EVEN IF YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, YOU’LL GET RUN OVER IF YOU JUST SIT THERE. -WILL ROGERS
Visa’s for Vietnam must be arranged ahead of time. Online applications only work when entering the country via international airports.
We opted to get our Vietnam visa in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where there were a number of travel agents willing to complete the job. We opted to use Lucky Lucky motorcycles shop, after reading a number of positive reviews online. The process took two days to complete at a cost of $40USD per person. I would suggest speaking to your hotel/hostel as you will often find that they can complete the visa application for the same cost without the running around.
There are also a number of online sites offering visa services that may be worth checking out depending on your situation.
PS. If coming from Cambodia, avoid getting your visa in Battambang, where it’s $20 more expensive
While there’s really no bad time to visit Vietnam, most would consider March – April and September – October as the best times to venture around the country.
If you’re heading to a specific part, it’s important to note the weather patterns of each region. Please note, these are only guidelines as different cities within these regions have their own weather systems.
Check out overviews of the places we visited:
Where do I begin? There are so many local dishes, and a number specific to particular regions. If Vietnam had a national food, it would have to be “Pho,” a delicious noodle soup. Choose from chicken (ga) or beef (bo) for a yummy taste of Vietnam.
You’ll also see “Bahn Mi” everywhere you go. Be it from a fancy cafe or a street side vendor, it’s hard to go wrong with this baguette filled with a tasty selection of tofu, pate, sliced pork, coriander, cucumber, and chili sauce.
Hoi An has a specialty called “Cao Lau”. Cao Lau consists of pork and noodles, and is often topped with pork rinds and local greens.
Another Central Vietnam favourite is “Banh Xeo.” This dish is made of egg and shredded pork wrapped in rice paper and served with bean sprouts and a peanut dipping sauce. Delightful from street vendors and restaurants alike.
Northern Vietnam is well known for “Bun Cha”. Bun Cha is served with noodles, fresh herbs, mini, fried pork burgers, and a scrumptious dipping sauce. Mmmm, one of my personal favourites!
And this is only scratching the surface! If you really want to experience the variety of food Vietnam has to offer, take up a food tour in one of the cities you visit on your journey. We especially recommend Hanoikids in the capital city!
With drinks, you can see the divide in the North and South simply from the selection of beers. The South primarily boasts Saigon beer, whilst the Northern selection varies from Hanoi to Halong Bay.
Vietnam coffee is delicious! Iced coconut coffees are a great way to help stave off the heat. And for coffee with a difference, try the infamous “Egg Coffee.”
We budgeted for $50.59 USD/day (for 2 people). Actual was $53.24/day x 30 days = $1,564 total.
*includes bus from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Vinh Long, Vietnam – excludes flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to Hong Kong
***includes medicine, bag rain covers, laundry & ATM fees
Sapa is a well-trodden destination on the tourist trail in Vietnam. However, we definitely still recommend visiting this wonderful place. After cruising around Bai Tu Long Bay for a couple of days, it was nice to get back on our feet again.
TRAVELING IS STAYING ONE STEP AHEAD OF REALITY. – BRITTANI LIBRING
PS. If you enjoy trekking around the globe, be sure to check out a guide to the Luzon Mountains in the Philippines too!
Why not you ask? Look at it this way – Halong Bay offers tours run by 178 companies. At any one time, there can be up to 500 boats in this part of the bay. Go next door, to a different section of the bay and you open up a whole new world. Ahhh, welcome to Bai Tu Long Bay! In comparison, only 3 tour operators are licensed to run in this area, and you’ll only encounter a maximum of 20 boats. And what a difference it makes!
CAUSE I’M FREE AS A BIRD NOW AND THIS BIRD YOU CANNOT CHANGE. – LYNYRD SKYNYRD
Halong and Bai Tu Long Bay tours both depart from the same docks in Halong Bay City. Therefore, Hon Gai International harbour is constantly buzzing with boats. Be prepared to pay a bit more for tours in Bai Tu Long Bay, though the added serenity makes it well worth the price!
You can choose from a day trip, one, or two nights on the bay. Since relaxing on the waters, amongst the limestone karsts sounded like heaven to us, we opted for the 3 day/2 night adventure. And we’re glad we did! SIncentive it’s rated #1 on Trip Advisor, we booked with Indochina Junk (don’t worry, “junk” is just another name for a boat) and were completely satisfied.
