Motorbiking in Asia forum
my 3 month trip/motorbike advice vietnam, laos cambodia
1st September, 2011
so i figured i should throw up a little report about the trip i recently completed. it can be hard to find info sometimes for some of the more remote areas. obviously this isn't a comprehensive guide, so don't read it as such. me and a friend each bought a honda win in hanoi. i paid $275 and she paid $250 and we both sold them for about $200 each. honestly if you are buying a bike from a tourist i wouldn't pay more than $250, and honestly you should probably try and get it for closer to $200 which isn't that hard to do. be sure to check the blue card to see when the bike was manufactured so you don't get a super old one, not that it really matters. honda wins are the bikes to own, easy to fix and good gas mileage. we used about 2 1/2 liters per 100km, i talked to a minsk owner who said he used 6 liters/ 100km. yikes, that adds a lot of cost to the trip paying for that much gas. we bought our bikes in hanoi, went a little south before hitting up halong and driving a counter clockwise loop of the north, headed into laos, did a loop through cambodia, then finished up in saigon. ok, so this was our trip:
hanoi - ninh binh
leaving hanoi isn't great. my friend had never driven a motorcycle until the day before and she made it out just fine. she did say she was terrified, though. just be confident, consistent and observant. it's not that bad and actually kinda fun, in my opinion. didn't wanna take the main highway down, but ended up a little lost and got back on it. ninh binh has a couple hotel areas, 1 right on the main road in the middle of town and another down by the train station. awesome fried noodle type spot just down the road from thanh thuy's guesthouse. big wok setup outside and just great, cheap food. highly recommended. the tourist stuff was pretty nice around with tam coc and all. it was nice but a place that i could skip if i was pressed for time
ninh binh - cat ba island
ride up to haiphong was nice as you have lots of cathedrals/churches all out in the countryside and towns along the way, though it's pretty much on bigger roads and highways. just drove thru haiphong so don't know anything about it. to get out to cat ba you can take either a fast ferry or a slow ferry. the fast ferry was way more money but was obviously faster. you end up taking 2 ferries if you go the slow way, but it was nice island cruising. i have to say that i didn't really like cat ba town. i found the food overpriced and not that great, but it is still a good base to organise a tour and other stuff. do a small group cruise lang ha bay. if you have 4 people you can charter a boat for a decent price, i think this was way better than most people who go on big tour boats. if you are on a budget the car ferry from cat ba to ha long city is in many ways just like taking a cruise and is a ton cheaper, this ferry is the much better and scenic option between it and haiphong. between cat ba and van don i would much rather go back to van don island in bai tu long bay
cat ba - van don island
the view from the hotels right next to the harbor are frickin' amazing. also go out to to the pier at sunrise, good fun and sunrise over the harbor is a majestic thing in bai tu long bay. 8 km up island there are a bunch of restaurants with hammocks and places to sit with amazing views on the beach, i think they ran about a dollar an hour. van don island is what i think cat ba was a decade or so ago. better prices, better food, more local experience and honestly a much better view just from the pier than i saw around cat ba island, i think. didn't go out to quan lan island but heard some good and some bad reviews. i think i'll go next time
van don - lang son
good stop off city on the way up to cat ba. the road was mostly ok, if i remember correctly, but it had some rough spots for sure. it'd be a really long day if you pushed past here going to cao bang. don't really have much to say about lang son, we just spent a night and left, but the town probably had a couple things to do or places to eat if you wanted to spend more time
lang son - cao bang
this road sucked in the beginning. they are doing construction too and there were some sections that were new and really fun to drive. cao bang's hotels are more expensive than i would have thought. all that chinese money driving up costs. great little bakery driving south on the ql4a just before you get to river bridge that goes back into town. 10 min walk from the main hotel area in the center past what i called "the eiffel tower". ban gioc waterfall is a worthwhile trip. just a great drive out there and a pretty cool site in itself. it definately takes all day to drive there and back. cool blacksmith village on the way out there maybe 20km outside of cao bang. didn't do any other rides, but i'm pretty sure you could base yourself in cao bang for a week and do different awesome rides in the surrounding area
cao bang - bao lac
the road wasn't really that good for much of this day. it was also extremely beautiful for the whole ride, which will definately slow you down. great mtn roads and windy river roads and just an amazing drive. i think it was bao lac we stayed, but i could be wrong. it's a little bigger town with a few hotels. there aren't too many towns with hotels along this section and this was about how long we wanted to spend on our bikes
