The Mekong Sub-Region’s wide-open spaces are excellent for travel by car, bus, or (where available) by train – but they’re even more excellent to see by motorcycle.
Motorcycle travel can take you to places that are inaccessible to cars and buses and also provides out-of-the-ordinary encounters that are denied to those who travel on package tours. You’ll be able to meet locals, visit out-of-the-way places, and cover vastly more mileage than any traveler who goes by four wheels, not two!
Viet Nam’s Ha Giang Loop
Viet Nam is a motorcyclist’s dream. Motorcycles and scooters are the preferred transportation method by much of the population, so you won’t be far from a mechanic in any town you visit. Many experienced motorcycle tourists swear by the Ha Giang Loop – a famous motorcycle route that stretches 350 km around the mountain valleys and canyons around northern Viet Nam.
The four-day route traces the QL4C highway northeast from Ha Giang to Bao Lam, then southwest via the QL34 back to Ha Giang. Along the way you’ll pass by the Dong Van Karst Plateau, a UNESCO Global Geopark, and Ma Pi Leng Pass, a passageway where the valley floor drops at an almost extreme depth.
Northern Viet Nam’s karst (limestone) landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, with an abundance of rice terraces, laid-back villages, and soaring limestone peaks. However, this route is not recommended for inexperienced riders – the roads climb and descend through mountainous terrain with an infinite number of hairpin bends.
Time your visit for March and April in springtime; or September and October during fall for pleasantly cool weather along the way.
Lao PDR’s Tha Khaek Loop
The 475-km Tha Khaek (Thakhek) Loop takes four days a week to complete as daring motorcyclists make their way through highlights of Central Laos.
Starting in the namesake city of Tha Khaek, the loop winds through Khammouane and Bolikhamsai Province and some of Laos’ most beautiful out-of-the-way spots, including waterfalls, a karst forest, and the massive Kong Lor cave.
The Tha Khaek Loop is a great way to see Central Laos’ most out-of-the-way tourist spots. Visiting by motorcycle allows tourists to decide what spots to see and the tempo of the ride as well; no surprise that so many take up to a week to finish the trip! Along the way, riders will find well-sealed roads in excellent locations, with an easily navigable route that even newly-minted riders can understand. The best time to go is during the dry season between November and March.
Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Loop
The best views of Mae Hong Son province can be seen as part of a 600-km motorcycle route through Northern Thailand’s gorgeous mountain scenery, with its jungle trails that intersect with ethnic minority villages. Taking a week to complete, the Mae Hong Son Loop passes by farmland, mountains, limestone karst, and waterfalls – that is, if you’re brave enough to negotiate the Loop’s notorious 1,860 turns!
The trip starts and ends at the city of Chiang Mai, passing through the towns of Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and Pai in Mae Hong Son province. Bikers have a choice to tackle the loop clockwise, heading south along route 108 (recommended for beginning riders); or the counterclockwise route north to Chiang Dao via route 107 – a more challenging but rewarding trip!
The best time to go is during the winter months of November to February for cool and dry riding weather.