A six-month Vietnam motorcycle adventure we will never forget!
We’re Leon and Tash, an ordinary couple from New Zealand. In 2018 we decided to have an extraordinary adventure in Vietnam for a year. What we planned and what we ended up doing, were two very different things. Do we regret any of it? Absolutely not!
Riding motorbikes was definitely not part of the planning process when we decided to travel Vietnam for a year. Thanks to the epic experience, it won’t be the last time either, that’s for sure!
So, what made us brave the notorious wild roads of Vietnam? It wasn’t Top Gear, trust us!
Turns out it was easier to plan and prepare for a Vietnam motorcycle adventure than we first thought. We’ll share with you how we planned and prepared for this trip and what we learnt along the way
After living in Da Nang for three months we realized that there was so much to see and do in this amazing country. Then we actually started to wonder if a year would be enough to see all of it.
While there are oodles of drool-worthy tours to choose from, we wanted to see more than just the usual tourist traps.
So, what is the best way to go travelling around Vietnam? You guessed it, motorbikes!
If you’re wondering, we do have motorcycle riding experience and proper motorcycle licenses. We agree with many others who do too, that it went a long way towards increasing our survival. More on that shortly.
Why should you consider a motorbike trip around Vietnam?
It’s simple really.
Traveling by motorbike offers a freedom to travel your way, on your own time, exploring what you want to.
What about that statement isn’t appealing?
We’ve done plenty of buses, planes, trains and tours in all our travels. This method was by far one of the best ways we’ve ever traveled.
If you are the type of traveler who wants to experience a destination your way, then this type of adventure may just be what you’re looking for.
Vietnam might look small on a world map but we assure you, there are a million things to see and do. The trick is to fit everything into one trip.
Planning and preparation are king! The more effort you put into before you get on the bike, the better chances you have of a great trip!
Riding in Vietnam
Is it safe to ride in Vietnam?
Aaah, the all-important first question.
Short answer, no.
The planned and prepared answer is YES. Guys, we’re not going to sugarcoat this. You need to be realistic if you’re going to choose this option.
Vietnam has the second highest fatality rate in the world. It’s a fact, not a fantasy!
Sadly, part of that is due to inexperienced foreigners, climbing on two wheels for the first time, thinking it’s going to be a blast.
And before you roast me, yes, you can get on a bike with no riding experience and have a good time. After all, Insta has plenty of evidence from people who have done so successfully.
But ask yourself this first. How much is your life worth?
Couple the above with laxed locals driving around like it’s wild west and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
Do I need experience to ride a motorcycle?
This was something we saw a lot of on back roads and town outskirts and made our blood run cold. Watching foreigners buy a motorcycle from a local and then have the locals teach them how to ride.
Basic riding experience is a necessity! It’s understanding how the bike operates and reacts in a situation and how you use that knowledge to stay alive.
Advanced skills are a bonus too but even that isn’t fool proof.
And if you’re sitting there going ‘yeah, yeah, whatever!’, then think about this.
Why would you go to a country with high road fatalities to learn how to ride one of the most exposed forms of transport in the world?
No seat belt, no impact protection, no chance if it goes sideways in a bad way.
Is it easy to plan a Vietnam motorcycle trip?
Yes, it is!
Connectivity is easy to find, amazingly cheap and amazingly good all over Vietnam which means you can navigate easily, look-and-book as you go or plan ahead of time. It all depends on your chosen itinerary.
We had a planned itinerary of places we had to see, wanted to see (if we had time) and everything we saw in between was a bonus. We’ll touch on our routes in a bit.
To find the best routes we initially looked at Vietnam Coracle.
Tom has some great routes, info and advice and it’s a good place to start your research. His Facebook page is a good place to interact with likewise travelers.
Another useful resource is the Vietnam Back Roads Facebook page. If you need updates on routes or road conditions as you go, then this is the perfect group to join.
It wasn’t as hard as we thought and we got pretty much anywhere using Google Maps.
It did fail us a few times and that is a given, no matter how good you think your app or tool is, you will get lost at some point. Don’t worry, it won’t take long to get you back on the right path either.
Length of travel
The length of you your trip will depend on how much time you have and how much you want to see. Most people can squeeze north to south or vice versa into two weeks.
