Hanoi to Danang is a popular trip for the scenery and stops along the way. If you are reading this blog, you don’t need us to convince you why you should take this trip. But, there are some things you should know before you jump on the motorbike and drive from Hanoi to Danang. Safety is important and so we highly suggest you read these motorbike driving tips on how to drive in the countryside, how to drive in the city as well as other general driving tips (you will be surprised at how small considerations when driving can change the whole experience).
Hanoi to Danang Route Plan:
- Day 1 – Hanoi – Mai Chau (Day 1 and 2 could be altered to become Hanoi – Tan Ky)
- Day 2 – Mai Chau – Tan Ky
- Day 3 – Tan Ky – Phong Nha
- Day 4 – Phong Nha – Khe Sanh
- Day 5 – Khe Sanh – A Luoi / Hue
- Day 6 – Hue / A Luoi – Da Nang
It is possible to lengthen this tour to around 9 or 10 days. By doing this, it allows for one or two rest days and for shorter distances to be covered, thus allowing you more time to stop, take photos and to really experience Vietnam. We strongly suggest that you do this so that you do more than just ride, even though, you will be riding some of the best roads in the world.
Hanoi – Mai Chau: 120km (5hrs driving)
Note: Day 1 and 2 could be combined to become Hanoi – Tan Ky
Take the Hoa Lac Highway to Hoa Lac and then turn south on the highway 21 to Xuan Mai. When reaching Xuan Mai turn right and head West on Highway 6 heading for Hoa Binh. A short way before town you have the choice of taking the bypass or riding through town. If you ride through town you can then take a left turn and head for Hoa Binh Dam. It’s an interesting site and you can drive through the dam to the other side and then return over a bridge to continue to Mai Chau. If you take the bypass it is quicker 🙂
The next point to head for is Muong Khen or Tan Lac; the same place. You will need to go over a mountain pass to get here and once down the other side you will come to Tan Lac Hotel and just a little further on a large tree in a junction. Turn right here and head for Tong Dau or Moc Chau. Again you will go over a mountain pass and around 5km out of Mai Chau town, there is a viewing spot where you can look out over the whole Mai Chau Valley.
Then continue to Tong Dau Junction, where you will find a petrol station, and turn left to head into Mai Chau town. There are two villages to stay in Mai Chau: Ban Lac and Poong Coong, we recommend Poong Coong as we have friends there. Head for Mai Chau Lodge, which is on the right-hand side as you leave town and take the small track leading to either village.
Places to eat:
You will usually eat in your guesthouse. This will be a shared meal and of quite a high standard. Below are some examples of the kind of thing you can expect to be eating. This food is fresh from the market/field and is usually delicious.
Things to do/see:
Go Lao Waterfall
On the way to Hang Kia ( Pa Co Market) and Moc Chau, there is a right turn that takes you down to the ‘old’ highway 6. Here you can find, if you look hard enough, Go Lao waterfall and it is possible to climb down and have a swim. Great in the summer heat!
Mo Luong Cave
Pa Co Market
Pa Co Market is a short drive out of town on the way to Moc Chau. It is a predominantly Hmong market but you will see other ethnic minorities there, Thai included. It’s a great place, offering a view into the ethnic culture and some great photos opportunities.
Hoa Binh Dam:
Mai Chau – Tan Ky, 250km, 6hrs
A long drive today but directions are simple. Leave your homestay and drive South from Mai Chau heading for the Ho Chi Minh Highway (21) and Co Luong on the highway 15. As you drive South, after around 10km, you will have the choice to keep following the river or turn on to highway 15B, which will take you through Pu Luong National Park and is a great drive. However, it will add a lot of time to your trip and it will mean you end up in Ba Thuoc and then have to turn right and drive south down to get back to the Road to Ngoc Lac.
Continuing on the 15 South towards Ba Thuoc, you will cross over the river after around 40km on Cau Na Sai, from then on the river will be on your left, not your right. Keep moving southwards.
You will meet the 21 in Ngoc Lac and from then on run South on this road. It is fast and easy driving so you should make very good time, but be careful as there are hazards. There is a turn off after around 10km that would be an easier route to get you to Ben En National Park. This is an option as it has accommodation. If you are looking to make good time to Tan Ky, then stick to the 21 and go straight past the park.
Now it is simply a matter of heading for Thai Hoa and then Tan Ky, which is about 40km further on and should only take an extra hour of driving. If it is getting late take care and consider phoning the hotel to confirm that you are arriving but will be late.
Places to eat:
You could have dinner at the hotel (if the hotel offers dinner) or local restaurants around. Here is a restaurant offering good westernized food and great Vietnamese coffee. Kindly note to check the price before placing an order.
