Day 1: Hanoi - Thac Ba Lake
Thac Ba Lake; the minority area of Vu Linh
Leaving Hanoi you'll follow the Red River northwest. As you ride, you'll see the flat farmland start to give way to foothills before taking a little road towards Thac Ba Lake. Created by damming up three rivers in order to power the first power station in Vietnam, this man-made lake is the largest in the country. Its banks are populated by people of the Dzao minority—the family who run the homestay you'll spend the night in are Dzao—and, depending on the weather, you'll have the opportunity to explore it further by taking a trip to one of its many islands on a little boat.
Day 2: Thac Ba Lake - Ha Giang
the mountain province Ha Giang
You'll skirt the lake and head north, passing through miles of palm forest before being met with the sight of the imposing mountain range that forms Vietnam's natural border with China. Then it's up and up, the roads becoming steeper and rockier, into Ha Giang. Populated almost entirely by ethnic minorities, most of whom still live in small communities connected by little dirt roads, Ha Giang Province is easily one of the country's most famous riding spots.
Day 3: Ha Giang - Dong Van
the Dong Van karst plateau; the mountain town of Dong Van; the palace of the H'mong King; the Ma Pi Leng Pass
The road from Ha Giang City to Dong Van runs east along the Chinese border and is characterised by huge, oddly shaped karst limestone mountains—it looks like another planet. You'll ride through the country of, among others, the Tay, Dzao and H'Mong, taking in one of the country's most famous roads, the 20km long Ma Pi Leng Pass. Before arriving in Dong Van you'll also have the opportunity to visit Dinh Vua Meo, the palace of the H'mong king who once ruled the area and famously allied himself with Ho Chi Minh. It doesn't take long to explore, but the building itself and the artefacts it contains make it worth the visit. Dong Van is great, too: it's got a historic Old Quarter, a busy traditional market and some French colonial buildings that are more than 200 years old!
Day 4: Dong Van - Ba Be Lake
Ba Be Lake; Ba Be National Park
You'll continue through the mountains of Ha Giang Province before riding south through the province of Bac Kan. Stopping for lunch there is always interesting, since the cuisine so far north differs a lot from that of Hanoi: dishes are more substantial and tend to contain more meat, probably as a consequence of the cold Winters and the harsh terrain. After lunch you'll continue south to Bac Kan's biggest attraction, Ba Be Lake. Ba Be means 'three bays' and, true to its name, is actually three lakes joined together into one body of water. It's got some caves and lagoons which, time and weather permitting, you'll be able to explore on a little boat and the national park in which lies is home to a diverse range of indigenous species and boasts plenty of good homestays.
Day 5: Ba Be Lake - Hanoi
the Ba Be Pass
Leaving Ba Be National Park, you'll ride the Ba Be Pass before continuing your journey through Bac Kan and into the province of Thai Nguyen. Thai Nguyen is Vietnam's tea-growing powerhouse, exporting tens of thousands of tonnes annually, and the roads there are good. Entering Hanoi from the north is far more forgiving than doing so from the west, too, so, following the Cau River through farmland and past numerous smaller lakes, you can expect a relatively relaxed journey back into the capital.
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