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 remote road is on the Laos border and it twists and turns through the nearly impossible mountain terrain. Carving 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 riding surface is comprised of concrete slabs, mostly wide enough for one car. The Ho Chi Minh Road 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 composite, it is a strong signal that everything to come will be amazing. The Ho Chi Minh Road does not disappoint.
A quick history of the Ho Chi Minh Road
The Ho Chi Minh road is based on 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 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 a dirt track, can’t be found on Googlemaps and remains to be the most bombed-out areas 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-built 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 at Khe Sanh in the afternoon.
How long does it take to drive the Ho Chi Minh Road
The Ho Chi Minh Road in five days
The Ho Chi Minh ideally takes between five and seven days, although it can be done in two.
Day one is Hoi An to the town of Khe Sanh, if you arrive early enough, it is possible to add in the Khe Sanh combat base. This is a great addition to the journey and raps up and massive action-packed day.
Day two is Khe Sanh to Phong Nha National Park. This is a huge drive that takes most people around eight hours. It is a fabulous eight hours though. Wake up early, so you leave room for error if something goes wrong. It is a shame and a bit scary to end up on this road in the dark.
Day three and more should be spent doing caves in Phong Nha National park. This place has something for everyone, from budget tours up to the extremely expensive.
Day four is Phong Nha to somewhere North of Phong Nha. An exact location is not defined because there is nowhere good to stay. All the roads are busy, and it won’t be difficult to get a hotel on the fly. Unfortunately, we have never found a good hotel in this entire zone of Vietnam.
The further North you can get, the better, but ultimately there isn’t a set object.
Day five is somewhere North of Hanoi to Pu Luong or Mai Chau. Both are fabulous places for an authentic homestay experience. Some people might spend an entire day in this area, but you can also just have a late start to Hanoi. Mai Chau and Pu Luong to Hanoi is a very straightforward 3/4 hour drive, allowing for a lunchtime start.
The Ho Chi Minh Road in two days
Two days is not recommended, but I suppose anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
Day one is Hoi An to Khe Sanh.
Day two is Khe Sanh to Dong Hoi train station. Put your motorbike on the train back to Tigit. Most of Dong Hoi’s flights are in the morning, but you can check all the airlines and choose to fly back to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh or Danang.
The Hai Van Pass: The Remote Mountain Road
Hoi An to Hue to Khe Sanh
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 a 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.
Either way, 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 is 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 and Pu Luong are 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 homestays. The journey into Hanoi from Mai Chai is much more pleasant than Ninh Binh to Hanoi.