Southeast Asia is an absolute paradise for motorcyclists. Countless curves, sweeping bends and breathtaking scenery make this region one of the world’s best for hitting the open road.
If you’re more of a petrolhead than a beach bum, take note. These epic Southeast Asian motorcycle routes will serve up the perfect blend of adventure, freedom and excitement. And if you’ve never ridden a motorbike before but still crave the wind in your hair, we’ll reveal which of these routes you can do as a pillion passenger… no experience necessary!
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- International Driving Permits: Do You Need One?
- Southeast Asia Itineraries
- Motorcycle Trips in Southeast Asia
Important: Top travel insurers like SafetyWing and True Traveller will cover you if you ride a motorbike in Southeast Asia but only if you have an International Driving Permit and are legal to ride a motorbike (up to the correct ‘cc’) in your home country and the country where you are travelling.
If you forgot to arrange your International Drivers Permit, you're probably not driving or riding legally abroad.
Riding or driving without your IDP means you could be fined for riding illegally. Worse still, it means your travel insurance is unlikely to cover any claims you make relating to riding or driving!
What can I do?
Rather than ride or drive illegally, check out the International Drivers Association which can hook you up with an IDP even if you're already abroad!
Don't say we never help you out! 😉
Easy Rider Tours in Southeast Asia
We get it. Motorbikes can be scary! If your Mum has always made you swear that you’ll never ride a motorbike, you can keep your promise to her (sort of) and still enjoy an epic road trip around Southeast Asia.
According to Nikkei Asia, motorcycle tours have become increasingly popular over recent years and this doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. Spotting a gap in the market, many tour companies have figured out how to open up the world of motorcycle road trips to non-riders.
Some of these tours now offer an ‘easy rider’ option which gives travellers the opportunity to ride pillion, that is to say on the back of the bike. Say goodbye to worrying about navigating dodgy roads and instead sit back and enjoy the ride!
6 Best Motorcycle Routes in Southeast Asia
1. Ha Giang Loop – Vietnam
Length: 320 km
Duration: 3-5 days
The route begins and ends in Ha Giang and journeys roughly 320km through some of Vietnam’s most stunning landscapes. The loop isn’t for the faint of heart as the driving conditions are challenging… to say the least!
Steep inclines, precipitous cliff edges and narrow hairpin bends are just a few of the things you’ll have to contend with on this journey. The scenery more than makes up for the hardship though. The northern part of Vietnam, close to the Chinese border is arguably one of the most beautiful in the country.
It is generally recommended that you complete the Ha Giang Loop in 3-5 days, however, the longer it takes you, the more time you get to marvel at the rice paddies and karst plateaus. If you’re taking it slow, don’t miss the opportunity to detour to the awesome Ban Gioc Waterfall on the Vietnam-China border. You won’t regret it!
The route is well marked on Google Maps so can be completed independently. However, we’d only recommend this for experienced riders. If that doesn’t sound like you, you can embark on a guided group trip or ride pillion on an easy rider tour.
Rave review: ‘I chose to do the Ha Giang loop and I have no regrets. It was a major highlight of my trip!’ – Danielle.
2. Thakhek Loop, Laos
Length: 475 km
Duration: 3-5 days
Unlike some of the motorbike routes in Southeast Asia, we are yet to hear of an easy rider tour that services the Thakhek Loop. However, for those of you intrepid and skilled enough to go it alone, you will be rewarded!
The Thakhek Loop is a breathtaking motorcycle journey through rural Laos. Although more heavily visited nowadays than in years gone by, it still traverses through parts of the country which are rarely visited by foreigners.
Although you can find blogs about the Thakhek Loop all over the internet, try and get your hands on the famous legendary logbook for a slice of backpacker history! Last located in Thakhek Travel Lodge, hundreds of bikers over the years have penned their loop memoirs in here. If you’re in Thakhek and you get the opportunity to check out this backpacker biking bible, make sure you do!
Along the route, you can expect to find towering limestone peaks, village communities, hidden caves and verdant forests. The highlight of the Thakhek Loop is arguably the detour to Tham Kong Lo, also known as Kong Lor Cave. This vast cavern with subterranean river can be visited on an 80km round-trip detour from the route.
Rave review: “Riding the Thakhek Loop was an amazing experience and definitely one for your Laos bucket list! Konglor Cave was the highlight for me.” – Matty.
3. Hai Van Pass – Vietnam
Length: 165 km
Duration: 1-3 days
The Hai Van Pass is a 20km section of road which acts as the highlight of a much longer journey. It was first made famous when it appeared in a 2008 Top Gear special, with the hosts dubbing it a ‘deserted ribbon of perfection’.
Since it appeared on the huge motoring show, the Hai Van Pass was catapulted to fame, with many backpackers flocking to Vietnam to ride on the road. The Hai Van Pass runs through Central Vietnam, connecting Hoi An to Hue via Danang.
The wide roads linking these cities are generally in pretty good condition however, you should watch out for wet terrain and cloud cover at the pass if attempting the route from October to March.
Much like with other motorbike trips in Vietnam, there are several options when it comes to riding this route. It is possible to embark on this journey independently, following one of the many maps on Google. You can also follow the route as part of a guided group tour, either riding or as a pillion.
If you love road trips but bikes scare you, you don’t have to miss out. There are also Hai Van Pass jeep tours available which get great reviews.
Rave review: “The most AMAZING experience! A little nervy to begin with but it turned out to be the perfect, most scenic journey we had ever experienced!” – Holly and Lucy.
