Motorcycle tour: Vietnam’s history, culture on 2 wheels

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Motorcycle tourism is on the rise in Vietnam

Despite being less popular, Vietnam's north offers a majestic mountainous ride

CNN  — 

Vietnam is a nation that moves on two wheels. A 200,000-kilometer road network connects cities with farming villages, beach resorts to mountain escapes and dense jungles to a jagged coastline.

Over 37 million scooters snake their way from the Mekong Delta in the south to the snow-dusted peaks on the Chinese border. It’s the favored mode of transport for the 90 million people that call Vietnam home, and tourists are catching on.

The country sees almost 8 million visitors every year, and recently a new type of traveler has started arriving – motorcyclists. A popular travel route connecting Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City has developed, with riders seeking history and culture to accompany adventure.

Mechanic shops and backpacker hostels now fix and flip bikes by the hundreds to fearless foreigners. Intrigued, I ended up in Vietnam with my own two wheels. With no time frame and a curious desire to explore, I rode 10,000 kilometers. Here are a few of the highlights and destinations along the way:

In search of the perfect ride

Hanoi, the bustling capital, is the beginning for most motorcyclists in Vietnam. Some riders seek out the services of reputable companies such as Flamingo Travel, Cuong’s Motorcycle Adventures and FlipSide Tours, while young backpackers scour the streets in search of cheap, Chinese-built bikes.

But while many purchase a motorcycle and head directly south, those in the know head north, aiming for Vietnam’s majestic mountains.

Vietnam’s majestic north

Offering an idyllic farming lifestyle, peaceful Mai Chau is an enchanting first stop on the northern loop before continuing toward the golden rice terraces in Nghia Loa, Than Uyen and Sapa.

Home to the country’s highest summit and gateway to the Hoàng Liên Son mountain range, Sapa has been a tourist hotspot for years. Most riders find themselves here for at least a night to enjoy cultural home stays with the Hmong people.

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The captivating magic of Hanoi
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Farther north, the real adventure begins, with a ride to Ha Giang via the ethnic markets in Bac Ha. Sizable Ha Giang is the entrance to the Dong Van Karst Geopark, a mountainous landscape on the border of China that requires special permits to visit.

Arguably the most exquisite terrain in the entire country, the drive to Dong Van and onward to Bao Lac is home to 17 minority groups, beehive-like peaks and the deepest canyon in Southeast Asia, Ma Pi Leng. Temperatures can plummet in these mountains and the rough roads can leave the body bruised and shaken, but the discomfort is canceled out by the thrill of experiencing Vietnam’s most epic panoramas.

Beyond the caves of Phong Nha

Some 560 kilometers south of Hanoi lies a cave system that has kick-started the development of tourism in a region that was once one of the poorest in the nation.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is best known for the recent discovery of the largest cave in the world, Hang Son Doong, and adventurers have since been flocking to the park and its bucolic village Phong Nha in droves. But there is more to the town than just the colossal caves.