Cruising through Vietnam on a motorbike: During a heatwave! 


Waking up at 5 AM is easy when you’re in the serene countryside of Vietnam. The birds’ morning tunes are all that’s needed to spring your jet-lagged body to life. It also helps when you know that just in a matter of hours, that serenity is going to transform into a burning sauna of dust, heat, and pain. Yes, my partner and I did a four-day motorbike trip through northwest Vietnam in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave.

Here are all the places we visited during our summer road-trip in Vietnam, and my tips on how we avoided getting burnt to a crisp. 

Overview of our motorbike trip route

We jetted off to Vietnam in May 2023 and decided that the best way to enjoy the country’s coveted rice fields was by doing a motorbike trip. Our four-day itinerary took us to two prime locations that are well-known for its rice plantations–Mai Chau and Mu Cang Chai. It’s a journey of 16 hours on the road that starts and ends in the capital city of Hanoi.

Here’s the route we took:

  • Hanoi to Mai Chau: 3 – 4 hours
  • Mai Chau to Mu Cang Chai: 6 hours
  • Mu Cang Chai to Yen Bai: 4 hours
  • Yen Bai to Hanoi: 3 hours

We chose a Honda XR 150L to be our trusted companion, and set sail for the first destination. Scroll down at the end of the post for links to our Vietnam bike rental and homestay.

Terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai Vietnam motorbike
Terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam. Photo by Caroline Chettri

The lush rice fields of Mai Chau

Only a few hours from Hanoi, Mai Chau is a quiet little valley that lies nestled between the evergreen mountains. The land is embellished by bamboo stilted homes and lodges, and an expansive patchwork of luscious rice fields. A destination that is increasing in popularity, Mai Chau offers tranquility and stillness. Particularly, when one needs a break from the bustling city of Hanoi.

We decided to leave for Mai Chau at the break of dawn, to avoid the stress of rush hour. By 7:30AM we were out of the city. A few kilometers later we entered the Hoa Binh district where the scenery began to change drastically. The dense, narrow buildings were replaced by towering mountains, and the streets by rivers and fields. The dusty roads started to curve in and out, up and down, taking us through sparse villages surrounded by rice fields.

Drenched in sweat, dust, fatigue, and pain (from riding our ‘trusted’ companion), we reached Mai Chau just in time for lunch. We filled up on Bia Ha Noi, a light and refreshing local beer, rice, and stir-fried pork in lemon grass. 

Mai Chau’s main attraction is its rice fields. Even the hotels in the area are all set up such that, tourists can enjoy the view without having to leave their room. During the day, when the sun is at its peak, you can sit under the shade and feast your eyes on the scenery. Observe the tiny animals seeking shelter under the trees and inside the dense stalks of rice. Once the sun begins to set, you can then head out for a stroll in the surrounding villages and paddies. 

Men and women working in the paddies Vietnam countryside
Men and women working in the rice paddies. Photo by Caroline Chettri

Discovering the community of Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam

Mu Cang Chai is a mountainous region in the Yen Bai province, which is known for its terraced rice fields. When you’re driving through the area, you’ll want to stop every 10 minutes to absorb the picturesque panorama. Mu Cang Chai is also home to the Hmong indigenous people. They are an ethnic group that originates from China but is spread across Southeast Asia. 

We left for Mu Cang Chai while it was still dark in the morning. But alas, after 6 hours of motor-biking in temperatures that soared over 35°C, possibly 40, we were left either in pain, dehydration, impatience, exhaustion, or all of the above. 

The day was long. From fields of green, we started driving into parts of northwest Vietnam that did not have the same vibrance. We crossed one empty paddy of mud, after the other! We were beginning to dread that perhaps we were going somewhere that was void of the one thing we wanted to see– rice! 

Turns out, the process of planting rice differs from region to region. And, the locals in the valley of Mai Chau happened to have started theirs way earlier. Hence the fields bereft of greenery.

