The Ho Chi Minh Road
The Ho Chi Minh is a famous road in Vietnam for motorbiking. No one really knows the technical “start” and “finish” of the road, however the famous section for driving is between the small town of Prao and the National Park of Phong Nha.
The road is on the Laos border and it twists and turns through impossible mountain terrain. Calving out perfection on the edge of cliffs whilst following the flow of a beautiful turquoise river. The surrounding jungle is lush and thick which adds to the feel of remoteness. The Ho Chi Minh road combines mountains, jungles and rivers into one phenomenally beautiful drive.
The driving surface is that of large concrete slabs, mostly wide enough for one car. The surface is mostly in good condition, although slippery in parts. This sort of surface is common in Vietnam when tackling remote roads. Generally when a motorcyclist finds a road of this material, it is a strong signal that everything to come will be amazing. The Ho Chi Minh Road does not disappoint.
Quick history of the Ho Chi Minh Road
The Ho Chi Minh road is based off the “Ho Chi Minh Trails” which is a maze of secret trails that are found in Laos. The Vietcong used the Ho Chi Minh Trails to transport goods down to the South during the Vietnam War.
The Ho Chi Minh road may or may not have been used as part of the Laos based Ho Chi Minh Trails, but the Ho Chi Minh Road took over the name and has stolen the history from the true areas of secrecy based in Laos. The true Ho Chi Minh Trails in Laos remain dirt track, can’t be found on Googlemaps and remains to be the most bombed area in the world.
The Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Road on the other hand, is a well paved road of perfection that meanders up the Laos Border. Seemingly purpose build for travelers on motorcycles with the pretense of history thrown on top. In terms of real history, it does pass through Khe Sanh, where the “Battle of Khe Sanh” took place, known to be the bloodiest battle in the Vietnam War. Today, a museum remains with old tanks and aircraft. There is time to stop by this little museum when arriving to Khe Sanh in the afternoon.
The Hai Van Pass or the remote mountain road
Hoi An to Hue to Khe Sanh (The Hai Van Pass)
This is not part of “The Ho Chi Minh Road”, but most travelers will tackle the Hai Van Pass between Hoi An and Hue. The Hai Van Pass is “the most famous road” in Vietnam for motorcycling. If using the Hai Van pass it is possible to drive the QL49 and the Ql14 to connect Hue and Khe Sanh in one simple drive.
Hoi An to Khe Sanh (Tunnel route)
The Hai Van Pass is a short drive and could be classified in the realms of “touristy”. For those trying to stay remote and beautiful this option is the far better and more beautiful alternative to the Hai Van pass.
Hoi An along the QL14B and up the QL 14 all the way to Khe Sanh. This is a massive drive and needs big commitment. The very slightly shorter alternative is to use the QL14G instead of the QL14B. The town of A Lưới provides a bed if you fail to reach Khe Sanh. However this puts the driver in a difficult spot as A Lưới to Khe Sanh is very short and A Lưới to Phong Nha is very long. Failure to complete the ride of Hoi An to Khe Sanh will disrupt the rhythm of the ride.
Eitherway the reward of commitment to a driving holiday, is to be on the Ql14 for the maximum amount of time. A great mountain pass with two spectacular remote tunnels blown through the mountains. A road and place that very few people bother to go out and see.
The Ho Chi Minh Road between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha
This piece of road it arguably the best road in Vietnam, and possibly the planet. It combines rivers and mountain beauty with lush thick forests. Tight corners, open straights and plenty of outrageous bridges to drive over. A masterful piece of road that goes through zones like a computer game, mixing up the style as the rider begins to get too familiar with their surroundings.
The road is remote but accessible. Anyone can drive it, and today there is plenty of help if something goes wrong. When coming to Vietnam, this is “the road” to drive.
The Ho Chi Minh Road between Phong Nha and Vinh
The Ho Chi Minh road exists between Phong Nha and Vinh, but this is not the famous driving section. Near to Phong Nha the Ql15 remains nice, but as it gets closer to Hanoi the road becomes busier and flatter. The objective is to get from Hanoi to Phong Nha as quickly as possible, the stopping point being Vinh and staying over in the only decent hotel in the area “Vinh Dong Loan Hotel“.
Ninh Binh or Mai Chai
Ninh Binh is a popular place on the tourist circuit. The problem with Ninh Binh is it sets the driver up for a horrible entrance and exit to Hanoi. Taking the driver off the path of remote roads and straight into the chaos of Hanoi for a prolonged period of time.
Mai Chai is better setup for the motorcyclist, keeping the driver off to the west and away from the main entrance to Hanoi. Mai Chai is a growing tourist destination and has become famous for amazing authentic home stays. The journey into Hanoi from Mai Chai is much more pleasant than Ninh Binh to Hanoi.