All you need to know about riding your motorbike on the Ho Chi Minh Highway West.
Between the years of 1959 and 1975, a series of trails wound their way through the jungles of Vietnam and Laos.
These trails were used as strategic transport routes to provide access between the North and the South of Vietnam during both the First Indochina War and the Vietnam/American War.
Hailed as one of the greatest military engineering achievements of the 20th century, the roads were known as the Ho Chi Minh Trails, after North Vietnam’s president.
The Quang Tri and Quang Binh provinces of Vietnam are the narrowest sections of the country. It is here where the Ho Chi Minh Trails were the most remote, the jungle the most dense, and also the most heavily bombed.
Three important routes diverged just outside of the town of Phong Nha – Ho Chi Minh Highway East, Ho Chi Minh Highway West and Victory Road 20.
Now that the days of heavy bombing are gone (but not forgotten), these are becoming popular paths to follow for travellers and backpackers who want to ride motorbikes from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, or vice versa.
Ho Chi Minh Highway West runs for 240km from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha, through one of the most dramatic and captivating regions of the country.
The road bends and twists past steep karst mountains rising impossibly skywards. Raging torrents of water flow parallel to the well-maintained pavement.
Every banked corner presents a different perspective on what beauty truly is. As you enter the UNESCO listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park you will feel like you’ve ridden into a prehistoric era.
We’ve ridden 15’000km on our bikes in Southeast Asia, and the Ho Chi Minh Highway West ranks among the best scenery we have ever encountered.
The Ho Chi Minh Highway West should not be missed by any intrepid traveller looking for adventure and gorgeous scenery.
For many who ride motorbikes in Vietnam, this is even more beautiful than the famed Hai Van Pass. It remains to be one of our favourite highlights from riding motorbikes in Southeast Asia.
Don’t miss our guide for Travel To Vietnam.
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Tips For Riding The Ho Chi Minh Highway West
Riding the Western Ho Chi Minh Highway is not something that should be taken lightly. There is only one small village located along the entire route, meaning you will be a long way from help if something goes wrong.
Indeed for the majority of the ride you will be riding primarily with yourself and those in your group. Due to the time taken to ride the Ho Chi Minh Highway West, only small amounts of traffic occupy the roads.
This is not the most direct way between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha, and as such locals only use the road if absolutely necessary.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are riding your motorbike on the Ho Chi Minh Highway West:
Take Extra Fuel With You
Unless you are riding a motorbike that is larger than a Honda Win or a scooter, one tank will not last the entire 240 kilometres. Because of this, taking extra fuel is a necessity.
The one village you pass through between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha MAY have hand pumps for fuel, but this is not a guarantee.
We recommend taking 3 litres of extra fuel per motorbike.
Leave Early In The Morning
Note: There is no accommodation options between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha.
The Ho Chi Minh Highway West is a technical road with many hills and corners. 240km might not seem like a long way, but if you have ever ridden a motorbike or scooter in Asia you know that distances almost always take longer than expected.
Weather can quickly turn into heavy downpours, forcing you to ease off the throttle. You will also probably be stopping for plenty of photo opportunities along the way, slowing down your pace.
Because of all these things, we suggest leaving as early in the morning as possible. Preferably just after sunrise.
There are no streetlights along the way, and these aren’t the kind of roads you are going to want to be riding at night.
Leaving early also gives you some time to play with should you have motorbike issues – which brings us onto our next tip.
Make Sure Your Bike Is Well Maintained
Before you leave Khe Sanh or Phong Nha, give your bike a proper check up. Change the oil (should be done about every 500km if you have an older motorbike) and check your brakes, bearings, spark plug and tyre pressure/condition.
Have your chain tensioned and greased. Make sure your bike is running in good condition. Carry a small tool kit with you. A set of pliers, screwdrivers and socket wrenches will allow you to temporarily fix most things.
These tips should be applied at all times when riding a motorbike, not just on the Ho Chi Minh Highway West. But due to the isolated jungle you will be riding through, you want to take extra precautions.
Bring Food And Water
There is nowhere to stop off and buy food or water between Phong Nha and Khe Sanh, and the ride could take upwards of 10 hours, depending on the speed you go, weather and potential breakdowns.
Make sure you pick up extra water and food to take with you along the way. A banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is cheap and easy to carry.