Things to do/see:
Tan Ky has just been developed for some recent years and there are not many things to do apart from a few historic places which haven’t got any recommendations to visit. It’s better for travelers to visit other places on the road and only stay overnight at Tan Ky hotels.
Pu Luong National Park
Ben En National Park
A large wildlife conservation area with several large lakes and many cave systems. There are plenty of options for accommodation here, all provided by the forestry service.
Tan Ky – Phong Nha (270km, 7hrs)
Make sure you check the bike before leaving and it is a good idea to go into a Honda HEAD dealership and have them look at it. The mechanics are friendly and happy to check the bike over. They might charge you a dollar or two; they probably won’t.
Today, you have a massive 275km to ride!! However, this is through very beautiful countryside, which will make it a little easier. Ride on Ho Chi Minh Highway until Pho Chau where you could stop to visit the HCM Trail victory monument which is in fact the real starting point of the HCM Trail ride. Motorcycle all the way to Phong Nha – Ke Bang, the biggest and also the most beautiful cave in Vietnam and Indochina and is now a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. The karst formation of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has evolved since the Paleozoic (some 400 million years ago) and so is the oldest major karst area in Asia. Subject to massive tectonic changes, the park’s karst landscape is extremely complex with many geographic features of considerable significance. The vast area, extending to the border of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, contains spectacular formations including 65 km of caves and underground rivers.
Things to do/see:
Phong Nha cave
This cave does not rival Son Doong but it still impressive and has a rating of difficult in terms of exploring it. It is 7,729 meters long and contains 14 grottoes, as well as a 13km underground river. Scientists have surveyed over 40km of passages, but tourists are only allowed into the first 1.5km.
Phong Nha – Khe Sanh
Once again check the bike because there is very little on the HCM Highway West in the way of repairs. Also, make sure you fill up with a full tank and have water and some small snacks just in case.
The Ho Chi Minh Highway West is a technical road with many hills and corners. 240km might not seem like a long way, but if you have ever ridden a motorbike or scooter in Asia you know that distances almost always take longer than expected. Weather can quickly turn into heavy downpours, forcing you to ease off the throttle. You will also probably be stopping for plenty of photo opportunities along the way, slowing down your pace. Because of all these things, we suggest leaving as early in the morning as possible. Preferably just after sunrise. There are no streetlights along the way, and these aren’t the kind of roads you are going to want to be riding at night. Leaving early also gives you some time to play with should you have motorbike issues.
Whether you are staying at the Phong Nha Farmstay or at one of the smaller hostels or hotels you will likely need to take the TL 20 / 565 to join back up with the Ho Chi Minh Highway (west).
Once you hit the HCM Highway turn south and follow the road. There is no turn or deviation just a beautiful stretch of quiet driving for the next 200km. Head for Huong Hoa and then Khe Sanh and as you come into town you arrive at a T-junction. Turn right and look for the petrol station on your left and you’ll see several small hotels also on the left along this road both before and after the market. There’s not much choice or difference.
Places to eat:
There are few places to stop off and buy food or water between Phong Nha and Khe Sanh, and the ride could take upwards of 10 hours, depending on the speed you go, weather and potential breakdowns. Make sure you pick up extra water and food to take with you along the way. A “banh mi” (Vietnamese sandwich) is cheap and easy to carry. You could have dinner at the hotel or local restaurants in Khe Sanh.
Things to do/see:
Khe Sanh Combat Base
The base was a United States Marine Corps outpost south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone used during the Vietnam War. It is a must (and probably the only available) visit to the Khe Sanh area.
Khe Sanh – A luoi or Hue (180km = 6 hours)
You could reach A Luoi or Hue via Ho Chi Minh trail but if time permits, it’s better to leave the Ho Chi Minh trail to ride along the historical road No 9 along the Dakrong river. The motorbike ride is straight to the eastern side of Vietnam along the 17th parallel where you can visit the Hien Luong Bridge – a symbol for the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, Vinh Moc Tunnels and where you can have short motorbike ride on coastal roads which offers different view from the ride on Ho Chi Minh trail days before.
Places to eat:
Hue: the city is the old capital of Vietnam, and the best way to explore its culture is through its unique cuisine with lots of typical local dishes. Travelers visiting Hue City should not miss the chance to discover its cuisine, its culture and enjoy the local street food. Here are some original foods at Hue.
Com Hen: Baby mussels or basket clams with leftover rice. Normally served at room temperature.
Banh Beo: small steamed rice pancake in Vietnamese cuisine. It is white in color and typically features a dimple in the center, which is filled with savory ingredients including chopped dried or fresh shrimp, scallions, mung bean paste, crispy fried shallots, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and oil.