We were picked up by Indochina Junk from our hotel lobby at 7:45am and ushered into a luxury van. Here, we met two other couples on the same adventure as us. We had a good opportunity to get to know each other over the next 3 hours as we were transferred to Halong Bay City. An hour from the city, we stopped at Yen Duc Village. In addition to serving a beautiful 9-course lunch, they also entertained us with a traditional water puppet show. Whilst not as polished as the show we saw in Saigon, we still thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards, we piled back into the van, and were on the home stretch!
When you reach the bay, you don’t immediately get a sense of the sheer beauty you’re about to witness. After all, it’s a harbour, so there is a lot happening and a plethora of boats. But once you set sail, it’s not long before you start to get a feel for just how lucky you are. Collectively, the bay has nearly 2,000 islands (1,969 to be exact). At the first site of the limestone karsts, we were in complete awe. And of course, we’d already seen plenty of these on our motorbike trip around Central Vietnam, but something about how they reflected off the water, and knowing it was just us and them for the next three days, made it all the more surreal.
Over the next couple of days, we cruised around the islands, anchoring at points for various activities. First of all, we went on a couple of kayaking trips, which was a great experience! Weaving your way around the karsts, paddling through tunnels, and taking it all in, was simply amazing. Afterwards, we’d jump in for a refreshing swim, dodging the jellyfish we saw during our kayaking trips circling the islands.
We also had a chance to visit Vung Vieng, a local fishing village. Home to a local pearl farm, it was interesting to learn how they cultivate and cure the pearls. A solid 45 minutes around the village, we wondered how the woman rowing our boat was able to keep it up for so long – it must be a great workout!
As the evening approached, we watched from the top deck of the boat as lights began to flicker on a nearby karst. Then, we transferred to the small boat, and sailed across the ocean. As we exited the boat and commenced our climb to the cave, we anxiously awaited what we were about to embark upon. Welcome to the Thien Canh Son cave! We walked in to see a table set for a King, candles lit and staff welcoming us with a warm applause. Our chef, affectionately known as “Spring-Roll,” had outdone himself, preparing a nine-course meal with amazing food sculptures. We enjoyed an evening filled with stories, laughter, exquisitely prepared food and refreshing drinks. It was truly a night to remember and a highlight of our Vietnam visit!
As the cruise came to an end, we knew it was time to settle back into reality. Though the luxury van transfer back to Hanoi with new friends was a pleasant journey, we could have easily extended our stay on the boat!
STAY: Indochina Junk – Dragon’s Pearl
PLAY: Relax, Kayak, Visit a local Fishing Village
EAT: You will not go hungry! Anticipate 7-9 courses for lunch and dinner, with absolutely amazing food. Most noteworthy was the Dinner in the Cave!
* Courtesy of Ian Meergast, film student at NYU, who shared in the Bai Tu Long Bay trip with us
Explore. Discover. Get Lost. Wander. These are all things easier done from the freedom of the road instead of the back seat of a bus. So, do it! Buy a bike (of course you can sell it later) and cruise around the glorious countryside. Stop when and where you want. Turn down that intriguing side road. Utilise a map. And most importantly, enjoy the ride through central Vietnam.
THE ROAD IS ETERNAL. THE WIND IS CONSTANT. WHAT ELSE COMES WITH A GUARANTEE LIKE THAT? – UNKNOWN
We could have done the same route via public transport for under $100, but it would have only saved a marginal amount and wouldn’t have been half of the experience!
Alternatively, if you like the sound of the motorbike Vietnam experience but can’t imagine driving yourself, considering riding along with one of the guides with the Easy Rider tours for a great experience (from what we’ve heard).
Below is a summary of our 8 day adventure! In total, we rode over 1,000 kms for more than 30 hours. It was an incredible journey! Hope you enjoy the ride as much as we did!
160 kms. 5 hrs (if you don’t include the 1 hr we drove around in circles trying to escape from Dalat). Once on the right track out of town, the ride was incredible! Up and down, round and round. Wow! The reality of the epic adventure we were on just set in.
One minute it’s boiling hot – the next, freezing cold. On a road trip, you’ve got to be prepared for anything. Make sure you pack for four seasons, and keep layers within easy access to make the on-again, off-again process a bit easier.
We stopped half way for lunch. No menu, like a number of restaurants in the area, so we went with the traditional Pho. We knew we must be at a good place when one of the Free Rider tours stopped there too. And we were right – it was delicious!