bao lac - dong van(meo vac)
this was THE single most beautiful ride on my entire 3 month trip. words do it no justice. just north of meo vac is the best scenery, but it was all great. also a fantastic little bakery just as you come into meo vac from the south on the left hand side. really one of our favorite little bakery spots. we stayed in dong van, but if i had more time i would spend a few days in meo vac and a few days in dong van. so much to explore in this area. loved it up there and there were also some really good markets around that were way less touristed than the markets near bac ha or sapa. if you are renting a bike in ha giang then plan for an absolute minimum of 3 days, but i would do at least a week and make it a big loop where you start by going east to bao lac before turning north to meo vac, remember it can get chilly up there
dong van - ha giang
well, what can i say, another amazing ride. ha giang didn't seem too interesting other than being the gateway city to the north and dong van, but you can rent bikes there if you were so inclined
ha giang - bac ha
a pretty main road until we turned off on the ql279. that road was in a pretty poor state until you cross some district line and then it is pretty good condition. the bac ha market was pretty good. stay overnight and beat the tourist crowd by waking up early. bac ha is also supposed to have some really cool things and other markets nearby on different days that you could explore if you spent more time there. the tourist restaurants are really overpriced though, isnt that always the case though
bac ha - sapa
not a fun drive. lots of huge trucks when we did it. driving up to sapa is obviously nice, though. we loved sapa more than we thought we would. the ladies selling things are kinda funny. talk to some of them and go do a homestay with one of them. cheaper and much more authentic experience than what you get from the official homestays. some of our favorite food in our whole trip was a lady who has a stall in the market. look for the booth with all the ladies who sell stuff, most of the minorities eat at that ladies booth. seriously good food, especially the pork
sapa - somewhere on the way to dien bien
the ride up and over the pass is amazing and should be done on bike, turn it off and put it in neutral for a long coast and many picture ops. we didnt do the northern road to dien bien because we'd heard it was in rough shape and took the 32 towards than uyen and then the 279. after than uyen the road got lots worse, huge dam construction and then just a small twisty road, actually pretty fun and scenic in many spots. not sure where we stayed, some new looking strip town that had a hotel.
somewhere - dien bien phu
i think the place we stayed was a couple hours from the junction town of tuan giao. the road to dien bien goes over another pass and is nice, but not the best. we were supposed to cross the border into laos after a night in dien bien, but when we arrived the guard on duty simply told us no. we tried for probably 45 min before giving up and driving to the next border crossing. we were told by someone we met that they waited for 3 or 4 hours and then were told they could go thru the border. so patience might pay off at the tay trang crossing.
dien bien phu - son la
so we started from dien bien after lunch after seeing how far it would be to get to the next border crossing. we backtracked to tuan giao, after tuan giao it was just more of the same: beautiful mountain scenery and huge passes. we ended up going all the way to son la, but there were 2 villages before getting there that looked like they would have been nicer to stay in, but the hotels we saw weren't open looking. and it was getting toward dark so we didnt have time to check around. son la wasn't that exciting, at least what we saw, but is a decent spot to get a hotel.
son la - moc chau
there is some nice river cruising on this route, the beginning coming outta son la isn't too exciting, though. we thought that there might be a border crossing to the south of moc chau and we drove all the way to the crossing to find out that it was only a locals crossing. we decided to stay in moc chau because now we were going to have another long day driving to the na meo crossing.
moc chau - quan son
we were rained on for the first few hours coming out of moc chau so if there were really nice views i didn't see them and therefore remember this to be a pretty boring section. it was a more fun drive down the 15, especially since the weather cleared up for us for a couple hours. i thought that when we got to the 217 that goes to the border i thought that the road would improve. nope, the 217 to na meo totally sucks. lots of pot holes and of course it started to rain again. otherwise it was actually a nice drive up this road and i'm sure there coulda been some cool villages to make a quick stop at on the way. we decided to stop and stay in the town of quan son because we were pretty cold and wet and had driven long enough. there are a couple little restaurants and hotels in quan son.
