We’ve all seen pictures of those charming rice paddies, coffee and tea plantations, temples and pagodas in Southeast Asia. But nothing can prepare you for the exotic landscape, remote countryside and rich culture that these lands have to offer.
Vietnam and Thailand are countries of superlatives. Go beyond the tourist hubs and mingle with the locals and discover authentic Vietnam on two wheels. Considered one of the best motorcycle touring destinations in the world, Thailand is also referred to as the ‘Land of Smiles.’ The fishing villages, jungles, elephants, monkeys by the side of the road and natural splendour truly make the country a motorcycle paradise.
If you are planning a motorcycle tour in this part of the world, then here are the best road trips in Vietnam and Thailand that every motorcycle enthusiast should take at least once in their life.
5. Saigon – Dalat – Nha Trang, Vietnam
Best time: all year
Distance: around 370 miles (600 km)
Time: allow at least 4 days
This back-road takes bikers past beaches and mountains on a series of scenic coastal roads that will allow you to sink deep into authentic Vietnam. The road from Saigon to Dalat will take you through mangrove forests and along pristine beaches, from sea level all the way up to 1,500 ft (450 m) at the Dai Ninh and Prenn passes.
The first section of the road takes riders from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, a laid-back beach resort that has long been considered Vietnam’s answer to Hawaii. The beach at Mui Ne is quite popular among water sports lovers, as it is home to some of the best surfing in Vietnam, as well as world-class kitesurfing and windsurfing.
The road from Dalat to Nha Trang takes riders by farmlands, rolling hills and mountain scenery, passing through the Long Lanh Pass before reaching Nha Trang.
4. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam
Best time: March to September
Distance: 1,168 miles (1,880 km) from Hanoi to Saigon
Time: around 2 weeks, but the trail can be split into smaller sections
You can’t really say you’ve toured Vietnam unless you explore the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or at least a section of it. Drenched in history, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was built in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, to connect the north and south of Vietnam through the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia. The trail was abandoned after the war, but it remains one of the main attractions among motorcyclists travelling to Vietnam.
Today, the Ho Chi Minh Trail takes riders through Vietnam’s lush countryside, by coffee plantations and iconic water buffaloes.
Most travelers prefer to start from Hanoi. The first section of the road will take you close to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, home to the world’s largest cave – San Doong.
Other must-see attractions on the road to Saigon are the historical cities of Hue and Hoi An, the Dau Mau Bridge, and Dalat and Ho Chi Minh cities.
3. Ha Giang – “The Road of Happiness”, Vietnam
Best time: summer (June and July) and autumn (September to November)
Distance: around 200 miles (330 km) for the round-trip
Time: allow at least 3 days
In the northern Ha Giang province, highway 4C is better known as the “Road of Happiness.” Dare venture beyond Vietnam’s touristy sites and you will discover hundreds of hairpin turns in one of the most remote parts of the country. Close to the border with China’s Yunnan province, this road perched over precipices is not for the faint of heart.
The road will take you from Ha Giang to the Dong Van karst plateau geopark, passing by tall limestone walls, rice terraces and local hill tribes. But the highlight of the trip is the section between Dong Van and Meo Vac, said to be the most beautiful road in Vietnam. This section will take you through the Ma Pi Lang Pass, offering numerous spectacular viewpoints along the way.
2. The Chiang Rai Loop, Thailand
Best time: October to April
Distance: around 350 miles (570 km)
Time: allow at least 4 days
In northern Thailand, the Chiang Rai Loop is a series of twisty roads just north of Chiang Mai. The first section of the road passes by the Mae Sa Elephant Camp, where you can stop and visit the elephants and see them perform their “daily tasks,” from bathing to painting and even playing football.
From Mae Sa, a lush countryside scenery will unravel before your eyes as you ride to Tha Ton, where the imposing Wat Tha Ton temple awaits visitors with stunning panoramic views of the lush countryside. While here, set some time aside to visit the long-necked Karen tribe village too.
The road will take you to Doi Mae Salong, where you can visit mountain tea farmers. Then, you will continue towards Mae Sai, the northernmost point of Thailand, and reach the Golden Triangle, where the three borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. If you like, to can hop on a long-tail boat and cross over to Laos, as no visa is required.
1. The Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
Best time: October to April
Distance: 420 miles (670 km)
Time: allow at least 5 days
The most popular road trip in the country will take you through the wild and rugged mountainous Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand. Starting from Chiang Mai, you will ride on narrow roads all the way to Pai and back, summing up 1,864 turns! This is one of the most treacherous roads in Thailand, and definitely not recommended for inexperienced riders.
On your way to Mae Sariang, you will pass by the Doi Inthanon National Park, where you can make a detour and ride to the top of the highest summit in Thailand – the Doi Inthanon Mountain, part of the Himalayan mountain range. On the road to Pai, you can stop and visit caves or try the many exciting outdoor activities available, such as white water rafting.
If you are riding in Thailand for the first time, it is better to do the Mae Hong Son Loop in a clockwise direction and make your first stop at Mae Sariang. If you have an extra day or two to spend here, you can tackle one of the many gorgeous hikes near Mae Sariang.