SafetyWing is the travel insurance of choice for scores of backpackers!
- Subscription style insurance
- Cheap and flexible
- Available after your trip has started
4. Mae Hong Son Loop – Thailand
Length: 670 km
Duration: 4-7 days
With nearly 4,000 curves and some of the best scenery in Thailand, the Mae Hong Son Loop is a must for avid motorcycle lovers. Beginning and ending in Chiang Mai, the loop heads through Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and the backpacker favourite of Pai.
Although many backpackers like to buy a bike for the duration of their trip, those who plan on using a mix of transport prefer to hire one. When it comes to renting a motorbike in Thailand, make sure you know what to expect when it comes to costs and the types of motorbike on offer.
Along the route, you can expect to see cascading waterfalls, Buddhist temples and breathtaking national parks. Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s tallest mountain is a large part of the loop’s appeal and many backpackers enjoy taking a few days out to trek in the national park here.
If the full loop feels a bit too daunting, you can always do the short Chiang Mai to Pai section. This takes between 3-4 hours and you can stop off for a hill tribe coffee on the way! If you hire a bike at AYA service bike hire near the train station in Chiang Mai, you can drop it off at AYA service in Pai (about 300 THB a day). Famous for its 762 vomit-inducing curves, this route is often taken by bus… but only by the brave!
The roads are in pretty good shape, however, it is easy to get caught out by potholes and the changing terrain. As much you may be tempted not to, you should wear a helmet during your ride of the Mae Hong Son Loop. The ground is hard and you could really hurt yourself if you come off. It’s just not worth the risk!
We sadly aren’t aware of any easy rider tours on the Mae Hong Son Loop so you’ll need to be proficient on a motorcycle to do this route. If you know of any pillion tours, please let us know in the comments section of the article!
Rave review: “There are some amazing roads in the north of Thailand – like the Mae Hong Son Loop!” – George.
5. Ho Chi Minh Road – Vietnam
Length: 1880 km
Duration: 14 days
If you’ve already ticked many of these motorcycle routes through Southeast Asia off of your list and are looking for a bigger challenge, you may well have found it. The Ho Chi Minh Road spans a whopping 1880km, from Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam to Hanoi in the north.
The Ho Chi Minh Road is very mountainous, offering incredible views but unpredictable weather conditions. According to bike expert Tom over at the Vietnam Coracle, the months from March to September tend to be the best to take on this journey.
As you’d expect from any bike trip this long, the route is quite a commitment and will take around 2 weeks on average. For this reason, it is only recommended for experienced riders who have plenty of time on their hands.
Most people completing the full journey tend to buy a secondhand bike in either Hanoi or HCMC. There are numerous Facebook groups that help facilitate these transactions for travellers including the highly recommended Hanoi Backpacker’s Motorbike Market and Vietnam’s Motorbikes for Sale and Rent (links in resources). There are also shops where you can hire in Hanoi and drop off in HCMC and vice versa.
If you can’t commit to a full two weeks of riding, this journey can be broken down into smaller sections. Again, Tom at the Vietnam Coracle has a really comprehensive post that details shorter routes.
The road follows some of the finest natural scenery in the country and offers a great way to get off the beaten track. With so many highlights along the way, it is hard to choose the best spots, however, Phong Nha National Park definitely deserves its own special mention.
And if the idea of doing it by motorcycle sounds too overwhelming, why not follow in the bicycle tracks of this intrepid backpacker and hop on a pushbike?
6. Bolaven Plateau – Laos
Length: 320 km
Duration: 2-5 days
Also known as the Pakse Loop, this incredible motorcycle route begins and ends in the south of Laos in the city of Pakse. It traverses through the Bolaven Plateau, a beautiful landscape known for its many coffee plantations and waterfalls.
Leaving Pakse, there is both a big and little loop. The smaller loop takes between 2-3 days to complete, whereas the larger loop can take anywhere as long as 5 days. The distance provided above is for the large loop.
The main advantage of opting for the larger loop is the opportunity to see more impressive waterfalls. Don’t fear though, both loops will offer falls to marvel at, including the impressive Tad Lo waterfall.
There are numerous places to rent a motorcycle in Pakse but the most popular is Miss Noy’s Motorbike Rental. They also provide bike enthusiasts with a briefing session the day before you set off and a detailed map.
During the Vietnam War, the Bolaven Plateau was heavily bombed and there is still a lot of unexploded ordnance in the area. If you plan to check out any of the hikes in your downtime, be very careful to stick to well-established paths.
Rave Review: I did Pakse and Thakek, together with my Girlfriend on a Motorbike we brought from Vietnam. Pakse is easy to drive but can be a little bit windy and cold!” – Philip.
Other Popular Motorcycle Routes in Southeast Asia…
The following destinations also come highly recommended by members of our community for motorcycle riding.
- Mekong Delta, Vietnam – Read more here!
- Palawan (Puerto Princesa to El Nido), Philippines
- Lombok, Indonesia
- Phu Quoc, Vietnam
- The Great Northern Loop, Vietnam
- Batanes, Philippines
- GT Rider Motorcycle Forums
- Vietnam Coracle
- South East Asia Backpacker Facebook Community
- Hanoi Motorbike Market
- Hanoi Backpacker’s Motorbike Market
- Vietnam Motorbikes for Sale and Rent
Have you ever completed any of these motorcycle routes in Southeast Asia? Let us know in the comments!
Header photo credit: Steven Campbell.