quan son - sam nuea(laos)
na meo looked like a bigger town than quan son and probably had more hotels and food spots, but we didn't stay. we weren't sure if we were going to be able to cross the border or not so we just went for that as soon as we got there. no problem crossing, just have to pay $20 fee per bike. the road had some muddy spots but generally in better condition than the vietnamese side. unfortunately i got into an accident when a drunk guy on his bike decided to cut in front of me. my front tire was completely jacked up, but after many hours of not understanding each other some told us that if we agreed to not talk to the police then they would replace my whole wheel. it wasn't the perfect fit, but close enough and i didn't have many options. the whole rest of the ride to sam neua is kinda a blur. it started to rain really hard just as the bike was ready to roll. we also ended up having to drive for almost an hour after dark, which is always terrible with honda wins because of their awful headlights. but we made it and got a plush hotel, the mattresses seemed softer in laos already!
sam nuea - muang hiam
we stayed in sam neua for a day to relax and wander around before heading out toward nong khiaw. sam neua is an interesting place and the roads to get there are really very nice rides, but man are they long rides. if you have lots of time then go for it, but otherwise i wouldn't do it. the 6 and then the 1 are both awesome roads. coming out of sam neua the roads hugs ridgelines with huge views. there weren't many places to eat along this route, have a big bfast. muang hiam sits at a little crossroads on route 1, there are a few hotels and restaurants there.
muang hiam - nong khiaw(muang ngoy)
again some pretty stretches of road to drive on. also some dirt sections that are literally a pain in the ass. i had been to nong khiaw before and really liked it and muang ngoy, but i wished i had stopped and spent a night in vieng kham for a less touristed version of a river town. there were some hotels in vieng kham and probably some good local food, it's always good to have ideas for the next time, though
nong khiaw - luang prabang
well we didn't get great weather while we were in the nong khiaw area and it just wasn't as nice as i remembered it from my last time here. even though the road down to luang prabang is on the main highway, it felt really relaxed after being used to vietnamese driving habits. pak mong has some nice little food spots, at least i really liked what i ate there. the closer you get to luang prabang the worse the traffic gets and you have to go slower. a bike is really nice to have to get around luang prabang as it's a bit bigger than most of the 1 horse towns that we've been staying in. save some money driving out to the waterfalls and stuff. i love luang prabang and would try and add it to any se asia trip if possible
luang prabang - phonsavan
i was worried that this would be a really long day on the bikes, but i thought it went by pretty easily. there are pretty views all over this road. and once you start getting toward phonsavon the scenery changes as you enter the plateau, different than anywhere else i've seen in laos, at least. phonsavan is spread out, take a cruise thru before picking a hotel. look for the UXO info spot and look for a hotel in that area. the plain of jars sites are all pretty cool. i thought #2 was best, but they were all different. go for the sunset at site #1. if you do the sunset at the others then you'll be driving your bike back on a shitty dirt road for a long time in the dark. in phonsavon we liked the restaurant across from the uxo place on the corner, for get the name but it cant be too hard for you to find.
phonsavan - konglor cave
i wasn't sure how these road conditions would be, but i shouldn't have worried. it's actually a new road and was pretty easy driving with very little other traffic. as always, the views are pretty good along the way. this was still a very long day, get going early and stay on the throttle if you want to make it the whole way. we got into konglor just after dark, but we wanted to get there so we could wake up and get to the cave early. konglor is in an extremely attractive valley with great views. i came for the cave, but i think i would go back for the area around konglor. the cave should be done, the earlier you get there the less other boats you see inside. plus i think i quite enjoyed the hotel and restaurant experience in the village. i would recommend relaxing and spending at least a couple nights
konglor cave - some town south of savannakhet
today was just a driving day. the road isn't scenic. but it's long when you're riding on a 110cc bike. we stayed in some town on the road. nothing to write home about
somewhere - pakse
the boring highway continues into pakse. pakse is just some old french style buildings and a mekong view, but i actually quite enjoy pakse. there's good food around, even in touristy spots, but street places too. beautiful sunsets with reasonably priced beerlaos down on the mekong. another spot people like to rent bikes and cruise up into the bolevan plateau. and there are some cool spots up there and tad lo is cool to relax at, if you aren't riding a bike already rent on and have some fun!
