic. You will go down to the Da River and alongside it for a short way before following one of the tributaries around the hill and over to meet the DT114 that you will take up to Phu Yen. There are two options here: a left turn or a right turn and both will take you on the small and quiet DT114 ending up in Phu Yen. I would choose the left turn as it goes back down to the river and is a quieter road.
You can now choose to stay in Phu Yen or head over to Bac Yen. Bear in mind, that there is nothing to see or do in Phu Yen. The road to Bac Yen is good and fast and there is not much traffic on it. It should not take more than 1 hr to get there. Then you have the choice of whether to stay in Bac Yen, which I think is a good idea, or to head up to Ta Xua.
As you can see, you have a lot of options for the overnight stay. Your choice will depend on how far you got on this day and what the weather is like. If it is cold, staying in Bac Yen is a better option as it can be much colder up in Ta Xua.
Day 3: Ta Xua - Nghia Lo
120km / Hard to say hrs
This day needs to be a flexible day, for many reasons but one thing that you MUST do is to leave early. You could be starting from any of the three previously mentioned towns: Phu Yen, Bac Yen or Ta Xua, the road conditions are variable, the weather is a major factor and your skill level is also an important element.
Assuming that you have visited the Dinosaur Spine and are now on your way to Tram Tau, you need to take the DT112 to Xim Vang. There is only one road so it is very easy to follow. It is small and winding and deserves caution. This road skirts around the Ta Xua Nature Reserve and gets increasingly tricky to follow. Expect to find huge ruts in the road and for it to be very slippery in the wet. There may have been recent landslides and this will, obviously, make things more difficult.
You are heading for Tram Tau and you may choose to stay there. There is a great resort with hot springs here where you can stay. You may choose to go further on to Nghia Lo and this will take about 1.5hrs on a small road
Near here there is also a great place called Hang Te Cho Waterfall. It is very difficult to get to and you will also need to trek a ways too. It is too difficult to come over from Ta Xua AND do this; in one day, but you might like to take this route over to Nghia Lo the next day, stopping by the waterfall.
This video gives you an idea of how tricky it is. Bear in mind this is coming from the Nghia Lo side.
Day 4: Nghia Lo - Xuan Son
100km / 4 -5hrs
This day is a really easy day, especially after yesterday. You simply need to follow the highway and head for Thuong Bang. This is where you turn off to go to Thu Cuc and then Xuan Son National Park.
The QL32 is a major highway, so it is fast and there is a fair amount of traffic. It is an easy drive over to Thuong Bang. This is where you decide if you would like to take the detour on the QL37 past Muong Coi before getting to Thu Cuc. This is a more interesting drive but it will add a little distance and time to the journey.
Thu Cuc is a reasonably sized place and you will find some food and refreshments here. It is a good idea to stop and get everyone together here.
You then follow the road in to the park until you get to the park gates. It is quite easy and you just need to go straight, ‘follow your nose’, really. There are several places to stay and there is a small swimming hole one or two caves to see as well. To be honest, just being in the park is quite nice.
Day 5: Xuan Son - Hanoi
140km / 4 -5hrs
The first third of this drive is pleasant and from then on you realize you are heading back to Hanoi. You do not need to back track to get out of the park. You can continue onwards through the park to Tan Son and Thanh Son. This road is small, winding and quite nice to drive on.
If you feel you have time, you might want to head over to Long Coc to see the tea hills. You can easily take a small detour and route yourself through the fields so that you can take a few snaps. After this, you head for Thanh Son and then Thanh Thuy. Here you are starting to get back on to the main roads and traffic will pick up.
At Thanh Thuy you need to decide whether you will take the Trung Ha Bridge or the Dong Quang Bridge. Taking the Trung Ha route is faster but there is more traffic and the ride gets unpleasant quickly. You then head for Son Tay and from there you carry on on the QL32 back in to Hanoi.
Conversely, the Dong Quang route is quieter for longer and much nicer to drive. You will go through Ba Vi and then on the DT87a heading for Son Tay. You can choose to take the Son Tay route or head down to Hoa Lac and then in to Hanoi on the CT08. I would choose the CT08.
In a Nutshell
This tour is a great adventure and one that will get you into some very remote, unvisited parts of Northern Vietnam. You need to be useful with a bike and able to deal with any unexpected problems on Day 3 as you will be quite far from help.
You also need to be flexible and adjust your itinerary according to what happens on the trip. There is plenty of scope for things to go wrong but there are plenty of alternative options.
Take a small group so that you can help each other with any tricky stretches of road and so that you can have a good time.