If you only want to see the highlights (i.e. HCMC – Da Lat – Nha Trang – Da Nang/Hoi An – Hue – Ha Long – Sapa – Hanoi) then you could squeeze them into two weeks but you might kick yourself for missing out on some awesome activities.
This is where you need to know what you want to see and how long you want to spend in each place. Our DIY motorcycle tour page will give you some insight on travel times and distances if you are curious.
It was so easy to book and there are a multitude of options and hostels aren’t the only cheapest options either. We booked most of our accommodation on the fly and most were the same price if not cheaper than hostels.
The biggest difference was we always had a private room with a bathroom. We love sharing but not when we’re in need of a decent sleep and a hot shower.
Also, not all accommodation options are available on English websites either. For the smaller towns, you might have to ride around to look for a hotel. Look for signs with the words nhà nghỉ / khách sạn (hotel) or nhà trọ (hostel) and nhà khách (guesthouse).
Vietnam's road rules and traffic conditions
There is method to the madness, we promise!
It may not seem that way when looking from the sidewalk but Vietnam does have road rules.
We have on several occasions seen them enforced as well.
Below are ones to take note of and a few that might raise some eyebrows.
Yes, speed limits are real. For motorcycles it’s 40km/h in and around towns and cities and 60km/h on main roads and highways.
To westerners 40 km/h sounds like a slow slog but trust us, you wouldn’t want to be going any faster than that in congested areas.
Leon did get pulled over once for speeding outside of Pleiku. We were doing 60km/h but apparently it was a 50km/h zone (and of course there was nothing to back that up).
We didn’t have to part with any cash thankfully. The officer simply pointed to the speedometer and yelled ‘fifty’ at Leon before sending him on his way again, lol.
Very compulsory. Even if you are the pillion passenger (the one sitting behind the rider), you have to wear a helmet. Not only for your own safety but for insurance purposes as well!
We’re not here to tell you what to do but think about what your brain is worth to you. Not to mention what you’ll lose if you don’t have it anymore or it can’t function optimally.
It’s a no-no, especially in Vietnam where it is a big problem. Irrespective of the location, you should never drink and drive. Under any circumstances!
As far as we can tell, the limit is 50mg of alcohol to 100ml of blood. Don’t go thinking you’re off the hook if you’re lower than this either. If you test positive for alcohol in your system, no matter how much, you could be in for a world of hurt.
Two up only
Only two riders per bike please. This is a legit law in Vietnam, regardless of what you see on the roads and you’ll see some weird stuff!
No doubt about it, the Vietnamese have awesome mad skills but we don’t advise copying them.
It’s hard enough riding in the madness, you don’t need to add to it by trying to operate your phone at the same time.
Accidents kill. Leave your phone in a secure pocket. That way you travel safer and your phone can’t get snatched off you. Win-win, right?
This will happen to you! (Cue rofl!)
You just set off in a new direction, eager to see what the road holds, until you get to your first left turn or bend.
Everything is going swell until you hear an almighty racket coming from below your feet. The bike decides to go into rodeo mode for no good reason you can see and in a split second, it’s all on!
If you’re lucky, you’ll only get a warning tap. If you’re unlucky you’ll end up face planting the tarmac and possibly trying to avoid oncoming traffic. We had plenty of warning taps and thankfully no face plants.
Oh, and it’s illegal in Vietnam to ride with your kickstand down. You can even cop a fine if law enforcement decides to ping you for it. True story.
The staple of Vietnamese motorcycle riding! Horns are everything from a proximity warning system to indicators and general traffic communication.
What you might not know is that some towns have ‘No Horn’ areas. We couldn’t figure out why they had these areas but they looked enforced. If the locals aren’t honking then there is a really good reason to follow suit.
Riding side by side
If you’re not one of the cool kids with helmet comms, it might seem like a good idea to ride next to each other and have a good ‘ol chin wag.
We don’t recommend this. One it’s not safe and two, it is actually illegal and the po-po might pull you over (never a fun experience).
Helping others that have broken down
We saw plenty of this and it was hilarious to watch in action. Old mate in the front rolling down the road, sucking on a fag but there is no noise coming from the engine.
That’s because he broke down somewhere and now is friend is helping him out by pushing him down the road using his motorcycle and foot.
Funny as hell to watch but entirely illegal. If you break down, get a mate to give you a lift or go get help. We don’t recommend taking things into your, eerrmm own feet? (wink-wink).