Once we reached our homestay, the pain left our body, and feelings of despair over barren fields turned into a learning opportunity. We got to see how the men used buffalos to plow their privately owned paddies. The women then take charge in their colourful attire, planting seedlings with utmost speed and precision. We also learnt that the people we saw tending the fields were from the Hmong indigenous community.

The young couple who owned the homestay were Hmong themselves, but from different countries—Vietnam and Laos. In Vietnam, you can often tell which tribe a person belongs to, by the colours they adorn. While walking through the village, we saw Hmong women coming back from work. They wore gorgeous skirts and headscarves with intricate patterns of purple, pink, and blue.

Hmong village scene Vietnam countryside
Hmong village scenes. Photo by Caroline Chettri

When the sun started to set, the husband took us to forage pumpkin leaves for dinner. Showing us which ones were the best to eat, he talked about why he left his hectic life in Hanoi to settle down 5 minutes from his parents’ farm. He promised to give us a tour of his parents’ home and farm the next morning. We went to bed that night eagerly waiting for the next day.

Mu Cang Chai attracts hoards of people with its beautiful rice fields, but its charm lies with the community. They have preserved its pristine culture and nature. Walk through the area with a local guide, listen to their stories—you’ll leave with more than just a collection of idyllic photos. 

Surviving the hottest day in Vietnam on a motorbike

Initially we wanted to stay at Mu Cang Chai for 2 nights and go back to Hanoi. However, 6 hours on the road during a heatwave is gruelling. So, we decided to leave the next day and stop at Yen Bai, a city 4 hours away. 

A decision that, in hindsight, saved us from traveling during one of the hottest days in Vietnam. We found out later, that the day we left for the city, 7 May 2023, north Vietnam had reported a record temperature of 44.2°C!

On the upside, the shorter ride meant that we got more time to soak in the terraced landscape.

Our overnight pitstop, Yen Bai, is a place much smaller than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. The area we stayed in was rapidly developing, with construction taking place around a massive man-made lake. While the city provides refuge for road-trippers escaping the heat, there’s not much to do within its confines. You can walk inside its neighbourhoods, and visit the temples that sit at the edge of the city’s lake.

We stayed with an elderly Vietnamese couple, who did not speak a word of English. But they were overjoyed to have guests at their home. They spoiled us with a spread of fried chicken, eggs, stir-fried vegetables, fish, and tofu. They would keep adding more to our bowl as soon as it was empty. We spoke through Google translate. They showed us photos of their children that were plastered all over their walls.

We slept with our belly-full that night, finally with some air conditioning. Then, the next morning under the pouring rain, we set off to Hanoi.

Aerial view of paddies in Mu Cang Chai Vietnam
Aerial view of paddies in Mu Cang Chai Vietnam. Photo by Caroline Chettri

Cruising through the rice fields of Vietnam on a motorbike is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Being on the road in any foreign country can be daunting, but you walk away with incredibly intimate memories. The locals who gave us water when we were tired from the blistering heat, the children who would wave to us on the road with such joy and wonder in their eyes. These are moments that I will remember forever.

Tips for Vietnam motorbike trip (especially in summer): 

  • Start your day early, beat the sun before it beats you. Ideally, leave at 6 AM and try to reach your next destination before lunch time. This way, you have the whole day to rest, relax, and explore. 
  • Do small sprints, take it easy. Plan an itinerary that gives you 3 or 4 hours on the road maximum. Or, it can get a tad too taxing on your body. 
  • Being on the road for several hours is not an easy feat especially in a foreign country. And this is coming from a passenger princess, it’s way worse if you’re driving. So once you reach your destination, keep your activities light and centered around nature.

Additional information

Our bike rental: Rentabike Vietnam

Price: Around 100€ for four days 


Little Mai Chau Homestay |

Price: 10€ – 13€ per night 

Mu Cang Chai Homestay & Trekking

Price: 15€ – 20€ per night 

A table with lots of Vietnamese dishes laid out
Food in Vietnam never disappoints. Photo by Caroline Chettri

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