Day 1: Hanoi - Mai Chau
the rural district of Mai Chau; the Kun Pass
You'll ride west from Hanoi towards the rural district of Mai Chau in Hoa Binh Province, famous for its mountainous landscape and the unique stilt houses of its Thai minority inhabitants. One of the things we love about Mai Chau is all the dirt roads you can find there: built by locals to connect their small communities, many of them remain completely unmapped. Spending the night in a Thai homestay, you'll get a taste for the type of food they like to eat, and will more than likely be invited to share a few drinks with them, too.
Day 2: Mai Chau - Phu Yen
the Moc Chau Plateau; the Hua Tat Pas; crossing the Da River by ferry
After breakfast you'll head higher into the mountains, over the Hua Tat Pass and on to the Moc Chau plateau, an area famed for its plums, flowers and green tea. This region, home to the Thai and Muong ethnic minorities, has plenty more offroading opportunities. After crossing the Da River on a little ferry, you'll have time to explore the little town of Phu Yen before turning in for the night.
Day 3: Phu Yen - Than Uyen
the stepped rice fields of Mu Cang Chai; the Khau Pha mountain pass
Next comes a longer day's riding, this time heading northwest. You'll ride the Khau Pha Pass and pass through Mu Cang Chai, an area covered in mountains and stepped rice fields, before arriving in Than Uyen, a peaceful district situated on the banks of a massive lake not too far south of Sa Pa.
Day 4: Than Uyen - Sa Pa
Sa Pa; the Muong Hoa Valley; the minority village of Ta Phin; the O Quy Ho Pass
From Than Uyen, you'll take the O Quy Ho Pass towards Sa Pa. It runs east, overlooking the northern edge of the Hoang Lien Son mointain range, and has a collection of traditional eateries at the end with viewing platforms that jut out over the valley. Since it's not such a long ride, you'll have the opportunity to visit Thac Bac Waterfall and ride the Muong Hoa Valley when you arrive in Sa Pa District, before heading into town to check out the Old Quarter. That evening, you'll take a dirt road to the minority village of Ta Phin to spend the night: it's nearby, and very peaceful.
Day 5: Sa Pa - Bac Ha
the market town of Bac Ha
Heading deep into the mountain range that forms Vietnam's natural border with China, through narrow valleys and across mountain passes, you'll arrive at the little market town of Bac Ha. During weekends the place gets unbelievably busy for somewhere so remote, as people from the surrounding villages come to trade. It's a great place to do a bit of souvenir shopping, or just to relax and get a feel for the way the people there live.
Day 6: Bac Ha - Ha Giang
the mountain province Ha Giang; the Hoang Lien Son mountain range
After Bac Ha you'll continue into the mountain province of Ha Giang, right on the Chinese border. This is one of the most remote areas of Vietnam, has only recently begun allowing foreigners to visit, and is perhaps the country's most famous riding spot.
Day 7: Ha Giang - Dong Van
the Dong Van karst plateau; the mountain town of Dong Van; the Ma Pi Leng Pass; the palace of the H'mong King
The journey from Ha Giang to Dong Van, characterised by its unique karst limestone topography, is where you'll ride the Ma Pi Leng Pass, a 20km road that was built cooperatively by people from the minority villages of the surrounding area. It's also where you'll get to visit Dinh Vua Meo, the palace of the H'mong king who formed an alliance with Ho Chi Minh before Vietnam finally achieved its independence. Like Sa Pa, Dong Van is an old market town that became favoured by the French during the colonial era because of its landscape and its cooler climate. It has an old quarter with quite a few colonial buildings and, though it receives far fewer foreign tourists, some fantastic eateries, too.
Day 8: Dong Van - Bao Lac
the Nho Que River; the Bang River; the Ma Pi Leng Pass; offroading around Bao Lac
Bao Lac is another market town, where minority folks congregate each weekend to trade. On the way there you'll ride the Ma Pi Leng Pass once again, and you'll also have the opportunity to do some more offroading since there are so many dirt trails to be discovered around there.
Day 9: Bao Lac - Ba Be Lake
Ba Be Lake; Ba Be National Park
From Bao Lac you'll wind your way south, and as the mountains give way to the lowlands you'll find yourself riding through the great evergreen forest that makes up most of Ba Be National Park. Ba Be Lake is a great place for a swim and, time and weather permitting, you'll have the opportunity to take a boat ride through one of the cave formations for which it's famous. A homestay not too far from the huge freshwater lake is where you'll turn in for the night.
Day 10: Ba Be Lake - Thac Ba Lake
the hydroelectric power plant; Thac Ba Lake; the minority area of Vu Linh; the Ba Be Pass
Next, it's on to Thac Ba Lake, one of the largest in Vietnam. Created by damming three rivers for Vietnam's first power station, the islands you'll see dotted around it were once mountaintops. On the way there, you'll pass by the hydroelectric power plant for which it was made, as well as through a variety of minority villages belonging to the Tay, Mong and Dzao people. You'll stop for the night in a homestay in Vu Linh, an area on the eastern edge of the lake populated mainly by people of the Dzao minority.
Day 11: Thac Ba Lake - Hanoi
flat rice fields and limestone cliffs
It's a long ride back to Hanoi, but the relaxing past couple of days spent by the lakes should have prepared you well enough.
English speaking tour guide
breakfast, lunch and dinner
helmets and gloves
tickets to national parks and for ferries
drinks at the end of the day
health and liability insurance