Northeast Loop – Awesome 6 Day Itinerary

the smaller section of Ban Gioc Waterfall

Table of Contents

The Road Less Travelled

This is arguably the best 6 day itinerary going! The North East loop region is less travelled than the North West and Ha Giang regions. As such, you will find it much quieter and less developed. The scenery is beautiful Karst and the long border with China means that there is quite a diverse mix of cultures. This loop shares a few stretches with our 10 day Along the Border motorcycle tour.

There are also lots of military sites from the campaigns against the French and Chinese as well as lesser known waterfalls, hidden caves and chances for off-road riding. All together compelling reasons to go eastwards and get away from the crowds.

North East Loop Route Map

This is a very simple loop for those who do not have enough time to really explore. As is aways the case, with more time you can take a more meandering route and stop off at plenty more interesting sites. This is why you would get in touch with us for more ideas on what to do and also stay in touch whilst on tour so that we can advise you as you travel. 

6 Day Itinerary

Day 1: Hanoi - Lang Son (160km, 4hrs)

This is a good, long distance to drive on the first day but the road is good and fast so it is manageable for most. You need to be careful not to go onto the CT roads so set your Google Maps for ‘avoid tolls’ or motorbike route function. 

If heading out on main road all day is not your thing, then considering the alternative of heading for Bac Son and the small village of Quinh Son, where there are plenty of high quality homestays and a much more scenic route. 

For those who wish to see a little more, there is the option to visit the peak, Mau Son. This adds another 30km to the route and currently the main route is under construction so you are forced to take the back route, which is more scenic but more difficult to find. 

The last 10km of this route is uphill, winding and great fun. At more than 1,500m, this is one of the few places in Vietnam that it is possible to see snow.

Day 2: Lang Son - Cao Bang (130km, 4-5hrs)

This is one long stretch along the historic highway 4A built by the French during their occupation. You are now out of the plains and fully in the mountains. Southern China to your right, you will travel through small limestone outcrops. It is slightly peculiar but very scenic and the route is fairly calm of traffic. Closer to Cao Bang the road turns into a more winding and fun road to drive.

The alternative route will lengthen the journey by some 40km but get you on to the less-used route. If you stayed on Mau Son, then it would be wise to go direct and perhaps vice versa. Cao Bang can be used as a base to get to places such as Ban Gioc Waerfall, Pac Bo or Thang Hen. This is useful in terms of getting the washing done but does mean you have to do ‘out and backs’.

Of course, there is the alternative to stay in Quang Uyen as there are some small homestays of good quality there. This would be for those that are not interested in staying in Cao Bang, however, the idea of homestay one day, hotel the next appeals to me.  

Day 3: Cao Bang - Ban Gioc Waterfall (80/100km, 3-4 hrs)

There are several routes that will take you to Ban Gioc Waterfall. The main route is a good road and fast. The other routes are in variable condition and but take you through even quieter areas. They also allow you to see some sights that are off the main road.

The falls itself is usually quiet on the Vietnamese side, even at weekends, but the Chinese side always seems to be busy and is much more developed. Nguom Ngao Cave is definitely worth a visit as is the Truc Lam Phat Tich Pagoda high up on the hill overlooking the falls. There are homestays [Yen Nhi Homestay] and hotels [Saigon Ban Gioc Resort] here so it is possible to stay overnight.

the mountains of Cao Bang in the afternoon
the mountains of Cao Bang in the afternoon
Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang, North Vietnam
Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang, North Vietnam

Day 4: Cao Bang - Pac Bo (50km, 1.5/2hrs)

There are two routes to Pac Bo. The first is the main road and it is quite direct and easy to drive. There is not much traffic on this road. Taking this route will get you there fast and allow you to spend a lot of time looking around. There are a few choices of eatery near the Cave but the choice is limited so it would be a good idea to take a little something as a back up. 

There are one or two small homestays and Nha Nghi on route and you could potentially stay overnight in one of these, however, it doesn’t take very long to get to Pac Bo and back from Cao Bang. 

The second route is longer and takes you up to the border crossing Tra Linh. This is a busy route for obvious reasons; however, you then turn off to take the DT210 which is not too bad. Then you need to take the DT208, which is more adventurous. You will be skirting very close to China and may get glimpses of the border fence. 

