“vắng người” – there’s ‘nobody there’
The Ho Chi Minh Road (HCMR) is an important and beautiful road connecting the two metropolitan cities of Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. During the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War) between 1955 – 1975, the road played an integral role in transporting soldiers, weapons and ammunition from the communist north, to fight in the capitalist south.
As the war became more and more bloody, the USA started huge bombing runs known as “operation rolling thunder” right along the HCMR to effectively wipe out the road and therefore the growing threat from the militant north. During this time, the US Army dropped 19.3 million (yes, million) bombs on this part of Vietnam. As the bombings waged on, the Vietnamese created alternate routes, dissecting the HCMR into Laos & Cambodia. These routes would then go on to be referred to as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
This post will cover our time cycling from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha National Park, through dense jungle road, incredible mountains, forests and valleys. On this 240km route, there’s only one hotel, hardly any shops and only a few roadside restaurants. Camping opportunities are bountiful, the landscape you’ll pedal through will blow your socks off and best of all? – There’s hardly any traffic at all.
This route was our favorite ride in the 3 months we spent in Vietnam and we would highly, highly recommend it…
*Special thanks to Matt & Becky from twobiketo for the tip!
- Total distance of our ride – 230km
- Average daily distance – 58km
- Elevation – 4,530 meters of climbing / 4,940 meters of descending
- 3-6 days (depending on riding style)
- We completed the ride in 4 days
- We didn’t have a rest day, but we did have one smaller 40km day
- Limestone mountains
- Remote ethnic villages
- Blue mineral rivers
- David Attenborough-esque documentary feelings
- Mostly well paved roads
- Smooth but hilly sections
- 10-22% gradients
- Some muddy section due to landslides, but nothing major & quite fun!
- A tent is essential for this ride. We camped every night
- Bring a water filter or stove to boil water as stops are few & far between
- There are ranger stations sporadically throughout the park. They will always give you water, but it might taste a bit smokey!
- Pack your own food. Shops may or may not be open even if they’re on your map
- Pack food that’ll stand alone well. Think packet noodles, oats, rice, snack bars, lentils, dried fruit, pasta, pesto etc. We basically survived on oats, raisins & veggie noodles! Fresh vegetables can be hard to find…
- Stop at every shop/restaurant to check you’ve got enough food & water.
- It’s pretty hilly at times with some steep 15% – 20% grades, but it’s generally 8-10% and very doable fully loaded.
We headed towards Khe Sahn from the coast, following AH16 from Dong Ha. The itself was actually really nice as the Laoation vibes from the border start to become more and more visible.
Below, you’ll see our route for the ride we did, complete with annotated markers showing some of the most important and fun spots on the route.