There’s a good reason Onyabike Adventures has chosen central Vietnam as our homebase. Simply put, the motorcycle adventure rides available in this area are world-class. We love them, and we want to share them with people who are as enthusiastic about motorcycle tours as we are.
So, we thought we’d take the opportunity here to point you to some of our favorite routes in the area and provide context that makes any trip here worthwhile. We handle all sorts of questions about travel in the area, from motorbike trips and routes to everything else to do with tourism and daily life. There’s a lot to know. Fortunately, we’re here on the ground and have been for some time, so we’ve got answers to questions.
First, we’ll take a look at some of our favorite routes in the area. Many of these appear on our tours, which you’ll find linked in the article. Then we’ll dive into more location-specific tidbits, like attractions, food, and other need-to-know items.
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Understanding Central Vietnam: A Brief Overview
For the purposes of our discussion here, we’re largely talking about the part of Vietnam that stretches from Quang Binh province down to Binh Dinh province. For easy reference, Quang Binh is home to Phong Nha National Park, one of our favorite places that shows up on many of our tours. Quy Nhon, a tranquil seaside town, will mark the southern end of this region.
Central Vietnam is a mountainous and often heavily forested region, with coastal cities like Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An containing most of the population. Lowlands and river-adjacent regions are usually fertile farmland featuring a wide variety of crops. The mountainous and jungly interior is where you’ll find a lot of the excellent motorcycle territory, and where you’ll not coincidentally find some outstanding scenery.
Some good news is that many of the roads in the region are relatively new, and often well maintained to boot. So if you’re into quality blacktop winding up and down slopes through thick-woven nature, you’re looking in the right spot already.
An excellent ride to cover the region would be from Phong Nha headed south to Quy Nhon, or vice versa. But we’ve got plenty of trips that cover a wide variety of dates and terrain in between. Let’s look at a few, starting with some short ones. Our rides usually begin in Hoi An or Da Nang, for reference, because that’s where we’re based.
1-3 Day Trips
We have a number of short, 1-3 day trips centered around Hoi An and Da Nang which venture up into mountains to find those roads we all crave. For those on a time budget, a one-day ride up to Monkey Mountain in Da Nang and then over the majestic Hai Van Pass is an excellent way to spend a day. If you’re not familiar or only a little bit familiar with the Hai Van Pass, check out our Hai Van Pass article. It’s world-famous for a reason.
A good short loop from Hoi An would be a trip to the A Shau valley or Prao, Hue, and then back via the Hai Van Pass (we must stress you must see it). Even if you choose to do that on your own and not with us, this route is well-worn by motorbike travelers for a good reason.
Heading south can provide some fantastic scenery as well. A ride down to Kham Duc and Dak To will wind through mountains and jungles as they give way to coffee and pepper plantations. Did you know Vietnam is the world’s second-largest producer of coffee, by the way? If you didn’t, you do now. And while we’re discussing coffee, consider that Vietnam’s coffee is excellent, widely available, and cheap. It’s a huge part of the culture, so seeing coffee plantations helps anyone understand the country.
Back to riding: A 3-day trip can also get you to Phong Nha national park in Quang Binh province. As mentioned above, this is one of our favorite spots in the country (and maybe the world) and is otherworldly in its natural beauty. The roads are top notch as well.
4-6 Day Trips
More than just a few days on the road will get you well out of any city mindset and let fresh air clean out your brain. If you’re already on this page, you probably know that, but it’s a good reminder. There’s nothing quite like an open road with a view.
For those with a penchant for war history, a DMZ adventure loop tour is an excellent choice. The DMZ and the area around it was home to some of the fiercest fighting of the war, from which there are still relics. These include Vin Moc tunnels, Khe Sanh military base, and a number of other famous sites.
If you want to get a broad overview of Central Vietnam, then you may want to check our Central Vietnam Adventure Tour. It has many of the most notable highlights of the region, including the Hai Van Pass, Hue, the magnificent Ho Chi Minh Road, Khe Sanh, and Phong Nha National Park. A similar tour we offer covers all that and a little bit more, including more time in the Central Highlands.