General traffic conditions
It’s crazy everywhere you go on the roads!
From our experience we concluded that the open road was much more dangerous than the craziness of the congestion.
In cities and towns, you have to ride around that 40km/h mark and that is actually a good thing. At that speed you can keep an eye on things and give yourself enough time to react property.
Right of way
Out on the open road it’s pretty much free for all. The rule of thumb is, if it’s bigger than you it has right of way.
Trucks and buses (of all sizes), take that a up a notch by pretty much being road bullies. They will use any part of the road they want and one, not give you time to find a safe spot to get out of the way; or two, possibly just take you out if you don’t get out of the way.
It’s not a joke and it’s not a lie. We were almost taken out by a not only a 52-seat bus but also the petrol tanker behind it. They simply got tired of sitting behind traffic and decided to use our side of the road.
One of the things we learnt while doing an advanced riding course was to stay calm. Using the 52-seater as an example again. When it was barreling towards us, my handlebar was right up against the safety barrier as that bus got closer and closer. It got close enough for me to consider jumping the barrier last second.
Thankfully it didn’t come to that but it was an eye-opening experience! That was on day one of the trip too by the way.
The exception is when there is strict law enforcement around. You’ll know they’re there because the locals suddenly start following all the road rules. So, keep your eyes peeled and learn to read traffic.
Overall impression of road conditions
It’s no secret that the road conditions in Vietnam can vary from brand new, fresh seal to the scariest thing you can imagine.
For the most part we had decent conditions and even got to ride on some semi-new roads which was bliss.
We also came across some areas where we couldn’t even see a road.
Then, our all-time favorite, roads disappearing all together.
We hit one spot where a three-meter-long section collapsed causing a two-meter gap.
We couldn’t see it until we were right on top of it. (Another good reason to stick to the 60km/h speed limit we recon.)
Think about these things when you’re on the road and always stay vigilant. It is all part of the adventure after all.
Day vs Nigh riding
You will hear many things, but this was our experience.
We chose to ride only in daylight hours purely for safety. On two occasions we left HCMC at 4 AM to avoid peak hour traffic.
What we encountered, even at that hour, was drunk drivers, people falling asleep at the helm and tour buses rampaging towards their destinations. Not a care for road rules, safety and consequences.
We didn’t go there
Night riding was not an option. The roads are at the most dangerous at night, simply because law enforcement doesn’t operate at night. Think about that for a bit.
We’re not telling you about the negatives to sound dramatic or scare you off. As we said in the beginning, we don’t sugar coat stuff. If you come here and want to do your own Vietnam motorcycle adventure, by all means do it. But do it SAFELY. Don’t come here to then leave on an emergency flight or worse, a box. Nobody wants that.
Driver's Licenses - Do you need one in Vietnam?
Short answer is, yes. As with most things in Vietnam, it’s not a straight forward process.
Let’s start with your home driver’s license.
In most countries, a standard car license might include riding a moped (also known as a scooter) with an engine capacity of 50 cc or less. Anything bigger than that will need a motorcycle endorsement.
Manual vs. Auto
Some countries issue separate endorsements for manual and automatic motorcycle transmissions.
Generally speaking, an automatic endorsement only permits the operation of an automatic transmission. Manual endorsements usually cover both.
Make sure to check the criteria with your local transport authority.
It is possible to find 50 cc motorcycles in Vietnam. They are not common and we don’t recommend taking them on a 2,000-kilometer road trip. They’re just not designed for that purpose and probably won’t last the distance.
The most popular choices for road trips are the 110 cc to 150 cc capacity motorcycles. We’ll touch more on this in a bit.
In Vietnam, motorcycle licenses are mandatory. You’ll need one that allows you to ride motorcycles with an engine capacity of up to 175 cc (also known as an A1). Most of the motorcycles in that capacity range are automatic or semi-automatic but there are some manuals options too.
International Driver’s Permit (IDP)
Pretty much any country you want to drive in, will require an International Driver’s Permit (or IDP) in conjunction with your normal driver’s license. Vietnam is no exception.
Here is the catch for using an IDP in Vietnam.
Your IDP has to abide by the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, for it to be legal in Vietnam. Most countries are signatories to the 1949 Geneva convention, which is not recognized in Vietnam.
