We’re back! We drove straight to the nearest In-N-Out:
I have such bad jet lag. Hit me really hard this time.
Riding in Vietnam was mostly easy, but we still burned a lot of time figuring it out when we got there. This post is a how-to guide that summarizes what we learned.
- Locals told us it’s legal to ride in Vietnam as long as you’re licensed in your home country and you have an International Driving Permit.
- The fine for riding without a license is 800 thousand dong, and I think they can impound your bike.
- Helmets are required and almost nobody rides without them, which means you’ll probably get stopped if you do.
Buying A Bike
- Your best options are semi-automatics like the Honda Blade. These are what the Vietnamese ride.
- Make sure you get the blue registration card. Without the card you’re pretty much riding a stolen bike. Seems to be ok if the name and address on it are for a Vietnamese (e.g. the shop you bough it from).
- Watch out for Chinese copies of bikes. That cheap little Honda is probably not a Honda. The copies need their oil changed every day and have a reputation for breaking down a couple times a week.
- It’s worth a few hundred thousand dong to buy a local sim card so you can use Google maps.
- Maps.me has pretty good offline maps for those mountains where you can’t get data.
- Google maps consistently estimated half the time we actually needed. It took us:
- Around nine hours to get from Ho Chi Minh to Bao Loc, split among two days. Getting out of HCMC was rough.
- Seven hours from Bao Loc to Da Lat.
- Six hours Da Lat to Nha Trang.
- Half hour from Da Nang to the top of the Hai Van Pass.
- There are a few cars-only highways, and they really are cars-only. We ended up on one and the locals were surprised we weren’t stopped by the police. On Google Maps these are orange, and regular highways are yellow.
Gear And Weather
- Bring a poncho. These are what the Vietnamese use, and you really need one. That layer of plastic can change a ride from hellish to not so bad.
- Make sure you have a visor for your helmet. It doesn’t have to cover your face, just deflect rain and hail when you tilt your head down. Without one, I literally had hail in my eyes.
- Bring a rain cover for your bag and leave it on. Downpours come suddenly.
- If I go again I won’t bring a riding jacket. It was a pain to carry around and the heat combined with low speed meant I often felt more likely to crash overheating in the thing than staying cool and focused.
- Keep loose and focus on flowing through the madness and it’s easy.
- There is a lot of honking but it’s not road rage.
- Keep constant track of what’s coming up behind you. Busses, trucks, and cars often pass when there really isn’t enough space.
- Assume busses will hit you. The drivers are madmen.
- Pretty much everywhere has a security guard that watches the bikes.
- Pay the security guard when you leave, not when you park.
- Leave the handle bars unlocked. The guard will move bikes around as people come and go. If you lock the bars they’ll just knock over your bike.
- Don’t leave your helmet or anything else with the bike. It’ll walk away.
- Hotels should either watch the bikes overnight or bring them inside. Make sure you ask.
- We brought cable locks but never used them.
Flats And Maintenance
- Always ask for the price before you let anyone start working. Otherwise you’ll likely end up with a much larger bill than you should.
- Patching a flat should cost around 10 or 20 thousand dong. I got a new tube once and I think that cost about 100 thousand.
- There are lots of folks who can help you with flats. We had two flats in remote spots and still ended up with patches that held.
- When getting a flat fixed, they’ll probably leave the wheel on. That’s the best option unless you’re at a dealership. Roadside places probably don’t have real mechanics or the right size tubes.
- The bigger the shop, the better.
- If you have a Honda, legit dealerships are easy to recognize. They wear white uniforms and work in a bit, spotlessly red and white building. Don’t have work done anywhere else unless you have no choice.
- Honda’s will probably have a maintenance booklet (I had one but I don’t actually know if you always get one or it was an optional extra). It’ll get you a bunch of work for free.
You can put bikes on trains and busses, but I only personally used a train.
- I paid about 500 thousand dong to ship from Nha Trang to Da Nang.
- They crated my bike, and on arrival it cost another 30 thousand or so to have them uncrate it. There was a sign but I’m not sure if it was legit or I got scammed.
- The bike and I were on different trains but we arrived within an hour of each other.
- You’ll need your blue registration card and your passport to buy a ticket.
- They should give you a receipt when you drop off the bike.
- We didn’t need to buy tickets in advance, but I hear the space sometimes fills fast so go early and double-check.
- Take the mirrors off and put them in the pocket under the seat.
- They drained the fuel and I didn’t get it back, but I don’t know if that’s normal or because I didn’t speak enough Vietnamese to argue about it.
Locals gave us a lot of warnings about police corruption, but we were never stopped. Still, we got a lot of advice from those locals on how to deal with the police. This is what they said:
- The police aren’t allowed to touch you.
- If you’re stopped, immediately lock the handlebars and put the keys in your pocket. Don’t give them the keys.
- Never sign anything or you’ll end up with your bike impounded. If they try to make you sign, say no.
- Never hand them your real passport. Show them a copy. If they ask for the original tell them it’s at your hotel.
- Never let them take your blue registration card. Once they have it you can’t really do anything until they give it back. If they try to take it, say no.
- Keep about 250 thousand dong loose in your pocket and separate from your other money. That should be about what they expect if they want a bribe, but if they see more they’ll try to take it. Make it look like that’s all you have.
If you go, send pictures!