Mountain Biking Vietnam's Northwest Mountains

Day 1 Hanoi - Lao Cai

We meet in Hanoi, having a bit of a chance to explore Vietnam's capital before we catch the Tulico Express, the overnight train up north, to the start of our adventure. Bikes and luggage can be dropped off at our local office, so you can visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, go to the Temple of Literature, or have a relaxing massage to help recover from jet lag. We meet up in early evening for dinner and then transfer to the train station, along with bikes and bags for the 260-km overnight train journey to Lao Cai. The train is a very civilised affair with compartments sleeping four and a carriage where you can buy food and refreshments.

Overnight on train to Lao Cai

Day 2 Lao Cai - Sapa

We cycle 4 km on a tarmac road, then turn left and enjoy a 3-km off-road ride along a hillside. This undulating ride along a dirt track has a few short challenging hills but with beautiful mountain scenery. We cycle downhill to Ma Tra Village, home to the Black Hmong. Here we have lunch before we continue cycling on a rough track looping to Ta Phin and some dramatic mountain scenery. We take a break in Ta Phin, one of the most beautiful villages in Sapa, and our guide will take you around and introduce you to the culture and customs of the Red Dzao people. From Ta Phin, there are several alternative tracks that loop and drop down to the main Lao Chai road. Depending on weather conditions, these can be muddy and slippery but are great fun to ride. Once we get to the main road, we transfer back to Sapa, or you can cycle the extra 15 km, if you wish. Due to the nature of the trail, the ride cannot be supported the whole way by jeep, but there will be spots along the trail where we can rendezvous with the support vehicle. Late afternoon can be spent exploring Sapa before we meet up for dinner.

Chau Long Hotel
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 22km

Day 3 Sapa – Tran Ton Pass – Tam Duong – Lai Chau

We ride out of Sapa and complete the 15-km road climb up to Tram Ton Pass – the highest road pass in Vietnam at 2,000 m. We then have a superb 25-km descent into a beautiful valley. The countryside is truly wonderful as we pass tea plantations, and all inhabitants are from minority tribes. The weather always seems to get clearer this side of the mountains, and if we look back, we should get views of Fansipan (3,143 m), the highest mountain in Indochina. At the small town of Tam Duong, we have lunch and then turn left off the main road to cycle 28 km on a lovely country lane through the remote villages of Ban Hon and Ban Giang. We have now left any sign of other western tourists and are in a land of rice paddies, small coffee plantations, and sharp limestone cliffs. We finish in the new city of Lai Chau.

Muong Thanh Lai Chau Hotel
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 73km

Day 4 Lai Chau – Muong Lay

We start the day with an easy pedal from the sleepy town of Lai Chau, but things pick up after 10 km, where there is a climb that soon turns into a long, sweeping downhill. The first half of the road is amid mountains and rice terraces; the second is along the Nam Na River, with towering mountains on both sides of the road. The afternoon ride toward Muong Lay is mainly flat with a few slight dips and rises to keep things interesting. The town is at the confluence of the Nam Na River, the Nam Lay River, and the Da River.

Lan Anh 1 Hotel
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 107km

Day 5 Muong Lay - Dien Bien Phu

Another hilly day, but we start nice and easy following a river for 15 km, before starting our first climb of the day of over 19 km when we reach a pass at 860 m. At the top, we'll take a break at a well-located tea shop for refreshments. The average gradient of the pass is relatively easy, averaging around 6-8%. Dropping down to a plateau around 400 m, we will stop regularly at some of the last hill tribe villages and have lunch in a local restaurant, where our guide can introduce you to the local customs. There is another short final climb up to a 650-m pass before we prepare a broad smile to greet the kids as we cycle through paddy fields on the final flat stretch into the historic town of Dien Bien Phu.

Muong Thanh Hotel
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 103km

Day 6 Dien Bien Phu Rest Day

After all those hills, your legs deserve a rest, and what better place to do it than in the history-rich city of Dien Bien Phu. We visit the war museum which has interesting displays about the climactic battle of the First Indochina War between French Union forces and Vietnamese Viet Minh communist revolutionary forces. From March until May 1954, the Viet Minh pounded the French positions, killing up to 3,000 men, though it's estimated that the Viet Minh lost more than twice that number. The massive French defeat effectively ended the war. There’s also a local market to explore. Dinner is on your own tonight.

Muong Thanh Hotel
Breakfast, Lunch

Day 7 Dien Bien Phu – Son La

We have an early start to transfer approximately 2.5 hours to Tuan Giao to avoid the dust from road construction. In Tuan Giao, we get back on the bikes and soon start climbing. The climb over Pha Din Pass, a famous Indochina War site, won’t soon be forgotten, as it’s an unrelenting 10-18% grade for 14 km. The switchbacks lead up a very fertile valley, lined with terraced rice paddies on the pretty ride. The traditional dress of the locals varies from village to village depending on their tribe. After lunch at a local restaurant, the road rolls gently downhill with one last 5-km climb at the end of the day into Son La.

Hanoi Hotel
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 84km

Day 8 Son La – Mai Chau

We start the day with a transfer to avoid the main highway, but you’ll still get the distance in as today’s ride totals 96 km! We ride on a looping country road that passes through a patchwork quilt of corn, sugar cane, and barley fields. We ride 51 km before we break for lunch at a restaurant in Kim Chung town. We then transfer for two hours to avoid a rough and steep section. Then it’s time to get back on the bikes and enjoy the last 45 km, which are down, down, and down – except for a few small climbs – to Mai Chau Valley where our wonderful lodge for the evening awaits you.

Mai Chau Valley View
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 96km

Day 9 Mai Chau – Hanoi

After breakfast, and perhaps a quick walk up to a temple, we pick up our bikes and cycle 25 km on single track through the valley. Our trail takes us to ethnic villages, over wooden bridges and through rice paddies. We finish riding at Cun Pheo and transfer to Lac village for lunch. We then board our private boat for a three-hour cruise on the Da River, the largest reservoir in Northern Vietnam, and head to Hoa Binh. Relax, take in the country life as it passes by, and luxuriate in the cool breeze as we cruise. At Hoa Binh, we hop on a bus and transfer two hours to Hanoi, arriving late in the afternoon. We regroup later in the evening for our farewell dinner.

Church Boutique Hang Gai
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Ride 25km

Day 10 Hanoi

Our trip ends in Hanoi, where you might want to take the morning to pick up your bike and enjoy a cycle ride around the Old Quarter. Hotel check out is at noon.