Trans-Vietnam: Northwest to Northeast
Route 279 - Dien Bien Phu to Halong Bay
The Vietnamese had, by the 1970s, suffered more than their fair share of bother with the unwanted interference of other nations. So when the Chinese crossed their northern border without invitation in 1979, the war-weary nation wasted no time defending its newfound sovereignty. The North Vietnamese Army was arguably more aware than any other military on Earth of the importance of keeping military supply lines open, and so, in February '79 military engineers set about building a supply road tracing their northernmost border - a road that was aptly named 2/79.
And like the wonderful Ho Chi Minh Trail road that follows the border with Lao, QL279 is a mountain road, little used by motorised traffic but kept in good condition due to its strategic importance.
A well maintained rural road through stunning mountain scenery, bereft of traffic and leading from one side of a nation to the other - what is there for a cyclist not to like?
We begin our ride in Dien Bien Phu, the site of the battle that finally bought French colonial power to an end in Indo-China, and saw the rise of Communism in Southeast Asia. Our journey ends an unforgettable 900 kilometres later with a relaxing cruise on the UNESCO World Heritage Ha Long Bay.
At a Glance
Total Days: 16
Cycling Days: 10
Daily Average: 92km
Max. Alt.: 1000m
2020: 21 Nov - 05 Dec: $2400.00
2021: 20 Nov - 04 Dec: $2850.00
Our Vietnam 279 cycling tour travels on frequently deserted back roads and trails through a quiet, beautiful region of Vietnam little visited by western travellers. The tour will be supported by one or two vehicles (dependant on group size), a local guide (Phong), and a Western tour leader (David).
Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter. Dien Bien Phu, the site of the end of colonial rule in Indo China and the rise of Communism in Southeast Asia. A rest-day at the lovely Ba Be National Park, and a relaxing overnight cruise around the UNESCO World Heritage site Ha Long Bay. But of course, above and beyond all of this is the wonderful cycling through Vietnams beautiful rural mountain scenery, the delicious national cuisine, and the friendly people of Vietnam beyond the tourist hordes.
Included in this tour
All accommodation, local guide and tour leader, support vehicle (1 or 2 depending on group size), meals on cycling days, snacks during cycling days, drinking water whilst cycling. Halong Bay cruise.
Arriving at Hanoi's International airport you will be met by a driver and transferred to our joining hotel. Full joining instructions will be given during a couple of weeks before the tour begins. Typically though the group will meet the tour leader in the hotel lobby early evening (between 5 and 6) for a briefing drink and dinner.
With an average daily distance of 92kms, this tour is for those who like to cover some distance on their bikes and is certainly not for novices. There are also climbs of 15kms or more.
Suitable Bicycle. MTB, Touring Bike, Cyclocross/Gravel bike.
The roads on this tour are sealed and generally in good condition.
At PaintedRoads we hold firmly to the opinion that using your own bike, the bike on which you feel at home and comfortable is the finest way to enjoy a cycling adventure.
Most kinds of bicycle, except light-weight racing bikes, are suitable for this tour: touring bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids or cyclocross bikes are all fine. Road conditions vary from asphalt to gravel and possibly some hard-packed dirt tracks. Tyres from 35mm in width upwards will be fine but we recommend 40mm or more for comfort.
If bringing your own bike please bring along a selection of tools and spares specific for your bike such as few spare spokes, brake pads, a tyre and a couple of tubes, etc. If in doubt please ask at your local bike shop.
Southeast Asia is generally a warm place so the ability to carry one or two water bottles is essential (either on your bike or in a backpack). Our back-up vehicle carries water and tools although for those competent with tools bringing your own pump, puncture kit, and multi took is recommended as it would speed up repairs and minor adjustments. A means of carrying your camera, sunblock etc is also useful – either an on-bike bag, handlebar or saddlebag for example or a lightweight day-pack.
