Cycling North Vietnam - Lang Son to Hanoi
Cycling north Vietnam starts basically in Lang Son in north Vietnam. The town sees few tourists but is the border town with China. It is the first (or last, depending on the direction you are moving) in Vietnam. The Chinese border town is Pingxiang and both cities are no further away from each other then 35 km.
After spending a night in Lang Son, there are several options. One is going east, to Dinh Lap and from there further to Haiphong and Ha Long Bay. Another road leads to Thai Nguyen, around 150km west and southwards.
I took Highway A1, which leads to Hanoi (and ultimately to Ho Chi Minh City). I was expecting a very busy road but nothing was further from the truth. It was for the most a very quiet road in excellent condition. The first 25 km or so were slowly going down but in reality, it was for the most going down all the way to Hanoi.
The idea was to reach Kep, 86 km south of Lang Son. Passing beautiful limestone mountain ranges, it was around noon I arrived in Kep. I did see a hotel at the roadside but there seemed little necessarily to stay here at this time of the day.
Cycling north Vietnam to Bac Giang and Bac Ninh
I continued cycling north Vietnam to Bac Giang, just 20 km away. Despite having cycled already 100km the roads were still quiet. However by the time I reached Bac Giang, there was considerable more traffic. Bac Giang turned out to be a reasonable big city.
I started looking for a hotel, as I realized it was only 60 more kilometers to Hanoi. But whatever I searched, I only found one hotel and it was full. As it was only 2pm, I didn't bother much and decided Bac Ninh would have more options.
Although so far I had been following a quiet A1, it now was considerable busier and the road had turned into a 4 lane road. But I imagined, Bac Ninh was again only 20km away, I didn't care much.
I had been cycling north Vietnam for hours but the land I was cycling in was all flat. By the time I was in Bac Ninh I found a small trunk road following the railway. Bac Ninh had hotels, no doubt. I found several but they were all up-market, 3 and 4 star and asked US$40-50 for a room. It seemed there were no cheaper hotels.
It was only 4PM, and I gambled, with Hanoi at 40km I should be able to reach the capital before dark, here in Vietnam around 6pm local time. Had the road not been so easy, I probably would have chosen to stay in Bac Ninh, despite the room rate.
Cycling north Vietnam: Hanoi
Fortunately I found the trunk road next the railway back and started the last 40 km to Hanoi. There were some snags, at several points the road was in seriously bad condition due to road repairs, especially in Tu Son and Tien Son.
Still, I was quick and entered Hanoi suburbs at 5.30PM with another 10km to go. Again I was surprised about the traffic. It was really not very busy until I arrived a few km from the Long Bien Bridge (bicycle and motorbikes only).
I easily crossed the bridge and was back right in the heart of Hanoi: the old French Quarter. Here it was really busy but again to my surprise I found it quite easy to navigate through the enormous mess of motorbikes, trishaws and pedestrians.
Soon I found a hotel in the old French Quarter. I had arrived just before dark and finished a total of 169 km including at least 10-15 km searching for hotels in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang. All I wanted was a good meal!
Although I had no intentions for cycling north Vietnam in one day, I had just done it. Would it be as easy the other way around, from Hanoi going north? I don't think so as in that case you would have to climb a considerable amount of kilometers, especially at the end of the day. For those who are going north, stay a night in either Bac Giang or Kep before taking the lump to Lang Son.
Try to find the old national highway which literally follows the railway and which is especially all the way to Bac Giang, further north the old and the new highway join and it gets quiet.
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Lang Son is mostly overlooked by travelers but I spend a night here and enjoyed the town very much
Cycling from Hanoi to Vinh
It's not the most spectacular part of Vietnam but it's a nice bike ride of several days and there's enough to keep you busy.
North West Vietnam
This is the area that attracts many visitors, especially Sapa. And yes, it's a magnificent town to visit despite it's heaps of tourists coming here.
It's a beautiful city, no doubt. There's plenty to see, and it's easy to spend a week here without getting bored.