[UPDATED 2019] Motorbiking in Vietnam:
Cost, Tips, Route, Visa, and More
There are a lot of travellers and expats in Vietnam who blindly jumped on an idea to go motorbiking in Vietnam when their backpacking this part of the world. From the north to the south or vice versa – and this is a huge “thing” when travelling in Vietnam. This has been popularised by the British show Top Gear, mostly highlighting the High Van Pass which is between Hue and Da Nang.
Eventually, travellers decided to simply buy or rent a motorbike and off they are to explore every inch of Vietnam. You will be surprised how many of them are, if not first timer to embark on this huge trip, it is their first time to drive a motorbike – manual, semi-automatic, or automatic.
If you are undecided if you should go and give motorbiking in Vietnam a try, I will do my best to help you answers some questions you may have. Remember to apply for your Vietnam visa as soon as possible.
If you still want to explore Vietnam on a motorbike, which is part of the exciting Southeast Asia travel route but have limited time or uncomfortable to drive it yourself, check these affordable Vietnam motorbike tours.
You may use the table of contents below to navigate faster.
Remember: US $1 = 22,000 VND
Everything You Need to Know About Motorbiking in Vietnam
From how to buy a motorcycle in Vietnam, cost of motorbiking in Vietnam, understanding the traffic and low or driving a motorbike in Vietnam, to how to sell your motorcycle when you are done travelling in Vietnam, - we will answer every single question you have. If we miss some, just leave us a comment below and we will answer as soon as we can.
Is it safe to drive a motorbike in Vietnam
Yes and no, mostly no. This is because the traffic rules in Vietnam basically doesn't exist. There are no motorbike lanes on the big roads. Cars, motorbikes, trucks, and bicycles are driving on the same road.
Yes it is somewhat safe, why? Since almost every Vietnamese drive a motorbike, they have learned to make up their own rules. Surely accidents do happen but not as often as you expect it to be (just wait until you see it). I noticed that motorbike drivers in Vietnam always keep in their mind that they don't want to hit anyone and don't want anyone to hit them. That is is not only a problem but also that will delay them in their daily activities. If you decide to do this, remember to learn these traffic exercises.
You should also make sure that you have the contact number and addresses of the international hospital for the places that you going to. Check out these medical clinics and international hospitals in Vietnam. Even if a hundred if not, thousands of backpackers have never had an accident, doesn't mean it won't happen to you. It's better be safe than sorry.
RELATED POST: Check out our backpacking in Vietnam article for a thorough discussion about this topic.
How long should you travel for on a motorbike
Normally, people do at least three weeks, it's long enough to explore the must sees while short enough not to get bored at some point. Depending on what type of traveller you are, you can stay longer, but less than three weeks and trying to cover the whole country might not be the smartest idea. This will force you to drive fast and longer everyday. You will end up spending more time on the road than seeing what you want to see and might expose you to accidents.
How to buy a motorbike in Vietnam
Most backpackers buy their motorbike either through another backpacker who just finished their trip and ready to leave or to a mechanic/motorbike shops. Hostels also started selling or renting motorbikes.
The cheapest is to buy from another backpacker, however, you have to keep in mind that it might not in the best shape. It might have not been serviced after a long journey. You can either buy from them then take it to a mechanic for a check up. Buying from a mechanic can be pricey but you know that they have done what should be fixed before handing in to you.
What is the cost of motorbiking in Vietnam
Normally, motorbikes can be $280-$450. Sell it for less or more depending if you did any improvements or break anything or in a hurry. Gas is about $40-$60 while put repair budget between $100-$200.
Is it cheaper to travel on buses? Yes, but at the same time, the areas that you can explore and the experience are limited. Also, the experience is just so different.
Check these Facebook groups to ask if anyone is selling a motorbike or any suggestions for a decent mechanic.
When to motorbike in Vietnam
The best time is between February to May then August to November.
It is winter in the North during December to February and can be cold to motorbike the country especially Sa Pa. While during May to end of July is rainy season. You have to keep in mind that during April to May can be very hot as this is the summer/dry season.
