Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special cycling holidays banner image

Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special

Cycling An Enchanted Landscape With a Little Extra For 2018


For this year only our tour will begin in the hill top town of Sapa, ex French outpost and home to various minority groups such as Hmong, Dao and Tay people. Starting our cycling in Sapa adds an extra two days of riding compared to the standard tour before we reach our usual starting town of Bac Ha.  From Bac Ha we follow the regular route - all this for the price of the standard tour. 

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 sight of Halong Bay. See below for details.

At a Glance

Total Days: 15

Cycling Days: 10

Difficulty: 7/10

Daily Average: 78km

Off-Road: 5%

Max. Alt.: 1400m

2018: 27 Oct - 10 Nov: $2750.00


Our North East Vietnam bicycle touring holiday is all about adventure, breathtaking views, challenging climbs, fantastic descents and interaction with traditional minority groups unused to foreign visitors. We will spend several days in a restricted zone that tracks the Chinese border through a wonderful mountainous landscape. Our rest day is spent in the rocky plateau town of Dong Van which is in a fairytale setting. There is plenty of scope here for exploration, or relaxing with a good book and coffee in a small cafe. This is a really special cycling holiday that accesses areas of South East Asia generally off-limits to mass tourism.

Most of our cycling is on roads light of traffic and generally sealed. Around 5% of the journey is on unsealed tracks. Accommodation is in local hotels and guest houses. These are basic but clean and comfortable with hot water, AC and WiFi.

We will be supported by one or two vehicles (dependant on group size), a local guide (Phong), and a Western tour leader (David).


NE Vietnam is a very special place, and I can't imagine doing it any other way than on a bicycle - with Painted Roads of course. I was so sorry it was over. Could have done it all over again! So thank you for making it such a memorable trip. Great organisation, great fun, but also great care and concern when some of us were wilting in the extreme heat. And thanks to Phong, Mr Thang and Mr Chung. What a team. Looking forward to the next one!

Jan Livingstone - NZ on Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special



Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, cycling through some of South-East Asia’s most stunning and remote mountain scenery, cycling through regions of minority tribal groups rarely visited by western tourists, optional extra of visiting Ha Long Bay for an over night cruise.


I highly recommend doing the NE Vietnam tour as the scenery is probably some of the most remarkable backdrops one will ever have a chance to see when cycling. One needs to see it in person to appreciate all its beauty, local culture and culinary cuisine. What a great experience

Wally Dumont - Canada on Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special


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, permits to restricted area.


OPTIONAL DAYS 15 & 16: Ha Long Bay

For many people the UNESCO World Heritage sight of Halong Bay is a must do experience. We offer a 2 day 1 night live aboard cruise as an optional extra, please contact us for details.

Twin occupancy cabin                -   £195 per person

Single occupancy supplement   -  £45 per person


Not often that a tour genuinely exceeds all expectations – this one most certainly did ! The route was a constant delight in terms of changing spectacular scenery, and it was a rare opportunity to see a totally unspoilt region of Vietnam. The overall organisation of the tour, and the role played by leaders and support was great, but sufficiently light touch. No hesitation at all in recommending anyone who to do something a little different from the norm.

Nigel Fielden - UK on Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special


Joining instructions

If you arrive at Hanoi 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 drinks and dinner.



Although with an average daily distance of 70KMS this may look like an easy ride the physical demand of the cycling should not be taken too lightly. We will be cycling through a mountainous area with some long (20KM) climbs. On some days there are several passes to cross, but hang on to the thought that what goes up must come down and the descents are really special. The temperatures can vary with altitude and time of year but for those used to temperate climates the heat can add an extra dimension to the challenge. All in all this is a ride for cyclists who can typically cover 100KMS in comfort and are not shy of hills. Do bear in mind though that we always have a support vehicle to hand and we strongly believe that there is no shame in using it, it is a holiday after all, and your enjoyment is our first priority.


David Walker is an exceptional bicycle tour leader because he does not leave anyone behind ... every person who goes on one of his tours can be confident that he is constantly looking out for their well-being, enjoyment, and safety, from the extreme endurance riders in the front to the slowest, more casual riders in the back

Lisa Valentine - USA on Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special


Bicycle Advice

Suitable Bicycle. MTB, Touring Bike, Cyclocross/Gravel bike.

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 on 700c and 2” on 26” wheels as a minimum.

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. If bringing your own bike please bring along a few spare spokes that fit your wheels (please note that different wheels have different size spokes). If your bike has disk brakes or hub gears please bring any components that you feel may be necessary. We carry some spares for our hire bikes but we cannot guarantee that we will have any tubes other than 26” car type valves. Tyres and tubes other than 26” can be difficult to come by in many parts of the world so please make sure you have spares. If in doubt please ask at your local bike shop. 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.


