Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh Trail
Cycling Central Vietnam
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.
At a Glance
Total Days: 14
Cycling Days: 11
Daily Average: 92km
Max. Alt.: 1100m
2020: 14 Mar - 27 Mar: $2750.00
Our Central Vietnam 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. The opportunity to visit Phong Nha’s Paradice Caves. The lovely World Heritage town of Hoi An. Huge swathes of wilderness and quiet roads. And above all experiencing a region of Vietnam away from the mainstream of tourism from the finest vantage point a traveller can have - the saddle of a bicycle.
Point to point cycling in remote terrain travelling through a fascinating country, delivered with a great personal touch from a small independent company - who could ask for more? David, owner of Painted Roads, cycled every inch of the ride with the group and managed the group in a very non-intrusive way. His light touch allowed the group and individuals to ride their own ride. This allowed the group dynamic to comfortably evolve. This relaxed approach was possible due to David’s extensive efforts in planning the trip, his excellent choice in local guide and the many years’ experience gained cycle touring and delivering trips in SE Asia.
Mark Adams (47) A portly middle-aged gentleman and recreational cyclist with a penchant for long weekend rides, the occasional Audax and the odd Sport on Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh Trail
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.
If you arrive at Hanoi's International airport on the first day of the tour you will be met there and transferred to our joining hotel. If you are arriving on another day or are not flying in please let us know so that we can help with arrangements. Full joining instructions will be given during the week 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.
The tour finishes at the historic town of Hoi An. Should you be keen to explore more of Asia nearby Da Nang Airport offers flights to Hanoi, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City or further afield. For those needing to return home quickly, there are regular flights with the Qantas Group airline www.jetstar.com back to Hanoi. Please remember that the nearest airport is Da Nang.
With an average daily distance of 97kms, 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.
Having David as tour leader and the actual person who cycled the whole itinerary beforehand, makes the biggest difference to other touring companies. Even more, he and his team were ALWAYS at the disposal, even for the pettiest demands, and each and everyone one was solved on time and completely. The tour itself is maybe not for those who lately neglected their fitness (although the support vehicle is always at our disposal!) but cycling through - for foreigners - seldom seen Vietnam backwaters is most rewarding feeling.
Ivan Šikić on Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh Trail
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 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.
South East 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. Typically these bikes are mountain bikes, often Trek 3 series or similar. Please request a hire bike at the time of booking. Payment for hire bikes can be made with the balance of the tour payment or in cash on arrival.
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 and Hoi An, 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)
Day 1: Arrival, Hanoi
On arrival at Hanoi’s International Airport, you will be met and transferred to our hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. In this maze of narrow streets winding through crumbling colonial architecture the drama of daily life is played out for all to see, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a fascinating place to spend time wandering and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere.
Today we must also make sure all is well with our bikes, whether you build up your own bicycle or become acquainted with your rental bike.
This evening we will meet for a tour briefing and enjoy our first meal together.
Day 2: Mai Chau
This morning we leave the teeming streets and bustle behind as we transfer by bus to the soothing calm of rural Vietnam.
By the time we stop for lunch, we are in the countryside. After lunch, our journey truly begins by cycling along a single lane road winding through rice fields towards the Black River where karst hills like those from a fantasy land jut dramatically skyward from its waters. Thai minority people live here and their welcoming words are never far away as they warmly great we strangers passing by their homes. As we descend along a quiet track one can be forgiven for wondering if we have been transported to the dramatic scenery of Ha Long Bay.
Set in a valley of rice fields Mai Chau is home to the Thai minority people. Here we get a real feel for rural life as we stay with a home-stay family in traditional wooden buildings on stilts. We arrive in time for a wander around the village or a ride through the rice fields before a fantastic evening meal.
Day 3: Mai Chau
New for 2018 this loop ride is just too good to not include in this tour. Virtually traffic free lanes lead us on a panoramic exploration of a pastoral valley rich in agricultural, rural culture, and breathtaking vistas. That the day’s ride ends at the delightful guesthouse from where we began our day's ride is the icing on the cake.
Day 4: Ngoc Lac
A short ride through rice fields and along the brown water of the Horse River leads us this morning to a fifteen-kilometre climb through hills vegetated with the bamboo forests that are so important to the livelihood of local people. The climb is gentle, the road is all but traffic free, and silence hangs across the forest. A twenty-five kilometre downhill leads us to lunch, after which we follow a small undulating country road through crops of sugar cane and rice before reaching our hotel for the night.
Day 5: Pho Chau
PaintedRoads tours are fundamentally designed as point to point tours. However there are times when a transfer simply makes too much sense to avoid, and so it is with this stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail tour where two hours in a minibus skips two days of traffic that, whilst not unbearable, is best avoided. And so it is that following an early start we will begin cycling after our first break. From here the nature of the route takes on an air of rural tranquillity wandering gently with small rises and drops generally of no more than 40 metres at a time. The views are lovely, the locals are welcoming, and all is well with the world.
Transfer to the first break.