What you need and packing list for motorbiking in Vietnam
There are a few things more than a motorbike that you need to prepare before embarking on your trip. Here are a few:
- working motorbike with a luggage rack
- driver's license – do I need a driver's license to motorbike in Vietnam is the most common question. The answer is you need an international driver's license and it must be converted in Vietnamese. It's an easy thing to do but can be long and annoying to do. Many travellers are driving with their regular driver's license or international license without converting it.
- blue card for your motorbike or rental certificate – you can get it from the person you bought the bike from. You will need to show this to the police and of course if you want to sell your bike in the future.
- good quality helmet- don't cheap out on this one
- rain jacket, pants, and boots
- rain cover for your backpack and motorbike
- journey food - always bring one especially for emergencies
- bungee ropes -the more the merrier
- first aid kit
- water bottles/drinkable water - a lot of side vendors sell this
- local sim card with mobile data - you can get it for as cheap as $5
- mobile holder and/or USB port attached to your bike's battery - normally it comes with your motorbike but won't hurt to look for one
- phone number of your Vietnamese friend or a hostel receptionist to help you translate in some situations
- wind breaker jacket and gloves – for the north during winter months
Or you can check our in-depth article about packing list for travelling in Vietnam.
How many kilometres per day should you drive for
You drive as much as you want but the safest is to stick around 200 km which is about 6 hours. Driving longer than that will exhaust you greatly. After driving for a while, your eyes will get tired of focusing, which can lead to accident. Never push yourself harder for your own safety. Make sure to stop for water break and enjoy the view. Doing it so will let your eyes and motorbike rest for a bit. Remember it's not a race, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Also make sure to wear long pants and sleeves and shoes when driving. This will protect your skin from the sun and can reduce scratches if you get on an accident.
Where to stay
A day before arriving to your next destination, you should secure an accommodation. You can check our article about best hostels in Vietnam. It is very important to book a place to stay even just for night to make sure you have a bed once you arrive to your next destination.
Vietnam expects millions of tourists coming in every year plus thousands of expats live here too and are often travelling. Hostels and hotels can be fully booked easily and in case you arrive late in your destination, it is another pain in the ass to drive around finding a bed for the night. I highly suggest to pay for a night or two only in case you don't like the place, you can always find another one.
What is the best route to take
Travellers either travel from the north then head to the south or vice versa. Since Vietnam is a vertical country, it's pretty easy to decide which to take. What I notice is that it's cheaper to buy a motorbike in the North but harder to sell and a little pricey to buy in the south but easier to buy if your budget permits. This is because a lot of backpackers bring their bike in Cambodia too. Only a few bring their bike to Laos.
There are different routes you can take. The most common is following the coast line, it is scenic and the roads are pretty good. While others take the road next to the border of Laos and Cambodia, it is more forest/nature like. Some mix it up or change their routes after hearing some advice or an unbeaten place to explore. Both roads can be busy and a lot of drivers can be reckless, so make sure you drive only when you are ready for it, means alert and in good shape.
Personally, I suggest you to take the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it's less busy with stunning views and going through smaller villages. You can avoid traffic and big trucks too. Ask around your hostel if you need more information about this trail.
Remember to download Maps.Me – an offline map. It can be a piece of work as its GPS is not fast to pick up (about 5-10 mins when you freshly opened the app), but it's still work very well. You need to download the map for Vietnam in the app. It also shows any petrol station, accommodations, and restaurants. Get a translation app too, a lot of mechanics doesn't speak much English especially in smaller towns.
How to safely park your motorbike in Vietnam
The hostels mostly have a space for parking but will probably only allow you for an hour or two. In big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, you should park in the paid parking lot instead, they can vary from 5,000 – 15,000 VND for overnight. Do not park on the main streets and small alleys if you don't know the rules, police are very fast into towing it.
For instance, my friend and I parked the bike in Hanoi close to the Old Quarter to eat on the next street. When we came back, the bike was gone. We had to call our local friend to help us find it. Eventually, after two hours of running around the city, we found it. Initially, we were asked to pay 200,000 VND but my local friend told them that I am a journalist who promotes Vietnam as a tourist destination. If I had to pay, it might reflect not very well. They gave the bike back without a fee.
