Can you ride a bicycle? Are you drawn to Vietnam and its incredible food, culture, history, and landscape? Do you love active travel, or are you simply looking for a grand adventure that will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of a country and its people? Perfect: you have way more than half of what you need to bike in Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. My month long bikepacking tour of Vietnam is the best trip I have ever done. There, I said it! With essentially no bikepacking experience but two great pals and a wide open mind, this was the trip of a lifetime and one that made me fall in love with touring by bike.
Where: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Closest City: Fly into Hanoi or HCMC, depending on if you want to go North to South or South to North
When: All year round! We were there in August, and it was HOT. Sometimes it rained a lot. But you know what? We had the time of our lives.
Length: A month or so
Trip Base Cost: I paid less to live and travel in Vietnam than rent alone in Toronto. Over 29 days, I spent ~$800 including all of my random souvenirs, bus tickets, motorbike rentals, cave tours, beers, and “shopping” purchases. If you’re as frugal as I am, you’ve got meals for $3, accommodation for $10, and thus a minimum of $20 a day…
Additional Variable Costs: A cruise/tour of Halong Bay, other tours, flights, etc.
Skip to the bottom for what you actually need to make this happen, and how to do it!
Bikepacking Vietnam Itinerary and Route
Days 1 to 4 – Arrive in Hanoi, Halong Bay Boat Cruise
After a whack cab ride from the airport to our hostel in Hanoi, the three of us found food (very important) and explored the city. It was terribly exciting in our overwhelming exhaustion, but we jumped right to it and left for a 3-day cruise in Halong Bay the morning after we arrived. Nice!
As luck would have it, the budget cruise we signed up for didn’t fill. The 4-star cruise didn’t fill either, so a free upgrade to a luxury experience with Oriental Bridge Travel was welcomed with open arms. Really nice!! Some call Halong Bay the 8th wonder of the world, and for good reason. Though the bay is getting crowded with cruise ships and tourism in general brings garbage and noise, the views are unimaginably beautiful. Being on a boat is a ton of fun, and this was made all the better with the incredible food, tours of caves, kayaking, swimming, dancing, and good company.
Days 5 to 6 – Homestay in Sapa
To maximize your time in Vietnam: take overnight buses. After a long bus ride from Hanoi to Sapa, we got off the bus and were greeted by dozens of local H’mong women. By “greeted” I really mean bombarded, and by “women” I suppose salespeople is an equally accurate term. These women offered their homes, meals, and a hiking tour of the mountains – which is exactly what we were there to do – so after a brief negotiation and lots of laughs, we followed Mama Tsub to her home in the mountains. I won’t describe the homestay experience in its entirety, as there will be a separate post on Sapa.
Day 7 – Lai Chau from Sapa by Motorbike and the Tram Ton Pass
The second night in Sapa was spent in The Graceful Hostel, from which we rented motorbikes to see go visit Lai Chau via the Tram Ton Pass. This is the highest mountain pass in Vietnam, and the views did not disappoint. After our time in the tourist meccas of Halong Bay and Sapa, however, we were ready for some freedom from the crowds.
Day 8 – First Day of Biking + Vietnamese Hospitality
In the morning, we bought bikes. This seemed necessary if we were to bike Vietnam, so we spent a few hours wandering the street in Hanoi dedicated almost entirely to bicycles and refuelling with Vietnamese Coffee after another night bus back to Hanoi. 3 noobs on 3 questionable bikes, we set out in the early afternoon towards our first destination: Hoa Lac.
We stopped for lunch just 10km out of the city for one of the most wonderful lunch experiences I’ve had. In this top floor restaurant, it was just us and a family of six sitting on the ground eating late lunch. With Google Translate and the power of body language, we talked for hours, laughing and learning about each other over beers. They insisted on giving us food and drink, and our bike Vietnam adventure was off to a smashingly great start.
Days 9, 10 & 11 – Cam Thuy, Than Ky
Getting used to the bikes and the heat, our routine soon became: wake up at 5am, be biking by 6am, go an hour or so before stopping for breakfast, go a little further, stop for a cold drink or a coconut and sway in a hammock, continue on and reach the destination around lunch time. This worked out wonderfully well.
A highlight of accommodation was in Than Ky, where we found clean white sheets and a gorgeous window overlooking the city for $5 each. It was also on our way here that I had an INCREDIBLE meal at a unassuming “restaurant” of soup and meatballs with spices, sausage, chilli, flat noodles, green onion, and veggies. It was, as they say, “off the chain”.
Days 12, 13 & 14 – Pho Chau and beyond
In Pho Chau, we saw a beautiful church in the distance and decided to investigate. It ended up being the location for a summer school of sorts, were kids between the ages of 8 and 12 or so were all gathered to learn English. We spoke to the teacher, who ran the program for free. He was a thoughtful and inspiring man, with so much ambition and generosity. Thank you for making us a part of your day, wherever you are!
The following day was interesting, as we had a minor mishap with distances and accommodation. It was a windy day – very windy – and there were certainly hills to climb. 90km from Phong Nha, we all decided we were too wiped to go on and pulled over at a lonely guest house in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure when the last time these people had guests was, but it was kind of them to let us stay anyway. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching their toddler children run around and drink an odd combination of Red Bull and beer before celebrating Canada Day with beer of our own. It was here we ate frog legs amongst other new and indistinguishable items, and it was here that we saw a new and bizarre side of people in Vietnam.
Days 15 & 16 – Phong Nha and the Caves
We made it to Phong Nha – the biggest city we’d been to since Hanoi – and were greeted by some of the first tourists we had seen in a while. With drinks and chatter, it was refreshing to speak English comfortably. On our rest day, we explored Phong Nha National Park and its caves by motorbike. Dark Cave was full of mud and clay, and was a strange experience to say the least. Not one I’d probably do again, but happy to have done once. The swimming and kayaking was great, however, and Paradise Cave was more my cup of tea. An enormous space that can only really be seen by experience, it was oddly peaceful within these caves.
