Riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam is becoming a popular tourist activity. But there’s more to it than just getting a bike and riding off.
Buying a Motorbike
Finding a Used Motorcycle
In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City there several places to locate motorcycles:
Many central hostels will advertise motorbikes on behalf of backpackers who have just completed their journey. Take a walk around the hostels to see what ads they have. If there aren’t any ads the hostel manager may be able to get you in touch with a Used Motorbike Yard.
Some backpackers advertise online at craigslist or similar. There are also companies who remodel motorcycles and sell them online to backpackers. While these bikes are usually a little more costly than buying direct from other backpackers, they tend to be better maintained.
There are plenty of small sales stores in both District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City and Old Quarter of Hanoi. They tend to rent more often but do buy and sell. Sometimes they will put you in touch with a Used Motorcycle Yard.
Used Motorbike Yards
In Hanoi there are several used motorbike yards and most offer pick up services. They usually have large selections split by age and type. Once you’ve selected a group they will let you ride several before you pick the best. Along with the bike they usually provide registration, helmet, a map, a pack rack and often a waterproof sheet for your bags.
When a backpacker completes a trip through Vietnam, they usually don’t get the bike serviced before trying to sell it. Keep this in mind when buying a bike and make some arrangements to put the bike in for a service. There should be mechanics aplenty in the central cities or ask your hostel manager for advice or look for an ad on the Internet.
Most motorbikes in Vietnam are under 250CC with the most common bike being 125cc. It’s rare to see a larger bike as it’s very expensive to import them or to cross the border with them.
This is fairly subjective, but a cheaper bike should be between US$200 and US$300. After completing the tour on a bike under US$300 I would NEVER recommend anyone buy a bike in this range. While there’s no guarantees, generally the newer the bike the less likely it will be to break down but the more it will cost. I would recommend buying a bike around US$400-500.
It’s illegal for a bike to be ridden on the Vietnamese roads without having a blue motorcycle registration ticket. When buying a bike ensure that it has one and that the number on it matches the one of the bike. Failure to have a registration for the bike will lead to confiscation of the bike and a heavy fine.
It’s also illegal for a non-Vietnamese national to own a Vietnamese bike. The registration you get with the bike will have a Vietnamese name on it. It’s because of this that most travel insurers WILL NOT cover accidents on a motorcycle in Vietnam.
Just because some of the locals don’t wear helmets, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. While the bike should come with a helmet, make sure it’s a full helmet and not just a the ‘helmet’ hats the locals wear. Safety first.
Wet Weather Gear
It will rain during your trip although it’s more likely to rain along the Ho Chi Minh Highway then along the coast. Make sure you have quality waterproof clothing and be aware that with the amount of rain, GoreTex may not be enough to keep you dry. Pick up a heavy duty poncho to wear over other rain gear. It should be long enough to cover your pack as well.
Rain Covers For Your Pack
A simple pack cover won’t keep your pack dry. Buy some rubbish bags and pack everything inside them before putting them in your pack. Then wrap your pack in a waterproof sheet. Better to have something dry to change into when you arrive than to have wet clothing.
Carrying Your Gear
If the bike has a pack rack, it should come with a strong piece of cord or stretch hook cable as well. Be aware that often the fuel tank is under the seat, so having to untie your pack every time you refuel can be annoying, especially in the rain. I rode with my pack over my shoulder and sitting on the seat behind me. It was comfortable, balanced and didn’t get in the way.
Picking a route can be more difficult than you think. There are many stop offs and side routes. Buy a map and have a look around the internet for routes other riders have taken. The distance from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is 1,795 km, but it is more realistic to plan for 2,500 km. If you ride for more than 250km a day, that’s all you’ll be doing each day. My trip was 23 days including rest days with 4 days in each of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. With only a 1 month visa I didn’t get to see everything I would have liked to.
While it’s a romantic notion to use a paper map to guide you on your tour, the majority of Vietnam doesn’t have good road signs. It can be done, but can be frustrating when it’s pouring with rain and you get to a fork in the road with no road signs. Having a GPS or a smartphone with a local SIM is the more modern means to navigate. However, rain can still be an annoying feature, so ensure that you have a waterproof case/pouch for your phone/GPS. Mine got wet and I had to buy a cheap smartphone to navigate by.
Next time, Tips Once On The Road,