The rest of the trip was a blur, with me struggling to stay awake on the back of the bike. The pains from the previous day’s adventures in Dalat, started to kick in, and I felt like I had been run over by a train. I’m sure the plethora of beers and party smokes the night before didn’t help either, but hey, that’s all part of the fun.
We continued our journey on some questionable roads. The one leading to Lak Lake was overgrown and we wondered if we were going the right way. It ends up that we did take a slight detour, but the views were amazing and we got an insight into local life, passing farmers tending to fields and children running in the streets, so it was well worth it.
Upon leaving Lak Lake, the man on the corner was trying to give Rob a hint when he tried to sell him a razor. Rob was hesitant now that he is a “real” biker…haha, time for the beard to go Robbo 😉
STAY: Co Ma Ko Cho Sai Thi Pha Hotel (Yes, that is the name!) – $5 gets you a tidy private room and ensuite (nothing flash and a bit dated, but gets the job done) – only one towel per room which we found amusing; you can also opt to stay in a traditional longhouse on stilts, which are simple and meant to give you some insight into the local way of living
PLAY: Check out the roaming elephants in the field near the lake – buy local fruit to feed the gentle giants
EAT: Visit local street vendors – we had Banh Xeo, which is fried egg with shredded pork, rolled in rice papers with greens and a delicious peanut dipping sauce
40 kms. 1 hr. In comparison to the hills we climbed yesterday, this stretch was relatively flat. Seemingly endless rice fields lined both sides of the road. Local farmers would occasionally look up and share in a smile and a wave.
While some may say it’s a city without much character, we found our own little pocket of happiness in Buon Ma Thout (BMT). Within a few short blocks, we had everything we needed.
We had great tips from the staff at our guesthouse, including recommendations for delicious food during our stay. BMT is perfect for a day or so, but you probably wouldn’t need to stay for any longer.
STAY: Ngoc Mai Guesthouse – $8 is a bargain for this clean, central hotel with super friendly & knowledgable staff
PLAY: Head to Trang Spa for one of the best massages I’ve ever had – $6.50 gets you an hour of pure bliss!
230 kms. 6 hrs. We just had the motorbike tweaked which included adjusting the clutch and some electrical work. We were off, with the confidence of a galloping horse…until we stalled and couldn’t start the bike again. Friendly Vietnamese people approached us to offer aid and we were able to roll start the bike. Looks like we will need to kick start the bike until the battery charges again.
100’s of butterflies circled us as we drove through the uninspiring roads out of town. Though not setting our senses alight, the roads were beautifully paved, making for a smooth trip. About 30 kms out of town, we passed through a toll, which are free for motorbikes, so we just sped through. The highway leads you through town after town (no villages here). Each town is filled with shops ready to sell you something you probably don’t need.
A hour into the trip we’re finally able to take in some of the scenic views of the Central Highlands. The temperature drops and we’re able to breathe in some of that fresh mountain air. *Cough, Cough* Until that big truck came roaring past, black smoke bellowing out the back. Well, the serenity didn’t last long but hey! we’ll take what we can get.
Climbing another mountain, on-comers approached in ponchos. The roads were wet, so we were expecting the worst, though much to our surprise, we stayed dry. For now anyways. As the winds picked up, we saw a mini kite festival – kids running excitedly in the street, kites flying high in the sky. Ahead we could see lightning. Luckily enough, it seemed we followed the weather patterns the whole day so just missed where the storms hit. Lucky us 🙂
We continued passing through towns, with not much excitement until we got to Chu Se. We took a slight detour, recommended by our friends at Travelfish, to check out Phu Cuong Waterfall, a local delight. Only 10km off the main road, take an easy hike down some stairs and over some rocks to witness some of natures finest work. It’s not a well known tourist attraction, though don’t be surprised to see some locals checking it out.
As we cruised through Pleiku, we were stoked we had less than an hour until we could throw our things down, shower and relax in Kon Tum.
STAY: Green Hotel – $9 affords you a great nights sleep in a giant private room with a log cabin feel. This rustic retreat also comes with free cable TV which is a nice way to unwind after a long ride on the bike
PLAY: The riverside had a great feel and outlook with plenty of entertainment, food and drinks
EAT: Breakfast at Konklor Hotel, directly across from Green Hotel – the serving sizes are huge with standard pricing
200 kms. 8 hrs. We woke up still not knowing which direction we were headed – the Ho Chi Minh Trail or the scenic, coastal trip? After much debate over breakfast, we decided to head the tourist route. After all, you don’t get many chances to say you’ve been on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (albeit a highway these days).
