How about discovering Vietnam in a different way in “slow” mode? This is undoubtedly the best way to explore the country’s hidden treasures and meet its inhabitants. Cycling in Vietnam is a promise of a rich experience in discoveries and emotions, provided you choose your itinerary well and opt for the accompaniment of a local guide.
There is no need to try to cycle around Vietnam – you would exhaust yourself in vain! – It is better to punctuate your Vietnam tour with one or more day trips or even 3-4 days, depending on the region you are in, as some destinations are better explored on two wheels. Leave the hustle and bustle of the cities behind and head to the countryside to discover the authentic Vietnam, off the beaten track and in complete serenity.
Why travel Vietnam by bike?
We all have in mind the traditional image of the Vietnamese girl on a bicycle, a piece of her Ao Dai floating in the wind… Vietnam is a country where 2-wheelers and bicycles in particular are very popular. Easy to handle and accessible to all, it is as much a means of travel and transport as a leisure activity, which nature lovers love. In addition to the feeling of freedom it provides, cycling in Vietnam allows you to discover a country and its way of life in depth, in the open air and at your own pace.
5 good reasons to travel by bike in Vietnam:
- The bicycle, a “soft” and ecological means of transport to travel in harmony with Nature.
- Take the time to admire the grandiose landscapes and discover Vietnam off the beaten track and as close as possible to local life, in the most remote regions sometimes only accessible by 2-wheelers.
- It is relatively easy to cycle in Vietnam, as two-wheelers take up less space on the road than cars, and are able to squeeze through narrow streets and lanes more easily.
- It is very easy and inexpensive to rent a bike in Vietnam, especially in the countryside where 2-wheelers are king. Bicycles, electric bikes, mountain bikes, tandems,… The choice of bikes (equipped and secured) is large and adapted to your itinerary and to your road conditions.
- Vietnam offers a variety of routes suitable for all levels of cyclists, from the most experienced to amateurs and families with children.
Recommendations for a successful cycling trip in Vietnam
While Vietnam is an ideal destination for cycling, the experience can be confusing if not properly prepared. The following recommendations will allow you to pedal with peace of mind and limit the possible inconveniences.
Choose to be accompanied by a local guide. In addition to a good knowledge of the terrain (which will prevent you from getting lost!), your guide has a good command of the Vietnamese language and customs, and will bring you closer to the local people and facilitate your exchanges.
Plan your itinerary and book your accommodation in advance if you are planning a multi-day trip, especially if you are travelling in Vietnam during the high tourist season. Mapping applications are unreliable in Vietnam, so carry paper maps and/or rely on your guidebook.
Unless you enjoy cycling in the sweltering heat of the cities, amidst hundreds of farting motorbikes and exhaust fumes, avoid urban areas. They are both noisy (horns blare from all sides) and unsafe (the road is not always very wide and vehicles speed along!) and you risk getting lost in the maze of their many streets! Prefer the tranquility of the Vietnamese countryside.
Finally, as with any trip to Vietnam, make sure before you leave that you are up to date with your basic vaccinations, take your usual medication and something to counteract any digestive or gastric problems. As tap water is not drinkable, remember to bring enough water before you get on your bike!
The best cycling routes in Vietnam
While it is of course possible to cycle through Vietnam (for the most experienced cyclists!) we recommend including a few cycling stages in your “classic” tour. Some regions are particularly well suited to exploring by bike, notably Central Vietnam.
1. The real Hanoi bicycle experience (1 day)
Hanoi traffic is famous with its order in the chaos 🙂 and the secret to drive safely of all Hanoian is very simple, understanding each other. Discovering Hanoi by bike is an incredible way to see its small alleys and narrow houses or make aquantaint with this unique traffic culture.
A Hanoi bike tour around Hanoi Old Quarter, West Lake, Long Bien bridge, or some tourist attractions inside Hanoi city give you a closer look at the elegant beauty of the a-thousand-year capital city and understand the local’s lifestyle better. For a longer trip, you can consider biking to Bat Trang ceramic village, or Duong Lam ancient village, enjoying some tranquility of the peaceful rural nearby Hanoi.