Days 17 & 18 – Dong Hoi, Dong Ha
Dong Hoi was another big city, though not as attractive to tourists as Phong Nha so we found ourselves more alone again. We swam at an empty beach whose waters were crystal clear – it wasn’t until we spoke to a family from New Zealand that we learned why it was so empty. Apparently a few months ago a major chemical spill had occurred not too far away… Whoops! Perhaps I’ll discover some superpower I contracted soon.
On the way to Dong Ha, we visited the Vinh Moc Tunnels. These tunnels were built in the American-Vietnamese War, and were home to an entire community that sought refuge from the bombing and fighting by living underground. It was moving and surreal, and jarring to realize how recently it all happened.
Day 19 & 20 – Hue and Da Nang
Rightfully known for its food, Hue was the best city we visited in terms of great things to eat and drink. A dozen iced coffees and a long day of exploring the Imperial City were complimented by delectable Cơm hến (rice with clams) and a million other awesome bites.
My last city before taking a bus south was Da Nang. A particular fan of the market here, Da Nang was a great place to explore by bike!
Day 21, 22 & 23 – Ho Chi Minh City
During one of the downpours we endured on our journey, my passport managed to get absolutely soaked. Great!! Dear Ziploc: I appreciate you, but you have failed me. Alas, I was on a bus with the bike to Ho Chi Minh City for some passport-obtaining and more bikepacking. It was a long journey to Saigon, but rewarded with bright lights and awful city traffic that I hadn’t seen since Hanoi. Maneuvering by bicycle was easier than it looks, and my trips to the Canadian embassy made me comfortable weaving through the streets and getting to know the city.
Day 24, 25 & 26 – Mekong Delta: My Tho and Ben Tre
As my biking was cut short in the North, I decided to bike some more South from HCMC and cycled my way to My Tho, famous for its markets. I ate an abundance of fresh fruit and street food, and tried in vain to navigate the painfully busy market. On to Ben Tre, where I could find some breathing room.
Ben Tre was wonderful. I joined a group coming from HCMC that was touring the Mekong River by boat, and spent the day learning about coconut candy and cruising through the brush. A pleasantly serene way to end a many days on the saddle!
Day 27 & 28 – Reunion, Relaxation, and Relocation
I met my friends who I’d left a few days ago back in Ho Chi Minh City. We toured around, ate more food, drank fruit smoothies, and made memories before heading onwards and upwards from the country that had given us so much. Thanks to Caleb and Andrew for letting me convince you into joining me on this crazy adventure, and for being as open and easygoing as you are. Thanks in particular to the people and environment of Vietnam who made the trip everything it was, and for giving me good reason to return as soon as I can.
Roses n Thorns
Rose (the best part)
The pace. As is clear from the rest of my adventures, I love to hike. Biking, however, opened my eyes to a world of possibility. On a bike, I still felt like I was moving slowly enough to absorb the details and get into the crevices of the culture; the big bonus was that I could do this efficiently. The bicycle allowed me to move between places with ease, and made carrying a load so much easier. Chalk one up for bikes!
Thorn (the worst or most hilarious part)
Obviously, losing your passport is never an ideal situation. For me, however, the financial consequence was actually the only burden in the end. Travelling alone to HCMC and having that week to myself was exactly what I needed. The passport was almost a convenient excuse to do some solo exploration.
Bud (the new friend)
In Ho Chi Minh city on my first night when I was biking around looking for an affordable place to stay, I met a local of HCMC named Thuy. She was all smiles and so lovely, with genuine interest in what I was doing and where I was going. We exchanged phone numbers (she was at work), and I spent the next two days as her impromptu guest. She took me around on her motorbike, and showed me parts of the city I’d never have known about without her help. Graffiti covered alleyways, her favourite spot for street food, the nicest parks, and where to find good art; there is no better guide than a local and there is no better friend than a new friend.
Gear and Food List
Protip: you don’t need anything crazy or expensive to bike Vietnam. I even wrote a whole post on how cheap and easy it is for anyone and everyone – $178 cheap! Actually, the gear for this will likely cost you far less than a week long hiking trip in North America. You’ll stay in guest houses along the way, so all you really need is a few articles of clothing and space for souvenirs. For a more detailed list, visit Gear for the Trail.
What I Brought
- Bungee Cord
- Patch Kit
- Hand Pump
What I Bought
- Bicycle (including a lock, water bottle cage, back rack, and spare tube)
Ta-da! That’s all you need!
Eating out is the way to go. Prices are incredible, and I’m not even sure how easy it would be to try to cook something from scratch. Vietnamese food is up there with my favourite cuisines of the world, and I’d love to go back just for the food!
Make it Happen
- Understand the route and pick a time of year you want to go.
- Choose your route/itinerary: there are lots of ways you can extend this trip, take more rest days, stay longer in some locations, and/or bike all the way to Ho Chi Minh City rather than taking a bus through the South. If I had more time, I absolutely would have biked the whole thing.
- Once that is locked in, book your flights and/or transportation to and from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
- Book accommodation for the first couple of nights, but this trip is best done without a fixed itinerary. Fly by the seat of your pants!!
- The fun begins! Plan your tours, get your minimal gear in order, and start cycling around town to get yourself ready and psyched for your trip!
- Get outside and do the thing.
Want to bike from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City? Here’s how to do it on the cheap, and with no experience. Less than $200 will get you all the gear you need, including a bike! See my budget bike tour gear kit (and where to buy bikes in Hanoi) here: My $178 Budget Bike Tour of Vietnam