Cao Bang Loop Motorcycle Tour

tunnel into the cave in Bac Son

Table of Contents

Why the Cao Bang Loop?

Northern Vietnam is a fantastic place for Vietnam motorcycle tour. Many people will have heard of the Ha Giang Loop and make a bee line for this northernmost region. Unfortunately, this has caused the whole place to become over developed and it is no longer the pristine wilderness it once was. Enter, Cao Bang Loop, which (at the time of writing) is still a somewhat quiet and peaceful area, which also has stunning scenery, great diversity of riding and amazing culture.

Yes, you heard it here first, ‘Cao Bang is where the cool kids hang out.’

We think that the best way to see Cao Bang is by motorbike and it is quite easy to make the journey from Hanoi to Ban Gioc Waterfall and back. It is possible to do this in 3 – 4 days but we recommend an easy 6 days to make the loop or even more if you really want to see all that the loop has to offer. 

Route Map

Itinerary

Day 1 - Hanoi - Ba Be Lake - 200km / 6-7 hrs

This is your slog day and it involves getting out of Hanoi. You need to head up to Thai Nguyen and then Yen Do. It is only then that you can really turn off the main road and start to get on the smaller roads. From here on there are a few small detours that are easy to find. The road is tarmac, narrow and winding and great fun to drive. Just watch out for the odd truck. The best way to get to Ba Be Lake is past Hua Ma Cave. You will arrive directly in Pac Ngoi Village where there are lots and lots of homestays.

taking a boat trip around Ba Be Lake
taking a boat trip around Ba Be Lake

Day 2 - Ba Be Lake - Bao Lac - 180km / 6 hrs

Today is a much nicer day with a lot of great scenery. You head out of the National Park and then cross the suspension bridge past Puong Cave. From there you nee dto go overt several huge mountains and past small towns nestled in the valleys to get up to the Ql34 at Bac Me. This road is good and fast and bit like a speed track and is great to drive. At Ly Bon Bridge you hed for Bao Lac, which is a very small, quiet market town. There are only a few small hotels in this place so try to book ahead. 

XR150 on a remote Cao Bang road at sunset
XR150 on a remote Cao Bang road at sunset

Day 3 - Bao Lac - Ban Gioc - 165km / 6 hrs

We have another great day today with plenty of small road and villages for your enjoyment. You head out of Bao Lac, past the market, and your first stop is the 14 storey pass. You will skirt the border with China and catch glimpses of the ‘fence’. The road is winding and small and offer som really great views before you head down towards Pac Bo Cave, where Uncle Ho lived for a short time. Near here is a good place to stop for lunch and then move on along the border past Trung Khanh (take a detour to Angel Eye Mountain if you have time) and finally up to Ban Gioc Waterfall.

view of Evil Eye Mountain
view of Evil Eye Mountain

Day 4 - Ban Gioc - Cao Bang - 110km / 4 hrs

This is quite an easy day, which is probably welcome, and we take the back road along the river and through the hills down to Cao Bang. You will see a few knife making villages along the way and a lot of small blacksmith’s shops on the roadside. A shorter day means that we can spend a little time in Ban Gioc, maybe at the waterfall or Tiger Cave. You could also get to Cao Bang early and have a look around the town. 

Rentabike rider on tour stopped on a road still under construction
Rentabike rider on tour stopped on a road still under construction

Day 5 - Cao Bang - Bac Son - 130km / 5 hrs

We follow the main road today down to That Khe and then Bac Son. This takes us through some beautiful countryside and villages and we can see a lot of different things happening such as: drying crops, harvesting lumber, making noodles and more. If the weather is dry there are a couple of smll detours that can be taken, too. However, the highlight is the cave in Binh Gia which is great fun to drive through. 

our 2 xr150s in the Tham Khoec Cave in Bac Son, Lang Son
our 2 xr150s in the Tham Khoec Cave in Bac Son, Lang Son

Day 6 - Bac Son - Hanoi - 150km / 5-6 hrs

Our last day and unfortunately one that sees us back on to the main road. We begin by taking the small road through the villages in the Bac Son Valley. We will see plenty of fruit farms and lumber yards as the locals go about their business. After around half way we will get back on to the main road and then speed back to Hanoi. We try to get back early so as to miss the traffic. 

Just one of the fantastic roads that you will find in Cao Bang
Just one of the fantastic roads that you will find in Cao Bang

FAQ

When is the best time to ride the Cao Bang Loop?

From Oct to February is the best time to ride in the North of Vietnam. The weather is usually quite dry and not too cold, say 12 to 18C, and it can be warmer. Cao Bang is not particularly high so elevation is not an issue in most of the province. 

This really depends on where you intend to go and what routes you intend to take. It is possible to use any bike from an automatic to a manual, from a dirt bike to a road tourer. Obviously, the type of bike you choose will dictate the route you take. 

