Last Updated on September 29, 2021 by motologs
Vietnam is one of the best countries to explore on a motorcycle. It is geographically a thin and long strip of land. This makes it easier for travelers to explore it either from South to North or North to South in one go. My journey started in the South and concluded in the North. However, what followed over the next year is many memorable road trips to various places in Vietnam on a motorbike expedition. In this article, you will find some quick tips to remember before you start your motorcycle road trip in Vietnam – Motorbike Road Trip in Vietnam – Beginners Guide.
Getting lost is easy if you don’t know the routes. Many places in the north will need a special permit to enter because of the international border area. If you want to explore the authentic experience then you must do a road trip. And by a road trip, I don’t mean a bus or car journey. It has to be a motorbike where you can feel the air hitting you harmonically. Road trips on the bike will put you in situations that are a mini-adventure in itself. This post includes some of my photographs from the road trips in Vietnam. You can understand what being careless means and why you should not be the one.
Renting a Motorbike in Vietnam
There is plenty of motorbike rental agencies in every major city in Vietnam. It is very easy to find one especially in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or in Hanoi as most of the road trips start in one of these two major cities. The problem is most of the rental agencies don’t use fair practice and are devoid of ethics. Do proper research using online forums and Facebook groups like “Hanoi Massive” and “Ho Chi Minh Expats and Locals“.
Choosing Best Rental Agency
Picking up the right bike is a secondary matter when you choose a good rental agency. Once you get some suggestions for motorbike rental shops, check out their ratings and reviews on forums like google maps and trip advisor. Pick the best three among all and visit their physical shop or rental agency. Do explore all the options they have to offer. Consider good quality and reliable bike among all the motorcycles you inspected. Do take a test ride.
You won’t be able to judge a motorbike after a short ride. Take the bike you want to rent for a day and ride through the city for at least 20-30 KMs. This will help you discover if there’s any problem with the bike. Decide on the rental agreement and other costs in case of loss or theft of the bike. Ask how much you will be charged per day in case of delay in arrival at the destination. Every little thing must be clear and written down. Take digital photos of all the documents.
Make a detailed video of the condition of the bike so that you are not asked to pay for some scratch and dent on the bike that is already there. Most rental agencies give the option to ride from Hanoi to Saigon or Saigon to Hanoi and hand over the bike to one of their contacts or branch in the other city. This means you will not have to ship the motorcycle back to the agency. Most agencies have branches in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to facilitate one-way rides.
Blue Card and Driving Licence
Make sure that you get the Blue Card (Motorbike Registration Card) and any other paperwork that is required by law. Get enough bungee cords to tie your backpack or luggage on the pillion seat. Most bikes that are cheap to rent are low on power. So don’t try tagging a pillion rider if the bike is not powerful enough. Roads especially in the mountains will require at least a 100cc motorbike for a single rider and 150cc for duo motorbikes. An international driving license is required for foreigners and expats to drive a vehicle in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the rule is not enforced stringently.
Wear Full Face Helmet and Gloves
Most riders in Vietnam don’t wear full-face helmets. Wearing a half-face helmet reduces your survival chances by half in case of an accident. Surely you don’t want to risk your life. You never know when luck will run out. safety should be the number one priority in any road trip. Most foreigners, particularly young bulls ride with half-face or no helmet around the countryside. The risk remains the same whether in the remote countryside or in rush highway traffic. I was guilty of flouting safety norms while driving and have learned to drive safely from my Road Trip experiences. Being young we risk too much without thinking about consequences. But as we mature we understand how important it is to wear safety gear while driving a motorbike.
The helmet must have a visor to protect your eyes. Small gravels fly onto your face when you are driving behind a truck or bus. It acts as a projectile and can target your eyes. At least make sure that you have a sunglass on. Also, get yourself a riding glove. If you fall and scrape your hand then it will be difficult to drive. We instinctively use our palms as breaking leverage while falling in case of a crash. Protecting the hands is as important as wearing a helmet. Wearing a small backpack with a pair of clothes is a trick to help you save from minor body injuries. You can either wear it on the back or on the front.
Don’t Ride in Shorts
No matter how hot the weather is, one should never ride a motorbike in shorts for long distances.I have seen almost every second person wearing shorts while doing motorbike trips in Vietnam. This only signifies how inexperienced you are as a rider. Riding on the highway is not equal to walking at My Khe Beach in Danang. If you can’t afford decent riding pants then at least wear good quality jeans. It resists abrasion to a certain degree in case of falls and protects you from lacerations and cuts.
Carry Enough Fuel
Always fill up your motorbike tank with fuel. There are long stretches of roads and countrysides where there is no fuel station. Mark the locations of fuel pumps on the map before starting your journey. This will help you in case you don’t have internet or getting patchy network coverage.
