Riding the legendary Vietnam Road Trip Northern Loop from Hanoi to Mai Chau – Pu Luong – Ninh Binh is the best way to get a glimpse of the rural side of a country in the throes of relentless, voracious development. In the less-visited north, you can explore the Vietnam of rice terraces, karst formations draped in verdant jungle, purple mountains, and thundering waterfalls.
In a city like Hanoi, the traffic can make you freeze up like an opossum. But outside of the cities, where vehicles are few and far between, the scenery is unforgettable, the culture vibrant, and the Vietnam road trip experience unparalleled.
Start in Hanoi
This amazing road trip of Northern Loop begins in Hanoi, Vietnam. You get a 4WD/SUV. Most of the route is sealed, but heavy rains can occasionally wash small rocks and debris onto the road in the mountains. And speaking of rain, since you’re in the mountains all bets are off when it comes to the weather. It’s true that Vietnam’s dry season runs from October until April, but if you try this during “rainy” season in the summer months you can still get away with it. And remember, as you get higher up, the temperature will drop, so you may use both the A/C and the heater in the same trip. Get to know more: Best things to do in Hanoi
Hit the Open Road
After you’ve explored Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter and filled up on Hanoi’s legendary street food, it’s time to brave the traffic on the highway from hell out of the city. This is a straight-shot, get-it-over-with drive to the first stopover. Look on the bright side: You will never again complain about traffic back home. Just under 30 miles southwest of Hanoi on Highway 6, you’ll have the chance to turn left onto a skinny two-lane secondary road. The road weaves its way through rice terraces, bypassing the truck-heavy main drag. You’ll meet up with H6 again soon enough, which you’ll take the rest of the way to Mai Chau.
Arrival Mai Chau
Distance: 160km from Hanoi to Mai Chau
Once in Mai Chau, take a day or two to explore the surrounding countryside, which is home to many of the White Thai ethnic minority. The lush, rice paddy-filled valley is a world away from the noise of Hanoi, the horns and hawker shouts replaced with gurgling irrigation rustling leaves.
Check in Ban Lac village
Lac Village has been a popular community tourist spot in Mai Chau. Instead a bustling place or pompous splendor, Lac Village converges all rustic, natural, and friendly characteristics that tourists once setting foot in could hardly stop thinking about.
- Recommended Transfer: Hanoi to Mai Chau
Arrival Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Distance: 40 km from Mai Chau to Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Khu bảo tồn Thiên nhiên Pù Luông) was established in 1999 to protect the area’s biodiversity. Inside the reserve, you’ll find a mix of pristine forest and cultivated rice terraces. It’s a perfect landscape for trekking, and multi-day hikes are a favourite activity.
A narrow highway bisects the reserve along the valley floor, connecting a series of small villages and hamlets. The southeastern corner of the reserve has a few clusters of homestays, making it a good place to base your visit.
Check in Ban Hieu Village & waterfalls
Bản Hiêu is a small Thai ethnic village situated next to a cascading stream in a lush jungle valley. It is part of the Pù Luông reserve. Its environment is pristine surrounded by forested mountains with clean air and a crystal clear, spring-fed stream. The stream flows straight out of the limestone mountains and further down the waterway flows past traditional stilt huts. The Hieu stream is diverted to irrigate the fields of corn and rice bringing with it the tranquil sound and sight of running water. It is a great spot for a peaceful night of sleep.
Check in Don Village
Don village has no car roads go down, just available trail for walking down. From main road, just walking slide down the side of valley with 30 minutes, you can see the Black Thai houses in the middle of beautiful rice terraces in Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
This village is well known for its stilt houses. The type of stilt houses, or pile dwellings, they construct are called Black Thai stilt houses and are made of bamboo and timber. These houses are elevated 10–12 feet off the ground in order to avoid water damage and shelter animals from the elements. One of village has nice homestay in Pu Luong
- Pu Luong Tour Review on Tripadvisor: Great three day guided tour of Puluong from Hanoi
- Know more Pu Luong Nature Reserve: Things to see and do in Pu Luong
Arrival Ninh Binh
Distance: 90km from Pu Luong to Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is also known as the Ha Long Bay on land for an obvious reason – it looks like Ha Long Bay but on land instead of water. There are hundreds of limestone monoliths topped by dense greenery that emerge from the ground, scattered around the city with rivers flowing through them and caves formed in them. While the mountains are in the west and northwest, the east and south have coastal parts. Ninh Binh really does have everything.