Bun Bo Hue: Bún bò Huế or bun bo is a spicy Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli and beef. Definitely worth trying
Banh khoai: This looks very much like Banh Xeo but it is smaller and there is more filling inside. Made with cheap ingredients and eaten with vegetables and dipping sauce, they require a lot of time for preparation
Things to do/see, Hue:
A walled fortress and palace in the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Protected by fortified ramparts 2 kilometers by 2 kilometers, and ringed by a moat it is an impressive and interesting stop on any tour.
Thien Mu Pagoda
A luoi / Hue – Danang (145km = 5hours)
Coming from Hue there are two routes out of the city. The shorter route involves negotiating a bit of traffic to find your way out of Hue City and onto Highway 1. Once on the highway, this will take you all the way to the bottom of the Hai Van Pass at Lang Co. Highway 1 is notoriously busy, dirty and dangerous. But in general, this is only true around the major cities – outside of large urban areas it can be relatively quiet and even scenic. The lower line on the map below the (shorter) route from Hue to the Hai Van Pass via Highway 1.
The other option out of Hue is longer but much quieter. Head northeast out of town along the south bank of the Perfume River (the opposite side to the Imperial Palace) towards the Thuan An Peninsular. After crossing the bridge, turn right and continue along this long road (which runs the length of Thuan An Peninsular) until Vinh Hien/Hien Van. At Hien Van, there is a bridge across the mouth of Dam Cau Hai Lagoon. Once over the bridge, bear right along the road following the lagoon shore, until it meets Highway 1 near Phu Loc. Turn left onto Highway 1 until you reach Lang Co. Bear right before the big toll-gates at the end of town. The road goes over a bridge, bears left and starts the ascent up the Hai Van Pass. The upper line on the map below shows the (longer) route from Hue to the Hai Van Pass via the Thuan An Peninsular.
You will join the National Highway 1 and head up the Hai Van Pass (Cloudy Pass) before the World Heritage site of Hoi An – an important trade center in South East Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is just a short motorbike ride to Hoi An but it could be the highlight of the Ho Chi Minh trail motorcycle tour because it offers a nice ride on the most beautiful coastline in Vietnam. You should keep on riding along the coastal line via Hai Van Pass, where you could look down from the top to view the splendid beauties of Lang Co beach and ocean then time to refresh yourself by a cup of coffee before heading straight to Da Nang.
Places to eat:
“Banh xeo”(a kind of rice pancake) and “mi quang”(a noodle dish) are two of various special dishes at Danang. And don’t forget to enjoy seafood here which is really awesome and fresh at reasonable prices.
Things to do/see:
Ba Na hills
Accessed most easily by cable car, which holds 4 world records including being the longest single-wire cable car system this is an interesting day trip up the hill and also to see the ‘Fantasy Land’ that has been constructed there.
My Son sanctuary
Built between the 4th and 13th centuries My Son has an interesting style linked to Indian Hinduism and was the religious and political capital of the Champa kingdom.
Son Tra peninsula
Also known as Monkey Mountain and once Angels’ Landing this headland is a conservation area that has remained undeveloped and shelters Danang from sea winds. Some beautiful and quiet roads here for driving but not with passengers due to the steep incline. If you are looking for a day dedicated to the Son Tra Peninsula, we have all the information you need.
Lying around 30km from Danang this is a world heritage site that is full of tourists. A very scenic little town but a quite commercial nowadays. The old quarter and the beach are certainly worth a visit.
This ride, Hanoi to Danang or vice versa, is a fantastic trip taking you through some of the most scenic countrysides that Vietnam has to offer and certainly through the most historic part of the country. In order to enjoy it and get the most out of your trip, we recommend you take your time, stop as much as you can to take photos and interact with the locals and most importantly of all DRIVE CAREFULLY AND SAFELY. Take the extra time, go slow and if it means it takes an extra day, who cares? Then you will have the luxury of being a day late and arriving safely rather than injured or worse.
Seriously, this is a dangerous trip and traveling on the Vietnamese roads, let alone driving a motorbike is a hazardous venture. You need to take it seriously and be cautious.
That being said it is probably one of the most adventurous things you have considered in a long time and will be one of the most memorable things you will do in your life. YOLO☺
If you would like some more tips for preparing the trip from Hanoi to Danang, check out our other blogs to help you out:
- Driving in Vietnam: North to South driving tips
- Hai Van Pass: Vietnam’s Number One Ocean Road
- Marble Mountains Vietnam: Da Nang Day Trip
- Top 10 things to do in Danang
- Weather in Vietnam: North to South
- Petrol in Vietnam
- Son Tra Peninsula by Motorbike
- What to Pack When Traveling in Vietnam Rainy Season
- Motorbiking In Vietnam: Safety Gear for Biking