(You’ll find the Convention info on the front page of the IDP, below the title and above your name and details.)
It is possible to convert your vehicle and motorcycle license into a Vietnamese license.
To qualify, you need to have either a work permit and/or a residency card or a business visa.
Also, the license is only valid for the same period of the visa. For example, if your visa is valid for three months, then the license will only be valid for the same three months.
IMPORTANT!: Obtaining a Vietnamese driver’s license is not permitted on tourist visas.
Only a motorcycle endorsed license from your country in conjunction with a 1968 Convention IDP allows you to legally ride a motorcycle in Vietnam. (Travel insurance is a whole other story, more on that soon.)
If you have;
- Only a car license from your country,
- A car and motorcycle endorsed license from your country
- A car and motorcycle license from your country with a 1949 Convention IDP, then YOU CANNOT LEGALLY RIDE A MOTORCYCLE IN VIETNAM.
We know most people just do it anyway and it’s up to your discretion what you do. We’re just pointing out facts here.
Is travel insurance needed for a Vietnam road trip?
YES. If in doubt, go back and read the section above called Riding in Vietnam.
Travel insurance is not an ‘if’ but a ‘must’ if you’re going to be out on the road for any period of time.
The most important thing to note with travel insurance is the terms and conditions laid out in the PDS (Product Disclosure Statement) of the policy.
Looking for policies
When we planned our trip, our initial thought was to rent local motorcycles for short periods of time. The less we were on the road, the better.
We ended up spending a week looking at different insurance policies and researching the T&C’s.
Most didn’t even cover being a passenger on a motorcycle, let alone ride one (kissing goodbye motorbike share rides/taxis). The ones we found that covered riding motorcycles had all sorts of exclusions that wasn’t going to work for us.
Our insurance policy
The insurance policy we signed up for had two stipulations. The first required us to have both our NZ/AU motorcycle endorsed license as well as a Vietnamese driver’s license.
We have proper motorcycle licenses at home and we did qualify to apply for a Vietnamese license (because we had business visas).
The second was that we had to ride with helmets complying with NZ/AU minimum safety standards.
Why? Because we’re Kiwi and our insurance provider is in New Zealand. Their policy, their rules.
The helmets were a bit trickier because we had to wait until we got to Vietnam to buy them. Most airlines won’t let you take a helmet as carry on and we didn’t want to chance their integrity by putting them in bulk hold.
Bear in mind insurance cover is never guaranteed. It does offer a small peace of mind that if something should happen, you might not end up in jail or some scungy emergency room from hell.
Also, for the love of all that is holy, don’t go thinking you can rely on Go Fund Me when things go wrong. That’s just ‘oh heeellno’ material right there.
The guys and girls at World Nomads Insurance offer some advice to start off your research and we HIGHLY RECOMMEND you do research on this.
Buying a motorcycle in Vietnam
We’ve seen a million questions about buying and selling used motorcycles in Vietnam. We’ll answer the basics here and add the rest to a guide we’re currently working on.
What is better buying or renting?
This depends purely on how much time you have to cover the distance you want to travel, your budget and research/procurement skills.
In our honest opinion, if you’re only looking to ride for one to three weeks then renting a motorcycle is a better option. Motorcycle rental in Vietnam is not as hard as it sounds either.
If you go with a reliable rental company, they should offer;
- A well maintained and good condition motorcycle.
- Extra gear like luggage racks and bungy cords, possibly helmets and pads.
- Roadside assistance or breakdown support for your entire trip, and
- A wealth of knowledge and experience with regards to;
- Best type of motorcycle for your trip
- Best routes to take
- A decent idea on the best things to see in each region or city you wish to visit (if you don’t already have a plan.)
Renting a motorcycle in Vietnam
We’d love to tell you more about the process but we only ever hired one rental. We knew the owners of the business really well and pretty much skipped the usual processes.
Usually, you can expect to hand over a decent stash of cash for a deposit. Other instances require you to hand over your passport for the duration of the rental period. Not ideal if you’re considering a one-way trip.
How you go about this is up to you but we personally weren’t that keen on leaving our passports behind.
Tougher rental conditions
A raft of foreign deaths on Vietnam roads at the end of 2018 meant the government found itself in a very uncomfortable spotlight.
As a result, rental companies are facing more pressure to comply with licensing laws.
