Vietnam by Motorbike – The Essential Guide
When you find people who are in love with Vietnam, nine times out of ten they found that love while riding on a motorbike. Whether that was in the labyrinth of alleyways that make up Hanoi, next to the remote beaches of Phu Quoc, or between the emerald rice paddies of Ninh Binh. Biking in Vietnam is the quintessential SE Asia travel experience.
Buying and riding a motorbike in Vietnam sounds pretty daunting. Heck, it is pretty daunting. However, there are ways to reduce that risk. When buying a motorbike in Vietnam you should be aware of 2 crucial safety rules.
Firstly, always buy a bike with a “blue card”, this credit-card-sized document works as proof of ownership. Not only will this be necessary if you lose your bike or get in legal trouble, it means that when the time comes to sell, you won’t have any troubles. Untrustworthy sellers might tell you that you don’t need a blue card. Don’t listen to them, even if they’re willing to knock off an extra $50. If a seller does not have a blue card there is a good chance the bike is stolen.
The second rule is to get your motorbike checked out at a mechanic. If you get in touch with Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam, we can guide you towards some reliable, English speaking ones. Most people buy motorbikes that are second-hand, or more likely third, fourth, or fifth-hand. These bikes can cost anywhere between $150 to $500. We would be suspicious of any bike being sold to a foreigner for under $220, although occasionally you’ll find a bargain. For $500, you can get yourself something pretty cool. If you buy a brand new bike, it should be safer and more reliable, but you can also expect to pay a significantly higher price tag.
If you’re not feeling confident on the roads (or even if you are), we highly recommend you get some local driving lessons (again TFV can help-out). Instructors can take you through the basics of driving and also acquaint you with some of Vietnam’s more unusual driving rules. Learn those rules well and pay extra attention to the following dangers:
- Drunk Drivers: Vietnamese men tend to drink quite a lot, be prepared for drink-drivers at any time of day and in any mode of transport. Expect the unexpected and don’t do it yourself. As a side point, be aware that “xe-om” motorbike taxi drivers are known to enjoy a drink too. Be aware of this possibility, especially late at night. Don’t be afraid to change your mind, even if you’ve agreed on a fare.
- Slow Riders: Older drivers will often swerve in front of you without warning, many drivers don’t even have wing-mirrors and rarely look over their shoulders. See the driving rules for more information on this.
- Larger Vehicles: Trucks, busses, taxis, and SUV’s often think they own the road and don’t pay much attention to small motorbikes. Unlike in the western world, the vast majority of Vietnamese transport is on two wheels and it’s the four-wheeled variety that causes most of the problems.
- Poor Road Surfaces: “You call that a pothole, this is a pothole”
- Night Driving: Chances are, your motorbike lights aren’t going to be very bright. The same is true of your fellow road users. Be careful, and never drive on the motorway at night.
Even in the city, you’ll occasionally escape the chaos of the traffic and find a quiet spot. We urge you even in these times to resist the temptation to drive fast; Vietnam even at its most tranquil, is still an unpredictable environment.
Now that the doom and gloom is out of the way. Let’s finish on a high-note. Traveling Vietnam by motorbike feels like a living paradise. From the northern highlands to the southern beaches, Vietnam becomes a playground for the senses, just waiting for you and your bike to explore it. One of the most popular road-trips in Asia is the journey from Hanoi to Saigon (or vice-versa), this can be done individually or in a tour, but beware, it’s not for the faint hearted!
Bonus Tip: If you’re planning to motorbike across Vietnam. You can buy a motorbike from one major city and sell it in the next! Alternatively, there are some companies with offices in both major cities, allowing you to rent the bike at one end and drop it off at the other.
Written by Alex Sinclair Lack for Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam