When we began planning out our epic motorbike journey through Vietnam, we felt totally overwhelmed! There’s a lot of information online but it can be hard to sift through. We’re working on putting together TONS of content for you guys related to our motorbiking journey, so expect lots of information in the coming weeks.
To kick off this series, we wanted to share some answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions we’ve gotten since we started this trip. A lot of folks have reached out on Instagram or via email with thoughtful questions, and we’ve also met people along the way who want to know about the logistics of planning such a trip, so without further ado, here is part one of our frequently-asked questions for motorbiking through Vietnam!
Where did you get your bike?
Purchasing a bike from a backpacker for $200-$300 isn't hard in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, but most bikes are in pretty bad shape and may need constant repairs throughout your journey. We opted to rent a 110cc Honda Blade instead, which came with insurance and the option to send one of our packs to our final destination - crucial as we only used one bike between us. We used Tigit Motorbikes, which has offices located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and offers one-way rentals for up to 35 days. Just be sure to book in advance as they don't have a huge surplus of bikes.
If nothing but the classic beat-up Honda Win will do it for you (we get it, they look badass), we recommend visiting popular hostels (you can use HostelWorld for reference) and asking around or looking for flyers. We saw tons of people selling bikes so it's really not difficult. There are bike mechanics literally every half mile in almost all of VIetnam, so you'll never be far from help if something breaks down, and repairs are dirt-cheap.
How far do you travel each day?
I would not recommend traveling more than 200km in a day. That distance can take anywhere between 4-6 hours depending on the terrain, and you do not want to find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere once the sun sets. It becomes very uncomfortable to be on a bike for long periods of time, and we found we needed at least a 10 minute break every hour or so.
Automatic, semi-automatic, or manual?
This wholly depends on your level of experience on a motorbike as well as your experience driving manual vehicles. We have met backpackers who had zero experience on a motorbike, but have been driving stick their entire lives, so manual was no problem for them. Driving semi-automatic or manual is much more fun and engaging, so if you do have a good amount of experience on automatic motorbikes I would recommend at least going for the semi-automatic. It's easy to learn.
How did you plan your route?
There aren't many resources to help plan a good route online, especially ones that points out good places to stop along the way. Jenny is working on compiling our route information as we go, which we will absolutely be posting on the site ASAP. We took vietnamcoracle.com's classic route as a base, integrated advice from friends and people we met along the way, and then made our own personal adjustments when necessary. My best advice is to always plan at least 2 or 3 days ahead or you may find yourself stranded or questioning where to go next.
What about insurance?
It is technically illegal for any non-Vietnamese to drive a motorcycle in Vietnam, regardless of whether or not you have an international driver's license or a motorcycle license in your home country. Because of this, no health insurance can cover you for any motorcycle related injuries. Unfortunately, it is just a risk you have to be willing to take. If you do a rental you can get collision and damage waiver insurance on the bike, which is a complete no-brainer. For $30 you no longer have to worry about any sort of dings and scratches that you may accumulate over the course of your journey (and you will get a lot). I'm not sure how exactly it works if you need to purchase new parts, but motorbike repairs are so cheap in Vietnam I wouldn't worry about it.
How did you find accommodation?
Typically we try to map out our route including all overnight stops a day or two in advance. Then we’ll use Agoda and/or HostelWorld to book a room (Booking.com is a decent backup but Agoda is the best in Vietnam). This gives us a concrete location we can route our Google Maps directions to, and it gives us peace of mind to know we have a room booked. Sometimes that’s not possible - we might be going to a town with no rooms listed on any of our apps, for example - in which case we look out for signs labeled Nha Nghi which is the Vietnamese word for motel. Sometimes nha nghi can have a seedy connotation (they are occasionally used for illicit romantic trysts) but a good rule of thumb is to avoid places that rent rooms by the hour (and just go with your gut, if it looks sketchy it probably is). That’s uncommon though - most nha nghi are just good old-fashioned guesthouses and they’re located all over the country - almost as plentiful as roadside mechanics! Just always make sure to do a bedbug check before unpacking.