Law enforcement has had to act accordingly too and we’ve seen more cases of police checking paperwork than before.
If you don’t have the correct paperwork when renting a motorcycle, you might not be eligible.
Yes, you may be able to bribe your way onto a bike but it’s not cool and we certainly don’t recommend it.
Again, do thorough research on rental companies.
Ask questions, in the comments below or try all the sites and blogs we’ve mentioned here. The more informed you are the better your choices will be.
If you’re looking for some research inspiration, head on over to Tigit Motorcycles Vietnam, they know their stuff.
If you’d rather buy a motorcycle, keep reading.
Buying a new motorcycle
It may be possible if you have a residency card and you have a Vietnamese local who can help you navigate the registration process. It won’t be easy though, so check the requirements before you drop your cash on a new bike.
To be honest, we wouldn’t recommend this option for a road trip or short stay. It’s lengthy, can be expensive and possibly not go in your favor.
How to buy a used motorcycle
Used motorcycles are not hard to find in Vietnam. They are a dime a dozen and usually affordable, depending on who’s doing the selling.
The best way to find one is to sign up to local expat/tourist/backpackers’ pages on Facebook. Try the likes of Backpackers Vietnam and Vietnam Backpackers Travel and Sales. (Facebook is your friend)
The best motorcycle for the job
Vietnam is king of motorcycles and there are a lot to choose from. The first thing to ask yourself is, what will the primary use be? Are you looking to use it just around town or are you planning a cross country road trip?
Below is a list of things to think about to help you with your research. Some will apply to road trip only and others to around town but we included them all in case you change your mind.
- Size – You have to be comfortable riding it and know you can handle it in a tricky situation. (Did you know? Japan used to have a law that if you couldn’t lift a bike up from the ground into a standing position, then it was too big and you weren’t permitted to ride it. Crazy huh?)
- Fuel – Size of the tank vs. the distance(s) you want to travel
- Reliability and serviceability – Think trusted manufacturers vs. cheap knock off and imports. They might be cheap but they might be hard to keep on the road too.
- Maintenance budget – it’s worth considering because servicing is relatively cheap in Vietnam.
- What distance you hope to cover each day (fuel capacity, engine wear, maintenance costs, etc.)
- How many people will be on the motorcycle (just the you or do you have a pillion too?)
- How much gear you will be taking (backpacks, camping gear, extra fuel, etc.)
For our six-month road trip, we chose two 110 cc Honda Waves (also known as the “Honda Semi-Automatic”) because;
- They are like the Toyota Corolla of Vietnam – Cheap, reliable and easily maintained!
- They are semi-automatic – Easy to ride in congestion and on the open road.
- Economic on fuel – We got anywhere from 150 to 170 kilometers on a tank of gas (that costs around VND 80,000 (~USD 3.00 / ~AUD 5.00) to VND 95,000 (~USD4.00 / ~AUD 6.00) to fill up.
- Servicing was ridiculously easy as any Honda service center will happily take them (as long as they are genuine Hondas)
- They are actually comfortable to ride long distance. (Although, from experience, riding 400 kilometers a day, pushes that theory out the window.)
- They can handle most of the road conditions and we certainly did test that theory to the max.
All in all, we highly recommend Honda (or similar), over the likes of the Detects and Syms and whatever cheap and nasty monstrosity is out there.
Sure, they have a cult following and they are cheap. When you continuously hear about how often they breakdown, blow up and suck to ride long distance, it does make you think.
Would you rather have? A reliable steed while you focus on having a great holiday or remember your Vietnam trip for the traveling nightmare it was?
At the end of the day it’s your choice and your ride. We just want you to enjoy it.
If you need more research info, Tigit Motorbike has a hilarious and very informative post on Vietnam’s 40 Best (and worst) motorbikes.
The biggest impact on price will be reliability (import vs. reputable brand) and transmission (auto, semi-auto, manual).
The imports and knock off are the cheapest at around USD200 (~VND4,675,000 / ~AUD292.00) for new or used, depending on the condition. Bear in mind you get what you pay for.
As for the other options you can spend anywhere from USD350 (~VND8,181,300 / ~AUD510) for a decent used semi-automatic to USD2,000+ for a brand-new manual.
Also, there is a newcomer to the Vietnam motorcycle market. It’s considered more with the likes of adventure motorcycles. Commonly known as off-roaders or dirt bikes, the Honda XR150 is fast becoming the new choice of road trip beast.