Book your car transfer: Hanoi to Ninh Binh
More Option Vietnam road trip from Pu Luong to Ninh Binh
Trekking in Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park is the oldest one in Vietnam. This is one of the best national parks for hiking and also one of the most important sites for biodiversity in Vietnam.
Van Long Nature Reserve
Your experience here will be similar to that of Tam Coc and Trang An. However, Van Long Nature Reserve is a little further away and barely sees any tourists. You can enjoy the peaceful and tranquil scenery in the most authentic way possible.
Head here early in the morning to avoid the influx of tourists. This is the most populous site in Ninh Binh for tourists, thus prices are a little inflated. It is similar to what is offered in Trang An – mountains, rivers, caves, rice fields, and pagodas. Enjoy being peddled around and through limestone mountains and rice fields and breathe in the fresh air.
Is a complex of mountains and caves to which you can only get to by water. There are eight caves to explore on boat. On the way you will see many beautiful religious structures, surrounded by green nature, giving the area a rather serene outlook. Go early in the morning around 7 a.m. to fully enjoy your experience.
Hang Mua Peak
This is the best place to get an elevated view of the area. After a steep climb of around 400 steps, you will surely be rewarded on top with opportunities to take magnificent Instagram viral-worthy shots. Make sure to take a bottle of water – the climb up isn’t easy. You will also bump into goats.
- Get to know more about: Best things to see and do in Ninh Binh
Road Trip Planner’ ideas for Vietnam Northern Loop
This perfect road trip is for everybody who are looking for real local authentic experiences, to know more about Vietnamese county and pristine nature.
This route is for private tour by car, customizable itinerary upon schedule of traveling and budgets.
This Mai Chau – Pu Luong Ninh Binh road trip is excellent to represent to Northwest Loop of Vietnam.
Vietnam Road Trip Northern Loop Itinerary
- Day 1 – 2: Hanoi to Mai Chau (160KM)
- Day 3 – 4: Mai Chau to Pu Luong and Ninh Binh (130KM)
- Day 5: Ninh Binh to Hanoi (120KM)
Accommodation in Mai Chau, Pu Luong and Ninh Binh
General speaking, Vietnam accommodation is very good now all around Vietnam from budget to luxury 5 star resort. therefore no exception on this fantastic mountainous road trip.
There are many choices on the loop to suit any expanses. I can say it from very basic homestay in the village to luxury resort with western standard service.
Road trip useful tips about the loop
- Mai Chau and Pu Luong is mountainous region of Northern Vietnam, it is common for windy road, up and down hill
- The road trip will stop on the way as possible for coffee break and photography. However some parts of the trip, there will be no toilet on the move, use open one just behind the brush or hiding some trees.
- Bring insect spray, sun scream, good shoes, sunglasses
- Locals tend to be waking up early and back home late and weather would be getting dark in the late afternoon so quick
- Reviews about the loop from Tripadvisor: 5 day tour around North Vietnam – Off the beaten track
Northern Vietnam Private Tour Recommended:
- Northern Vietnam Tour Package
- Early Morning Walking with Hanoians Tour
- Northern Vietnam Loop Tours 12 days
- Off Track Northern Vietnam Itinerary 16 Days
- Ninh Binh – Pu Luong Package 4 Days
Questions About Vietnam Road Trip Northern Loop?
Do you have any questions about traveling to Northern Vietnam? Ask me anything in the comment section below. We’ll do our best to help!