Motorbike tour in Vietnam – complete guide

Campbell and Ryan in Vietnam
Campbell and Ryan in Vietnam

I have been exploring the world for almost five years and traveling Vietnam by motorbike is still one of my favorite adventures. Motorbikes are a part of life in this country with 37 million of these vehicles registered. Import tax for cars is over 300% making them unaffordable. Cruising on the highway you see many very interesting things. A family of four on a scooter on the highway is a common occurrence. Pigs, chickens, building material or any other cargo are often tied to motorbikes in ingenious ways. Ryan, then my Canadian travel buddy, and I met a couple of backpackers in Hanoi selling bikes following a South to North bike trip. It sounded awesome and we started to investigate. The Top Gear Vietnam Special convinced us that this was something we had to do! Also check out the Stingy Nomads Vietnam Special !

Why Vietnam is perfect for a Motorbike tour

  • Vietnam is a long, narrow country, perfect to cross without missing anything.
  • Since everybody owns a motorbike there are many very cheap bikes on the second hand market.
  • Selling your bike wont be a problem.
  • Bike repairs are cheap and easy.
  • Vietnam uses the Latin alphabet, making it possible to understand road signs.

Buying a motorbike in Vietnam

First things first, buying your mighty steed. The most popular bikes for this journey are the knock-off “Honda Win” 110cc manual shift bike, the Honda Wave 110cc scooter or the Yamaha Nouvo 125cc scooter. I loved my Honda Win, but many travelers are not comfortable with manual shift and opts for a scooter. Many of these bikes are more than 20 years old and probably did this trip 100’s of times.

There are many “Honda shops” in Ho Chi Minn and Hanoi that fix and sell bikes and some offer a buy back deal on the other end. Hanoi Motorbike has a huge variety of bikes for good prices. The cheapest way to buy would be from another traveler in a hurry to sell his prized/despised moto. In backpacker’s areas there are usually many bikes for sale standing around with for sale signs. Travel Swop usually have many bikes for sale. You should be able to find a good bike for round $200. Check that everything is working, drive around with it a bit. I took 5 bikes for a test drive before I bought mine.

Vietnam motorcycle
Getting some help pimping our rides. Painted our country flags on the petrol tanks.

Rent an authentic motorcycle in Vietnam.

It is possible to rent an authentic, not a Chinese copy, motorcycle in good condition from a reputable dealership for a good price. Tigit Motorbikes do sales and rentals for long distance travel and have centers in Ho Chi Minh, Danang and Hanoi. They specialize in day rentals and long distance travel packets. Pick up your bike at one location and drop at another. All motorbikes are genuine and authentic and the models are  2015 or newer.

Buy a Motorbike in Vietnam- checklist

  •  Paper registration (Blue card) – Make sure you get one when  buying your bike!
    • and do not loose this – it is your proof of ownership at road blocks
    • compulsory to have this piece of paper to sell your bike again
  •  Good helmet
  •  Luggage rack and straps
    • check that you can strap on all your stuff
  •  Bike lock
  •  Road map of Vietnam or phone with GPS
    • Download offline map, MAPS.ME is a good app
    • we only had a map, no GPS or phone, I am directionaly impaired and we still got along fine.
  • PIMP/NAME YOUR RIDE!
    • We bought some spray paint and painted flags on our petrol tanks.

Offered by some shops:

  • Buy back by a partner shop at the other end
    • Worth it? depends on how much time you have, you will get a better price selling it yourself. If you are lucky you can even sell it at a profit! It might however take a week to sell your bike. We bought for $250 and sold for $125 each. We didn’t feel like waiting in Ho Chi Min any longer.
  •  24 hour helpline
    • what nonsense, you are going to be far away, probably with no phone, there are shops/people that can fix bikes everywhere
  • Free driver lesson
    • depends on you, do you need a lesson, will one lesson help if you do?
#vietnam
You will see many strange things transported on motorcycles!

Go on an Awesome One-Day Bike Trip!