Just above we mentioned the Ho Chi Minh Road. This road running along the spine of the Annam mountains is one of the best adventure riding roads in the world, and features outstanding natural scenery: Jungles, mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and only a handful of small towns. Riding that road to Phong Nha makes for a great way to get some time on the road and in nature.
7-14 Day Trips
With a bit more time under your belt, you can get to see much more of Central Vietnam. Our Highlights of Central Vietnam tour is a classic here, covering our favorite spots from the Highlands to Phong Nha. Check out the itinerary linked in this paragraph for full details on everything you’ll get to see.
Many people on longer trips will be going all the way from the north to the south or vice versa, which is an experience we highly recommend. For the central stretch, we recommend hugging the border with Laos starting in Phong Nha until it’s time to turn towards Hue. After Hoi An, swing inland again towards Kon Tum to see some of the highlights of the Central Highlands.
An often-overlooked example for international tourists is the mountain town of Mang Den, which is often referred to as a miniature Da Lat. A wide number of waterfalls can be found in this region, too. Actually, all of Central Vietnam is home to a lot of waterfalls. Be sure to check out our Vietnam Waterfalls article for full details on these gems.
Highlights of Central Vietnam
When you’re not riding your motorcycle, you’ll want to get out and see what’s going on. If you’re out in the sticks, the highlight may just be hanging out at a coffee shop or trying local food. But the major cities of the area have a lot to offer, so let’s cover the three main towns in a bit of detail.
Things to do in Hoi An
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Hoi An is a popular destination for both international and domestic tourists in Vietnam. This is for good reason: The town is a well-preserved 16th-17th century trading port and maintains its characteristic architecture in the old town. The old town is full of restaurants and unique shops, and makes for an excellent spot to wander and take photos.
Hoi An is home to a number of regional specialties. These include Cao Lau, a dish with unique noodles, pork, and crispy crackers. White Rose are a variety of dumplings rarely found outside of Hoi An. And a special variety of wonton (hoanh thanh) are also rarely found outside Hoi An, and may remind Mexican food fans of something akin to a giant, single nacho.
Hoi An also has a long stretch of beach outside of town with a number of restaurants and bars along it. An Bang is the main beach destination and features a long stretch of seafood restaurants. The beach can be quite busy on the weekends but is usually ghost-empty during the daytime, since locals prefer not to be out during sunny hours. Cua Dai is another popular beach further south, and while smaller than An Bang, is quite well maintained.
Note that the beach goes all the way from Hoi An to Da Nang, making it exceptionally long. If you really wanted, you could walk all the way from Hoi An to Da Nang on that same beach. As the saying goes, anywhere is walking distance if you’ve got the time.
In addition to the old town and beaches, Hoi An is dotted with rice fields that small roads crisscross. A drive or walk through those fields can be quite refreshing. Similarly, visitors can find Tra Que vegetable village, and island in the river, to be pleasant. Cooking classes are commonly offered in the area.
Things to do in Da Nang
Da Nang has grown up quickly, and in many ways acts like a major metropolis. On the other hand, it still maintains its low-key vibe in many areas. The Han river bisects the city, and the main business district and thus busiest part of town is on the western bank. Tourists and locals alike enjoy strolling along the river bank in the evening. A popular show is the Dragon Bridge blowing fire and steam out of its mouth on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Because Da Nang is a relatively new city, especially compared to Hoi An, there aren’t any particular regional specialties to be found. That said, the food scene has exploded there in recent years, and there are restaurants of every variety and price level to be found. You can find low-key, noisy and fun Vietnamese “Nhau” restaurants with huge menus and cheap beer, a surprisingly large selection of Korean and Japanese restaurants, a plethora of (new) Indian restaurants, and no shortage of bars. We’ve written about Da Nang bars before, and recommend checking that out.
The main tourist area is on the east side of town near My Khe beach. The beach itself is the most famous tourist destination in town, and for good reason: It’s an excellent place to lounge and swim. Clean, white sand and Son Tra mountain immediately to the north make for a picture-perfect beach spot.
