Vietnam motorcycle trip – backpacker’s guide
Vietnam motorcycle trip. I have been traveling for almost five years and crossing Vietnam by motorcycle 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 TO TRAVEL VIETNAM BY MOTORBIKE
- 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
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 and this Facebook page 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.
- Paper registration (Blue card) – MAKE SURE YOU GET ONE WITH YOUR BIKE!
- VERY IMPORTANT NOT TO LOOSE! this 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?
IS IT SAFE TO RIDE A MOTORBIKE IN VIETNAM?
Safe is an arbitrary concept, but I won’t call it very safe. 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.
VIETNAM MOTORCYCLE 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.
- Accomodation: Ninh Bin Downtown Backpacker Hostel, bed in a dormitory $6, double room $14
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
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 to Hoi An 200km, 5h
- Hoi An is a nice riverside town, we stayed a couple of days
- 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: Yellow House Homestay dormitory bed $5, double room $14
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
- Vin Pearl Island
- National Oceanographic Institute
- Accommodation: Backpack Hostel dormitory bed $6, double room $14
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: Backpack Hostel dormitory bed $4, double room $14
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: Muine Hills Budget Hotel dormitory bed $6, double room $14
Muine to Ho Chi Min (Saigon), 220km, 6h
- Coming into Ho Chi Min is insane, crazy traffic turned into super crazy traffic. We were very lucky we meeting 2 Dutch guys on the road with an iphone. We followed them to the hostel area.
- Interesting city, war and military museums, nice palaces. Cool party city, drinking beer and talking nonsense on little chairs on the sidewalks. Club scene kicks in late.
- We did a one day tour to the Mekong Delta. Typical tour, you do not get to experience the real culture. You take turns with many other tourists to float on a little section of river. Just a show for tourists, I would not recommend it.
- Ha Long Bay, 2 night boat and island trip
- Dalat, Easy rider 1 day bike trip, “shit coffee”, elephant falls, cricket farm etc,
- Sapa, 2 Day trek through rice paddies, homestay with local family
- Diving, Nha Trang, triple Scuba day on coral reefs of Nha Trang
- Vin Moc tunnels, tour to Vietnamese tunnels in US war, Dong Ha
- My Son, Ruins of the champa temples close to Hanoi
- Muine, White and Red sand dunes
- Night life Saigon, Partying on the sidewalk bars of the crazy Ho Chi Min city
Vietnam motorcycle trip costs
Sold Bike: 125$
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$, Visas 70$
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
Do you need a license?
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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