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How to Pick the Right Motorbike for your Epic Road Trip in Vietnam

Right Motorbike For Vietnam Road Trip

A NOTE FROM THE BLOG OWNER: I met David, then single, and his brother, then newly divorced, on one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines—Siargao! {Check our photos of our Siargao trip!} We went island-hopping together, and they probably sensed that I was a broke traveler that they handled the boat rental. That was more than four years ago, if my memory served me right.

Right after David’s trip to the Philippines, he met a girl in Vietnam, they fell in love, they got married, and created a wonderful girl together! 😉

This post was actually a comment on Facebook, but it was long enough and informative enough for a blog post! So here it is! A guide on how to pick the right motorbike for your Vietnam road trip!



I logged over 4500kms all over the country on a motorcycle (often with a wife and baby in the back, along with our luggage!)Right Motorbike For Vietnam Road Trip

Advice: Don’t do it if you are not 100% confident

Don’t do it – if you are not 100% confident in your ability to handle your bike and know the unwritten rules of the road. Fear will cause hesitation in split second decisions that might be the difference between life and death. Every 14 seconds in VN, there is a fatal accident. I’ve seen my fair share. And some were tourists.

On Bikes

Don’t get the typical Honda Win backpacker bikes that have been up and down VN non stop. Get a genuine Honda Wave, or newer bike. And get a quality 3/4 (or modular full) helmet with a clear visor. Bugs and debris hitting you in the eye can blind you.

You can get Honda Waves/Dreams for $200-300usd if you go where the locals shop. Yamaha Nuovos are another typical backpacker bike. Avoid those, especially if an older model (1&2). They are gas hogs with plenty of problems.

On learning the rules of the road

Take a ride with an experienced rider. There are some particular “rules” in VN. One: there really are no rules. Expect the unexpected, like wrong way drivers. People, animals, vehicles will often turn abruptly right in front of you without looking. It’s actually a cultural thing to not look both ways! This is very noticeable with vehicles merging onto another road. So, don’t stay close to the right side of the road, unless the traffic is at a crawl. That area is unofficially a merging lane, where they don’t expect traffic. But most tourists don’t learn this till it’s too late.

What else? The mention of the Ho Chi Minh Highway being empty, must be a typo. (The pictured Hai Van Pass isn’t a typical VN road). Trucks and busses often get within inches of your handlebars. So, brace for the wind turbulence and debris to be kicked up. And on mountain roads, don’t turn at speed while riding on loose gravel/dirt. Which can be everywhere, especially after a rain. Get ready to stick out your feet like outriggers when riding in the dirt, or on dirty roads.

I don’t want to sound like an expert. I’m just passing on info given to me, that saved my life and others. Info that’s not readily available in “guides”. Hopefully, it can save others. So, with that, enjoy your motorbike ride through VN.

(As a side note: VN police are starting to crack down on unlicensed tourists on motorbikes. So, be prepared to hand over 500k+ vnd in “fines”.)

On Ho Chi Minh trail or road, or highway?

Actually, the true wartime route is subjective. Some sections are now true highway with plenty of trucks, while others are typical country roads. Traffic also depends on time of year/season. Speaking of which, definitely go during the dry season, which falls around October to April.

On Cops/Waves

Most VN expats know not to carry all their cash in their wallet they show police. 200k “fines” were the going rate. But now they push for more. 400-500k seems the going rate now. Generally, experienced expats pretend they don’t see the cops trying to pull them over. But if they do stop, they pull the key out of the ignition and say some general Vietnamese greetings. But pretend to not understand the police, which frustrate them to the point they often let you go. However, cops (the ones in brown are traffic cops), are now learning English, or using their smart phones to make their requests for “on-the-spot fine payments.” Mui Ne is infamous for busting tourists on motorbikes.

On Routes

What else? If going the coastal route, going North is much more scenic since the coast is on the right side, and you are on the right side of the road as well, which makes looking over road barriers and cliffs much easier.

So much more info that others and I have learned the hard way, but no time to write it all down in here. Maybe I should do a blog. I’ll just finish by saying that Vietnam is probably one of the most interesting countries to ride around in. Not only for the scenery, but also for it’s people and very rich history. So, just go.

Are there advice you want to include in this post? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comment box!

The Foreign Eye

The Foreign Eye is the point of view of the foreigners who find themselves traveling in the Philippines or Southeast Asia or anywhere in the world longer than planned, longer than necessary. We encourage foreign travelers from different walks of life and of different skin color to share their story with us. Make our life easier: email us at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com with the subject The Foreign Eye

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  1. David Carroll says:

    Hoy! Ooops, i forgot to add to my FB suggestions. Sorry! Been busy with another motorbike trip. After reading it over, I noticed an error. There is a fatal accident on average of every hour. But there are serious accidents about every 14 seconds.

    So, take that as something positive. Probably a top 10 bucket list item for many people. So, GO! But…the whole trip can be tedious, not to mention a pain in the ass, literally.

    I would also suggest working your way up to sitting on a motorbike gradually. Your ass muscles need to assimilate. Seriously! So, factor that in if you are on a tight schedule.

    You can also take breaks at places called “Cafe Vang”. Which sell coffee/drinks and have hammocks for resting and getting out of the rain. If going with a big crew, don’t all climb into hammocks all at the same time. Many of these places, the hammocks are attached to flimsy bamboo and you can topple the whole structure. In case you do, say “xin loi” (Sorry!).

    You should also know that knowing basic phrases is a must when traveling. But some that aren’t in many phrase books that are a must are “Khach San” (hotel, usually with flush toilets. And “Nha Nhei” (small motel, often with pit toilets).

    If you start to burn out on your looong journey, you can put your motorbike on the train. You would need the “blue card” registration for your motorbike, though. That is the way I would do it. Since some scenery is repetitious.

    And bring plenty of toilet paper for the road, and know how to operate a typical pit toilet. I won’t go into details since there’s probably info online. But it isn’t as simple as you think!

    As for using GPS, Google Maps is good enough. But…the routes often will having you make senseless loops. So, pay attention and use shor term way points. But then again, getting lost and far off the beaten path is part of the fun of motorbike get through Vietnam.

    Have fun, and enjoy the ride.

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