Don’t have enough time or don’t feel like navigating the crazy Vietnam traffic on your own? There are amazing options for guided motorbike tours throughout this beautiful country. XO Motorbike Tours offer something unique, a company with all women drivers that can take you on a variety of great tours in the cities of Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An. You will love riding pillion with these skilled ladies zipping through the traffic exploring the city on a foodie, sightseeing, culture or shopping tour.

Accommodation on a Vietnam Motorbike Trip

It was never hard for us to find accommodation, we were two so we stayed in private rooms, sharing it is very cheap. Bigger towns and cities have hostels with shared dormitories which is awesome for meeting other travelers. If you go in season I would recommend booking a day ahead then you know you have a good place for tomorrow. We recommend places at different budgets on our route.

Is it safe to ride a motorbike through Vietnam?

It is definitely not the safest way to spend a couple of weeks. Thousands of motorbikes, no traffic rules and it doesn’t look like local people need a licence. Huge intersections without traffic lights. Twelve year old kids driving scooters everywhere (how scary can it be if twelve year old’s do it?). Many trucks and buses on the road. A recipe for an interesting adventure, not for road safety. An organised group tour by bus is definitely safer. Singing born to be wild on my little motorbike and almost getting run over by huge buses made some memories I will always cherish. Just be careful.

I will strongly advise you to invest in insurance World Nomads is an excellent option and you can get insured with them even if you are already on route. As far as I am aware  they will cover evacuation if it’s urgent and medically necessary, emergency medical expenses for treatment at the hospital or by a doctor at the local medical centre; and help to get you home if you are injured and unable to continue your trip. I don’t work for World Nomads, so go and check it out and read the fine print. You can get an immediate quote here.

Vietnam motorcycle trip route.

Our trip started in Hanoi riding  south, many do it in reverse.  Mostly on the Ho Chi Min trail, which was beautiful. Some days we drove on Highway one, many trucks and thousands of motorbikes everywhere. Try to avoid this as far as possible. We drove about 2500km and did the trip in 5 weeks. Only 12 driving days, driving between 2 and 8 hours a day.

This is the route we followed:

Hanoi to Ninh Bin 95km, 2h

  • We paid a motorcycle taxi to lead us on to where the AH1 highway exits the city.
  • Driving on the highway was easier than expected, traffic doesn’t move very fast and consists mainly of thousands of scooters and a couple of trucks. I only had two close calls having to swerve and brake for crazy drivers.
  • It took about an hour to get out of the city, followed by an 85km drive to Ninh Binh
  • Ninh Bình  is a small city in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam; it is the capital of Ninh Bình Province.
  • Accommodation:
    • Budget accommodation Golden Bell Backpacker Hostel, clean, friendly, cheap, in the center, huge beds!
    • Dormitory is a good idea at the start of your trip to make some friends!
  • Medium budget Ninh Binh Brothers Hotel– , $10 is what you pay for a double room in a awesome hotel in this town, everybody raves about the awesome hotel near the center of town and the friendly, helpful brothers that gave them good advice for the trip.

Ninh Bin to Yen Cat 128km, 4h

  • Left the AH1 – riding on Ho Chi Min way, much less traffic, more scenic
  • only made it to this town before dark
  • stayed in a very strange, big hotel in the middle of nowhere, The Dai Lam Hotel
  • Yen Cat to Dong Hoi, 340km, 7.5h
    • Accommodation: Nam Long Hotel dormitory bed $5, double room $14
vietnam motorbike trip
We rode in the rain for many hours. Ryan in his state of the art rain jacket carving up the mountain passes.

Dong Hoi to Dong Ha 100km, 2.5h

  • First mechanical problems, took a while to get a mechanic, cheap to fix.
  • First day of pouring rain the whole day.
  • Drove on the AH1, was not to worried about scenery in this weather.
  • Explored DMZ zone and Vin Moc tunnels for 2 days – Unreal, the tunnels were built to shelter people from the intense bombing by the Americans. They dug 30 metres deep, some people stayed here for 6 years.
  • Accommodation: Ngoc Binh Hotel, dormitory bed $4, double room $9
dong ha
Inside the Vin Moc tunnels near Dong Ha.

