Everyone knows that the best way to explore a country is by road, and with Southeast Asia’s narrow mountain trails and muddy paths, the only way to do it is on a motorcycle.
From stopping in a small town for a bowl of Vietnamese pho through to riding through jungles, mountains and rocky terrain in Laos and Northern Thailand, it will be the adventure of a lifetime. Plus, motorbikes are relatively cheap to buy or rent in Asia, and they’re easy to sell at the end of your trip. So, there’s really no excuse.
1. Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam
Of all the bike routes in Asia, the Ho Chi Minh Trail is the most well-trodden. The route runs through Vietnam, dipping into Laos and ending in Cambodia. It was once the historic route that the Vietcong used to deliver weapons south during the Vietnam War and today bikers looking for an adventure ride either the whole route or a part of it.
The best section of the route runs through Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll ride around 1,000 miles down the country (if you’re buying and selling a bike, it’s better to go from north to south, as it’s cheaper to buy a motorbike in the north). Be prepared for an adventure, many of the paths are muddy, rocky and pass through streams and flooded areas. Along the way, you’ll see jaw-dropping landscapes of lush green rice paddies, karst formations, tiny villages and smiling locals. The route takes around eleven days in total and it’s easy to find accommodations in towns nearby. You could also book a guided motorcycle tour or find a place to stay in Vietnam ahead of time.
2. The Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
Photo by Alexis Gravel
The Mae Hong Son Loop will take you on a 400-mile adventure through Northern Thailand. The trail generally takes a week to complete and it’s best known for its incredible scenery through the lush countryside of Northern Thailand.
The loop starts and finishes in the popular tourist hub of Chiang Mai and passes through the Mae Hong province, through the towns of Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and Pai. Along the way, you’ll see mountains, farmlands, quaint villages, limestone karst and cascading waterfalls.
The road conditions are pretty good, although they’re known for their curves, so stay focused! The best time to go is from November to February when the weather is cooler and dry. If you’re looking for a challenge, do the route counter-clockwise. There are tons of motorcycle rental shops in Chiang Mai that have everything from automatic scooters for beginners, through to 600cc motorbikes for expert riders.
3. The Thakhek Loop, Laos
The Thakhek loop takes you on a 280-mile trip through central Laos. The loop starts and finishes in Tha Khaek and takes around four days to complete, although many chose to do it in a week as they want to savor the views. The scenery is incredible and you pass through rugged mountain roads, valleys with limestone peaks and lush jungle paths. Along the way, you can stop at blue lagoons, caves and waterfalls.
If you’re doing the route counter-clockwise, you’ll pass through the towns of Mahaxay, Nakai, Thalang, Lak Xao, Na Hin, Konglor and Vieng Kham. In the past, the route had unpaved roads and it was a real challenge, but now the loop has been paved, meaning that beginners can enjoy it too.
And if you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can always take a few detours. It’s best to do the loop during the dry season, which runs from November to March.
4. The Ha Giang Route
The Ha Giang route takes you on a 300-mile trip between the mountainous towns and provinces of Sapa to Ha Giang in northern Vietnam. Along the way, you’ll pass through the region’s misty mountains, driving through roads that run along the Chinese border.
The landscape is breathtaking and you’ll see limestone peaks, lush green rice terraces, quaint villages and a variety of different ethnic tribes. The route is definitely not for the faint-hearted as it passes through high peaks with hairpin bends and you’ll need around five days to complete it. You’ll pass through the towns of Xin Man, Bac Ha and Muong Khuong.
The best time to tackle the route is during the spring months of March and April, or the fall months of September and October, when the weather is generally warm and pleasant. If you want to see the rice terraces in all their glory, visit in the fall, when they are a vivid green color.
Want to avoid the hassle of planning your route? Sign up for a guided motorcycle tour in Southeast Asia and focus on enjoying the marvelous scenery!