The scenery surprised us, it was really outstandingly beautiful, and we felt welcomed by the local people. We always felt very well looked after on this trip, and in safe hands.. I have already recommended this trip to my friends, and I greatly look forward to more cycling adventures with you in the future. A heartfelt thank you for sharing this corner of the world with us, and our cameras...!

Jen Parsons - UK on Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special


Rental Bicycles

If you wish to hire a bicycle for the duration of your holiday with us 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, fields to do so are on the booking form. 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.


Our first cycle tour with Painted Roads was an amazing experience and one we will cherish forever. The NE Vietnam trip showed us a part of the world that we never thought we would see. We were immersed the ethnic minority groups and their culture, stunning scenery, delicious food and good accommodation throughout the trip. The organisation was outstanding, David and Phong were caring and considerate, making this trip a delight to be part of, and their ongoing banter added much laughter and fun. And the "undulating rides" something we thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks for the great experience Painted Roads

Pam & Gerry Vaughan on Vietnam - Northeast. The 'Eighteen Special

Print Itinerary


(meals key: B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner)

Day 1: Arrival in Hanoi.

Arriving at Hanoi's international airport you will be met and transferred to our hotel in the bustling Old Quarter. You can either relax after your flight to Vietnam or head out to explore this vibrant and exciting stage where people's lives are played out amidst a maze of streets that wind through the wonderful colours and textures of fading colonial architecture.

This evening we will come together for a meeting with the tour leader, local guide and the rest of the group. Following our briefing we can get to know our companions for this adventure during our first meal together.

Cycling: 0km


Day 2: Hanoi to Sapa.

After checking our bikes this morning we will leave the bustle of Hanoi behind us as we transfer north via mini bus to the old French hill station of Sapa.

At 1500 metres above sea level Sapa has a changeable climate, one day cold and misty, the following day sunny and balmy and sporting stunning views. The town is home to various hill tribe groups with whom you will soon be mingling when strolling around the town

Cycling: 0km

Bus: Approx. 5 hours


Day 3: Sapa to Lao Cai.

From the historic hill station to a town standing on the international border between China and Vietnam is, for most, a busy 35 kilometres direct route. But true to the PaintedRoads tradition we will be taking the somewhat longer, more meandering, and altogether quieter route as for 75 kilometres we begin our cycling expedition exploring the road less travelled as we descend 1500 metres to our lodgings for the night in the border town of Lao Cai.

Cycling: 75km


Day 4: Lao Cai to Bac Ha.

Leaving the Vietnam/Chinese border behind us we cross the Red River that marks the division between Northwest and Northeast Vietnam and join a little used road undulating and winding gently through plantations of rubber, banana, fig, tapioca, cinnamon, and of course, the obligatory rice. Following lunch in a local restaurant we begin our first notable climb of the tour as over the course of eighteen kilometres we ascend to the market town of Bac Ha, at a lofty elevation of 900 metres.

Cycling: 75km


Day 5: Bac Ha to Hoang Su Phi.

When we first explored this section of the tour I found it absolutely stunning and was very eager to share it. Alas by 2013 the unsealed road had become so unpredictable that we decided it was longer practical to use. Fortunately the Vietnamese road planners were thinking along similar lines and by 2015 a sealed, quiet, rural road was in place allowing us to once again enjoy an absolutely stunning beginning to our Northeast Vietnam adventure. Following the initial 10KMS climb we undulating through mountain scenery that is simply spectacular as we head towards a wonderful downhill before lunch in Xin Man town.

Our afternoon's ride is an altogether different affair as it undulates gently along the valley of the Chay River, before a final three kilometre climb and decent to our overnight stop in the small town of Hoang Su Phi.

Cycling: 80KMS.

Meals: BLD

Day 6: Hoang Su Phi to Ha Giang.

We set out this morning along a quiet rural road that rises and falls along the Chay Valley. After 16 kilometres we begin the steep climb to the first of three passes that take us through a series of fairytale like valleys. The dense green forestation of the valley walls is streaked with the silver flashes of waterfalls, whilst in the valley below the colouring varies with season - brown, green, or yellow according to the rice harvest. The textures of nature combined with the man made rice terraces are breathtaking. The final pass is called Heaven Gate II from where we begin wonderful 17 kilometre descent to lunch. In contrast to the morning's hilly ride the afternoon is a fast ride on a wider road with gentle undulations was we head for our hotel in the provincial capital town of Ha Giang.

Cycling: 105KMS.

Meals: BLD

Day 7: Ha Giang to Tam Son.

We begin the day with twenty-six kilometres winding through a narrow valley followed by a ten kilometre climb to Heaven Gate Pass. At times the climb is steep, always the views are stunning. The climb flattens out onto a plateau at around eight hundred metres in altitude where rice grows over areas of flat land rather than on the more usual hillside terraces. The plateau drops away and in the far distance are layers of karst hills. For a few kilometres we follow the narrow road that crosses the plateau until the final three kilometre climb, our third Heaven Gate pass in three days - and the views as we descend to the small town of Tam Son are, indeed, heavenly.

