Northwestern Loop - Mai Chau, Son La, DBP, Sapa

May 29, 2006
Two of us have bought a couple of Minsks from Cuong in Hanoi and are heading up clockwise on the northwestern loop (Mai Chau, Moc Chau, Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Lai Chau, Sapa, etc). At the moment we are in Dien Bien Phu. Just for interest we took side trips to the Laos border near Moc Chau (Pa Hang) and Dien Bien Phu (Tay Trang) to see if they would let us cross.

As expected both were definitely closed to westerners. We had visas for Laos and the rego papers with matching numbers for the bikes. One of the officials at Pa Hang spoke some basic english and said we would be fine to cross at Na Meo with the bikes.

In the mist at Pa Hang



We got told in no uncertain terms to head the other way on arrival at Tay Trang, although we managed to get some smiles and handshakes before we left. A few km before we were stopped we passed a flash new border crossing building with weigh stations etc. It looked near completion. Will this opening mean that the chances will improve of them opening things up for foreigners?

The Vietnamese border building from a distance


The new border crossing building


We plan to complete the circuit back to Hanoi, have a look at Halong Bay, then cross into Laos via Na Meo. Does anyone have any current info on the likelihood of crossing there on Minsks? We understand it should be sweet.

If you are planning on doing this trip account for the large amount of road works (stoppages and poor surfaces) on the road from Son La to Dien Bien Phu.

We saw two separate fatal motorbike accidents within 3km of each other near Hoa Binh. They must have both happened within 15mins of us getting there. Three Vietnamese guys were dead on the road with head injuries. It goes without saying that in Vietnam you should take the best protective gear you can if you are riding.

If you want some good cheap riding gear check out the shop next to Cuong's. I got a pair of German-brand Vietnam-made (Cycle Spirit) trousers and a jacket, both with CE-rated protective inserts for US$97. Looking on a UK website they are going for US$700ish!: ... acket.html ... #a20597856

We found adequate Taiwanese full-face helmets at a shop that Cuong referred us to.

Once we have some photos on CD when we get back to Hanoi we will post some photos etc. I also have some GPS coordinates of good hotels, and other points of interest like the old Viet Minh HQ near DBP.

Nov 14, 2004
Matty, I for one would like to hear of all the in an outs of the trip. so M8 don't hold back cause you thik it sounds mundain.
Stay upright stay safe,have you trieda puppy burger yet?
May 29, 2006
We are back in Hanoi now and have posted a blog of our trip through the northwest of Vietnam here: ... 24330.html

It is more oriented for friends and family rather than bikers, but theres plenty of photos and text.

Some GPS locations of interest if you are doing the loop are:

Cuong Motorbike Adventure
1 Luong Ngoc Quyen St
Open 8am to 6pm
Phone Shop: 04 9261534 Cuong's mobile: 09 13518772
[email [email protected]][email protected][/email]

Mai Chau
Thai stilthouse guesthouse
N 20 39.07
E 105 04.31
OK place. Good food. US$8 for a private room.

Moc Chau
Hotel (did not record the name sorry)
N 20 50.55
E 104 40.13
Good place. Clean. Air-con/heater. TV. Hot water.
120,000VD (US$8)

Turn off to border at Pa Hang
N 20 51.28
E 104 37.08

Son La
Sao Xanh Hotel
N 21 19.359
E 103 55.141
Very nice hotel. Great value. Highly recommended.
Clean. Air-con/heater. TV. Hot water. Lift!

Muong Ang
If you get stuck you can stay here:
N 21 31.197
E 103 13.410

Dien Bien Phu
Muong Thanh Hotel
Good hotel, but a bit pricey compared to others we stayed in.
N 21 24.041
E 103 01.360
Clean. Air-con/heater. TV. Hot water.

Great value restaurant: "Nga Hang 595"
N 21 22.979
E 103 00.863

HQ of Viet Minh during Dien Bien Phu campaign 1954
N 21 27.215
E 103 09.731

Lai Chau
Lan Anh Hotel
84 23 852370
email: [email [email protected]][email protected][/email]
N 22 03.186
E 103 09.526
Great place, great food.
N 22 03.186
E 103 09.526
Air-con/heater. TV. Hot water.
Rooms US$8 and up

Tam Duong
Huyen Trang Hotel
N 22 23.982
E 103 27.380
Good view. Good value.
Clean. Air-con/heater. TV. Hot water.

Cat Cat Hotel
Ph: 020 871387
Email: [email [email protected]][email protected][/email]
N 22 19.980
E 103 50.399
Awesome place, awesome value.
Clean. Open fire. Amazing view. Shared balcony. TV. Hot water. Bath
There are three Cat Cat Hotels, this one is the first one on your right as you head down the road to Cat Cat village.

Caves near Sapa
N 22 24.179
E 103 50.193

Lao Cai
Thanh Son Restaurant (opposite train station)
"Son" will help you buy train tickets for your bike and a porter to get your bike on and off the train. He has good food too.
346 Nguyen Hue St
Ph: 020 835780 or 09 12634453 (mobile)
N 22 29.471
E 103 58.668
Jul 6, 2004
Hi Mat,
Just picked up on your topic, I am investigating doing a similar trip with a mate who's father died in the vietnam war. He wants to have a look at all the old war sites.
Keep up the good work mate, its blood good stuff.
Tom Forde
Jul 7, 2006
Great post, awesome pictures on your blog too! I'm leaving start of march to go Minsking the north myself, your trip report makes me more and more exited. I'll post some reports after.
Jan 18, 2007
Hi Mat and Trace,

Nice to meet you at Cuong's shop when you returned from Northern Vietnam.

I think you are now in Laos. Do you have any information about Laos? It would be great to have some as some of our customers are doing research on this. Please post on here or provide the blog link.
May 29, 2006
Yes, we crossed into Laos at Nameo. For a little while it seemed as if the border guys were not going to let us through. They said that as the law stands we needed our names on the ownership papers for the Minsks, and a "International Vehicle Importation Licence" or something like that. We knew this might be the case, but it seems you just have to give it a crack because it is fruitless trying to do it officially. After a while us looking downcast at the prospect of having to backtrack and trying another border crossing, and mentioning that we were meeting a friend in Vieng Xai (only 56km from Nameo) the head guy said "OK, I help you" and away we went. I gave him 100,000 dong as we were leaving to buy some beers for him and his two mates (it was the last day of Tet), and to keep the goodwill there for other bikers.
The Laos border guard was very chilled out (surprise surprise) and helped push Trace's bike up the hill. We paid US$1 for I-don't-know-what and had a beer with him and we were off. Was good to be in Laos. I asked him about an importation certificate or whatever its called for having the Viet bikes in Laos, but he said no worries. I have his phone number and name in case anyone does ask here. Its less important to us than it is for the Thai riders, as we are going to sell the trusty Minsks in Laos once we are finished. Should make it easy for someone to tour Laos then head to Vietnam?
Because we have lots of time we have taken it easy, doing half day rides and chilling out. We have been to: Vieng Xai, Xamtai, Xam Nua, Nam Nuen, Vieng Thong, Nong Khiaw, Moung Noi, and arrived yesterday in Udomxai.
Internet here in Northern Laos is pretty average, so I will save the trip report for when I get somewhere better. I will post the link to the report here as it will be on the Laos board.

A couple of pics in the mean time


On the way to Xamtai

Suan Hin


Just east of Nong Khiaw


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Great photos & love the report, one of the few we get from Minsk riders who pass through, so a very special thanks. Keep it coming & hope to see you in Chiang Mai.