•Recommendation: Although our hire bikes come equipped with a saddle if you have a saddle you use and are happy with it is strongly recommended that you use it on tour. If you use SPD type shoes please bring your own matching pedals. We are happy to fit these for you. You may also like to bring bar ends if you use them at home.
ESSENTIAL! Please be sure that your bicycle is in perfect condition before you leave home. Again, if in doubt please consult your local bike shop.
Rental Bikes: If you wish to hire a bicycle we can arrange for the hire of good quality cycles from our in-country agent.
Rental Bicycle Recommendation. Although our hire bikes come equipped with a saddle if you have a saddle you use and are happy with it is strongly recommended that you use it on tour. If you use SPD type shoes please bring your own matching pedals. We are happy to fit these for you. You may also like to bring bar ends if you use them at home.
Although rapidly moving forward Vietnam is still a developing country and therefore one must not expect the same standards that may be found on a cycling holiday in Europe. In Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu, Ba Be, and Halong City we choose fine comfortable well-located hotels of a three or four-star standard. Elsewhere along the route, we use the best accommodation available that, although at times basic, feature air-conditioned ensuite rooms with hot showers and wifi.
(meals key: B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner; S = snacks)
1: Hanoi Arrival
Arriving at Hanoi's international airport, you will be met and transferred to our hotel in Hanoi's bustling Old Quarter. After a long flight, you may like to take advantages of your quiet and comfy room to relax. If you feel energetic, the Old Quarter is a vibrant and exciting stage, where peoples' lives are played out amidst a maze of winding streets full of colour and texture and fading colonial architecture.
This evening the group will meet their tour leader and local guide for a briefing and our first meal together
2: Transfer to Dien Bien Phu
This morning, whilst our bikes and luggage head for Dien Bien Phu by road, we will take a short flight to this northern border town.
Events at Dien Bien Phu more than 60 years ago had a profound effect on Southeast Asia and beyond that still reverberate to this day.
Following lunch at our hotel, those interested in the history of Indo China, the fall of French colonial power, the rise of Communism, and the defeat of the United States can join our guide for a visit to the nearby museum and other sites of interest.
Meals: B, L, D, S
3: Dien Bien Phu to Black River (Quynh Nhai)
Our cycling adventure across the north of Vietnam begins this morning as we ride out of town and into a scene of rural life. The roads upon which we ride are quiet and become more so as we head east.
After lunch, we climb on a winding jungle road before dropping down to a newly built hotel on the banks of the dramatic Black River.
Meals: B, L, D, S
4: Quynh Nhai to Than Uyen
As we ride away from Quynh Nhai, the views back across the Black River are otherworldly. Our hilly route west takes us through dramatic mountain scenery, which reaches a crescendo at the stunning Ban Chat Lake, but a few kilometres from our guesthouse in the little town of Than Uyen
Meals: B, L, D, S
5: Than Uyen to Sa Pa
Following an initial 60kms gently undulating through a fertile valley, we reach one of Southeast Asia's most iconic climbs. At 2000-meters, Trung Son is the highest pass in Vietnam and amongst the highest in Southeast Asia. During the twenty-two kilometres from base to summit, the stunning views are sure to distract from the physical challenge at hand. Fansipan is the highest mountain in mainland Indochina, and with a little luck, the mist that often crowns the summit will lift as we pass by.
After the obligatory summit photograph, a gentle 16-kilometre descent leads to our resort in the old colonial hill-station town of Sapa.
Meals: B, L, D, S
6: Sapa Rest Day.
At the southeastern extent of the Himalayan mountain chain and sitting at an elevation of 1500-metres, Sapa has a subtropical highland climate. The weather here flits between misty and beautiful sunshine, and when the mist lifts, the view from our resort is stunning.
Home to several minority groups, this old French hill station offers cultural and architectural interest for those wishing to wander the town. Those who want to see more of the surrounding countryside can join a day trip with a local guide. For those wishing to spend their rest day simply relaxing, the town offers many cafes, restaurants, and pubs, serving cappuccino and cake, local fayre, pizza, burgers, and steak and wine - in short, something for everyone.
