A week by motorcycle around South Vietnam: Overview

another street in Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
At one with the locals

I’m very late in typing this up and getting it posted but I’ve been really busy since getting back from Vietnam. This post is a brief overview of the trip I took with Thao. I’ll be adding more detailed posts for each day shortly and they’ll be linked from here.

The idea of this one is to let someone interested in following out route know road details, distances, times and the like. Note that we did this trip in August 2009 with good (hot) weather. The roads are changing a lot in Vietnam so don’t rely completely on Lonely Planet for your directions. Ask locals and get a new map.

A lot more hints and recommendations relating to motorcycle travel in Vietnam can be found in this accompanying post.

Sun 16th Aug

Set off from Ho Chi Minh City at around 11:30am. We had one stop for a flat tyre just outside the city limits and passed through Phan Thiet where we stopped for an hour or so. Just outside Mui Ne we went to take photos of the orange sand dune and got to accommodation around 5:30pm.

Mon 17th Aug

Left Mui Ne around 9:00am. Got to Phan Rang at 1:00pm then left again at 2:30pm after viewing the Cham structures. Arrived in Nha Trang at roughly 6:00pm including one internet stop of about an hour on the way.

Tue 18th Aug

Full day in Nha Trang

Wed 19th Aug

Left Nha Trang at 8:00am. 20km south of the city is a “new” road which is signposted for Da Lat. We followed this in a straight line for maybe 10-15km to a very small roundabout in a small-ish town where we turned left. This is the first sign for Da Lat after the one on the main road.

The first proper petrol station we passed, many kilometres later, wasn’t open yet though looked near completion. The next one we hit was around 70km from Nha Trang. We filled up there and had lunch just along the road before passing another station a kilometre or so further along.

The next fuel station is a long way off and the journey to it includes a lot of uphill driving. There are some little home-brew petrol pumps on the way as well, but I believe these are pretty pricey. On a small bike you must fill up at one of the main ones or you’ll realy run the risk of being stranded.

We arrived in Da Lat around 2:00pm

Thu 20th Aug

Full day in Da Lat

Fri 21st Aug

We left Da Lat at 7:45am and took the “20” direct to Ho Chi Minh City as it was the fastest route. It’s mainly downhill and gets very busy. There are plenty of waterfalls to see off the route, but the signposting for them varies from “can’t miss it” to “virtually non-existant”.

Including one lunch and one internet stop, we made it to HCM City around 6:00pm.

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Moto Vietnam: Day 4 – Nha Trang to Da Lat

Fishing boat

When the boat comes in

Today required another early start as we had to make it all the way to Dalat – we set off just after 8am. Being that it’s up in the mountains, we wanted to ensure we caught the good weather. Dalat has a much different climate to the coastal areas, with lower temperatures and some chance of rain. Also, the roads would be heading “up” and we weren’t sure how the bike would cope with the additional gravity.

The route isn’t too complex and there is a new road in place which reduces the distance to around 130km. Head around 20km south of Nha Trang then turn right. It is signposted, but only just! Just follow the road you join in a more or less straight line until the first signed junction (a left) and from then on, keep going.

Nha Trang Cathedral

Cathedral and flags

It’s a good road – very smooth for the most part. But what makes it is the scenery. It’s simply mindbogglingly beautiful. There was little traffic on the road as we passed through so there was no problem stopping to take pictures now and then. Do note the distinct lack of crash barriers on the mountainous parts though. Staying awake is a very important part of the drive.

We stopped for breakfast at a small cafe before we hit the mountainous areas. Given that we weren’t anywhere near a tourist area, we received a fair bit of attention due to me looking somewhat different from everyone else! Pho Bo was the dish, and we ate it surrounded by a horde of local kids who were waiting for what I think was their lift to school.

Amazing scenery

Just staggering

As we approached Da Lat the temperatures definitely dropped and there were even a few spots of rain. Fortunately, the heavens didn’t open on us and we managed to find a hotel not far from the lake. Cheap room, good view and a hot shower! All in all a 6 hour journey which wasn’t too bad at all.

After the long ride, we treated ourselves to the chocolate buffet at the Sofitel. There was less choice than the Hanoi equivalent, but it also cost a little less ($21.04 inclusive for two people).


Natural shower

We then wandered over to the chopping area so that I could pick up a jumper. It’s fine for walking around, but while riding the bike I was getting a tad chilly. Thao was very impressed with my haggling abilities as I got a sweater down to 120,000D. She said she’d have given up and got it for 160,000D. We also grabbed some fruit and went back to the hotel as the rain started to come down more heavily.

We chilled and watched TV for a bit and then went for a stroll, eventually finding the Peace Cafe with its incredibly genial hostess.

I was tempted to stay up till 3:30am to follow the NUFC v Sheffield Wednesday game on my mobile (via the free wifi) but for some reason I was rather tuckered out!

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Moto Vietnam: Day 3 – full day in Nha Trang

Ship-shape aquarium

Ship-shape aquarium

Today we opted to spend a full day in Nha Trang and go on one of the popular boat trips. They’ve been $6 for years and this hasn’t changed, though it seems they’re adding other little charges now which weren’t levied before.