We haven’t seen these for sale yet, but there are plenty on offer to rent so it won’t be long until they hit the second hand market.
Cost of buying and kitting out our Honda Waves:
2 x Honda Waves (SAM)*
2 x HID LED headlamps
2 x Custom decal wraps
2 x sets of LaT decals
* Price included two half-face helmets, rain ponchos, bungies, knee pads, elbow pads and riding gloves.
The gear you’ll need will depend on the type of trip you do. If you are an experienced rider and already have riding gear, we highly recommend you bring it with you.
You can buy riding gear in Vietnam but it’s not the greatest quality and you get what you pay for and sizing is ridiculous (even for a shortie like me).
Below is a list and associated costs of the gear we had;
Givi box & foam inserts
2 x LS2 Full Face Helmets
1 x Gloves
2 x Riding pants
2 x VMoto Bluetooth helmet headsets
1 x Motorcycle handle bar bag
2 x Motorcycle backpacks
4 x Rain ponchos (2 for us & 2 for the backpacks)
2 x Neck socks
2 x Sets of new bungy cords
A few things to note regarding the above costs;
We didn’t need the headsets but they certainly made life a lot easier and safer on the road. Leon was chief navigator and he used it for turn by turn navigation through Google Maps on his phone. He didn’t have to have his phone mounted on his handle bars, nor have it in his hand to use the app. Two birds with one stone!
Riding Gear we brought with us
We had our own jackets and proper motorcycle riding boots already so that kept costs down as well. Sneakers are fine but we can’t guarantee they or your ankles will survive the whole trip. Busted ankles are not worth it, trust me!
Also, the pants we bought has come home with us. You can sell them as there is a small demand for them, but we chose to bring them home and use them here.
The helmets may look expensive but they were cheaper than back home. They were absolutely worth the investment and we were able to sell them after the trip.
We’ll provide review posts on these items to give you a better idea of performance and use out on the road at a later stage.
Not everyone is the same
Now, we appreciate that not everyone is keen to invest this much into a road trip. For us it was a case of we knew we’d be on the road for the better part of six months.
The longer you are out there the more protection we recommend.
The full riding ensemble might seem excessive to most but it had its advantages.
Out on the road you get all sorts thrown at you from sudden heavy bouts of rain to getting pelted by debris all day long.
And the dirt, don’t get us started on the dirt you’ll encounter while out on the roads. Riding motorcycles was such a fun experience but man, expect to get filthy!
This is just a snippet of the places we went and to give you a general idea of where we went. We’ll cover our routes in more detail soon.
Vietnam weather is best described as being ruled by three elements
- Sun – when it’s hot, it’s HOT.
- Rain – you will get wet, we guarantee it!
- Humidity – a result as of the above.
The south is pretty consistent during the year. Summers are humid and winters are quite mild. Summer is also considered wet season it gets really wet. HCMC in particular is prone to flash flooding during the monsoon season.
The central areas have distinctive hot and cool periods. Places like Da Nang can get as high as 40°C in summer and tend to be cooler at 18°C during the winter months. The wet season affects the central coast from October to April.
Northern Vietnam is distinctly hot in summer and cold in winter. Wet season occurs during autumn and winters can go as low as 5°C in Hanoi and below freezing in the northern highlands. Summers can be a scorcher at around 35°C.
Our weather experiences
We had beautiful days for most of our travel days and we had some wicked downpours to content with. There is no getting around getting wet, it will happen. Ponchos are your friend but be smart. We saw bigger vehicle floating around and aquaplaning. That’s when you pull over and wait it out for a bit.
In summer we recommend having a bottle of water or a bottle of Revive handy. Dehydration can happen fast and it’s not a pleasant experience.
The best place to start from: South Vietnam vs. North Vietnam
The initial plan for our Vietnam road trip was to start from Hanoi and work our way down to HCMC and back again.
Most people do it the other way around and this in turn means buying a bike in Hanoi is cheaper and easier than HCMC.
Finishing off in HCMC can also be considerably nicer with regards to weather and air quality.
Once we started our planning, we encountered a couple of snags.
One, we had to dwindle our belongings further down from luggage into backpacks. That meant finding a suitable storage facility which wasn’t all that easy. We found a couple of options for storage in Hanoi but they were by no means affordable.
