HCM trail: Khe Sanh to Phong Nha on a motorbike


I recently took the incredibly scenic route from Khe Sahn To Phong Nha along the west leg of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. It was done on an old $280 Yamaha Nuovo Automatic 113 CC motorbike. The 240km’s took about 7 hours in a relatively fast pace but I recommend that you do it in 9-10 (get up early to avoid driving in the dark) as you are going to want to stop and suck in the scenery or maybe just take a long lunchbreak – although doing it in 6 is doable should you want to rush it. We left at 10:15 and made it an hour before nightfall

Vietnam Coracle describes the route as:
“240km of winding road through incredible mountains, forests, and river valleys. There are no hotels, hardly any shops, and just one gas station on this entire stretch. There are very few settlements, vehicles or people. One local in Khe Sanh, bewildered at why anyone would want to go on such a road, described it as vắng người, meaning there’s ‘nobody there’.”

Update!!!: Thanks to Mark (youtube: kennedy9950) with updated information. There is expensive gas (from manual pumps) in Rinh Rinh and one hotel along the route in Duc Tuan, 132km from Khe Sahn

My crew

I rolled into Khe sanh around 4pm on a wednesday after leaving Hue the same morning. I’d been riding solo all morning and short of a dutch guy riding the other way I had not seen any foreigners. As usual it was a stunning route with kids waving and narrow bends.

I wanted to spend the night in Khe Sanh before heading into the 240km remote leg to phong nha. But where? I was looking for a group of people to join so as to not take the leg alone – what if I ran out of gas or had a flat in the middle of nowhere? so I checked the garage in all 4 hotels I could find in town to see if there were some long distance looking bikes anywhere but found none.

Even though I was slowly coming to terms with the idea that I would have to do it alone and that maybe this was allright – atleast I’d be able to stop when I wanted – I gave it one last shot and decided to grab a beer at the main road, helmet on, ready to go, just hoping someone would roll by. As luck would have have it, someone did roll by and chasing after them I ended up at my hotel for the night.

Heather was standing outside the hotel about to head out and I asked her about where she was going and what she was doing – to which she replied “beer by the river – want to come?”. I quickly checked in at the hotel and joined her. A group of 4 other Americans and a Vietnamese were sitting there with a hot pot and a crate of beer enjoying the Vietnamese riverside. Michael and Laura were on a 10-year anniversary trip, Bryan and Heather were both on long term solo travels and finally Jeff and Hao were just enjoying life together travelling around Vietnam for the time being. I had my crew.

phong nha motorbike
The crew enjoying a pizza in Phong Nha after a long day

The ride: Khe Sanh to Phong Nha

Due to some motorbike problems with Mike’s bike we didn’t head out until 10:15 that thursday morning. We stocked up on about 2 liters of gas each and food for the day, some banh mi and fruit. Since we didn’t count on passing any gas stations and our bikes were all thirsty automatics we needed alot of gas. If you are doing this on a semi or the infamous Honda Wins, then you can probably make the whole 240km without extra fuel – especially since you can get a little bit of expensive gas along the way in a small city called Rinh Rinh.

The ride was, well, spectacular. As soon as you get to the trail there is pretty much just one way to go and all you have to do is just follow the road and let the scenery wash over you. Through valleys, mountains and settlements along rivers and waterfalls. You’ll be riding down low looking up at majestic mountain sides and you’ll be riding up high above the clouds which mostly can be described as driving in heaven.

We rode all day through areas where you didn’t see a person for 30 minutes

Remember to take the time to stop and smell the roses or in this case – the jungle

Through tiny settlements

A settlement along the way

We even briefly drove on some of the main roads of the area.

Phong Nha drive
Just imagine how it looks in real life,when it looks this good on a cellphone picture

Reaching our destination

With no extra fuel and two bikes running on fumes well below the red area on the fuel gauge we rolled into Pepperhouse Homestay and within 5 minutes we were all in the pool with a cold beer. If you have a chance, go to Pepperhouse and say hi to the hosts, Multi and Diên, from me.

Pepperhouse Homestay

This concluded a long day of motorbiking but, man, was it worth it.

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  • Francis

    April 26, 2016

    Great writing! Fascinating experiences! Good luck on your travels Thor!!

    • Thor

      April 26, 2016

      Thank you my friend! Appreciate it


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