pakse - muang khong
well, the road is in good shape, but not too much to see here. the bridge to muang khong is gonna be finished pretty soon so you can just drive out there. there is a small hotel tourist area the the middle east side of the island with a row of hotels and restaurants. among the hotels in a row, we stayed up the road a little more. i forget the name, but i actually think it was the nicest and i think cheaper as well. its a little past the "up market" hotel, only a couple minutes walk anf the hotel itself sits on the water so the view from the deck is great. having the bike on the island is cool. cruise around. if someone opened up a hotel i would much rather stay on the western side, but i didn't notice a place to stay when i was there. beerlaos with sunset and then driving home in the dark on a bad road wasn't too exciting, at least the driving back buzzed in the dark haha. i stayed on don khong my last trip and so i wanted to check out muang khong, not sure which i'd rather go back to, maybe both. there's more going in in don khong and it's probably a younger crowd. the beach is nice to go chill at, too. so it depends what you want
muang khong - attapeu
this was supposed to be an easy day. we were just crossing into cambodia and driving to either stung treng or kratie. well, for the second time we were turned away at the border. they said we couldn't take our bikes. i've heard a bunch of bad things about this border, so i would advise to not even drive south of pakse unless you really want to go to the islands and know you'll probably be backtracking. so we had to reenter laos and drive back to pakse. we were able to push it all the way to the east side of the bolaven plateau to attapu. ugh, long day thru some really bad, muddy roads in the bolaven, but there was nowhere to stop really once we got into the eastern bolaven. more night riding sucked
attapeu - pleiku
and we were still on our "get back on schedule" driving mode this day, once you get up into the mountains toward the border things look much more interesting. we did see a few travelers riding the opposite way as us, so i would guess that this is also a doable border to come into laos as well. the road after the border down to kon tum is actually pretty awesome. it must be some of the newest in the country and was a pleasure to cruise down. multi lane highway but with almost no traffic. we pushed it past kon tum hoping to get to at least pleiku. the road conditions were way worse after kontum. and we started getting the rain from one of those big typhoons that slammed into vietnam last fall. it wasnt a fun ride. soaked and cold we got a hotel in pleiku. pleiku wasn't interesring at all. we ended up having to spend the next day there because of the typhoon going on, but couldn't really explore town because of the terrible weather, luckily we had good internet where we were staying. as always there's some good food around if you have a chance to look.
pleiku - kratie(cambodia)
once you turn onto the 19 that will take you over the border to cambodia the road is nicer. we had no problems getting our bikes into cambodia at all at the le thanh. the road was really good getting into banlung. the market might have been interesting and i'm sure i could have spent a couple nights, but we had to make up time. i wouldn't recommend trying to get to kratie from banlung starting around lunch. once you get onto the 7 to kratie the road turns into a nightmare. we ended up having to do this potholed dirt highway at night for an hour or two. wow, that really sucked, maybe some of the worst driving on the whole trip. probably our own fault for pushing for too much, but that is going to happen time to time when you're on a long range motorcycle roadtrip, we did meet some people you put their bikes up on bus and did some boring sections that way, but that seems a bit like cheating to me. we did make it into kratie in 1 piece, though.
kratie - siem reap
so now we have 1 more shitty day to get us back on track. it was gonna be another long day on the motorcycle. take the river road to chhlong coming out of kratie. super smooth and scenic. we missed the turn onto the 71 and stayed on the 7 until it hit the 6. the main highway 6 is crammed with all types of vehicles and changes between sections of terrible road and sections of nice road. not fun being passed by all types of vehicles in conditions like that, man they are crazy drivers. we did roll into siem reap just a little after dark. i can tell you that i was excited to be in siem reap and know that we were staying for many days in one place after so much driving. we stayed in the mandalay inn and would highly recommend it. great value, really reasonable prices and has some pretty good food also. usually we didn't eat at our hotel much while traveling, but they made some good food. like sapa and luang prabang, siem reap is that really big tourist spot that i just really love to go to. lots to do at night, if you want that, but plenty of stuff to do in the day out at the temples and surroundings. after driving all over on our bikes it's super nice to get driven around the temples in the little tuk tuk things, plus you don't have to worry about parking and stuff
siem reap - battambang
main highway, pretty quick drive, though only because we were on bikes, there was a massive traffic jam that wasn't going anywhere, but we could slip on through. we had planed to stay in battambang for a couple nights, but we actually really didn't like the whole begger scene that they have going on in town. so the next day we just packed our stuff and hit up the bamboo railroad on the way outta town.
