Great North Tour – 16 days / 15 nights.
If time allows, you can ride on this Great North Tour and enjoy the best of Northern Vietnam. In fact, you skirt along borderline with Laos and later China. There are many great roads with stunning scenery. In addition, friendly and authentic local hill tribes add more value to the whole experience. Come and ride on this Great North Tour off the tourist track!
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GREAT NORTH TOUR 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 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 who 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 down stream.
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 tour 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, the 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 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 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 half hours to the top of the mountain. Up on 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 words, 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 produce 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 Northwest.
Day 4: Phu Yen – Tuan Giao. 210 km, ~6 hrs.
The journey north continues onto Son La, following the 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 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 make 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 tour 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 mountain sides 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 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 the 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 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 up 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 to 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 – Dong Van. ~160 km, ~4 hrs.
Rise and shine for a few hours trek to many of the Heaven Gates such as Quan Ba, Yen Binh and 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 multi-storey 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, an H’mong family of high rank during French colonial rule (Vuong Chi Sinh was supported to be 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.
Finally, we stay in Dong Van town for the night. End one of the best days of this Great North Tour by motorbike.
Day 12: Dong Van – Cao Bang. ~140 km, ~5 hrs.
After bidding farewell, we climb over the Ma Pi Leng Pass from which 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. In fact, the people who live there survive on a diet of corn. Sadly, this is likely the only crop able to grow in the rocky soil. Even through 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. While here, you will meet many 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. Then a short walk to see traces from the French colonialism and many stories of the 1940s.
Day 13: Cao Bang – Pac Bo – Tra Linh – Quang Uyen. ~100 km, ~4 hrs.
In the morning, we ride up to Pac Bo passing by Nuoc Hai and Ha Quang town.
Visit Pac Bo cave, near China, where our Ho Chi Minh came back after 30 years travelling around the world to find the way for the independence of Vietnam. He stayed there working and leading Vietnamese to win the war.
You stay with a local family, sharing stories with old generations about Uncle Ho who lived very close to them and had a very simple life.
Day 14: Quang Uyen – Ban Gioc – Ha Lang. ~120 km, ~4 hrs.
Continue along the Chinese border through thousands of innumerable vast steep limestone karsts area and visit many villages which are home to Nung and Tay ethnic people. In the past, the Tay and Nung minority in Cao Bang province all migrated from the other side of the border. In reality, they have the same local dialect and culture.
Ban Gioc is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Vietnam, which forms a natural border with China. The echo of the falls can be heard kilometres away. In the rainy season, the waterfall makes the scenery even more magnificent. While here we will take a bamboo raft trip and have picnic lunch.
More beautiful ride along the Quay Son River, which on the other side is China, then directly south to Ha Lang. Overnight in a local guesthouse.
Day 15: Ha Lang – Mau Son. ~180 km, ~6 hrs.
In the morning, hike up to some Tay villages. They live in the wildest area along the border with China. You will be very welcome to local families, who live in beautiful traditional stilt-houses and have a rich culture. Visit more villages around Quang Uyen where in 1950s Viet Minh won the battlefield in Dong Khe. The French ran through the jungle toward Lang Son. However, they felt into an ambush of Viet Minh and more than 5.000 French was arrested in Coc Xa. At that time, Viet Minh had no prison to keep them. So they had kept the French Prisoners of War in many local families. In fact, these prisoners worked in the rice fields with local people.
Ride in the middle of magic landscapes with many lovely smiling faces, waving hands from locals 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, the battlefield of Viet Minh and local army.
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. Minsk riders here drive at full throttle with Chinese products at the back.
Finally, we head up Mau Son. Then climb to reach the top of Mau Son which is 1,542 m above of the sea level. This area’s picturesque scenery turns it into another Sapa. In the late afternoon, we can enjoy a comfortable sight seeing at sunset in Mau Son. You can also observe China at the foot of the mountain.
Day 16: Mau Son – Hanoi. ~180 km, ~5 hrs.
On the way going down hill, we will stop for a short walk to visit Dzao Ta Pan and Nung Phan Sinh villages on the hillside. In fact, 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. It sells well in Hanoi, the South of Vietnam and even China.
Then we will visit some war relics at the centre of Lang Son town or International Friendship border gate. In fact, at this gate, you can shop a variety of Chinese goods. Finally, return to Hanoi on the National Highway No 1. At Chi Lang pass, you can pay a visit to Chi Lang vestige which is surrounded by the steep mountains.
Arrive in Hanoi around 4pm to end this Great North Tour before rush hours.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org in case you need more details and options of this Vietnam Great North Tour by motorbike.
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