This is just common sense, but you will be surprised at how many hundreds of backpackers you will meet in Southeast Asia covered in road rash or broken limbs due to scooter accidents.
And if you talk to them, 99% of the time it was rider error that caused the crash: Not slowing down when it starts raining; Not paying attention and sliding out on gravel going around corners; Riding too fast and a cow/buffalo/dog/cat/chicken/goat/pig/other scooter pulls out in front of them; Grabbing the front brakes going downhill/around a corner, etc. Don’t be one of these people.
If you have an accident between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha, you are a LONG way from a decent hospital. Keep that in mind when you start to open up the throttle going around blind corners.
Carry a first aid kit with you. And DON’T wear flip flops, shorts and a singlet, no matter how hot it is or how cool you think you look. You’ll regret it if the front wheel locks up and you get thrown at 60km/h.
Wear long pants, a long shirt and enclosed shoes.
Ride With Someone
Unless you are a very experienced rider, and your bike is in perfect condition, we recommend riding with another person.
This will give you peace of mind in case something goes wrong, and it is always better to share the experience with another person.
It should be easy to meet up with a crew to join, especially during peak season. Try putting a poster up on the notice board of a hostel in either Phong Nha or Hue.
[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you ridden the Ho Chi Minh Highway West in Vietnam? What did you think, and what tips would you give to other travellers? [/box]
25 thoughts on “Riding The Ho Chi Minh Highway West”
I am going to Vietnam in a couple of days to ride solo on the Ho Chi Minh Highway on a Honda Blade. I will start in Danang on Feb 8, 2023 and go north. The HCM West looks more exciting than the HCM East. I am sure there must be new information since 2015. If anyone has new information/tips I would appreciate hearing from you. Keep the rubber side down!
I just drove from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha but due to steady rain we turned right at a fork on a “shortcut” about 70-80km after Khe Sanh, on a road that was getting us to Ho Chi Minh road east. It turns out this is a major construction sites over 10km long, with bridges being built, and we had to ride through rivers and very slippery mud, taking us 3hrs to get to the Eastern portion of the HCM road. Don’t make the same mistake, don’t take that right turn!! And if anyone knows which road I ended up being on that has this massive construction linking the east and west Ho Chi Minh road above Khe Sanh, please let me know.
Sounds like QL15 or TL10!
First highlighting that the route is incredibly beautiful and missing it is a shame.
Second, it is also pretty tough, certainly not for beginners, even if the pavement is mostly in pretty good state,
Last, it is possible possible to find some accommodation along the way – some are hidden and mostly for locals, and some have even big signs in English.
And, make sure your bike works and you have food and water, the road is remote although transited by both locals and tourists.
Enjoy it and ride with care.
Thanks for the update on accommodation Jordi. We did ride past a few but never investigated to see if they were open or not. And great tips as well. Ride safe buddy 🙂
In particular – there is a “hotel” in a town called “Long Son”, it is 60 miles south of Phong Nha in a valley. It is pretty reliably open. About 200,000 dong a night I think. Pretty tidy.
Awesome buddy! Thanks for the update 🙂
Hi guys, thanks for the info.
Planning on doing a similar trip along the highway (undecided for east or west atm) however planning on doing this in the early to middle November. Any advice for road conditions and what would be preferable as we are expecting some to quite a lot of rain during that part of the trip.
The Western part is definitely more beautiful, but pretty remote. If you are worried about road conditions give Easy Tiger or the Phong Nha Farmstay a call before you commit and ask them what the current conditions are like. Ride safe!
I will be riding with a buddy from Hanoi to “Saigon” via the Ho Chi Minh Road this December. Each will be riding a little Honda or Yamaha (110-125 cc). Does anyone have updates? How much out of the way is it to visit Phong Nha cave? Thanks for any information. -Hieu
Check with Easy Tiger once you get to Phong Nha to see how much the caves are now. From memory entrance to Phong Nha Cave was 150k, plus 300k for a boat (split between 12 or so). Very reasonable!
Thank you for the information Lesh. That’s very reasonable. Will do that for sure. -Hieu
Hi! First of all thank you so much for these great posts, they have been a great help for my trip across Vietnam.
I’m riding a Honda win with carrying a friend. I know these bikes are not really powerful to carry two people but so far we haven’t had any issue. However I’m a bit concerned about this leg given how remote it is.