Day 6: Ho Tien
Heading ever closer to the Annamite Mountain Range that forms the formidable border with Lao we undulate along to lunch. The afternoon begins with a relaxed twenty kilometres winding through small villages on a narrow rural road where we pass farm workers tending buffalo and working the rice fields. Rejoining the quiet Ho Chi Minh road we enjoy superb scenery as three minor climbs warm us up for days yet to come. Our accommodation tonight is basic but affords such comforts as AC, internet and hot water, whilst giving us the chance to experience a small middle of nowhere Vietnamese town.
Day 7: Phong Nha
We now ride a stunningly beautiful road offering not only breathtaking vistas but also some incredibly rewarding cycling making today a day to remember.
It is here that the Ho Chi Minh road winds its way up into the Truong Son Mountain range that separates Vietnam and Lao. The hills are jagged limestone and clinging to these ancient wind and rain-worn spires are the triple canopies of virgin jungle through which our road rises and falls gently, providing a wonderful day’s cycling of satisfying climbs and gentle descents.
Day 8: Phong Nha. REST DAY
Phong Na is the small central town for the Phong Na National Park, the highlight of which are several impressive caves including the stunning Paradise Cave. A morning trip to the caves is highly recommended followed by a relaxing lunch back in town and an afternoon relaxing on the terrace of our riverside resort.
Day 9: Truong Son
Having rested for a day the most challenging two days of the tour lay ahead. Leaving Phong Nha we take the road less travelled as we head into the wilderness on a little travelled but well-maintained road winding and undulating through the Troung Son mountains. During the first forty kilometres, we have a pair of notable climbs that take us from sea level to 800 metres. From here the reward begins as we descend through a tranquil scene following the border with neighbouring Laos. The cycling is quite wonderful, with empty roads rising and falling through a jungle-covered mountain wilderness. With barely a soul to be seen all day the soundtrack is that of the jungle - birds, monkeys and cicadas.
Day 10: Khe Sanh
There is a big day ahead as we continue this remote ride through such a little-visited region of Vietnam. We wheel on today through beautiful scenes of tropical flora, following valleys and crossing passes. With 135 kilometres and 2 notable climbs – one to 800 metres and the next to over 1000 – today is a challenging day without a doubt and a spell in our AC support bus may be necessary. For those interested in the Vietnam war we cross the 17th Parallel where we can learn a little about the history here from our guide Phong.
The day ends with a splendid ten kilometre downhill and an undulating ride through coffee plantations into the border town of Khe Sanh, where a much deserved cold beer awaits us at our hotel.
Day 11: A Luoi
We begin a splendid day’s ride in fine style with a twelve kilometre downhill as we head east for a while before turning south again for a lovely undulating, swooping and winding ride through a beautiful valley. The gradients are excellent for cycling as we pass through small villages of wooden house reminiscent of rural Lao.
In the afternoon a six-kilometre climb leads us up and onto a fascinating plateau with beautiful views along which we have a gently undulating ride to the laid back town of A Luoi where we will rest and refresh for the night.
Day 12: Prao
We continue along the plateau for the first hour or so this morning until a six-kilometre decent drops us into another lovely valley and onto the first of several climbs that leads to a quiet ridge that undulates and provides stunning views across jungle covered valleys as far east as the South China Sea.
We finish the day with a downstream valley ride that throws in one or two little challenges in the shape of cheeky little climbs.
Day 13: Hoi-An
Our final day on the bikes follows a beautiful and gently undulating rural lane that leads us through the lovely Ba Na Nui Chua nature reserve. For the past ten days we have been passing through a variety of landscapes and here, as a fitting finale is something different again as we pass through beautiful evergreen forests.
After lunch, we head towards the lovely little town of Hoi An with its preserved colonial architecture of crumbling pastel colours centred around the splendid promenade on the Thu Bon River, a delightful place to an exploration of a Vietnam seldom seen.
The tour officially ends this morning in Hoi An where there are many options for onward travel. For those with time to spare a day or two wandering the lovely car-free streets of this delightfully preserved ancient trading town is worthwhile. Nearby Da Nang has plenty of beach resorts for those wishing to see the sea. Should you be keen to explore more of Asia Da Nang Airport offers flights to Hanoi, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City or further afield. For those needing to return home quickly, there are regular flights with the Qantas Group airline Jet Star back to Hanoi.
We are able to help with information, advice and the booking of extra nights in Hoi An. For onward flights, we suggest looking at www.jetstar.com. Please remember that the nearest airport is Da Nang.
We are able to help with information, advice and the booking of extra nights in Hoi An. For onward flights, we suggest looking at www.jetstar.com. Please remember that the nearest airport is Da Nang half an hour away. For those leaving on the last day of the tour transport to the airport is included.
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: 14 Mar - 27 Mar
Rental bikes for this tour are from our local supplier. They are either Giant AnyRoad adventure sport bikes available with either drop or flat handlebars or hardtail MTBs.
Rental bike price US$250
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.
Our Other Tours in Vietnam
Cycling An Enchanted Landscape
Dates: November 2019 | November 2020
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 »
Route 279 - Dien Bien Phu to Halong Bay
Dates: November 2020
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.
Total Days: 15 | Cycling Days: 9 | Difficulty: 7/10 | Daily Average: 93km | 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 »