How long does it take to get from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City?
If you only spend one night at each stop you can easily make it to HCMC in two weeks, maybe less. There are quite a few stops where you will want at least 2 or 3 days, however, so I personally wouldn't give myself less than 20 days. If time is not an issue, definitely spread out your long travel days and take advantage of the wonderful, inexpensive hospitality in Vietnam. For reference, we left Hanoi on March 5 and will be arriving in HCMC on March 29, a grand total of 24 days on the road.
What extra equipment should you bring?
The two most important things are full helmets (not the baseball cap ones locals use) and heavy duty ponchos. Helmets are an obvious one for your own safety and ponchos are a must as it rains often and a normal rain coat will not keep you dry on a motorcycle. You'll also need bungee cords for your luggage and I would recommend a motorcycle phone mount so you'll have easy access to Google maps while you drive. If you go with Tigit or another similar company, they can hook you up with all of these items. Also, be prepared for both hot and cold weather, you really never know the kind of temperatures you'll be facing, especially in the mountains. Vietnam's weather is crazy and changes constantly, so you just kind of have to wing it day by day.
Jenny, are you bored riding in the back?
This is a serious question a fellow traveler asked me one evening. I guess I can see how you might think that if your enjoyment comes from the sheer thrill of driving a motorbike. I, however, don’t know how to drive one. I know a lot of people do this journey without any prior experience, but I think that’s horribly irresponsible, and anyway I only learned how to ride a bicycle a couple years ago (yes, really) so I don’t have enough experience to translate those skills to a heavier piece of machinery. So for me, riding in the back is the only way I’d get to see Vietnam via motorbike.
Am I bored? HELL no - I can’t think of anything less boring! Normally I put in my headphones and queue up a few hours’ worth of podcasts or listen to some music - there's nothing like blasting Rumours by Fleetwood Mac as you cruise through some of the prettiest scenery in the world. Riding in back allows me to really take in our surroundings and I'm not stressed out about driving an unfamiliar piece of machinery in a foreign country with uncertain road and weather conditions. Yes, my butt gets really sore, but that’s about the only major issue I have. If you’re bored on the back of a motorbike cruising through Vietnam, something’s wrong.
What should you do if you're pulled over?
Tigit Motorbikes, the company we rented our bike from, has a useful list on their website so we've borrowed this from there.
If the police stop you:
- Take the keys out of the bike, put them in your pocket.
- Make sure they are real police and ask what you've done wrong.
- Do not give them anything important like your passport, blue card or driver’s license.
- Speak as little English as possible, try to speak in Spanish, German or French and pretend you don’t understand anything.
- Be prepared to have to bribe/pay a small fine. Have small bills (200,000 VND) separated from the rest of your money to give them if required.
Basically, the idea is to not give them any reason to keep you longer than they have to and to make dealing with you so annoying (perceived language barrier, etc) that they can't be bothered to ask you for a lot of money or question you too thoroughly. If you do possess a motorcycle license and international driving permit, this may help you evade a fine but we can't speak to this because, well, we don't have those.
We strongly recommend keeping most of your cash safely hidden in your luggage, and only keeping around 200k dong (roughly $10) on your person/money belt/wallet while driving. You won't need more than that for food or drinks along the way, and if you show a cop where you keep your money they're going to take however much money they see, so make sure it's not more than you're willing to lose!
That's it for now! We hope this information was helpful. Motorbiking Vietnam has been one of the highlights of our trip, and we honestly feel it is the best way to see this beautiful and dynamic country. We're working on lots of content for the blog related to our motorbiking journey and are eager to share our trip report with you.
If you have any other burning questions about our motorbiking experience in Vietnam that weren't answered here, feel free to leave a comment or contact us using the form on our About page with your question, and we'll be sure to answer it in our next FAQ installment!