Stretching from the south of Vietnam all the way to the Chinese border, the more than 1.700 km long coastal route truly is an epic driving adventure. The journey offers a fascinating insight into the nation`s history and culture, exquisite culinary art, the finest coastal sceneries and alluring nature. Besides, Vietnam is a fairly safe country with the hospitable nation, divine food, and travelling here is a good value for money.
1.START IN SAIGON (HO CHI MINH)
Firstly, you will need to buy a used motorcycle in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) so that you can re-sell in Hanoi before you leave the country (unless planning on a big Asia-venture).
Motorbike market in Vietnam is big and travellers typically buy-sell-swap the bikes through their hostels, guesthouses or online. Prices start at $100USD +, depending on the type, size, and age. Take your time to get a good deal, and while you are doing so, you should explore the city – some of the craziest on Earth.
2.MEKONG DELTA (170 km south of Saigon)
The Mekong River, at over 4 000 km, it rises high up to the Tibetan plateau and flows through 6 countries to meet the South China Sea in Vietnam.
Mekong Delta is some of the most inspiring places on Earth; it is essential for travel and transport, with thousands of boats ply up and down these waterways, from tiny rowing boats to cargo ships, carrying rice, sugarcane, and fruit.
All life can be seen observed in the water: colourful river villages and markets, pagodas, a myriad of bird colonies and species of rare fish, and even dolphins. Can Tho – the delta`s epicentre and the floating markets of Vinh Long and Cai Be should not be left out of your itinerary.
3.MUI NE & PHAN TIET (215 km north of Saigon)
Built around a charming fishing village, the beautiful beach of Mui Ne has a reputation as the adrenaline capital of Southern Vietnam, popular with surfers (August-December) and wind and kite surfers (October-April), when the gales hit the coast.
That is also a time when the changing winds sculpt the vivid sands into the giant sand dunes, and tourists can have much fun quad-biking, 4×4 driving or sand-sledging.
4.DALAT (163 km north of Phan Tiet)
With elegant colonial villas, a cooler climate and verdant scenery, Da Lat is Vietnam`s premier hill station, originally established by the French as a cool retreat from Saigon`s stifling tropical heat.
The bohemian vibes and marvellous landscapes typical of pine forests, rolling hills, and tranquil lakes make it the sort of place best enjoyed at a gentle pace. Da Lat also lends itself perfectly to outdoor activities like trekking, mountain biking, and eco-tourism.
Don`t skip a night at the Crazy House!
5.NHA TRANG (135 km north of Da Lat)
Considered to be the beach capital of Vietnam, Nha Trang is famed for its sweeping stretch of gorgeous beach with picturesque offshore islands adding to its appeal.
The turquoise waters offer fantastic diving opportunities while the beachfront provides plenty to keep the visitors entertained with parks, gardens, stylish restaurants, hip nightclubs and sophisticated bars. So, if you are a fan of good seafood and chill out, you will surely want to linger for a bit.
6.HOI AN (550 km north of Nha Trang)
Strap on your walking shoes – Hoi An is a town best explored on foot. The large community of foreign merchants living here between the 16th and 18th centuries left a heady mix of architecture, combining Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cultures.
Today, the UNESCO-listed town features a well-preserved architecture, cobbled streets lined with old merchant houses and pagodas and lovely riverside promenade packed with art stalls, markets, fabulous restaurants, and tailor shops.
And if you are lucky enough you might witness the full moon lantern festival – a magical spectacle of hundreds of sparkling lights sailing down the river and lightening up in the sky.
7.DA NANG (30 km north of Hoi An)
This modern city with sparkling skyscrapers and a riverfront promenade reminiscent of a subdued version of Shanghai`s Bund, Sitting on the banks of the Han River, Da Nang has excellent dining and entertainment options and fine white-sand, palm-fringed beaches.
Besides, you can watch some of the most spectacular sunrises in Vietnam and fishermen bringing fresh fish and seafood that you might well have for dinner at one of the seaside taverns. Da Nang is an ideal place to recharge one’s batteries on the beach before heading out into the next adventures.
8.THE FORBIDDEN CITY OF ‘HUE’ (102 km north of Na Trang)
Once the capital of Vietnam, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the imperial city of Hue has a distinguished history and traditions. Despite the bitter battles during the Vietnam War, it has kept its original vibes – it is romance, refinement, and spirituality one will find in Hue.
On the north bank of the Perfume River, the emperor Gia Long built a huge citadel in the Chinese style that hides a ‘Forbidden City’ at its heart. Sightseeing here is at its best; find Hue`s ancestral altars, pagodas, temples, royal tombs and fascinating museums.
9.NINH BINH (573 km north of Hue)
Arriving in Northern Vietnam – a very different scenery comes into sight; this is the land of Vietnamese natural wonders. The Red River will take you through a phenomenal limestone encounter, starting at Ninh Binh, a small town situated in Red River Delta.
Once occupied by the French, today the town is one of the most popular tourist spots in the country. Tam Coc is the main attraction; a tiny yet famous fishing village offers a 3-hour excursion by a small rowing boat along the Red River, picturesquely nestled amid lush rice fields and towering karst mountains filled with caves and caverns.
10.HA LONG BAY
The Vietnamese named it “The Bay of the Descending Dragon,” and the majestic grandeur of this place along with its mysterious ambience became the inspiration for dozens of legends and poems since ever.
No wonder that Ha Long Bay was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This unbelievably beautiful area is covered with thousands of uniquely shaped limestone islands, ridges, hidden coves and echoing caverns, dominating the motionless waters. Ha Long Bay is one of those special places on our planet, which no matter how clichéd they become their beauty is simply timeless.
Bypass Hanoi for now, and drive towards the Chinese border at Lao Cai. Sa Pa is a must-visit when in Northern Vietnam.
This small French-colonial town features breathtaking mountain images, picturesque rice terraces, vibrant markets and various indigenous ethnic groups.
Sa Pa sits on a misty lake at an altitude of 1500 m above sea level, and the town is backed up by the highest peak of Vietnam – Fan Si Pan (3143m), which only adds to Sa Pa`s picturesque scenery and makes a popular trekking destination.
It is suggested to take additional time to explore the Lao Cai province. The country is fairly mountainous, and roads are not always in the top-condition. However, it is considered the most scenic part of Vietnam. Also, we strongly recommend visiting Cao Bang (popular with motorists) and the spectacular Ban Gioc Falls – the world`s 4th largest waterfall along a national border.
Once you have arrived at the final destination – in the capital city of Vietnam, you should try to sell your motorbike to one of the next candidates for this unique road trip – the other way round. Before you leave the country, however, spend a few days in Hanoi to explore the cultural hub of Vietnam – it is a pretty beguiling city.
Suggested time for this coastal road trip is 4-8 weeks, depending on the route you choose and time you spend at the individual places. Your daily budget should not be more than $50USD/day (mid-range). For more tips and Vietnam, driving itineraries go to http://vietnamcoracle.com/saigon-to-hanoi-by-motorbike-5-suggested-routes/
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Vietnam is a vast land, and it is subject to different climate zones. Hence it is hard to say what is the very best time, considering that you travel the whole length of the country in one trip.
Generally speaking, Southern Vietnam has dry weather between Jan-March, Central Vietnam between Apr-Jun and the north between Nov-Apr. However, Northern Vietnam gets abundant rainfalls throughout the whole year.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi (depending on your starting point).
For all international flights go to www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com
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