The mountainous route in Northeast and Northwest of Vietnam is one of the famous loop for those who enjoy driving, either motorbikes or cars. Extremely challenging steep paved roads with continuous twists and turns, undulating rice terraces on the backdrop of breathtaking towering mountains, deep valleys and winding emerald rivers are the unique features of this northern region. This magnificent landscape is even adorned with the blooming of seasonal flowers (such as the apricot and plum flowers in spring, buck wheat in autumn and cauliflower in year end), combined with the beauty of the terraced paddle field along the circle of rice (water filling in May and Jun, golden ripen in Sep and Oct), intriguing countless visitors.
Being a Vietnamese who loves exploring new places behind the wheel, I feel ashamed that until today I am able to drive this amazing loop. Driving in Vietnam, in fact, is more difficult than that in other neighborhood countries because of the poor road quality, particularly paved mountain paths which are narrow, rough and bumpy, occasionally suffered landslides. In addition, the consciousness of people involving in the traffic is poor, therefore even if we drive carefully, it is hardly to avoid unexpected situations when facing terrible drivers. After challenging my long-distance driving skills on several overseas trips, and having another driver in the group, I feel confident to conquer the tough roads in my own country.
13 days of driving on more than 2000km through 6 northern provinces in chilling early autumn, admiring golden undulating rice terraces and the early blossom of buck wheat, challenging my driving skills on rugged mountain passes, enjoying local food and understanding the life of mountainous minorities helped me to love our people and my country much more.
With 13 day, we decided not to cover the whole loop stretching from Northeast to Northwest, but a smaller route (skipping Lang Son in Northeast and Dien Bien in Northwest). Departing from Hanoi, we drove to Bac Can, Cao Bang – famous for its towering mountains, turquoise lake and stream and majestic waterfall. Then we had a few days to admire the uniqueness of massive karst plateau in Dong Van, Meo vac after experiencing heart stopping mountain passes. The rest of the trip, we were excited to explore the best terraced rice field of Vietnam in northwest region.
Day 1-4: Mountainous scenery of Bac Can and Cao Bang: Ba Be Lake, then Cao Bang, Ban Gioc waterfall, Nguom Ngao cave, Pac Bo cave, Lenin stream
Day 5-7: Karst Plateaus and breathtaking mountain passes in Northeast Vietnam: Meo Vac, Ma Pi Leng pass, Dong Van, Lung Cu, Tham Ma pass, Nine-turn pass, Pho Cao, Pho Bang, Yen Minh, Quan Ba, Ha Giang
Day 8-13: Splendid terraced rice fields during ripen season in Northwest Vietnam: Hoang Su Phi, Sapa, Mu Cang Chai
(Click to the links to read our daily itinerary)
We have had wonderful experiences with layers of emotions continuously interchanged, from nervous, tensed and concentrated to overcome dangerous mountain passes, to excited, surprised and fascinated by speechless natural landscapes, from interested and admired by the start-up stories of home-stay owners to little disappointed with the services in some tourist attractions.
On top of everything, the feeling left in me is the pride and the joy in the beauty of my country and our people. Vietnamese are kind and hospitable, Vietnam natural landscapes are magnificent, rustic and peaceful. After years of travelling around the world, to this day I’m burst out of happiness about the incomparable charms of my home country. Perhaps it’s late, but not too late for me to start exploring more and more amazing places in Vietnam.
Share with me the unique places in Vietnam that you have been visited. Together, YOU and I can join hands to introduce its beauty to the world.
Driving tips in the North of Vietnam
- Self-driving car rental in Vietnam is not as popular as other countries in the world. Most of the car rental agencies are private owners, not as professional as international companies like Avis, Sixt, Heizt. In addition, the language of communication is mainly in Vietnamese, so foreigners will have difficulty in exchanging information. Therefore, it will take more time to select rental agency.
- The car rental process is quite simple, but completely different from the professional companies. You must prepare a deposit (in cash or bank transfer because many companies do not accept credit cards) and have to give them the original identification, such as a passport (this is hardly acceptable to foreigners) and copies of other documents, such as driving licence, family registration book and ID (for Vietnamese).
- Therefore, if you are a foreigner, it is best to rent a car with a driver because the procedure is much simpler.
Which type of car is suitable for the mountainous roads in North of Vietnam
- Because of the hilly, steep, winding and bad mountain roads, it’s best to rent a car with a high platform, like SUV.
- Manual car would be better for mountainous roads. However, if you rent automatic car (like us), make sure it can change to manual gear when needed
- Depending on the type of car and the year of production, prices range from VND 800,000 to VND 1.5 million per day
- This price does not include petrol and tolls
- The price does not include insurance fee. Therefore, when picking up the car, you have to check it carefully, mark all the scratches to avoid the dispute when returning it.
- We rent automatic Toyota Fortuner, 2018, 7 seats for $ 1.3 million / day.
Drive on the mountain passes
- Mountainous roads are winding and steep slopes, sometimes have sharp turns, so you have to pay attention to the gear level the car when driving up and down the slope. The rule of thumb is using the same level for uphill and downhill.
- Even if our car is automatic, I always have to change to manual gear when entering hilly road, often using the gear level 2 or 3, sometimes even level 1 when the slope is too high
Traveled in Sep, 2018