Dong Ha to Hoi An  200km, 5h

  • Hoi An is a beautiful riverside town, we stayed here for a couple of days.
  • The town of Hoi An is very popular with tourists and consequently booking accommodation a day or 2 ahead is a good idea
  • visit the Me Son ruins for a day
  • Applied for visa extension here, large enough town with many agencies that can handle visa requests
  • Accommodation:
    • Budget -For a dorm room, Tribee Kinh is the place to go. Lively place, awesome atmosphere and great staff, for 5 bucks a dorm bed, this is magic.
    • Mid Budget – for Hoi An $15 is mid range 🙂 Awesome place, private room, great staff, comfortable bed, nice garden don’t miss Green Bud Homestay
#hoiann
Vegetable market in the beautiful riverside town, Hoi An

Hoi An to Quy Nhon 250km, 6h

  • Que Nohn chill beach town, stayed 2 days
  • drove the AH1, crazy road
  • Accommodation: Tanh Tung Hotel $11 double room

Quy Nhon to Nha Trang, 300km, 7h

  • Loved Nha Trang, spent a week here
  • diving
  • Vin Pearl Island
  • National Oceanographic Institute
  • Accommodation: 
    • On a budget, you are not going to find a place like Backpack Abode Hostel easy, close to the beach in the center, good breakfast, coffee and amazing staff for $4
    • Treat yourself, BX Hotel Apartment for $20 awesome apartment close to the beach, super comfortable bed, washing machine, big flat screen and more.

 

#dalat
Dalat was one of the most the most beautiful areas in Vietnam, chivet shit coffee, crickets in Chile sauce and the famous crazy house.

Nha Trang to Dalat, 133km, 4.5h

  • Unreal scenic drive from Nha Trang to Dalat. High mountain passes.
  • Rain storms were insane, so much rain we had to stop and hide sometimes.
  • Crazy House,  officially called Hang Nga Guesthouse, this architectural masterpiece is one of the 10 craziest buildings in the world.
  • Easy Rider Motorbike tour, waterfalls, coffee plantations and amazing scenery, cricket tasting, coffee tasting, Kopi Luwak/Caphe Don (shit coffee) farm
  • Accommodation: On a budget Red House is the place to go in Dalat, $3 for a dorm bed in an awesome highly rated hostal including breakfast! Want to stay in a good hotel with great service near the center for $25 Da Lat Lanani Hotel
#motorbikevietnam
Diving in Natrahng, was awesome to get in the water again! .

Dalat to Muine, 155km, 5h

  • The drive from Dalat to Muine was my favorite on the trip, no trucks are allowed on the road and it is a very beautiful spiraling road through the mountains to the ocean, a pleasure on a bike!
  • Muine kitesurfing capital of Vienam
  • Red and White sand dunes was good day
  • Accommodation: Awesome hostel, nice garden with hammocks, pool, super friendly, helpful staff, close to beach Mui Ne Garden, good option if you come for kite surfing, dorm bed $4. Looking for excellent value for money, maybe best place in Mui Ne, big pool, awesome, big, clean rooms and great service. MAY Bungalow $30
mune
The white sand dunes of Mune.

Muine to Ho Chi Min (Saigon), 220km, 6h

  • Coming into Ho Chi Min is insane, crazy traffic turned into super crazy traffic. We were very lucky we meeting 2 Dutch guys on the road with an iphone. We followed them to the hostel area.
  • Interesting city, war and military museums, nice palaces. Cool party city, drinking beer and talking nonsense on little chairs on the sidewalks. Club scene kicks in late.
  • We did a one day tour to the Mekong Delta. Typical tour, you do not get to experience the real culture. You take turns with many other tourists to float on a little section of river. Just a show for tourists, I would not recommend it.

Accomodation in Ho Chi Min

Cheap, clean, friendly staff, basic breakfast, coffee and tea dorm bed $4 Saigon Central Hostel. Amazing place, delux double room $30, great location, super comfortable beds, great host Jan Hostel.

