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.
In Tips for Motorcycling in Vietnam – Part 1 I discussed Buying a bike and making preparations before leaving. In part 2 I look at what you’ll need once you’re on the road.
Part 2 – Tips For On The Road
My personal preference is to book accommodation one night ahead so I know where I’m riding to and not waste time roving around looking for hotels when I could be exploring. Booking ahead is easy using Hostelworld.com for major tourist locations, Booking.com or Agoda.com for more out-of-the-way places. Pre-booking is often handy when you’re next stop is off the beaten track and the staff at the hotel are unlikely to speak english.
A cheap hotel room in out-of-the-way places should cost around US$10 per night and include a double bed, ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, a fan and cable TV, although most don’t include breakfast. In the more touristic locations a single bed in a dorm will cost you US$10 per night but will include breakfast. Hotel prices tend to be more expensive towards the south of Vietnam.
Police and Bribes
It’s fairly common on major highways to see police stops. While they’re usually targeting trucks, they’ll pull over motorcycles from time to time, waving their baton at the vehicles they want to pull over. Luckily the majority of Vietnamese police officers don’t speak english so when they see your backpack or skin colour they’ll just wave you on.
For the number of police stops I passed on my journey I was only flagged down once, on my very first day. But when I pulled over the officer decided he couldn’t be bothered and waved me on. For the unlucky who do get stopped by an english speaking officer, they’re likely targeting you for a bribe and are expecting US$10 to let you on your way.
For the most part, the speed limit on Vietnamese roads is only 40 km/h. On the open highway this increases to 60 km/h. On some major highways the limit can rise to 80 km/h but motorcycles are still limited to 60.
Daily Distance and Time to Leave
For my average day’s journey of 175 km, I found leaving at about 9 a.m. gave me 5.5 – 6 hours on the road and several hours to explore my destination once I arrived. If you plan to stay at your destination more than one night, leaving later is fine, but there shouldn’t be a need to ever ride in the dark.
The Roads of Vietnam
Compared to Laos or Cambodia, the roads in Vietnam are pretty good. Minor roads through the mountains can have some areas of potholes, while more country roads can be terrible or just plain dirt roads. There shouldn’t be a need to use them often so avoid them if you can help it.
While the major highways are usually excellent, the Asian Highway 1 (AH1) that runs the length of the country had so many road works it was like the government decided to upgrade the entire 2,500 km length all at the same time. Take routes alternative to the AH1 if you can.
Vietnamese Road Rules
After much study I’ve been able to determine many aspects that may be useful to know on the roads in Vietnam. They fill an entire post, so check them at Road Rules in Vietnam.
The most common issue you’ll have is a flat tyre. For other problems, unless the motorcycle you bought was brand new you’re likely to have at least one issue. The older the bike the more likely it will break down. Most of these problems will be based on old or dodgy Chinese parts.
When your bike has a problem it’s generally easy to find someone to repair it. Flat tyres are easy although if the rubber of the tyre has sustained damage it may need to be replaced. Away from the major cities and towns there are many small-time mechanics just waiting for you to roll up to their little shop in the middle of nowhere.
If the damage is significant enough they’ll have to ride to a more major location to get parts. They’ll likely charge you excessively for this repair, knowing that you’ll have little choice but to pay. In towns and cities there’s more competition so prices are cheaper and repair times shorter.
Servicing and Oil Changes
For best performance your bike’s oil should be changed every 500 km. This isn’t a difficult or expensive procedure and most small-time mechanics can do it in about 5 minutes. It may also be prudent to have your bike serviced at least twice during the trip to ensure best operation of the bike. This should include cleaning out the air filter, greasing the bearings, checking the fuel lines and battery connection points.
Along the coastal route there are plenty of Petrolimex stations and as long as you keep your fuel topped up there shouldn’t be a need to carry extra fuel. Along the Ho Chi Minh Highway there are less gas stations and areas where it is wise to carry a spare bottle of fuel just in case.
Some locals fill bottles with petrol and sell them out front of their houses, while others have their own pump. Avoid these home pumps if possible as there’s no clear indication of how much fuel you’re using and the locals will generally overcharge you for it.
Have fun on the road, it’s an adventure worth doing if you’re prepared.
Until next time,