Carry Food to Eat
There will obviously be plenty of food stalls and mini restaurants spread on the roadsides on your road trip. Still, there is a fair chance of getting a bad stomach if you eat food at unreliable locations. You do not wish to fall sick on your road trip especially when you have rented a motorbike in Vietnam. Being Indian, I had no problem with food during my 18 months in Vietnam, except for one day when I ate raw oysters. Packaged snacks are okay to eat anywhere. You can eat at clean food stalls. Carry some high-energy snacks like dry fruits. It comes in handy on short breaks down the road.
Arrange the First Aid Kit
Carry one small first aid kit in your luggage during the road trip. Here is the list of items for the road trip first aid kit. In case you don’t need it then it may be helpful to someone else on your road trip. Helping fellow riders is an essential element of biker ethics.
Staying At Hostel vs Hotel in Vietnam
There are numerous hostels and hotels in every city in Vietnam. Being a tourism-oriented country you will have plenty of hotels and hostels to choose from. Hostels are inexpensive and the best place to stay if you are traveling without a group. If you need privacy then prefer hotels. However, hostels will help you find fellow travelers that you may tag along on the journey. Group means added safety.
Avoid Shady Motels
A quick online check will help you sort the best value-for-money hostels to say in. There are also many homestays and Airbnb homes to chose from in every city on the road trip. Ensure that you get a safe parking space for your motorbike at the place where you are staying overnight.
Many hostels don’t have secure motorbike parking facilities. Before you book or check into a hostel/hotel ask the reception about parking and security. Take all your luggage with you into the locker and don’t leave anything on the bike. Bike theft is pretty common in touristy cities like Saigon, DaNang, and Hanoi. Hoi An, Dalat, and Hue are considerably safer.
Plan your Route
There are two ways to travel in Vietnam. Either start in North and Finish in South or start in South and Finish in North. This depends on how you wish to pace your journey. You can not go wrong with either of the choices. To understand better consider Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) as the financial capital of Vietnam and Hanoi as the cultural capital of Vietnam.
I would advise you to start in Ho Chi Minh and conclude in Hanoi. Hanoi itself is central to many other destinations for a road trip. You can go to Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba, SaPa in Lao Cai, Ha Giang, Ban Gioc and Lang Son from Hanoi. All these locations are some of the best road trip destinations in Vietnam.
Vietnam Road Trip Route North to South
The entire Route from South to North Vietnam Road trip will be in the following order:
Ho Chi Minh City – Mekong Delta – Phan Thiet – Dalat – Dak Lak or Nha Trang – Qui Nhon – Hoi An – Da Nang – Hue – Vinh – Tanh Hoa – Ninh Binh – Hanoi – Halong Bay – Sapa – Ha Giang – Cao Bang – Lang Son – Hanoi.
The Vietnamese name of the cities in this road trip route is Hồ Chí Minh – Mekong – Phan Thiết – Đà Lạt – Đắk Lắk / Nha Trang – Qui Nhơn – Hội An – Da Nang – Huế – Vinh – Thanh Hóa – Ninh Binh – Ha Noi – Hạ Long Bay – Sa Pa – Hà Giang – Cao Bằng – Lạng Sơn – Ha Noi.
I will be explaining all these locations and other details in another post.
Don’t Do Drugs
No matter what city you are in, you will always be approached by drug peddlers. Stay away from them. I have seen tourists choking due to fake drugs and their belongings being snatched away. If you need drugs on a road trip then better don’t go for a road trip. There is no better drug than being able to explore new places with all your senses intact and functioning. You can drink and party every night during your stopovers but strictly avoid any illegal drugs. They may spoil your entire road trip and in many cases entire life.
Keep Valuables with yourself
Whenever you leave your hostel or hotel. Take expensive items like a camera or jewelry with you in a backpack. Don’t leave any expensive gadget or item unattended. There are many begpackers who beg, scam, and steal to fund their trip. Even the staff at shady motels and hostels can’t be trusted. One of my road trip acquaintances lost her laptop in a reputed hostel after leaving it in the hostel locker.
Carry International Driving Licence
In most cases, you will not have any problem driving in Vietnam on your native driving license. However, be aware that it is illegal to drive in Vietnam without an International Driving Licence. I have seen travelers getting away without fines and in some rare cases with bribes. Most traffic policemen don’t want to get entangled with foreigners as it may involve their embassy. Nonetheless, you must respect the law of the land and carry valid documents and license to drive in Vietnam.
This concludes our Motorbike Road Trip in Vietnam – Beginners Guide. We will be updating the article with the latest information and details regularly. Leave a comment below if you got any tips or interesting stories from Vietnam Motorbike Road Trip.