Are there many up and downhills?i wouldn’t really like to be going up a hill in first gear… (100cc is obviously not enough for a hilly road carrying two people).
Thanks for your posts!
Hey Sergio. There is definitely a lot of ups and downs on this road, and it is remote. Not quite sure how a Honda Win would go with two people on it. You could always just give it a go, and have a sweet story to tell if something goes wrong 😛 Ride safe buddy!
Inspiring stuff here, some great photos, looks like an incredible experience! A few friends and I are planning on doing a similar South-East Asian trip in 2016. We plan on buying motorbikes in Hanoi and driving south, crossing over into Cambodia and then into Thailand. We were wondering how much petrol costs are likely to equate to on a standard Honda Win (or equivalent). Also, any other general tips would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Charlie 🙂
Sounds like an epic trip, Charlie. I’m sure you will have a blast! Fuel is about $1 a litre (approximate) and a Honda Win fuel tank is about 5-6L. You will get between 200-300km a tank, depending on how hard you ride.
And chances are you will NOT be able to get your bike into Thailand. You need all kinds of paperwork, licences to export, proof of ownership etc. It is possible, but not easy, cheap or encouraged. Happy travels mate! Thanks for reading.
Oh yeah, I loved this stretch of the western road! Absolutely gorgeous. I unfortunately had to do it alone (I almost always motorcycle alone, unfortunately) but didn’t encounter any issues. Ended up going back up the eastern stretch a few days later and posting up in Dong Hoi for a couple weeks, to rest my weary bones, tune up my bike and catch up on some online work.
Anyway, cheers for the advice. Hope others reading this find it useful and make the most of it 🙂
It really is pretty epic eh Derek. Motorcycling alone can be good fun too if you know what you are doing. What did you get up to in Dong Hoi for a couple of weeks? Did you spend much time in Phong Nha? Thanks for reading buddy!
Yeah but sometimes it does get lonely….especially when seeing so many epic sights but having no one to share the experience with. In Dong Hoi I met a gentleman, an American, who had served in the Vietnam War — excuse me, the American War 😉 I spent several days just speaking with him and the owner of our hotel (a Vietnamese man who also was in the war) about the whole experience, and what it took for them to overcome their animosity towards each other. I also ate my way through the city and spent time relaxing on a nearby beach. And then just as I was about to leave I got sick, a nasty lung infection. After visiting a doctor I spent an additional week there popping 5 different types of pills a day and getting well before continuing on.
I never stayed a single night in Phong Nha but I did three day trips there — one alone and two with other travelers from Dong Hoi who were motorcycling through and happened to be staying at the same hotel as me. I did the caves, obviously (as I have written both a cave guide and a photo essay on my blog) and also spent one of the days motorcycling through the park with a video camera strapped too my motorcycle. Unfortunately here it is nearly a year later and I still have yet to do anything with that video footage…shame on me.
Sounds like you had an interesting time in Dong Hoi! It is always fascinating when you meet people with such surreal life stories. We come across them every day while living here in Phong Nha. With the Quang Binh province being the most heavily bombed during the American War, there is definitely no shortage of interesting tales.
I can totally relate to having footage sitting around doing nothing. We must have a week’s worth of constant footage from the 8 months and 15’000km we rode on our motorbikes. We have pretty much decided that the task is too big to tackle when it comes to creating a video, especially while trying to travel full time. I do hope you get around to putting yours together though. We do enjoy your little clips!
Thanks you for sharing your adventure with us. The wonderful pictures make me want to travel more. The travel tips are great for almost any type of travel, even around town. We may meet in some corner of this awesome world, I will be the one without the bike.
Cheers Doug! Hopefully our paths do cross one day, would be lovely to have a beer! Happy travels.
Your pictures are beautiful and your comments are motivating — I’d love to follow your travel itinerary.
You definitely can, Louise. The trick is to ditch the itinerary though! Haha. Thanks for reading and happy travels.
Hey guys. We are thinking of buying a bike in Saigon and riding to Phong Nha. Any recommendations for the best route! We started following your blog after it was shared by some Australian friends of ours who live there now, Mark and Lesley. We are going to catch up with them in a few weeks. Currently in Sihanokville, Cambodia.