This eight-day tour will take you through some of Vietnam’s most remote areas. The Northwest of Vietnam offers striking mountainous scenery, rivers and forests as well as many distinctive ethnic minority groups. As there are few roads and hardly any tourism infrastructure, you’ll probably have the trails and paths to yourself. Most of the landscape is inaccessible to vehicles, but mountain bikes will enable you to reach deep into the remote ‘hill-tribe’ culture and explore the many markets that are part of the unique customs of the local communities.
This tour is designed for travellers looking for a physical challenge and authentic cultural experiences. Biking is at moderate level, about six to seven hours per day (40 to 90 kilometres depending on the terrain) on asphalted roads, dirt tracks and rough paths. The undulating land means riding through plenty of deep valleys, high passes, sharp bends and rugged ground.
Although the route doesn’t require a high level of skill, good stamina is essential. Unless you are fully fit and therefore unfamiliar with the rigours of cycling, we recommend careful preparation. If you’re starting from scratch, about 45 minutes of exercise (either cycling or jogging) three to five times a week for three months prior to your trip is advisable.
A support vehicle will be available through the biking trip. If you’re finding the pace a bit too exhausting, you’ll be able to skip a stage to relax your legs and save energy for the next section of the course.
Day 1: Hanoi arrival - Sleeper train to Lao Cai (Dinner, Guide Pick up)
Arriving at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before a ‘Welcome’ dinner at a family restaurant situated in a small alley in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The owner is a talented cook who will be preparing your food. After that you’ll be driven to Hanoi Railway Station to board the overnight sleeper train leaving at 21.15 to Sapa. Your overnight stay will be on the train.
You may consider arriving in Hanoi one day earlier so that you can relax and/or recover from a possible jetlag before starting your biking adventure.
Day 2: Lao Cai - Cycling in Sapa (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
Arriving in Lao Cai station in early morning, you’ll be met and driven to Sapa. After breakfast and a shower, you'll bike to explore Sapa valley. You’ll cycle downhill on a winding road which runs along Muong Hoa valley, home to Black Hmong, Giay and Red Dao minorities. From the road you’ll have many opportunities to enjoy scenery of mountains and rice paddy terraces as far as the eyes can see. After a short break in Su Pan, you’ll bike to Ban Ho on a good asphalted road. The approach to Ban Ho will be a steep downhill – the village is on the foot of the mountains. After lunch in Ban Ho, you’ll be able to take a walk up to Red Dao village of Nam Toong. Here you have time to visit the local school and a Red Dao house. After exploring Nam Toong you’ll walk back to Ban Ho where your car is waiting to take you back to Sapa for your overnight stay.
Today’s ride will be downhill most of the way on both paved and dirt roads passing villages and rice paddy fields en-route. The total biking distance is 30 kilometres at moderate level.
Day 3: Sapa - Heaven’s Gate - Binh Lu - Tam Duong (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
After breakfast at the hotel, you’ll bike for 20 kilometres on a bumpy uphill road to ‘Heaven’s Gate’, Vietnam's highest pass. A break at the top of the pass allows an opportunity to enjoy the view of the Sapa valley and the long snaking road ahead. A further 20 kilometres leads to Binh Lu through mountainous landscape via a winding downhill road, passing several ethnic villages, mostly small Black Dao and Giay communities, on the way. The final section is an easy ride downhill all the way to Tam Duong where you’ll spend the night.
Day 4: Tam Duong - Paso (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
Assuming you’re able to arrange your dates to coincide with the Tam Duong weekly market that takes place every Thursday, you’ll be able to mingle with several different ethnic minority groups. They will include White H’mong, Flower H’mong, Nhang and Pu Na people dressed in their colourful costumes. Leaving Tam Duong, a lift on the support vehicle will take you to the top of the Hong Thu Meo pass between Tam Duong and Paso. From there, you’ll cycle 21 kilometres downhill towards Paso passing a Thai ethnic minority group and banana plantation en-route. After lunch at your hotel in Paso, you’ll be driven for 10 kilometres to Phong Tho, situated beside a picturesque tributary of the Na River. From there, you’ll pick up your bikes to ride along an undulating quiet road for about 8 kilometres through ethnic minority villages and acres of lush banana plantation alongside a river. When you arrive at a small bridge, it’s time to board the escort vehicle to drive to the Vietnam-China border for a brief visit. Returning to the bridge, and after a visit a Thai village, 7 kilometres on a scenic route takes you back your hotel in Paso, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 5: Paso - Muong Lay (once called Lai Chau) (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
Today, the road meanders through the picturesque Na river valley past many small Red and White Hmong, Kho Mu and White Thai ethnic minority villages - the sound of the running river water follows you all the way. You’ll reach Muong Lay in the early afternoon with time to wander around the small town, hike in the nearby mountains, cruise on a boat downstream or just relax. Your overnight stay will be in Muong Lay.
Today’s total biking distance is 91 kilometres (about 6 hours) mostly downhill alongside the Na River on a winding asphalted road.
Day 6: Muong Lay - Dien Bien Phu (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
Today is the end destination of your four-day biking adventure. You will be driven in the support vehicle for the first 30 km before cycling to Dien Bien Phu, passing more White Thai, Red and White Hmong and Kho Mu ethnic minority villages on the way. In the afternoon you will reach Dien Bien Phu for your overnight stay.
The day’s ride is 72 kilometres (about 5 hours) on a good asphalted road, mostly twisting downhill and including three passes on the way. It’s reasonably straightforward - the most challenging is Co Chay Pass - 4 kilometres uphill and 5 downhill. The last 6km to Dien Bien Phu after Co Chay Pass is flat.
Day 7: Dien Bien Phu - Hanoi (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide, Driver Pick up in Hanoi)
After breakfast, you have an easy bicycle trip around the town to visit Dien Bien Phu’s famous historical sites including the Museum, Glory Statue, A1 Hill and the De Castrerie Tunnel. After lunch, you’ll be free until your driver arrives to take you to the airport for your flight to Hanoi.
If you prefer, we can arrange a vehicle to visit the sites.
Day 8: Hanoi departure (Breakfast, Driver Pickup)
After breakfast, your time is your own until your car arrives to take you to Noi Bai airport for your departure flight.
- Vietnam Visa Invitation letter
- Breakfast and accommodation sharing a twin or double room.
- Pick-ups and transfers by private air-conditioned vehicle as specified in the itinerary above. For description, see below
- Train tickets: Hanoi - Lao Cai (good local standard, soft four-berth cabin with air-conditioner Fanxipan Express/Sapaly Carriage).
- One way flight tickets: Dien Bien Phu – Hanoi, including airport taxes.
- Road travel in an appropriate private vehicle for transfer and back up when cycling as itinerary (supplement luggage van to carry bike and baggage).
- The services of experienced English-speaking guides as indicated in the itinerary.
- Where necessary, entry fees for all visits as mentioned in the programme.
- Lunches and dinners, as specified, in the best local restaurants, picnics where suitable restaurants are not available.
- Good quality mountain bikes for all biking days in the programme
- Drinking water and local fruit for all biking days in the programme
- Simple first aid kit.
- VAT and other taxes.
- International flight tickets and airport tax.
- Lunches and dinners, except as specified above.
- Drinks, gratuities and personal expenses.
- Surcharges for peak season (if any)
- Compulsory meals (if any)
- Alternative in blue