My friends and I recently completed a trip that felt like a lifetime. It was 390km and 5 days, and the pace was perfect for these small roads. Getting lost never felt so good. For ideas on what to do, and see what I did on this trip, check out my other post. Below is the route we completed. You can click through each link for google map directions of the exact roads for your reference.
First thing first, the roads come in many different shapes and sizes, and not all roads were created equally. Because some roads in in bad condition, take the google driving estimates with a grain of salt.
CT01: This is a free-way. Tons of trucks and buses moving at high speed. It will take you between main cities, and I recommend getting off it ASAP!
QL##: These roads are major roads, usually 2 lanes with a big shoulder for motorbikes. They are usually in good shape and might have the occasional bus or large truck on it. This is the common artery road connecting most cities.
DT##: These roads are smaller versions of the QL roads and might just be 2 lanes with no shoulder. So any passing traffic might go into the oncoming lanes to get by. In my experience they were also much rougher. More potholes and huge bumps when coming up to any bridge.
HL##: These are the smallest roads that pass through all the farmland and the small towns. They are often bumpy, the edges are deteriorating, and there aren’t many signs. But these roads are the most incredible part (not me) of the area. Passing between small farms and seeing kids riding home on their bikes in the Ao Dai brings such a sense of peace. My best memories were on these roads, especially HL6 and HL7.
Day 1: HCMC – Bến Tre
We rented motorbikes on Bui Vien street in HCMC and departed for Mỹ Tho. This was the worst part of the drive because it was mostly on the QL1A – a big freeway with buses and trucks. We arranged a small homestay outside the city when we arrived, and one of the workers lead us there. It was tucked away off the main roads in a tiny little village.
Day 2: Bến Tre – Cái Bè – Sa Đéc – Cao Lãnh
Departing the homestay we headed west towards the Cái Bè floating market. Google maps actually isn’t aware of a new bridge in Cái Bè, which allowed us to stay along the river and cross right in town. This was great because it brought us to a small village on the opposite side of the river, where we could watch the leftovers of the market.
After a small stop, we continued to Sa Đéc for lunch and a market visit. Then kept going to Cao Lãnh to stay with some friends in their little village home. We watched soccer and drank a lot of beer that night.
Day 3: Cao Lãnh – Cần Thơ
Despite leaving around 1:30 this day, we drove through some incredible small towns and took the sketchiest ferry of my life (a small wooden boat just for motorbike and people) where everyone wanted to snap selfies with us. Imagine a fishing boat with a flat deck. It pulled up to the “dock” and everyone piled in. It was so packed that you could barely get off your bike. Beforehand, we sat an enjoyed coffee while waiting for the ferry, and marveled at the lifestyle in the very remote and small village. On the way there we drove over concrete bridges just large enough for 1 motorbike and along roads the width of a sidewalk. This day was a beautiful drive. We made it to Cần Thơ with just enough daylight left to easily find our hotel for the night.
Day 4: Cần Thơ – Trà Vinh
We had woken up early to visit the floating market, and left Cần Thơ around 12pm towards Trà Vinh city. This drive was one of the most memorable. We drove through countless small towns, and stopped for fresh sugarcane juice in a tiny cafe surrounded by farms and fruit trees. The small roads on this part were amazing, and as we approached Trà Vinh city, we passed huge Khmer-style Buddhist temples hidden behind a jungle of trees. Everyone in this city was so friendly too.
Day 5: Trà Vinh – Bến Tre – Bus to HCMC
On this last day, we left around 1pm and headed back towards Bến Tre. It was also a beautiful drive, and you could see the different in the level of development between Trà Vinh and Bến Tre province as your crossed the river. Trà Vinh feels like a sleepy little place, with small shacks along the road and little development in many places. And on this drive we even cross a dam in order to get where we were going. After arriving in Bến Tre, we caught a bus with FUTA Express who loaded our bikes onto the bottom of the bus and brought us back into HCMC. We didn’t need to drive that crazy road and deal with all the chaotic traffic again. So this was a good choice for us. The bikes actually all go loaded onto different buses, so we sat around the cargo depot for a couple hours waiting for the last bike to finally arrive before heading back to Bui Vien street for the night.
Want to know what there is to do in this area? Check out my post on things to do in the Mekong!