Cycling: 50KMS

Meals: BLD

Day 8:  Tam Son to Yen Minh.

We begin todays ride with an unmissable ride north of Tam Son heading towards the Chinese border. Although not necessary to reach today’s destination the landscape here is so stunning it would be travesty to not explore it. And so for 35 kilometres we explore a stunning plateau though a remote Middle-Earth like landscape that is sparsely populated by rural minority groups. This ride will lead us neatly back through Tam Son and down to the base of the Nho Que valley where we follow the river gently undulating to our picnic lunch.Leaving the valley we follow a clear mountain stream as we begin a long gentle winding climb to the pass above and onto a lovely ridge-ride, dipping in and out of the shade of fragrant pine trees. The views we glimpse through the trees are, as always, beautiful, with the rich textures and colours of rice terraces, corn fields, and woodland in the valleys either side. The day ends following the ridge as is descends for ten kilometres to where the two valleys become one, and the small town of Yen Minh.

Cycling: 85KMS.

Meals: BLD

DAY 9: Yen Minh to Dong Van.

From Yen Minh a wide fertile valley leads us to todays first climb, seventeen kilometres up and onto Caonguyenda, The Rocky Plateau. Punctuated with jagged limestone and waves of karst hills stretching off into the distance, it is akin to riding into a mythical Chinese painting. Crossing the plateau is a series of small stiff climbs and wonderful downhills with a backdrop so fairytale like that you can well imagine hobbits elves and unicorns wandering the plateau.

Cycling: 50KMS

Meals: BLD

DAY 10: Dong Van - Rest Day.

In the middle of the Rocky Plateau and boasting an old market square with crumbling textured colonial architecture Dong Van is an ideal venue to rest and recharge our batteries. Relaxing at one of the cafés on the square and having an amble around town is a relaxing way to spend your day here, or for those with excess energy the beautiful surrounding countryside offers opportunity for exploration and exercise

Cycling: 0

Meals: B

DAY 11: Dong Van to Bao Lac.

Leaving Dong Van the morning's ride sees us continue our  dramatic traverse of the mystical Rocky Plateau. We climb and decent and have two significant downhills before lunch, the first of 13KMS, and the second of 17KMS during which we loose more than a thousand metres of altitude.

By now we have now left the Rocky Plateau behind us and the ride's character has changes for the afternoon. The road remains rural and undulating with but one climb to speak of as we follow a valley where often the floor is cultivated, yet the walls are jungle covered.

Cycling: 100KMS

Meals: BLD

DAY 12: Bao Lac to Tinh Tuc.

Today is a day of following valleys and crossing the small passes between them. We alternate from less than 300metres to over 1000. The valleys are green and fertile, rice is the main crop here and the sides of the valleys are often thick jungle. During the latter part of the ride we may need to dodge butterflies as large as your hand.Towards day's end we rise to over 1000 metres and are rewarded once again with stunning views before descending to our hotel six kilometres beyond the town.

Cycling: 80KMS

Meals: BLD

DAY 13: Tinh Tuk to Ba Be.

The day begins with a ten kilometre climb giving way to a most wonderful reward, the longest descent of the journey. For twenty-six kilometres we freewheel gently down into the valley below barely turning the pedals. By the time we are required to put a little effort into our cycling we will have lost a thousand metres and be back in the tropical warmth. The remainder of the day is all climbing and descending as we make our way to Ba Be where we can celebrate a most memorable adventure with cold beers and cheer.

Cycling: 80KMS.

Meals: BLD

DAY 14: Transfer to Hanoi.

After breakfast we will board our AC bus for the journey back to Hanoi, hopefully arriving early afternoon in time for a final wander around the wonderful Old Quarter before our last meal together.

Cycling: 0

Meals: B

DAY 15: Finish.

The tour officially finishes this morning. For those flying out we provide a transfer to Hanoi's international airport.

OPTIONAL DAYS 15 & 16: Ha Long Bay.

For many people the UNESCO World Heritage sight of Halong Bay is a must do experience. We offer a 2 day 1 night live aboard cruise as an optional extra, please contact us for details.

Twin occupancy cabin                -   £195 per person

Single occupancy supplement   -  £45 per person


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.

    Dates Price Availability

    2018: 27 Oct - 10 Nov
    Will run

    *Single Suppl.: $400.00


    Book This Date

    Register Interest

    Bicycle Hire

    Rental bikes for this tour are from our local supplier. They are either Giant AnyRoad adventure sport bikes available with either drop or flat handle bars, hard tail MTBs, or Giant Hybrid bikes with flat bars.
    Rental bike price US$250

    *Single Supplement.

    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

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      Some thirty years after the war came to an end a series of roads following the route of these trails was 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 sight of Halong Bay. See below for details.

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    • Vietnam - Mekong Delta Region

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      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 an 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 »