Vietnam highlights

  • Ha Long Bay, 2 night boat and island trip
  • Dalat, Easy rider 1 day bike trip, “shit coffee”, elephant falls, cricket farm etc,
  • Sapa, 2 Day trek through rice paddies, homestay with local family
  • Diving, Nha Trang, triple Scuba day on coral reefs of Nha Trang
  • Vin Moc tunnels, tour to Vietnamese tunnels in US war, Dong Ha
  • My Son, Ruins of the champa temples close to Hanoi
  • Muine, White and Red sand dunes
  • Night life Saigon, Partying on the sidewalk bars of the crazy Ho Chi Min city
Sapa valley
Hiking around the beautiful Sapa valley. Playing with the local children. Our hosts were the smallest ladies that I have ever met!

Cost of a Vietnam motorcycle journey

Bike:                                250$
Sold Bike:                       125$
Visas:                              65$ visa renewal 25$
Petrol used:                    1 500 000 VD (75$),
Repairs:                          Brakes, Stand 50 000, Back tyre 330 000, Mirror 50 000, light switch
50 000, oil change 4x 100 000
Total:                              Bike: 250$ Fuel: 75$; Oil: 20$, Repairs: 24$, Visas 70$
450$-125$= 315$
Driving time:                   4 to 8 hours a day
Accidents:                       zero, one minor fall
Food:                             mostly Pho Bo (noodle soup) or just coffee, plenty of water – Vietnam=hot!
Dangers:                        Ryan – one bad infection, got robbed at gun point in Nha Trang

#vietnam
Boat trip on the amazing Ha Long Bay.

Do you need a motorcycle driver’s license in Vietnam?

Yes, you do, but we drove without. I got pulled over once in Mune. I showed my South African car license and AA international license. It was accepted. Ryan and our new Dutch friends got pulled over on our last day entering Ho Chi Min. If you ride wearing flip flops and board shorts you are recognized as a tourist, probably without a licence. Our theory was in the country side the police can not speak English and won’t pull you over. In the cities they can speak English and will pull you over for a bribe. My three friends got away by paying. The bribe was negotiated from $150 each to something like $30 per person.

Tips and favorite things

  • Pimp and name your bike
  • Pho Bo, vietnames beef noodle soup is cheap and delicious
  • Vietnamese coffee is awesome, they drink it with loads of condense milk, so say you want it black.
  • take your time
  • wear a helmet

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vietnam-pin

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5 Comments

  • Hello there, I enjoyed your blog/adventure. Seems like something everyone needs to do someday in their lives. That being said, I’ll be doing this trip in november with my mate. We are both comfortable on motorbikes (125cc) so we’re not to worried about accidents, even though it can be dangerous out there.
    What bothers me is that there is no way to get a valid license there (unless you’re resident and staying for longer)., this means that our insurance is also invalid if an accident occurs. Even if the other party is at fault, we will be deemed responsible because we’re driving illegally. Were you worried? Would you advice against this, even though you did it yourself?

    Julien (from Belgium)

    • Hello Julien, getting a license in Vietnam would be very difficult, an international licence should however be accepted and I assume be fine with your insurance since you are driving a vehicle legally. If you have a valid licence in your home country you apply for an international licence from your local automobile association. No testing required you just pay for it, it states which countries it is valid for. Mine was valid for Vietnam and expired after 18 months. When the police stopped me in Vietnam I showed them my local driving licence and international licence and they accepted this even though mine was a car licence, you are supposed to have a motorcycle licence. My friends had no licence and paid a bribe. What you said is true if you do not have a legal licence and you are in an accident you can be in big trouble and accidents do happen, I would advise against this. If you do not have travel insurance check out world nomads, they are awesome https://stingynomads.com/backpackers-travel-insurance/ Safe Travels!

  • Hello. In which season have you been? We would like to go in the second part of December the same route but we don’t know if the weather would be ok for a moto tour.

    • Hello Ingrid, thanks for reading we did it in May/June. Weather was fine, it was nice that is was hot, but we did do a lot of driving in the rain. Apparently you can do it all year round. It is a long thin country so the weather differs a lot from north to south. Autumn (from August – October) must be the best time, still hot little rain.
      I think late December it is dry which is nice, but it is quite cool, it can be foggy this time of the year that is not so nice and cold in the moutains (about 5C). Safe travel!

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