Speaking of Son Tra mountain, a ride up the mountain can be especially fun. The roads are steep and windy, and only manually or semi-automatic bikes are allowed for that reason. Curving around the mountain can present some spectacular ocean views. And if you’re really lucky, you might get to see one of the Red-Shanked Douc Langur monkeys, an endangered species currently native only to Son Tra. In case you’re curious, that’s why Son Tra is called Monkey Mountain by many.
Things to do in Hue
We’ve covered some of the main attractions in Hue in our Hue Motorbike Tour article, but we’ll cover them briefly here too so you don’t have to click off screen.
First, however, we’d like to point out that arguably the most interesting thing to do in Hue is check out the local food specialties. As the former imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty, Hue has a unique and well-developed cuisine.
Bun Bo Hue, the eponymous spicy beef noodle soup, is one of the most well-loved dishes in the entire country. Many locals and seasoned expats (or just ones who want to feel special) will claim it’s far superior to Pho. This writer would suggest that there’s no need for rivalry between the two, and they each have their place. But beef soup can cause beef among Vietnam foodies. So it goes.
Com Hen is another popular local dish: rice with small mussels. That may sound underwhelming when translated, but don’t let that fool you. It’s delicious. Bun Hen is the same idea, but with noodles instead. Banh Uot (wet cakes) are yet another local specialty, usually served with grilled pork and a spicy, salty, sweet sauce. They’re fantastic.
Besides food, the Hue Citadel is the most popular tourist attraction in town. As the former home of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors, there’s a lot of history to be found. Hue also features the Tiger Arena, where tigers were used to fight elephants for cheering spectators, and elephants were trained to be weapons of war. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, there are no longer animal fights, nor have there been for nearly 120 years.
The Perfume River flows through the middle of Hue, and is lined by parks on either side. These are great spots for evening strolls and people watching as a nice way to wind down the day.
There is no shortage of accommodation in the cities along the coast. Accommodation is usually exceptionally affordable — you can expect to get a pleasant hotel room starting from $20-30, or even less if you’re willing to lower your standards a bit. Hostels will usually be less than $10 for a night, for example.
There are a few types of accommodation:
- Hotels, which we don’t really think need a lot of explaining
- Guest houses, which are like hotels, but smaller, often cheaper, and with fewer amenities
- Homestays, which can vary widely. Many homestays are essentially guest houses, while others are real people’s real houses, and you eat with the family
In the countryside, instead of large hotels, you’ll often find the Vietnamese equivalent of a motel: a Nha Nghi. Many of these are quite basic, but if you’re far from any population center, you won’t have much of a choice. But if you’re like many travelers, sometimes all you really care about is a bed and a shower, and you can be assured of that.
Vietnam’s roads are often in very good condition. It’s one thing we quite like about riding here. However, despite the high quality roads, traffic conditions are not always optimal. Motorcycle riders are wise to exercise caution no matter where they are, and motorcycle riders here should bear in mind the often erratic and unpredictable driving habits of many locals. Keep a keen eye open, watch out for trucks and buses, and don’t drive too fast.
In general, you’ll want to drive significantly slower here than in many Western countries to leave room for error (especially the errors of others).
On the topic of fuel: Don’t worry about finding fuel, but do fuel up when you can. Some websites will urge you to carry extra fuel when traveling between Khe Sanh and Phong Nha, for example. There is now a fuel station along the way, making it unnecessary to carry extra fuel tanks. That said, it’s wise not to waste opportunities to make a pit stop when you can.
Riding with Onyabike Adventures
If you can’t tell by now, we’re pretty thrilled to be in this area for our motorcycle adventure tours. It gets more fun every time we go, and we look for new things to find out each time. With our fully knowledgeable guides, you’ll get the details on all the history and hidden gems that you might just miss on your own. They know all the best roads, most spectacular views, and eye-catching quirks that make this country special.
You may well be dealing with a case of wanderlust by now. The guy sitting at this keyboard certainly is at the moment. So if you want to scratch that itch, reach out to us to discuss what kind of tour would work for you. We’re always happy to hear from fellow motorcyclists, and can’t wait to show you what Vietnam has to offer.