These top tips are from an experienced traveller on the Internet, who spent 14 days riding around the North of Vietnam. He spent the majority of his time in Ha Giang and on ‘the loop’. However, he also got off ‘the loop’ and out to other provinces, which is something we really recommend.
10 top tips for driving the loop and beyond!
Do it! It will easily be the highlight of your Vietnam holiday.
Motorbike is by far the best way to experience the real Vietnam, away from the cities and typical tourist traps. Find a way to include the loop into your schedule! Also, bear in mind that it will take a full day to get to Ha Giang and back so consider adding a few days on and starting and returning to Hanoi.
Ride your own bike.
If you are a couple, or traveling in a group, you may be tempted into riding two up. Don’t do it! Bike rental is very affordable in Vietnam, so trying to save money by riding two to a bike is not worth it! Riding two up is less comfortable, overloads the bike (making it slow, dangerous and unbalanced on the hills), and misses half of the fun! If you end up going for the easy rider option, you will have to pay a lot of extra money for the rider, when you could be enjoying the sense of freedom, and the challenge of completing the loop by yourself! If you (or someone in your group) isn’t experienced or doesn’t feel confident controlling a motorbike, refer to tip 3 below…
Get some practice BEFORE you go.
If you don’t have a lot of motorbike experience (or possibly even none at all), go out and get some! You can attend a motorcycle training course in your home country, rent a bike or scooter and practice in an empty car park, or perhaps you know a friend that has a motorbike that can help you learn the basics.
While I can’t recommend it, the reality is that some people will attempt the loop with no motorbike experience at all. At a very minimum, you need to have bicycle experience, and be comfortable riding in traffic. You need to consider not only your own safety, but also the safety of others. Confidence, and the ability to not panic are what will keep you safe while riding in Vietnam, and that only comes with experience. If you are already in Vietnam, consider adding an extra day to your schedule, where you just practice and learn in a safe environment. The better prepared you are, the more you will enjoy your ride!
Wear as much protection as you can.
Insist on a full face helmet, gloves, knee and elbow pads. Don’t ride in shorts and sandals; wear jeans and covered shoes. Even a low speed tumble (which is easy to do) can result in nasty cuts and grazes, which could end your holiday right there and then. It is not worth the risk!
Be very wary of buses.
Buses are the biggest hazard on Vietnamese roads. They are big, they drive fast, and they have little patience for slow bike riders. They will often swing out into your lane to get around sharp corners, so if you hear one honking its horn, get as far off to the side of the road as you can, or even stop and wait for it to go past. Buses will pull out to pass cars and motorbikes, even if they can see you coming the other way! They will just honk their horn and expect you to avoid them, which you will have to be prepared to do very quickly.
You don’t need to take everything with you. A small/medium duffle bag or backpack, with some clothes (including your raincoat/poncho) and your camera are all that you need. Don’t weigh your bike down with heavy luggage (which also makes it easier to tip over). You can leave a suitcase at your accommodation in Ha Giang (Or wherever you happen to start your journey) and pick it up when you are finished.
Leave your accommodation each day as early as you can.
By starting your ride early, you give yourself the most amount of time to get to your next destination before dark. This means you can go slow, stop more often, and not feel rushed. Also, your photos will look better in the morning light, there tends to be less traffic in the morning, and you can avoid the afternoon heat!
Pack some food in your bag.
Lunch is not really a thing in Vietnam. At lunch time, you will find that a lot of the restaurants are closed, or there is simply nobody around. If you do find a shop that is open, they will likely only sell snacks and drinks. It is not easy to find a sandwich, or even a bowl of noodle soup in the middle of the day, so try to have a good breakfast in the morning, and if you can, grab a banh mi to go for later.
Go off the loop.
Because you are getting away early, you will have time to explore! Go down some of the little side roads along the way and see what you can find! Open google maps and look for the camera icons for places of interest. Stop in the small villages and check out some of the local shops or market stalls. Don’t just rush to the main points on the loop, get the full experience!
Go way off the loop!!
Northern Vietnam has so much more to offer than just the loop. If you have the time and budget available, take some extra days and explore as much as you can! My journey took me right out past Cao Bang to the magnificent Ban Gioc waterfalls, all the way down to the beautiful Ba Be Lake, and into the untamed wild roads of Hoang Su Phi. The Vietnamese people are so friendly and helpful (even if they speak little to no English), that traveling beyond the loop is both safe and rewarding!