I imagine if you are reading this and thinking of riding a motorbike through Vietnam that you were probably inspired through the ‘Top Gear: Vietnam special’ as I was! Although the three of them ran into a few hiccups along the way, in my opinion those guys made it look easy!!
My experience of biking through Vietnam was exactly as you’d expect it to be. Amazing scenery, near misses, 100% freedom of travel, near misses and lots of driving (or pushing) on dangerous unfinished roads. Oh and did I mention near misses? Me, Nick and Andy drove just over 2500km, riding from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City taking us just over 6 weeks on what can only be described as one of the most dangerous but rewarding things I have ever done in my life!
After a few days of the three of us thinking of different ways to travel Vietnam we had decided to buy motorbikes and take the plunge!!
Buying a bike
Our first challenge was to buy a bike, now as we were in a foreign country with no driving license or proof that any of us had ever been on a motorbike this couldn’t have been any easier. We had been staying at ‘Hanoi backpackers’ hostel and within 5 steps of leaving the hostel we were bombarded by screams of ‘do you want to buy bike?!’, we took a guy up on his offer, jumped on the back of his bike, and within 10 minutes of an adrenaline rushing, traffic weaving ride we had arrived at what we could only guess was this random guys house. He had roughly 20 motorbikes piled up in his back garden to which he pointed and said ‘test drive’. We all had a little test on a few bikes and picked our favourites. My advice if you have limited bike experience is buy an automatic bike, they may cost a little bit more but it means you can concentrate fully on the road rather than on gear changes, unless it comes natural to you of course. Our bikes cost roughly £150 ($200) and with only a few minor setbacks done the job and got us to our destinations in one piece.
Driving through Vietnam
Now this is the biggest challenge! How do you ride a bike on roads that seem to have no rules? Where the majority of roads don’t have any visible markings on them?
My advice is take it slow! You are not racing, there is no need to be rushing this journey. Take your time, enjoy the madness or the scenery and most important of all keep switched on!! I can’t stress this fact enough! The amount of time a bus would come round a bend on the wrong side of the road or start pulling over into your lane with no regards to where you are and we had to make split second decisions to avoid getting squashed were ridiculous! I lost count after our first journey!
Vietnamese Police – We met a few travellers on bike that had a run in with the police, they all told us then paid a small fee and the police let them get on their way. We had one incident with the police that involved a policeman stepping into the road to pull us over, and just as I was slowing down I heard Andy right behind me shouting ‘JUST GOOO’ in a broad Glaswegian accent! I have no idea why we didn’t stop as I’m sure the consequences would have been a lot worth if the police had decided to pursue us, luckily for us we managed to ride off without any more hassle.
Getting your bike repaired
The chances of you making it all the way without having to do some sort of repairs on your bike a slim to none. But never fear, Vietnam certainly has no shortage of motorbike repair garages (literally there is one every few miles, even in the middle of nowhere)
Although we didn’t have any major problems we did hit a few snags. Chains coming off the bike, welds on the bike rack breaking etc. Luckily for us Nick (a former mechanic) was able to fix any minor mechanical problems we had with just a set of spanners and screwdrivers we kept on us for emergencies, anything a little bit tricky and we would take it to the nearest garage and they would do whatever it took to repair it and charge you a small fee, for example I had the first and only problem with my bike the day I come to sell it, typical, for some strange reason my bike wouldn’t start. I pushed it to a garage right by our hostel, waited around 2 hours whilst watching 4 guys in a garage tear my bike to shreds and pretty much rebuild the engine with all brand new parts, they charged me around £3 ($5)!!!!! I have no idea what they done to my bike but can guarantee that would have set me back at least £100 on labour alone in the UK!!
Selling your bike
There are several ways of selling your bike in Vietnam.
Craigslist probably being the most popular. Sign in, take a pic of your bike, upload pic with the price you would like for it and wait for the offers to come flooding in! Be careful though as there are a lot of dodgy people on craigslist! Try to meet in a popular place like your hostel etc. and avoid going somewhere to meet them.
Finding a dealer and selling back to them is probably the quickest way once you have found the dealer of course. They will most likely have cash straight away, do a quick check and be on their way no questions asked. But be warned they will probably try and knock you down a little on price.
Posters, take a pic of your bike, get your hostel to print it out with a brief description and contact details and start pinning them up in all the hostels and bars in your area. Most hostels have an information board that is overflowing with bike advertisements.
- 100% freedom of travel
- Amazing views you can only see by taking your own route
- Getting treated like a celebrity in small towns
- Seeing the real Vietnam rather than just the backpacker towns
- The sense of achievement you get after completing your journey unscathed
- Ridiculously dangerous!!
- Getting soaking wet after being caught in a monsoon
- Having a numb bum for several hours of the day (a lot more painful than it sounds)
- Your travel insurance does not cover you
- A personal con, having your mom going absolutely ballistic at you after you tell her you having really been getting overnight buses for the last 6 weeks.
Besides the near death experiences both from the journey itself and my mom threatening to fly out to Vietnam and give me a good hiding, I have to say this was one of, if not THE most amazing experience of my life!! If you are reading this and thinking of doing it yourself please be careful!