On the way out of town, we stopped at the Wooden Church. It was the only church in the area to survive the Vietnam War and parishioners still sing hymns from here during mass every week.
There’s plenty of stops along the way to pull over for a quick stretch break while taking in the sites. A number of pagodas and Vietnam War memorials make great stops, though it’s unfortunate to see a number of the sites overgrown and not well maintained. Luckily they’re free for the viewing, but some may be a bit anticlimactic.
The actual road is paved which makes for an easier ride. It’s hard to imagine how treacherous this journey must have been back in the war days. To be honest, whilst the scenery is relatively nice, with some pleasant surprises around the bends, it’s knowing the history of this area is what makes this part of the trip so spectacular! Travelling this infamous stretch of land on 2-wheels makes me realise just how lucky I am to come from a country that gives me the freedom to do this.
From a back seater’s point of view, at times, I would have been just as happy to be on a bus. But that wouldn’t be half the adventure now would it!?
Take a break and enjoy Hoi An for a few days. We spent a couple of days here and enjoyed every minute!
STAY: Mango Garden Homestay – $15 ensures you’ll be sleeping in a comfortable private room with all the amenities. With breakfast included and a location within a 15 minute walk of the Old City, you can’t go wrong
PLAY: Plenty to do! Get something tailor made! Check out the Ancient City, illuminated with lanterns at night; Ride a bicycle around town; Enjoy a beachside lunch
130 kms. 3 hrs. After riding for an hour on boring, highway roads, you will be handsomely rewarded as you approach the Hai Van Pass.
As you wind your way up the steep road through the mountains you are taken aback by the stunning views over the aqua blue bays and secluded beaches below. Definitely a spot to stop and take in everything Vietnam has to offer. Local vendors are more than happy to step in as photographer in exchange for a cold drink or trinket.
The memory of the coastline will keep your enthusiasm high as you wind back through the standard highway. There’s nothing much spectacular to see until you arrive in the exciting hustle and bustle of Hue, where you’ll be keen to leave your bike behind and explore the city by foot.
STAY: Canh Tien Guesthouse – ($10) It’s amazing the difference a few extra dollars can get you for a room – we were super happy we checked this place and didn’t settle for our first two options at $8
PLAY: Explore the local tombs ($4.50) and Imperial City ($11) or check out the package deals
205 kms. 4.5 hrs. After riding through some off the beaten track dirt roads I was pretty sure Google maps was confused about where we were going, until of course we popped out on a main road with a sign to the Vinh Moc tunnels.
The Vinh Moc tunnels were a great historical attraction, without the large crowds of the Chu Chi tunnels of Saigon. We visited the video room and were stunned by the length of time (some up to 6 years) and the amount of people (300, including 17 newborns) who called these tunnels their homes.
We decided to skip a tour guide and venture through the tunnels on our own, which were well signed making it easy to navigate.
Dark and cool, the tunnels offered an escape from the heat outside. It was an eye opening experience to see where these people lived for all those years.
The tunnels were an awesome site and we recommend everyone visiting Vietnam to check them out for themselves.
As you approach Phong Nha, you’ll be in awe of the limestone karsts surrounding you. If you booked a year ahead of time and forked out $3,000, you can enjoy the 6 day trek through Hong Son Doong Cave, the largest cave in the world! But, if you’re winging it, opt for something you can arrange upon arrival. Catch a boat to Phong Nha Cave, ride the 400 meter zip line into the Dark Cave before trampling through the mud, or explore Paradise Cave, said to be the most beautiful in the world, either via the 1km or 7km trek through the cave.
STAY: Thien Phu Hotel – $12 will allow you to sleep comfortably in a private room with en suite in the heart of town – arrange your bus tickets or tours here for extra convenience
While you’re at it, check out our “Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Motorbike Trip in Asia.” The roads are CRAZY and we want you to stay safe!
If you’re still undecided about what route to take, have a gander at 5 suggested motorbike routes to get you from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An (or vice versa).
Yes, it is an adventure of a lifetime, so enjoy every moment!
After 5 hours enduring Chinese water torture on the bus from Mui Ne (yes, the aircon was dripping on me the whole time), we finally arrived in Dalat.