Two, we had a friend flying into HCMC to visit us for two weeks so we needed to be there and we’d need more storage for the bikes during that period.
Thankfully we found Charles at Saigon Storage in HCMC. Charles and his team offer great service, secure facilities and affordable pricing.
Another reason HCMC storage worked for us was because our friend was flying into HCMC. That in turn meant we had to complete
In the end we decided to start from HCMC but it meant we had two months before we had to be back and that didn’t work with our original plan.
So, we decided instead of doing our planned coastal route one way up the country and the inland route on the way back, we would do two smaller loops.
The Southern Loop
This new route included;
- Buon Ma Thuot
- Kon Tum
- Qui Nhon
- Nha Trang
- Phang Rang
- Vung Tau, and
- Back to HCMC.
A bit after finishing the first loop, we got an opportunity to travel China for a month. It meant we had to be in Hanoi, packed and ready to go by the first week of December. That left us the time between the end of September and end of November to finish this trip.
The Northern Loop saw us do a mad dash from HCMC back to central Vietnam in the shortest possible period to then go to;
- Dong Hoi
- Ninh Binh
- Ha Long
- Lang Son
- Cao Bang
- Meo Vac
- Yen Minh
- Ha Giang
- Sapa and,
- Finish up in Hanoi.
Part of the initial plan was also to go the coastal route one way and the Laos/Cambodia border the other way.
We won’t lie, the coastal route was spectacular and we ended up skipping the inland routes as a result. We figured we could go back and do that one in a separate trip, (cue cheesy grins).
On our DIY motorcycle tour page we’ll give you short sharp bursts of our itinerary and experiences on the road.
Thinking of planning a Vietnam motorcycle trip?
Below we’ll cover some popular topics about planning a road trip and what to consider when doing research.
Types of accommodation on the road
There is an endless supply of accommodation options in Vietnam. It was one of the things we loved most about the country.
Types of accommodation of offer are;
- Home stays
- Guesthouses, and
Most budget/backpacker travelers opt for hostels believing they are the cheapest. They are not the only cheap type of accommodation either.
We’ve got nothing against hostels and stayed in a few but we’ll be honest and say we’re in our 40’s and preferred our privacy over socializing.
What we found out on the road
What did surprise us, was how easy it was to find cheap hotels that was on par with hostels and in some cases even cheaper. The biggest bonus was having a private room with en suite. Sometimes we even got two beds in the same room.
The reason we went budget is because in our initial Vietnam trip budget we didn’t account for traveling the country for six months. We had to make sure our road trip accommodation costs stayed within the fixed accommodation budget.
Cost of fuel
Seriously, we wish fuel was as cheap back home as it was in Vietnam. We estimated that we spent VND 3,649,000 (~USD 156.00 / ~AUD 226.00) the entire time we had the bikes.
That’s our fuel bill for a month and half back home, LOL!
The Waves had a 3L capacity tank and on average we paid around VND 80,000 (~USD 3.00 / ~AUD5.00), to fill each bike up.
Servicing and maintenance
During our initial research, we came across a lot of budget travelers saying services from the likes of Honda and Yamaha were expensive.
Most even recommended getting a knock off bike for cheap and paying the difference for backyard mechanics.
To date we haven’t found much in the way of total costs spent to keep the knock offs and old timers on the road. We also met people who abandoned their motorcycles because they were so bad.
In our experience, the Waves were bloody good and reliable rides that were cheap and easy to maintain.
Before we give you a breakdown we’ll touch on a few things, such as;
The Waves weren’t designed to do 200 clicks a day but they can do it if you look after them.
During the first two months we did oil changes every 500 kilometers which was fine. After talking to a few Honda mechanics, they assured us that the 1,000-kilometer mark was okay too. We just had to keep an eye on the color of the oil.
What we liked too was that oil changes included a thorough check of the whole bike, brake tests and even the chain got lubed.
Wear and Tear
Another area the Waves blasted the cheaper options was wear and tear. As expected, we had to replace some parts on the bikes, but it was nowhere near as frequent as expected.
When we started the northern loop, we rode them to Da Nang and took them to Honda where they did a very thorough service. A number of issues came up resulting in quite a few replacement parts.