Cycling through the central countryside from Hue to Hoi An via Da Nang (4-5 days)
An easy and safe itinerary for the whole family from Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 for its monuments, Hue is a must-see for all history buffs and nature lovers.
Cycling is undoubtedly the best way to appreciate the poetic beauty of the place and to explore the Hue countryside. Several routes are available, taking quiet roads through villages and rice fields. For example, reach the charming grapefruit village of Thuy Bieu, located on the banks of the “Perfume River”. In addition to the vast grapefruit fields for which it is famous, Thuy Bieu village is home to ancient garden houses, small temples and pretty pagodas.
You can also cycle to the Thanh Toan Japanese bridge, with its typical tile roof, or visit one of the many craft villages around Hue, some producing incense, others paper flowers or authentic folk prints, such as the village of Sinh, located downstream on the Perfume River.
From here, head to Da Nang via the famous Hai Van Pass and then along the coastline to the ‘favourite’ city of Hoi An, some 30km to the south, another favourite cycling destination!
Known as the “city of coloured paper lanterns”, Hoi An is home to a charming pedestrianised city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with architectural marvels, pretty beaches and lively markets where you can stroll or cycle for a day or more.
Beyond the old town, there are many cycling routes, linking Hoi An to the beautiful beach of An Bang, for example, via the vegetable-growing village of Tra Que, a timeless place where ancestral skills and traditional cultivation techniques are perpetuated. Take advantage of your stopover in Tra Que to participate in a local cooking class and share an authentic home-cooked lunch.
From Hoi An you can also reach the beautiful pottery village of Thanh Ha, or the charming islets surrounding the old town, such as the typical and not very touristy islet of Cam Kim.
Sporty extension to Dalat (+/- 10 days)
Built by the French at the beginning of the 20th century, it is nicknamed “Little Paris” because of the many vestiges of French colonial heritage that it houses. It is also the “city of lovers”, where French soldiers under French Indochina used to come to recharge their batteries after fighting in the heat of South Vietnam.
Surrounded by hills and high plateaus, and benefiting from relatively cool temperatures all year round, “romantic” Dalat is still a major tourist attraction for both Vietnamese and foreign visitors. Its waterfalls, lakes, lush meadows and flowery valleys make it an ideal destination for couples or families to get away from it all, on foot or by bike!
Your route from Hoi An to Dalat via the Central Highlands is punctuated with beautiful stops. Start with a visit to the famous My Son shrine, some 70km south of Hoi An, then continue through the lush Ngoc Linh National Park, home to the highest peak in the region. You then pass through the historic towns of Kon Tum and Pleiku, then pedal through majestic pine and rubber forests until you reach Buon Ma Thuot, the largest town in the Central Highlands and the capital of Dak Lak province, known as the kingdom of coffee and elephants.
Before continuing to Dalat, take time to visit the coffee plantations and ethnic villages around Buon Ma Thuot, then cool off at its waterfalls and the beautiful Lak Lake, the second largest natural lake in the country.
Cycling in Mekong Delta (2-3 days)
There is nothing like cycling to discover the jewels of the mythical delta along the water! Between lush coconut jungles, orchards, endless rice fields and floating markets, your bike ride along the canals of the largest river in Southeast Asia is the promise of a unique experience, rich in discoveries and authentic encounters.
For more peace and quiet, don’t hesitate to venture onto the roads of the delta, which are often quieter and less crowded than its branches, and complete your cycling escapade with a sampan cruise on the Mekong to discover the amazing river life.
Among the must-see stops on your Mekong Delta itinerary:
- Ben Tre, for an immersion in the heart of the “land of coconut trees”.
- Chau Doc, for a stopover off the beaten track in the extreme north of the delta.
- Ha Tien, another charming river town surrounded by beautiful wooded hills, typical with its lively markets, beautiful pagodas and tasty street food.
- Cai Be, a real must-see stop in the Mekong region; a bustling town renowned for its floating (wholesale) market attracting traders from all over the delta, and an excellent starting point for a boat ride or cruise on the delta.
- Head to Sa Dec, the “Little Venice of the East”. In addition to visiting the house of Mr. Huynh Thuy Le (“The Lover” from the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras), enjoy a bike ride through the surrounding countryside to discover the rural activity and the many colonial houses.
