How To Ride A Motorcycle In Vietnam

We’re back! We drove straight to the nearest In-N-Out:

in n out

I have such bad jet lag. Hit me really hard this time.image of laptop clock at 3am

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.

Rules

  • 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

my 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.

Routes

  • 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.

Traffic

  • 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.

Parking

  • 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.

Shipping

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.

Police

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!

Adam

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4 Comments

  1. Great tips! thank you so much!

    Reply

    1. You’re welcome! Are you planning a trip?

      Reply

      1. It’s on my bucket list! Just have to get my motorbike license first!

      2. It was on my bucket list until last week, too! I highly recommend a rider training class, they teach you a lot of stuff that’s not intuitive if you just hop on a bike. If you’re ever in Oregon or California in the US I can recommend good courses.

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