Day 5: Cao Bang - Ba Be (130km, 4/4.5hrs)

The QL34 is our preferred route for this leg of the trip as it is quieter and note much slower than the QL3. You will find yourself winding your way through small towns and over some huge hills. This area is known for its tea hills, salmon and rose flower farms.

In some places when the cloud is low you will find you are engulfed in one corner only to escape into clear blue skies on the next. It can be eerie at best.

Once you hit the 279 you will be on flatter, faster, busier road and make quite good time to Ba Be. Here you can chill out on the lake and visit quite a number of sites, such as Hua Ma Cave, Hua Tat Waterfall, Fairy Lake and Puong Cave

It is possible to stop on the 279 about 10km before the lake at the boat dock to put the bikes on a boat and get to your homestay this way. Along, the way you can have a cool beer, take a trip through Puong Cave and have a swim in the lake, if there is time.

 This makes a very good rest day and two nights here is not a bad idea. You can enjoy the local fire water on the first night, knowing that you have a chill day following and you can either dry out your clothes, if they are wet, or get some laundry done, if it is sunny. 

Ba Be Lake on a clear afternoon
Ba Be Lake on a clear afternoon

Day 6/7: Ba Be - Hanoi (240km, 6/7hrs)

Currently, the best option is the back road, DT254, as the construction on this road is now finished and it is much quieter than the main road back to Thai Nguyen. It is a small winding road that is very pleasurable to drive. There is not too much traffic on this route BUT there are the occasional large truck so you still need to be aware. 

Once you get to Yen Do, you will be back on the main route and it is time to gun it back to Hanoi. This is not a fun journey but everyone has to pay the piper at some time or other. 

If, for some reason, you wish to take the QL3 or the 254 over to Bac Kan, it can break the trip up into more manageable sections but it will, obviously, take much longer and add a day to your tour. A major benefit of doing this is that it would be possible to get back to Hanoi much earlier,  before it is dark or before the rush hour traffic hits. 

Information on the Destinations

Lang Son

A reasonably sized border trading town up in the far northeast of Vietnam. This is the beginning point of national highway 1A and has been the site of many battles between the Chinese and French forces. There are many options for hotels and food here and a variety of Chinese specialties can be found. It is easy to access due to the main highway between it and Hanoi. As the town is traditionally and mainly a market post you may wish to visit Dong Kinh Market. If not, you can choose to ride up the Mau Son mountain which is around 20km away.

Bac Son

A very small town with around one or two rather average hotels. If you are in need of air con to either dry you out or cool you down, then this may be a choice. Most people will opt to stay in the nearby hamlet of Quinh Son, where there are several homestays [Duong Cong Chich Homestay] that can accommodate anywhere up to 50 or more people, so there is always room at the inn. The food served is delicious and it is a very scenic spot to hang out. 

Cao Bang

A large town and capital of the Cao Bang Province. There is a lot of good accommodation here [Max Boutique Hotel]and this can be used as a base for excursions to surrounding sites. There is also a large market which is interesting and a lot of local food specialties are sold here. Local sausage and dried buffalo are two of these.

Ma Phuc in Cao Bang Province
Ma Phuc in Cao Bang Province

Ban Gioc Waterfall

Called Detian Falls by the Chinese, this marks the border between Vietnam and China. It is currently the fourth largest fall on a national border and drops some 30m. The areas surrounding it have a few local sites to visit and several homestays and a resort. You can easily stay overnight here.

the smaller section of Ban Gioc Waterfall
the smaller section of Ban Gioc Waterfall

Pac Bo

This is the legendary cave that Uncle Ho stayed in when he returned from exile in 1941. He was here for two months. There is the cave site and the stream that you can visit. In recent years, there have been so many visitors that some small guesthouses have sprung up and you can easily find a place to stay. If all else fails it isn’t very far back to Cao Bang. 

Ba Be

One of Vietnam’s premier national parks. There is a wealth of accommodation here and due to its appeal to locals, it will still get booked up on holidays. There are several sites here such as Dau Dang Waterfall and fairy grotto. It is a good place to have a rest day from riding. The legend of the lake is similar to Noah’s Ark in many ways.

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

The Take-Away of the North East Loop

This North East Loop will take you to the less-visited side of Vietnam and you will often feel you are the only one there. You will see the locals going about their daily business and not be hassled by touts and hawkers. The tour is manageable for all and can be adjusted for all levels and durations. Chat with us about route and bike choice. 

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