- Can Tho, the largest city in the delta and the capital of the province of the same name, which also houses the largest floating market on the Mekong (Cai Rang).
- Long Xuyen, the second largest floating market in the region, is just as impressive but more authentic than Can Tho.
Pedal through the karst landscape of Ninh Binh (2-3 days)
Head north to Ninh Binh, another cyclist’s paradise, less than 100km south of Hanoi. Known as the “land-based Halong Bay” due to its comparable karst landscapes, it is nonetheless unique in its atmosphere and the exceptional cultural and natural sites it hosts, notably Tam Coc and Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Most of the region’s points of interest, such as Tam Coc, the Jade Pagodas and Mua cave, are less than 12km from the centre of Ninh Binh, making them easily accessible by bike, especially as the terrain is relatively flat. There are also many inexpensive rental options.
There are many routes to explore the Ninh Binh countryside by bicycle through rice fields and small villages, giving you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the heart of rural life and discover the daily life of the inhabitants. Among the many possible routes, you can for example reach the Jade Pagodas from Tam Coc via a relatively flat road lined with tall trees, or the former capital Hoa Lu via a stony track crossing magnificent landscapes.
In Ninh Binh, cycling and boating are inseparable. So extend your 2-wheeled escape in Trang An with a bucolic ride on the transparent waters of the bay aboard a typical boat manoeuvred by a woman rowing with her feet! In addition to sumptuous landscapes, you will be able to observe the aquatic fauna and flora and to stop during the navigation to visit the magnificent temples, pagodas and caves of the site favourite of the travellers.
Explore Cat Ba’s unspoilt landscape by bicycle (2-3 days)
For a trip off the beaten track, leave the mythical but touristy Halong Bay behind and head for the peaceful island of Cat Ba, some 20km to the south, where the landscape of rocky peaks overlooking the sea is just as majestic.
Cat Bat is not only the largest island in the archipelago of the same name, but also one of the most beautiful and “green” of the region. In addition to charming fishing villages, it has its own national park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A real Eldorado for hikers and cyclists!
The roads that criss-cross the island are not always in good condition, but they have the advantage of being little frequented and offering magnificent views of the bay. Don’t be afraid to venture out on the narrow mountainous road that leads to the entrance of the national park. Continue the hike by bike or on foot, accompanied by a guide, to better understand the island’s great biodiversity.
Cycling to the small fishing village of Viet Hai from the pier is also a very pleasant way to go on a cruise in the bay. Here too, cycling and boating are the perfect combination.
Take advantage of your trip to Cat Ba to explore the islets and caves of the neighbouring Lan Ha Bay on board a traditional wooden boat, unless you prefer to sail closer to the coast and the floating villages by kayak. Be sure to stop at Cai Beo, one of the most iconic floating villages in the region with some 300 floating houses inhabited by families living mainly from fishing and fish farming.
Take on the mountainous landscapes of Vietnam’s far north
With its steep terrain and winding roads, the far north of Vietnam requires a very good physical condition.
Less touristic than SaPa, the northern province of Ha Giang, located at the border of China, is nonetheless spectacular, and offers great routes to the most experienced cyclists, with vertical drops ranging from 1000 to 1500 meters. Allow a minimum of 4 days to explore the region in all its diversity; its beautiful mountain roads, but also its magnificent landscapes of rice terraces, ethnic villages and colourful markets.
The road leading to the karst plateau of Dong Van through almost lunar landscapes is particularly challenging – for good climbers! – but it does offer some great views.
The 22km ‘happy road’ between Dong Van and Mèo Vac, with its dizzying canyons, limestone valleys and terraced fields, is also spectacular. Don’t miss a stop at the top of the Mã Pi Leng pass, one of the four largest passes in Vietnam, and then head out to meet the many ethnic minorities living in the region, including the Hmong, Tay, Nung, Dao and Lolo.
From a bicycle, with the wind in your hair and tropical breeze on your face, this is an energizing and rewarding way to see the beauty and majesty of Vietnam. Just choose one of our cycling tours that suit your style: from a leisurely ride through the countryside to a long adventure trip along with the country.
Hope that you will have great cycling holiday in Vietnam. If you want us to arrange any Vietnam cycling tour just let us know by contacting us.