I asked my friend if it was in the law to pay, he said yes but not that much, so it was basically a police extorting money from the foreigners.
You can also lock the front of your bike if you are feeling uncomfortable leaving it unlocked. Remember to always take out your keys. Cover your motorbike too for when it rain, it can cause problems.
Petrol and Oil for your bike
Petrol and oil are both pretty cheap, you won't spend more than $50 on your whole trip for the petrol. 10 litres of petrol can take you about 2000 kms. You can change your oil in every 500kms and pay not more than 70,000-90,000 VND or else it's a ripped off.
TIP: If due to some unpredictable situations and you ended up have to take the bus, check the schedules and prices. Some buses are willing to take you bike too. Contact them as soon as you can to make sure they have space for it.
Be prepared for emergency breakdowns
Expect a breakdown during your trip. You are going to be driving a used motorbike, you may be have drove too much that day or simply unlucky. It is inevitable.
Almost every Vietnamese who who to fix a motorbike, you will see a mechanic in every five kilometres or so who can fix your bike in no time. Use your translation app or call your Vietnamese friend to translate if needed. Depending on the problem it can cost between $5-$200.
Police in Vietnam
The biggest question until today is “do I really need an international driver's license to drive a motorbike in Vietnam?” And the golden answer is yes but apparently, you will need to convert this into a Vietnamese one. I heard it's easy but not worth your time if you are here for a few weeks only.
“But I heard police in Vietnam pulls foreigners driving a motorbike for no reason to scam and ask for bribery.”
That is a fact. Corruption in Vietnam is still one of their biggest problem. Locals and travellers will give you great advice in this situation. As for me, if you were stopped by a police you can drive past them if they are not wearing any helmet. If they do, they might chase you. If you decide to stop, never ever give you passport, driver's license, keys, and/or blue card. Once they get a hold on one of these, they will extort you to give them money.
Personally, I am not fan of bribery and I will do my best to not tolerate this behaviour on this other hand, you are indeed violating the rules for driving without a valid driver's license.
Keep a fake wallet with you, place about 250,000-250,000 VND ($9-11). Normally, they want a minimum of 500,000 VND but will not say no to a little less money.
Remember to never ever give them your passport, you can make up a story that you lost it and have been in contact to your Embassy to get a new one or that you forgot it to your last destination. You can give them the photocopy if they really need it. Apparently, pretending not to speak English also do the magic.
Understanding Vietnam's traffic and law when driving a motorbike – highway and cities
Like what I mentioned before, traffic rules doesn't really exist here however, the locals have made their own and everyone is using it.
Red light is for stop in 90% of the time. Using your horn is basically how you talk to other drivers when driving. Honk if you over taking over, honk if you are turning, honk if you want to tell to another driver that they stand is down, honk to say hi. The locals don't use turning lights signal when taking over but you should to stay safe or use signal lights plus honking at the same time. People will pass you from both sides, so be careful. Also remember that there are a lot of drivers who will be on the wrong side of the road.
How to sell my motorbike in Vietnam after the trip
Travellers are buying and selling everyday. It might take you a week to sell yours, try to give it a cleaning and tweaking on minor parts to sell it faster. Also, you can post it on Craigslist, Facebook groups, and visit hostels where you can post it one they board or reception area. You can also hangout in some beer corners or backpacker's street or place a sign on your bike that it's for sale. Always add your WhatsApp number on your posting. You might have to sell it cheaper if you are running out of time, if nothing happens, sell it to the motorbike shops.
Where to go next
Where are you going next? If you started in Ho Chi Minh City, you can get to Mui Ne with your motorbike or to Vung Tau, both of them are beach towns. Many cross the border to Phnom Penh or border to Laos. Or maybe you want to stay in Vietnam and teach English? Here are the reasons why you should move here!
I hope you find this article useful and if you have any questions, let us know on the comment section.
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