I’ve had a few people ask me for advice about doing motorbike tours in Vietnam. So I decided to write a post to share my tips and experience about how to get the best from a motorbike tour of Vietnam. If you have any questions or tips you want to share, leave a comment below.
Riding a motorcycle in Vietnam isn’t an act of bravery, nor is it an act of madness. The roads in the cities are completely crazy, but if you can cross the road in Vietnam, you can ride a motorbike there. Traffic tends to swarm into every available gap in the road, but you’ll be just fine if you just take it easy.
HOW AND WHERE TO BUY A MOTORBIKE IN VIETNAM
Because seemingly everyone rides a motorbike in Vietnam, there are no shortage of dealers selling used motorbikes. There is no real advantage to be gained in buying from a dealer. There won’t be any kind of worthwhile warranty and you should certainly not pay more for one.
At a second-hand dealership the motorbikes are unlikely to have a price on them, so you’ll have to be ready to bargain hard for the right price. It’s no different to buying a used car anywhere in the world, so don’t be afraid of being a little theatrical in your negotiations if need be.
A lot of locals and travellers sell their motorbikes on Craigslist. It’s also worthwhile visiting backpacker hostels where you’ll often find people selling off their motorbikes. That requires some leg-work, but you might be able to get yourself a good deal as the seller may be short on time and therefore open to considering lower offers.
WHAT KIND OF BIKE SHOULD YOU GET?
Mopeds (motor-scooters) are also fine. I rode around Vietnam on a 110cc 2004 Yamaha Nouvo (pictured above) that I paid $151 (¬£100) for. That’s a good deal cheaper than the average of $3-400 that most people want for those old Honda Wins and Minsks.
With more than 50,000 kilometres on the clock, my Yamaha cruised on the highways without any issue at 60-80kph. It crossed many a rough surface including mud and sand, and climbed the mountains north of Hanoi without grumbling once. I got one puncture that was quickly fixed at a roadside garage for less than $1.
WHAT DO YOU NEED WITH THE BIKE?
As mentioned above, when you buy your motorbike make sure you get the paperwork! That is important because while it’s unlikely that you’ll have any run-ins with the local law, if you do they are going to want to see the bikes paperwork. Without the paperwork you’ll find the bike much harder to sell at the end of your tour.
You will also need to get yourself a helmet and wear it too! I suggest getting something that looks like it might actually offer you some protection in the event of a crash, however, it seems that any kind of flimsy helmet is acceptable.
It’s a good idea to get one with some kind of eye protection. The roads can be very dusty, it sometimes rains, the air can be full of bugs, and at night it simply isn’t smart to wear sunglasses as eye protection.
Getting a decent road map would be a good idea. I didn’t really plan my tour so I never got one and while I was fine, there were times it would have been handy. You also need to consider that when rains in Vietnam it pours! So get yourself something that will keep you dry.
CARRYING YOUR BAG/BACKPACK
People carry all kinds of stuff on their motorbikes in Vietnam. I saw pigs, ducks, dogs, tires, and even an giant shelf unit being transported by motorbike while I travelled. You’ll be amazed by what people carry on their motorbikes.
Your luggage won’t be a problem! I was a little nervous about carrying my bag on the bike because it wasn’t a backpack, but a case with wheels. I purchased a gigantic plastic bag, some elastic clip ties with hooks at each end, then simply balanced my 23kg bag on the back of the bike and wrapped the elastic ties around it firmly. The bike felt heavier with the bag, but it made little difference in reality.
I carried valuable items such as my camera, laptop, and passport in a smaller backpack that I hooked over the handlebars so I could easily take it off and carry it if I left the bike anywhere – and yes, I left the bike with my luggage unattended on numerous occasions.
COPS AND THE LAW
I have seen a few websites that claim you cannot legally ride a motorbike without a Vietnamese licence. This is not correct. You can ride one on your regular licence from home, but you must have that on you. I am told your travel insurance is unlikely to cover you in the event of an accident unless you have an international drivers licence (and even then it still might not!).
It’s widely believed to be illegal for a foreigner to own a motorbike in Vietnam, however that’s not correct. With time and some effort you can register a bike or car in your own name with the authorities and if you’re planning on being in Vietnam for a long period of time then you should probably look into that. However, as long as your bike is registered in a Vietnamese name you’re good to go.
The police in Vietnam do conduct regular road-blocks where they check vehicles and motorbikes. However, not many cops speak English and perhaps because of this I was waved passed every single road-block, even the ones where they were stopping every single bike. This experience was shared by every foreigner I met who rode a motorbike in Vietnam.
The question of insurance is a tricky one. I believe you do need it, however you can’t get it without a Vietnamese license, and in any case, if you are not a resident it would be pretty useless anyway. I was on a bike in 2012 with a local who was uninsured. We were stopped at a roadblock and he just negotiated the ‘fine’ with the cops for not having insurance. He paid about the price of 2 cups of coffee, and there were 2 cops, you can probably do the math.
TAKE IT EASY!
Go slow! That is the best and probably the most important advice you can get when it comes to biking around Vietnam, or indeed anywhere. Remember you are on the motorbike to see the country, so go slow and enjoy the scenery. If you fall off the motorbike every kilometre on the speedometer magnifies your injuries and you could be a very long way from medical help.
If you’re time limited then don’t rely on Google to give you estimates for travel time. You’ll be stopping to look at things and those estimates are all but useless. Accept the fact that you might not have time to see everything and instead just relax and enjoy your trip knowing that the other stuff will always be there when you have more time.
PARKING YOUR MOTORBIKE
Whenever you park your motorbike anywhere in Vietnam, you’ll probably be approached by someone who will want you to pay them about 2,000 Dong ($0.10). This isn’t a scam, it’s how they do things there and everyone pays. The person will write a number on your bike using chalk and give you a card with that number on. They might move it in busy places, but don’t panic if you get back and it’s not immediately obvious where it is. Just give them the ticket and they’ll take you to the bike.
REPAIRS AND MOTORBIKE MAINTENANCE
If you get some old motorbike that has been driven around Vietnam several times by backpackers, then you’re probably going to have to repair it here and there. This shouldn’t be a drama. Because everyone in Vietnam rides a motorbike, you won’t have to look far for someone who can fix yours. Repairs are cheap, but as ever, be alert for people looking to take advantage of you as a ‘walking ATM.’
SELLING YOUR MOTORBIKE
You can sell it to a dealer, but they will give you very little for it. My advice would be to give it a clean, take a good picture of it and put it on Craigslist.
You can also try putting a sign on it. I had my hotel write and print a for sale sign in both English and Vietnamese that included my phone number. I stuck that on the mirror wherever I parked it and it actually got a lot of interest this way. (You will need a local phone number, so get a local sim-card if you haven’t already.)
Another idea might be printing an ad (that includes a picture) and posting that in the local hostels wherever you are. If you’re a member of couchsurfing.com you could also post an ad on the local group as its likely to be read by people looking for bikes.
After my tour I sold my bike in Hanoi for the same price I paid for it in Hue. I sold it in less than 48 hours, and I was holding out for a price I wanted! I sold it to a local couple who saw my ad on the Hanoi couchsurfing group. However, I had 2 other offers from people who saw the ad I stuck on the mirror!
ANY MORE QUESTIONS?
A road trip of this kind is a real adventure, and you’re sure to be telling the stories of it for a long time to come. Don’t over-think or over-plan the it, just give yourself enough time to slowly let the road reveal this beautiful country and its fascinating culture to you.
As I mentioned previously, I’m no expert, but should you have any other questions or tips about riding a motorbike in Vietnam then leave them a comment.