We moto’d to the pier area and parked up then selected “Number 4 Boat Trip” hosted by Monkey Boy and Lady Boy. These two Vietnamese guys were a right giggle and great hosts. The trip encompasses three islands, two of which you walk on and the other you just moor off for a while.

First stop was an aquarium built to look like a huge ship. The entrance was through the mouth of an enormous lion fish and the decor just kept getting better. As an aquarium it’s a little lacking, to be fair. The tanks seem a bit crowded which is a shame as the actual building is very impressive – they’ve just blown the money on the wrong thing.

We them pitched up in a snorkelling zone where the first of the new charges was levied – 40,000d to be allowed into the water. Some official-looking tickets were passed out (I didn’t swim due to my eye op) but there were grumbles from Thao and others as this did sound somewhat dodgy. It seems all the boats are doing it now, though.

I chilled and read my book in the sun while most of the rest of the boat tried not to drown after half a dozen beers on empty stomachs. After everyone came up, we moved the boat elsewhere and moored up for lunch which was quite plentiful – and crap if you didn’t like seafood. I think I had three bananas and all the tomato I could pick out of the salad.

Bopping boat

Bopping boat

As lunch was tidied up, jet-skis appeared and we were told it was “only” 400,000d for 15 minutes. This is really expensive compared to the likes of Phuket. Not surprisingly, nobody was interested. What did perk them up was a few songs from the Boys and the crew followed by a “free bar” in the water. Mulled wine was free if you swam up to the “bar”, though beer was still 20,000d a can.

It was fun, though, and I weakened. Despite not having trunks, I just wore my trousers, emptied the pockets and jumped in from the roof. Three times. The heat was such that once I go out, my trousers were dry within an hour. And my skin was red. And ouchy. Whoops.

Our last stop was at a resort island which cost us 20,000d to set foot on. And 10,000d more for “sports” which we didn’t use as there seemed to be further charges once we reached the beach. This was a relaxing stop with a nice beach being cleaned up by staff as we sat there. Thao wandered off to take some photos and I did the same once she collapsed in her deck chair (another 10,000d per person…).



After reading, listening to music, chatting and staring at tourists in small bikinis for a couple of hours (that last was me – Thao slept) we were ferried back to the mainland where we grabbed a shower then located a restaurant for dinner. Tonight was Vietnamese night and we biked around for a while looking for a place that Thao had been recommended.

It took us a while, and we’re still not sure we got the right place. As ever, there were several restaurants with the same name. However, I’ve got no complaints with the one we chose. It was “roll your own” spring rolls with fresh, crispy ingredients and at a bargain price. We even had a cute little baby to wave at while we ate.

Our day off was almost over. A quick internet check and a couple of cold beers at a bar down the road rounded it off nicely.

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Moto Vietnam: Day 2 – Mui Ne to Nha Trang

Cute pedestrians

Cute pedestrians

We got up at 8am and the first thing we did after checking out was to hit the shops. I needed sun lotion, mainly as my face resembled that of a red superhero wearing a white Zorro mask. Not flattering, but at least I knew my sunglasses were working.

Our route took us back onto the road running past the orange sand dune and on towards greener land. The lush green plant life contrasted strongly with the orange sand it seemed to be growing out of.

The rest stop was to be Trap Cham, about four hours up the road. Just outside the town is the Po Klong Garai, a collection of three Cham buildings up on a hill. The cost of visiting these has recently risen to 10,000d – double that listed in the current Lonely Planet. One of the buildings is currently used and we had to ask someone to unlock it so we could see inside.



The heat was incredible so we had a quick siesta before remounting the bike and starting the last leg towards Nha Trang about 100km away. On the way we stopped for an hour for an email check at a very swish cybercafe. Big comfy armchairs, LCD screens, working keyboards, aircon and only 4500d per hour. Well cheap.

We’d traveled maybe 20km north of our pit stop when – would you believe it – the back tyre went flat again. Fortunately we’d once again come a cropper right by somewhere we could have it fixed. This time the fault was diagnosed as being the inside of the tyre itself. Some wear on it was rubbing on the inner tube and creating a hole in it. Solution: new tyre. Cost: 250,000d. Ah, well.

Cham tower

Cham tower

While we were waiting, I was invited to sit with about a dozen men who were sat – topless – eating and supping on rice wine. As usual, I was offered a shot glass full of wine. As usual, I necked it in one – to a cheer and cries of “very good!” Conversation was limited due to my complete lack of Vietnamese, but it was – as ever – humbling to experience such a welcome and generosity.

Thankfully that was our last stop until we reached Nha Trang. We picked a guest house a little way from the tourist bustle and settled in. which is where I wrote the draft for this post. Next stop would be somewhere selling food. After a long day biking I was starving!

We went to the Texas Steak place down the road (26a Tran Quang Khai St – no web page!). A bit pricey at first glance, but great quality and generous portions. The owner is a genuine American who’s been in Vietnam for 2½ years. Nice guy.

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