By that stage we’d done over 2,000 kilometers on them and we knew we had plenty more to go. In addition to the normal oil change and overall check, this service included;
- 1 x new chain and sprocket
- 1 x new front strut
- Filter cleans
- Full brake replacements
- New spark plugs
- Fixed a broken exhaust (welding)
That was the biggest service and it cost us VND 5,600,000 (~USD 239.00 / ~AUD 347.00) for both bikes, parts and labor included.
One more big-ticket item that needed replacement was the dash cluster on Leon’s bike. It stopped working while he was trolling the Mui Ne cops, LOL!
That set us back VND 610,000 (~USD 26.00 /~AUD 40.00) and we didn’t have to change it but we were thinking of the resale value of the bike.
We had three flat tires the entire trip and sorting them was ridiculously easy. All we had to do was look for a pile of bike tires on the side of the road and pull in. It really is that easy.
We did everything else through Honda dealerships wherever we went.
Honda Vietnam was an absolute dream to deal with. The customer service was always great (despite many language barriers) and the servicing done to a high standard. We wouldn’t have it any other way if we had to do it all again.
Where that had the biggest impact was when we sold the Waves.
We could show proof of all the work done on them and show they were in the best possible condition for another trip.
That in return resulted in us making our money back on them.
Total maintenance and running costs
Below is what it cost us to maintain the bikes over a six-month period, including all parts purchases.
Fuel for both bikes
Parts and labour
1 x new tire
2 x new LED highlights
Keep in mind that we covered over 6,000 kilometers on our Vietnam motorcycle adventure. We never had a breakdown and we never had an engine blow up on us.
That means our running and maintenance costs came in at ~USD3.00 / ~AUD5.00 per day, per bike. That’s really not bad at all!
There is one other thing we want to point out with regards to maintenance costs. When we bought the Waves we found out it would be their third trip around Vietnam with foreign owners. We had no idea what was done to them before that because there wasn’t more info available.
What we do know is that they were great buys and we were able to make our money back on them.
Total cost of our Vietnam motorcycle trip
We thought this motorcycle trip was going to blow out the original budget but we were pleasantly surprised by how affordable it was in the end.
The cost below covers our 6-month road trip.
Motorcycles and associated costs**
Storage for belongings
Food and drinks***
Activities and entertainment
** Purchase, set up, maintenance, fuel, parking, detailing and 2 weeks of storage costs between the two loops.
*** Included are a few cold one’s as well as groceries we bought in addition to eating out.
On the road tips and tricks
Traveling for that long we did learn a few things. The most notable ones we want to share, are;
Pick up on of the heavier raincoats the locals use with the long front and short back are gold. They don’t tear easily, keep you warm when it’s wet and they make good, cheap backpack covers too.
One thing we learnt from other travelers was to be bribe prepped. That meant having a separate wallet for the purpose of getting pulled over.
In it we had nothing more than a couple of hundred dong and a copy of our passport.
Our bank cards and passports safely tucked away in the backpacks.
We also got some lanyards for our licenses. It meant the police could see them but not grab them.
We’re not saying it will happen, but it’s better to be prepared and lose a couple thousand dong than a couple of million dong.
Which leads us to your motorcycle keys. If you get pulled over, pull your key out of the ignition and put it in your pocket. If law enforcement has your keys, passport or bankcards, it’s going to be an expensive experience.
And last but not least, keep an eye on petrol attendants. Make sure they reset the pump BEFORE they start pumping your gas or you’ll be responsible for more than just your tank.
Vietnamese phrases to know on the road
Below were some phrases we got to know well during our travels.
Hello – xin chào (sin-chaao)
Gas/petrol/fuel fill – xăng dầu (sung zau)
Thank you – cảm ơn (caam un – if you say ‘came on’, you’re telling them the shut up – I learnt the hard way lol)
Service – dịch vụ (zig vu)
Oil change – thay dầu (tie zau)
Bike parking – bãi đậu xe đạp (buy doe se dap)
How much? – bao nhiêu (bow neeuw)
Seriously, the language barrier can be hard but we never found a place where Google Translate didn’t work.
Travel day videos
Thanks for reading about our Vietnam motorcycle adventure and what went into it to make it happen. If you have any questions or want to tell us about your motorcycle adventure, then hit us up in the comments below or contact us directly.
Our YouTube channel, Leon and Tash has a lot more info and adventures on it so be sure to go and have a look there too.