NORTHWEST 8 Day Loop
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
RICHARD FORREST 8 Day Northwest Loop
Day 1, Hanoi - Tam Coc (134km)
Getting out of any city can be challenging and for sure Hanoi drivers and riders can be unpredictable. The first few kilometres will be slow going unless you get away early. If not wait until after 9am when the rush eases.
You've soon onto a bypass on the levee bank following the Red River and all is good. Keeping you off the QL1A and sticking to secondary arterials so generally its a pretty clean 135km run out of the city. You'll get your first look at some mountains where we split the Ha Nam and Hoa Binh provinces. Then (G) on the map is the Trang An Caves boat tour.
The best of many tours offered in the area if having a day off or in early enough to squeeze it into the afternoon. Last boats leave at 3.30pm for the full 3 hour tour.
The Tam Coc Garden Homestay 0974224655 (+84 38 570 0999 Whatsapp) is perfectly located and has a great pool.
It is at the end of the village so an early morning walk through the rice paddies and mountain area is recommended.
Day 2, Tam Coc - Pu Luong (184km)
Its not big km's but we wind the distances back now we are getting into the mountains and the winding roads and photo opportunities that go with it.
Your lunch stop should be (A) on the map. Thac May Waterfall. This lady opposite where you walk up to the falls has a place to change into your swimmers and will look after your bike and gear.
Order a "running chicken" and she will catch and barbecue one while your swimming. It's tougher than any chicken you've had but delicious and somewhat unique in the Northwest. One of the best waterfall swim spots in the country.
You loosely follow the Nam Ma River for a bit in the afternoon and also plenty of swim opportunities off the beaten track or where you cross it then too.
Pu Luong Nature reserve is just beautiful and plenty to explore if you have the time.
The Lake View Homestay 0398098959 is somewhat unique and well located. Your all bunked in together in this lake shack.
The people are really nice and the food was good but its pretty rustic.
The Pu Luong Retreat 02438239988 is a nice accomodation with a pool view down the valley.
There is a shared longhouse on the budget end but also reasonably priced private rooms.
Pu Luong Boutique Garden 0869641813 is my favourite so far. Bit higher end price wise but lovely bungalows with balconies and a great pool and dining area.
Day 3, Pu Luong - Bac Yen (294km)
I can not begin to tell you how good this ride day is mate. This whole region is just awesome and even when there are tourists you wont see any here.
The morning ride is around the Pu Luong valley and over the range. You'll pass through a minority village on the plateau before the decent.
Once your down the the water the riding and the views are incredible. You'll follow the Da River most of the afternoon so plenty of swim opportunities. The best one is Ba Khan waterfall. Don't miss that!
Around that point you can make a call based on time how far around to or past (E) on the map you go. Dropping it will cut 70k's off the day.
Later in the afternoon (F) on the map is a Ferry Crossing. Open until 9pm so no issues there.
The Dong Tam Hotel 0345582468 is nothing special. In fact seems to get less special each time I stay there but it is well located with a decent local restaurant right next door.
By all means look for an option on this one!
Day 4 Bac Yen - Dien Bien Phu (270km)
In terms of distance 270km is another big day but other than the ride up to the Dinosaur Spine pretty easy going and worth it I reckon.
You could miss Dien Bien Phu but it's a great ride there from Son La.
If you're up for a pre dawn start the Spine is a great place for the sunrise. Even if clouded in its worth it for the breakfast and to interact with the local mountain people.
The road up to (A) on the map, Ta Xua (The Dinosaur Spine) is pretty broken up in places and most often in the fog so care in that area. Riding Ta Xua is not for everyone thats for sure. Walk it first but for sure walk it. There's something magical about this place. The feeling the first time I sat at the end on an XR 150 was one I'll never forget. Still rates in my top rides in the country.
Lots of great tracks to explore in this area which is why its kept to a short day. Great photography too not only of the mountains but of the locals in traditional dress.
The road from Bac Yen to meet up with the QL37 is also really good and an easy run then to Son La. Plenty of accommodation here but I've been happy with Hoa Anh Dao 02123858667 if you bail on the Dien Bien Phu option. Good location with a big barbecue place just down the road on the same side.
Pharma Hotel 0962060013 in Dien Bien Phu is pretty good value a bit better than basic.
Day 5, Dien Bien Phu - Sapa (270km)
Lots of history around Dien Bien Phu and one place I need to spend more time. I haven't done the QL 12 North but as a QL it will be fine I'm sure and will fit nicely for you to be back to Hanoi in time.
If you have time the chair lift to the Fansipan Summit is well worth the day off.
Stayed in many places in Sapa but at the bit higher end Bamboo Hotel 091 551 06 89 is really nice. Secure parking and perfectly located.
Colour Bar is a good spot for a drink within walking distance of the hotel and Casa Italia in the same street if you're over rice and noodles.
Day 6 Sapa - Nghia Lo (233km)
This is another of the unforgettable ride days. The Mu Cang Chai valley area just magnificent. Lots of exploring to be done in that area.
A little further past the Khau Pha Pass is also gorgeous with the option of some paragliding.
I can't recall the price but do remember it was quite reasonable.
Dragonfly 091 551 06 89 is getting up there money wise but really very nice. Absolutely worth it for me. Try and cut a deal without breakfast. That's ordinary!
Make sure you say g'day to the parrot!
Day 7, Nghia Lo - Hanoi (195km)
I haven't been back into the city this way so I'll be happy to hear your take on it. Looks pretty good to Son Tay and then try and beat rush hour. If you get away early should be able to fly the same day.