battambang - kompong chhnang
not a long ride, but since we did the bambo railroad we got a late start and got to kompong chhnang as it was getting dark. it was a little tough finding where the center of town was in the dark and so we just grabbed a hotel and figured it out the next day. we considered going out on the lake, but in the end we didn't, so it was really more of a hotel stop
kompong chhnang - kampot
missed the ring road and ended up going thru the center of phnom penh. i've been there before so i didn't need to stop, but at least my friend got to see some of it. you can go as fast as you want on the road down to kampot, just be careful since cambodians don't seem to have the same regard for life as we do and we saw some pretty serious accidents out there, so keep it under control and be aware. kampot is a fun town. lots of expats and long term travelers, i liked the scene. hangout a few nights and have some drinks and buy some pepper. good times
kampot - kep(rabbit island)
the road was mostly dirt until you turn toward kep. but they were kinda working on it, so maybe it's built when you go and then it would be any easy drive. the food at the crab market is really good, but the prices are not as cheap as they once was. we headed to kep so we could go out to rabbit island. rabbit island is a great place to go and relax on a nice small beach that has generator power only, feels pretty old school. 6-7 bungalow places all somewhat similar, but check prices and the such. great seafood on the cheap out on the island, worth the trip out for a day just to eat a bit cheaper
kep - ha tien
this was a funny crossing with all the casinos being built. no problems with the bikes crossing the border. we never had problems crossing back into vietnam. ha tien seems to be a city of only hotels. but i didn't really see many tourists, weird. good place to spend a night before getting the ferry to phu quoc. 1 car ferry a day leaves in the morning from ha tien and comes back in the late afternoon. since it gets in again in the afternoon it also makes sense to spend another night on the way back.
ha tien - phu quoc island
the car ferry drops you off on the northeastern side of the island. make a right turn to the north, we tried going south and the road pretty much disappears. after 25km you get onto a really nice, newly built road that takes you into duong dong. we really liked our place at lang cau homestay, close to the beach and on the low end of the prices. phu quoc is an island you really need a bike or you're gonna be spending on taxis, many people rent them for a day or so when they're there. one of my favorite spots was all the way south on long beach. there's a little restaurant spot that has nothing else nearby it. sit in the hammock all day with the beach to yourself before driving back as the sun sets next to you. the north is also fun to drive up to. the roads are mostly dirt in lots of places, though. i also have to say that i didn't think phu quoc was that great, i would much rather have gone back to sihanoukville and gone out to koh rong than go to phu quoc, but that's just my style. no bikes on those islands, though
ha tien - can tho
way more population down here. lots of canals and boats and stuff to look at. can tho was a really cool city. another place you and hang out for a week no problem. lots of good food. cheap prices. there are tourists but it never felt overrun, unless you look like you wanted to buy a boat ticket to the hawker ladies, then you could get mobbed a bit. the trip out to the floating markets is a worthwhile thing. it's not too much money, so just do it. get up and out before the sun is up and beat the other people and the heat
can tho - vinh long
short ride, but you go over a cool big bridge with a nice mekong view. we went out to the island next to vinh long for the homestay thing. i forget how much it was, but whatever it was it was worth it. i seriously think that was some of the best food i had on my whole trip. if i had a week i could just hit a bunch of different homestays out there because i heard most of them have some pretty amazing grub
vinh long - saigon
highway driving. got a little lost heading into saigon, but was able to get back on track. you know, i really didn't think it was that bad driving in the traffic there, but that was 3 months in. i actually sold my bike to a local guy who owns a bar who wanted a win. we posted on craigslist, but really didn't get many people looking. we both sold our bikes for about $200. amazing trip that i would do again in a heartbeat. having said, if i had to plan another trip i'd plan to spend almost 2 months just driving around northern vietnam. i just loved the north, and it would have gotten better if i had more time to explore and the crazy roads they have up there. and if you had another month then hit up laos, maybe selling the bike there or heading back to vietnam to hoi an. and selling it there. ok, well, hopes this might help someone plan there motorcycle trip around asia, don't listen to all the negative nancy's on this site who say it's illegal and too dangerous to do a trip like this, it might be the best trip you ever so
#1 Posted: 17/3/2014 - 11:53
21st January, 2004
Total reviews: 24
At least 113
Great trip report! And great trip by the sounds of it.
#2 Posted: 17/3/2014 - 20:45
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