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Tips for riding motorbikes in Vietnam

June 20, 2016 5:11 pm

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Most backpackers travelling Southeast Asia have considered the bucket list experience of buying a motorbike and riding the length of Vietnam, yet not everyone attempts the full almost 2000km journey. Without a doubt it will be up there as one of the most rewarding backpacking experiences. The trip weaves its way through beautiful Vietnamese landscapes and really goes off the beaten track immersing the rider in the beautiful people and cultures Vietnam.

Get a 90 day visa and go slow

If you’re planning to ride the whole country then definitely go for at least a 90-day visa, although it is perfectly doable with the standard 30-day visa. These extra days allow for a more comfortable and relaxed ride, with less riding per day being easier on you and the bike, and a slower ride also being safer. It also allows for any breakdowns or extended stays in any of the places you visit along the way.

You don’t have to ride the whole country

Although nothing beats the achievement of doing the whole country, doing parts can be rewarding without the commitment. Your bike is an investment, you can buy or sell one in most towns meaning you can ride until you get bored of it. Also you can hire bikes for certain legs, for example the Hai Van pass between Hoi An and Hue.

Views from the Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

Views from the Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

Get a Honda Win   

They’re cheap, relatively easy to ride and the majority of people in Vietnam have one, so everyone knows how to fix them. I know people who have attempted the trip on Automatic and Semi-Automatic motorbikes but everyone I spoke to who completed the journey did it on a Honda Win.

Get it serviced before you set off

Unless you know a lot about bikes, it’s definitely worth getting your new purchase checked before heading out on the road. If you have extra cash you could always get a custom paint job as well.

If you want to save money go North to South

I’m not sure how much this has changed since I was there a couple of years ago but it seemed most people travelled from South to North meaning that lots of people are buying in Ho Chi Minh and selling in Hanoi. If you go against the trend you should be able to pick one up cheaper in Hanoi and sell for more in Ho Chi Minh due to the demand.

Exploring the northern Vietnam hills by motorbike

Exploring the northern Vietnam hills by motorbike

Your bike is going to break down sometime

Regardless of who you get your bike from it’s going to break down at some point. Whether it was from a friendly, seemingly trustworthy backpacker or a cut-throat Vietnamese mechanic it’s ultimately a gamble. These bikes are old and have had countless repairs so it’s really down to luck when and how many times it will break down. But don’t let repeated breakdowns get you down – Vietnam has 37-million registered motorbikes, so there’s a lot of people who will be happy to fix it for you.

Explore the smaller roads

By staying off the main highway you’ll generally have a nicer ride, they’ll be less busy and you’ll see more of the landscape and towns. But be careful with smaller mountainous roads as some of these are awful condition.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

The beautiful Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

The AH1 isn’t that bad

Regardless of how much time you spend on smaller roads, you’ll still spend a lot of time on Vietnam’s main highway the AH1. I heard awful stories about this before setting off but in reality it isn’t that bad. At times it can be choked with huge trucks and thousands of bikes but just take it steady and you’ll be okay.

Just do it and learn on the road

One of the most daunting things is the thought of getting started when you’re not that experienced on a bike, especially when you have to face the traffic of Ho Chi Minh. Set off early and ride when there’s less traffic to escape the city. Once you’re out hit the smaller roads and build up your riding confidence.

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