7: Sapa to Bao Ha
We leave Sapa on the newly renovated road heading directly south. The first 20kms of our ride loses 1000-metres of elevation and offers magnificent views over the Hoang Lien National Park, and the rice terraces of The Golden Valley.
As we turn east, the ride becomes more undulating, with the final 30-kilometres of our rural ride following the Red River south.
8: Bao Ha to Viet Quang
We climb away from town on a lovely, gentle gradient well-surfaced road before swooping down to the valley below. The hills are bedecked with cinnamon trees - the leaves are fermented for oil, the roots used for spice, and the wood itself is stripped for plywood whilst the trunk's centre goes for broom handles, today ride is cinnamon scented.
Meals: B, L, D, S
9: Viet Quang to Na Hang
A day of two distinct halves lays ahead as we set off this morning. A relatively flat and quiet rural road leads us through agricultural valleys of maize and rice and dotted with traditional thatch-roofed wooden houses. Following a picnic lunch, this pastoral scene gives way to an altogether deserted byway undulating through jungle glad karst mountains.
Meals: B, L, D, S
10: Na Hang to Ba Be
We wind and climb through jungle-clad hills on a winding rural road empty of traffic as we make our way towards our rest day location at Ba Be National Park. Awaiting us at the midway point is perhaps the tour's most significant challenge as we climb ever higher on a twisting byway that rewards us with stunning views of the wild valley below. Gaining 500 vertical meters in just 5 kilometres, the road is as challenging as the views are spectacular, with the mountains and jungle of Ba Be stretching to the distance. At the foot of our descent, a narrow concrete lane leads us through the park to tonight's accommodation.
Meals: B, L, D, S
11: Ba Be to Lam Son
A long day awaits as we set off this morning. As always, the roads are quiet and generally gently undulating. Whilst the morning is on a wider smooth road, the afternoon's ride sees us on a delightful narrow country lane, winding through farming communities where a couple of gentle climbs challenge us before we reach our out of town guest house.
Meals: B, L, D, S
12: Lam Son to Binh Gia
Through valleys scented with aniseed, we wind our way towards one of Vietnams undiscovered beauty spots, the Bac Son Valley. For the most part, we ride on little more than deserted single lane byways, almost free of cars and passing through small rural communities.
Arriving in town in time for lunch, we can settle into our comfy guesthouse before taking a ride in our support vehicle to visit Bac Son Valley, where those who are nibble of foot can climb the rocky path to a view-point affording fine vistas. (Please be aware that this climb, and particularly the descent, are very challenging. If you in doubt, please do not attempt the climb).
Meals: B, L, D, S
13: Binh Gia to Halong Bay
A shortcut through a hidden valley, as if from a Chinese painting, is the focal point of this mornings ride. Following lunch, a bigger but not busier byway leads us away from the jagged mountains and on, past orchards of lychee, into softer rolling countryside.
We can relax with a well-earned beer during our afternoon break whilst the crew load our bicycles into the support vehicle, for our cycling is now at an end.
With a busy road ahead, it is prudent to transfer the final kilometres into Halong City, where a comfortable hotel bed awaits.
Meals: B, L, D, S
14: Halong Bay Cruise
Following a well-deserved lie-in and a leisurely breakfast, we transfer to Halong City port, where we board a traditional junk style boat for a 24-hour cruise around the World Heritage Ha Long Bay.
Meals: B, L, D
15: Halong Bay to Hanoi
We return to port mid to late morning, and with the recent completion of a new highway to the capital, we should be back in our joining hotel with time to spare for some souvenir shopping before our farewell dinner.
Meals: B, L
The tour finishes after breakfast; a transfer to Hanoi's international airport will be provided at any time throughout the day.
Markers below are clickable as are the markers on the map itself.
Check trip dates and availablility below. Click the Book This Date button to go ahead and make a booking, alternatively you can make a no-obligation request for us to keep you informed about the status of a trip or changes to a trip by clicking the Register Interest button against a date.
£ Pound Sterling Payment Option
Our prices are all in US dollars but we can offer you the option of paying in GBP (£) based on the exchange rate at the time of booking. You can choose on the booking form, adjusted prices will be shown there.
2020: 21 Nov - 05 Dec
2021: 20 Nov - 04 Dec
Rental bike are available for a fee of US$300.
For those in need of a little assistance e-bikes are available. Please contact us for more details.
The prices quoted above are for a twin room share basis. If you are travelling alone you will be paired up with another lone traveler of the same gender to share with. Single room occupancy can be arranged, the single supplement rate shown is per person.
** Early Bird Discount.
Book with a deposit four or more months prior to the tour running to secure your place at this discount price.
Our Other Tours in Vietnam
Cycling Central Vietnam
Dates: February 2021
Extending south of Hanoi is the Annamite Mountain Range, known in Vietnamese as Truong Son. During the Vietnam War, a series of supply routes through the dense jungle of these mountains were used to move troops and supplies to support the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong in their war against South Vietnam and the United States. This series of trails ran not only through Vietnam, but also through neighbouring Laos, and soon became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Some thirty years after the war came to an end a series of roads following the route of these trails were finally linked together and sealed and, rather appropriately dubbed, The Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Named after the leader who led the nation to liberty from colonial rule, this relatively new and oft times amazingly deserted route provides a wonderful conduit for the adventurous cyclist to explore a beautiful and regularly deserted region of Vietnam seldom visited by Western travellers. A highly recommended tour if you're keen to enjoy a cycling holiday off the beaten track.
Note that this tour includes an optional extension to include a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay. See below for details.
Total Days: 14 | Cycling Days: 11 | Difficulty: 7/10 | Daily Average: 92km | See more information, dates & prices »
Cycling Southern Vietnam
Dates: July 2020
This is a fascinating ride through the labyrinthine network of waterways and accompanying tracks, trails, and paths that cover an area from Cambodia to the South China Sea, offering fine relaxed cycling and insight into lives not normally seen.
When we set out to explore the Mekong Delta Region we were looking for a cycling tour with a laid back attitude, little climbing, and comfortable accommodation. We had little idea as we left behind the teeming traffic of Saigon that we would find all of these attributes and so much more in a unique maze of inland waterways the size of Belgium. Inaccessible to those not prepared to put a little effort into their exploration this is a region that can only properly be explored by boat, by foot, or upon two wheels. If you are looking for a cycling holiday light of hills and full of the excitement of exploring a region seldom visited this could be just the adventure for you
Total Days: 13 | Cycling Days: 9 | Difficulty: 6/10 | Daily Average: 65km | See more information, dates & prices »
Cycling An Enchanted Landscape
Dates: November 2020 | March 2021
Tiers of rice terraces fading seemingly to infinity as they drop away through a vast valley, karst pinnacles like those from a Chinese water painting, minority people whose way of life and dress is little touched by the outside influences of the global village most of us inhabit; North East Vietnam as such is possibly the most stunning destination in South East Asia for a cycling holiday, and this tour is all about adventure. From Hanoi in the north of Vietnam, we first transfer to within a few kilometres of the Chinese border from where we set out by bicycle to explore a region overwhelmed with natural splendour. The cycling is on small, quiet roads with challenging climbs and breathtaking descents. Our exploration of this part of Vietnam follows valley floors, climbs through karst hills and past rice fields, crosses spectacular mountain passes and explores wonderful plateaus. If you desire a bicycle touring adventure through a Vietnam little visited by outsiders then The Painted Roads North East Vietnam cycle tour could well be for you.
Note that this holiday includes an optional extension to include a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay. See below for details.
Total Days: 13 | Cycling Days: 8 | Difficulty: 7/10 | Daily Average: 80km | See more information, dates & prices »