GETTING THERE: Flights from Washington to Hanoi start at $1,269 in late January, connecting in Chicago or New York and then in Seoul.
GETTING AROUND: To rent (about $5 per day) or buy ($400 used) a Minsk motorcycle in Hanoi, contact Anh Cuong's (1 Luong Ngoc Quyen St., 011-844-926-1534). For tour packages that include motorcycle rental, food, lodging and a guide fluent in English and Vietnamese ($120 per person per day for groups of two to five people), contact Explore Indochina (www.exploreindochina.com).
Towns with acceptable accommodations are about a day's drive apart. Figure on about $12 per day per person for food, gas and hotel.
WHEN TO GO: The best time of year to visit the north is in the fall, when the air is crisp and cool and the rice fields golden. The summer's only drawbacks are sudden thunderstorms and scorching temperatures in some of the valleys. Skip the winter, which is cold and damp.
PRECAUTIONS: Bird flu has killed 42 people in Vietnam, more than any other country. Care should be taken when visiting the markets, where live chickens are kept in the open. The U.S. State Department recommends avoiding poultry farms and contact with live animals and surfaces contaminated with animal feces or blood.
WHERE TO STAY: Even the smallest towns in Vietnam have at least one guesthouse (khach san), running about $10 to $15 per night for a basic double room with hot water. To find them, head to the center of town and ask around. In general, privately run guesthouses are better than their state-run competitors, which tend to be run-down and overpriced.
WHERE TO EAT: A meal at a com pho (roadside lunch joint) is tasty and cheap ($2 to $3). To order, approach the glass case containing the ingredients -- everything from fresh vegetables to tripe -- and point out your selections to the woman behind the wok. Recommended dishes include fried tofu with tomatoes (dau phu sot ca chua) and marinated beef (bo luc lac). Larger towns also have beer halls, called bia hoi, that serve rich fried food and local brew on tap.
WHAT TO DO: The Museum of Dien Bien Phu Victory is open Monday through Friday; admission is $1. An afternoon at Hanoi's stellar Museum of Ethnology (Nguyen Van Huyen St., 011-844-756-2193, www.vme.org.vn; $1.25) is an invaluable primer on Vietnam's 54 ethnic groups.
INFO: Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, www.vietnamtourism.com. Vietnam Embassy, 202-861-0737, www.vietnamembassy-usa-org. For everything from maintenance tips to itineraries, visit www.minskclubvietnam.com, the Web site for Hanoi's Minsk Club, a group of expatriate motorcycle enthusiasts.
-- Dustin Roasa