Following the Rivers
In many ways, this is a beginner’s ride. The length is short. It is close to Hanoi. The roads are good. However, there is quite a lot of traffic in some areas and so caution is advised. You will get into the countryside quite quickly and it can seem as though you are much further away from Hanoi than you really are. You will follow the Black River and then the Red River and have the chance to get high up into the mountains. It really has something for everyone.
This loop can be extended and shortened in many ways but it is best to set aside a minimum of 4 days for this. 4 -5 would be better.
South West Loop Map
Day 1: Hanoi - Mai Chau (140km, 4-5hrs)
This is an easy first days ride that gets you out of town and into the countryside. You will head out on some main roads for speed and to make the distance. Then, you will be in quieter areas with less traffic and more interesting scenery. If you wish to stop at the Hoa Binh Dam it can be a good lunch spot and then it is over two mountain passes before coming down into the Mai Chau Valley. Here you will stay in a traditional stilt house and eat local food. There may be a chance to see traditional dancing and there will definitely be the chance to drink rice wine.
Day 2: Mai Chau - Phu Yen (150km, 5-6hrs)
Now, the long days begin. You can take the direct highway routes and there is some busy main road and some quieter. Alternatively, you can take the old highway 6 and maybe a detour. This will add some distance and quite a lot of time to the journey. If so, leave early.
You will pass through the Black River Valley, down one side and up the other to the mountains around Ta Xua. The QL43 is easy to drive and you will get to see real Vietnamese life in progress on the sides of the road.
Day 3: Phu Yen - Vu Linh (140km 4-5hrs)
On this route, you will have to pass over several main roads but you will mostly be on the smaller main road. These roads are fairly quiet and pleasant to drive. They will take you over to Yen Bai, where, from then on, you will follow a much quieter road. Vu Linh is a little tricky to find so it is a good idea to have your host come out to meet you.
You will pass between the two nature reserves of Ta Xua and Xuan Son and then move over to the lake area. This is home to a lot of Dao people.
Day 4: Vu Linh - Hanoi (160km, 4-5hrs)
The road back to Hanoi can be split into roughly two sections: the nice half and the horrible half. You will have to backtrack along the shores of Thac Ba Lake and then head for Tuyen Quang. Taking the QL2C is the quieter and slightly slower option and it will be quite pleasant until you get to Phuc Yen. From then on the traffic gets heavier and heavier as you come into Hanoi. You should leave early to avoid having to drive in rush hour traffic on the entry to Hanoi.
Information on the Destinations
This is a mountainous rural district of Hoa Binh Province just to the South West of Hanoi. The local people are of Thai ethnicity and have ancestors from the White Thai and the Black Thai groups. The houses are a predominantly stilted house (pile dwellings) and are made of timber and bamboo. The stilts help to prevent damage from flooding and provide shelter for animals. The main concerns in the area are deforestation, littering and the pressure on resources from increased tourism.
It is quite a small place with only a couple of hotels. Although larger than Bac Yen, it still does not offer much. After a fairly long day of driving and a little tricky road, if you took the detours, it still has all you need. You will see plenty of Hmong women in the streets either shopping or hawking goods on the sidewalk.
It is set on the shores of Thac Ba Lake and in the local Dzao community. It is a haven for those wishing to get out of Hanoi. Again, this influx of tourism and the locals’ eagerness to profit wreak havoc on the local environment.
The Take-Away of the South West Loop
This loop gets you out into the countryside in a low-pressure way. You will have a great experience and will see the diverse culture present in Vietnam. If you are new to riding, then get in touch to discuss what this involves. If this is definitely the thing for you then, get in touch to book right away.