WE MUST BE WILLING TO LET GO OF THE LIFE WE HAVE PLANNED, SO AS TO HAVE THE LIFE THAT IS WAITING FOR US. -JOSEPH CAMPBELL
It’s hard to beat a welcome meal with your fellow travellers! Especially when it’s home cooked and free. It was a great welcome to Dalat.
It was nice to see the same smiling faces at breakfast the next morning too. In listening to everyone’s plans for the day, they were all heading canyoning. Rob and I had previously discussed it and decided we would give it a miss. We were going to hike 14km to the top of Lang Bieng instead. After a baguette with egg, and coffee with copious amounts of sweetened condensed milk, we returned to our room to get ready for our hike.
Call it peer pressure, fear of missing out, or deciding to face my trepidation of it, the topic of canyoning rose again. After speaking to the front desk, they advised us that yes, we could still go that day. We quickly changed our minds and off we went.
We were driven 20 kms out of town where we were unloaded from our vans and suited up in our adventure gear, the guides joking around, though definitely focused on our safety. We commenced our first training exercise. After being instructed on how to descend down the rope, we each tried a couple times, first walking, then jumping down a training slope. Seemed simple enough!
Then it was time for the real deal. We trekked about 15 minutes, crossing a small creek, across some large boulders and up to the top of the cliff. They harnessed in the first couple and away they went. Piece of cake! “Who’s next?” they asked. Feeling confident, I said, “We’ll go.” Safety rope attached, couple picture taken, it was our time to shine!
The first few steps were good…but then you need to step off the cliff face – Rob was smashing it – and then it smashed me! After the initial shock of crashing against the rock, I regained my footing and it was time to go again. “Lean back,” I heard them say from the top. “Just like we practiced,” I thought, and went for it. Hit a slippery spot and *bam!* straight back into the cliff face! At least this time there was no farther to fall – whew! I was relieved to be at the bottom. Rob rushed over to me, along with the guides, to make sure I was ok. At this point it was all I could do to keep from crying, but once I realised I was ok and nothing was broken (thanks to a helmet, vest and knee pads), I pulled myself together and sat down to watch from the sidelines.
From this point forward, they switched to having everyone abseil down the mountain one-by-one instead of in pairs, which allowed the guides to better instruct the students. Good cal indeed, as everyone nailed it!
There were two more abseiling feats to conquer, but I decided to give them a miss. I soon became the cheerleader of the group (hey, at least I was good at something). The group descended through a waterfall, which was amazing to watch. Though nearly everyone struggled at two points – at the very top (edging over the cliff on the slippery rock) and bottom (which required you to kick off from the wall, land on a big rock and connect with the guide, all whilst being drenched by the flowing waterfall). Everyone did such a great job!
For the third abseiling challenge, they had to make their way down a gap between two cliffs. About 3 meters from the bottom, they were instructed to, “Let go!” As they conquered their fear of falling backwards, they landed in a refreshing body of water, which helped break the fall.
After abseiling, it was time to continue the adventure with some cliff jumping. There were three options, 6 meters (good), 9 meters (crazy) and 10 meters (f$&cking crazy – according to our guides). People started jumping from the lower levels leading up to the highest. The 10 meter drop lived up to the guides description as you needed to jump off a rock into a gap about 2.5 meters wide. Watching people jump was a sight to be seen!
Lunch (Bahn Mi) – Vietnamese rolls were served on top of a large rock over looking the water. The rolls were delicious after a hard morning of exercise.
For the final activity of the day, and the highlight, we went zip lining! We had a chance to run down the rock formation until we ran out of ground and floated on the zip line over the water. Ahhh, what a day!
We did it! And it was time for a celebratory beer. Guys that passed up the lukewarm beers were teased and called “ladyboys”, though it was all in good spirit.
That night, some of us met up in the lobby and headed to dinner. From there, we went to drink away our pain at 100 Roofs Cafe. As we got lost in the maze type cafe, we made it our mission to have a drink on every level! Out of 7 levels, we made it to 5, and then called it a night. We were exhausted from the days’ activities.
So when visiting Dalat, remember, canyoning is the one thing you must do! Enjoy 🙂
STAY: Dalat Backpackers Hostel – $12 for a big, private room inclusive of free pickup, breakfast, welcome meal & beer 6:30-7pm – one of the best places we’ve ever stayed! Thanks for having us Mr. Thu (one of the original “Easy Riders”)
PLAY: Crazy House – For a unique experience; 100 Roofs Cafe – To chill after a day of adventure
EAT: Night market; Local street vendors
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