For most of the year you should find that light clothing will be just fine. In Summer, it is extremely hot and humid but you need to cover up from the sun and in Winter it can be quite cold so you will need several layers and waterproofs. Obviously, the more protective gear you have the better. 

Yes, as it is all over Vietnam. This is a country of some 40 million motorbikes and most of them have 4 litre fuel tanks. Petrol stations are everywhere. Fill up once a day and you should be fine. 

Generally, speaking we prefer homestays as they are family-run and you get a more authentic experience when staying. However, we suggest that you mix it up between the two because some nights a hotel may be more comfortable and you might want more privacy than is offered in the average homestay. Be flexible and use both as you need.

Generally, speaking this is between July and September because this is when the Summer rains are. However, I have been at the falls in October and seen it in full flow due to recent rain. 

Gallery: What it is really like

The Cao Bang Loop will show you the rural Vietnam that has been largely untouched by tourism and you will not see crowds of people in vests and flip flops. There are a few great markets to visit and some of the best riding in the country. 

Quick Connect

BMW 1250 GS

Engine Type

air-liquid cooled, twin cylinder, DOHC, boxer engine

Displacement

1255 cc

Bore X Stroke

102.5 mm x 76 mm

Ignition

FI

Fuel System

fuel injection

Compression Ratio

12.5:1

Starter

electric

Gearbox

6-speed

Front Suspension

BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 37 mm

Rear Suspension

single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever

Front Brakes

dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 305 mm, 4-piston radial calipers

Rear Brakes

single disc brake, diameter 276 mm, double-piston floating caliper

Front Tyres

120/70 R19

Rear Tyres

170/60 R17

Wheelbase

1514 mm

Seat Height

850 mm

Ground Clearance

790 mm

Kerb Weight

249 kg

Fuel Capacity

20 litres

Dimensions

2207 mm (L) x 952.5mm (W) x 1430 mm (H)

Honda XR 150 motorcycle rental

Engine Type

air cooled, OHC, single cylinder

Displacement

149 cc

Bore X Stroke

57.3 mm x 57.8 mm

Ignition

CDI

Fuel System

20 mm piston valve carburettor

Compression Ratio

9.5:1

Starter

electric with kick starter backup

Gearbox

5-speed

Front Suspension

telescopic fork, 180 mm axle travel

Rear Suspension

single shock swing arm, 150 mm axle travel

Front Brakes

dual piston caliper, 240 mm disc

Rear Brakes

mechanical drum

Front Tyres

90/90 19

Rear Tyres

110/90 17

Wheelbase

1362 mm

Seat Height

825 mm

Ground Clearance

243 mm

Kerb Weight

129 kg

Fuel Capacity

12 litres

Dimensions

2091 mm (L) x 811 mm (W) x 1125 mm (H)

Honda CB 500X motorcycle rental

Engine Type

liquid cooled parallel-twin four stroke

Displacement

470 cc

Bore X Stroke

67 mm x 66.8 mm

Ignition

PGMI – FI

Fuel System

fuel injection

Compression Ratio

10.7:1

Starter

electric

Gearbox

6-speed

Front Suspension

41 mm SFF-BP USD Forks

Rear Suspension

Prolink Mono with 5 stage pre load adjuster

Front Brakes

dual 296 mm discs with 4 piston calipers; ABS

Rear Brakes

240 mm disc; ABS

Front Tyres

110/80R19M/C (59H)

Rear Tyres

160/60R17M/C

Wheelbase

1445 mm

Seat Height

830 mm

Ground Clearance

180 mm

Kerb Weight

199 kg

Fuel Capacity

17.7 litres

Dimensions

2,155 mm (L) x 830 mm (W) x 1,410 mm (H)

Honda CRF 300 motorcycle rental

Engine Type

single cylinder, DOHC, liquid cooled

Displacement

286 cc

Bore X Stroke

76 mm x 63 mm

Ignition

Full Transistor Digital

Fuel System

PGM-FI electronic fuel injection

Compression Ratio

10.7:1

Starter

electric

Gearbox

5-speed

Front Suspension

43 mm telescopic upside down

Rear Suspension

Prolink Mono with 5 stage pre load adjuster

Front Brakes

256 mm disc, 2 piston caliper

Rear Brakes

220 mm disc, single piston caliper

Front Tyres

80/100 21

Rear Tyres

120/80 18

Wheelbase

1455 mm

Seat Height

880 mm

Ground Clearance

285 mm

Kerb Weight

142 kg

Fuel Capacity

7.8 litres

Dimensions

2230 mm (L) x 820 mm (W) x 1200 mm (H)

Tourist

One-Way

Expat

Pricing

N/A

N/A

Damage Waiver

$0/day

N/A

N/A

Security Deposit

N/A

N/A

Required Docs

passport

N/A

N/A

Mileage Limit

unlimited

N/A

N/A

Touring

N/A

N/A