I traveled through Vietnam by motorbike in 21 days. It was an amazing experience and a great way to see the country and travel like a local. Before I set out on my journey, I met a lot of Vietnamese people who had done the same trip multiple times, some of them in 3 days.
I had been warned of the dangers of such a journey, but I received a lot of advice from those that were more experienced and knowledgeable about the trip and now I shall pass on the advice that was given to me as well as any other tips which I found helpful along the way:
- Your price range should be between 200-250 USD– I spent a little more on my own bike but I never needed any repairs. Remember: the less money you spend on your bike, the more money you will spend on repairs.
- Choose between a semi-automatic, automatic or manual– It’s whatever you are comfortable with. A lot of people learn how to drive manual and make it through the trip just fine.
- You MUST have a blue card with your bike– Do NOT buy a bike without a blue card.
- Have your bike checked out by a mechanic– This means oil change, brake check, tire check, the works. If you don’t make the time to take care of this step then expect to have a few more breakdowns than normal during your trip.
- Get a storage rack installed if it doesn’t already have one– My storage rack cost me about 13 USD because I didn’t want to take my backpack off my bike every time I got gas, but you can find a storage rack for much cheaper.
Things to bring
- Raincover– If you don’t have a rain cover for your backpack, invest in one or buy a large plastic cover. It rains. A lot.
- Bungee cords– We used thick 2 meter long straps which held our backpacks on much better than the thinner bungee cords. They’re green and definitely worth the investment.
- Ponchos– Not the flimsy ones that you can easily throw away because those won’t last you one day. Get a thick sturdy one otherwise you will be soaked.
- Helmet– Find one that fits your head and try to get one with a face cover to protect from the rain and dust.
- Bike lock– We stayed at hostels which kept our bikes safe for us so we didn’t need locks too much but they are useful for keeping your bike from being stolen.
- Sunglasses– ‘cause they’re cool.
- Sunscreen, water, towel/old t shirt for wiping down your seats or wiping some dirt and sweat off your face
- Toilet paper– for those pit stops
Always, always, always be cautious (does that need to be said?)
- When turning around a curve, always expect there to be a bus or other truck in your lane as the drivers are much more experienced and pass each other whenever they feel like it.
- Wear shoes instead of sandals.
- Start your drive as early as possible.
- Don’t drive at night– not just because it’s dark but also because that’s when the crazies come out and you are already vulnerable.
- Get your oil changed after 1000 km depending on the bike. The older the bike, the sooner you will need an oil change. If you do it yourself make sure that you secure your dipstick with some plyers!
- Stay on the right hand side as much as possible.
- Stop when it rains too hard even if you have to stop for an hour. The rain can be blinding and painful and dangerous.
- Always ask the price before having the mechanic fix your bike or you will be robbed.
- Prepare your directions ahead of time– this means using a map, writing down your directions or ensuring that your phone or GPS has enough battery to last your trip. Nothing sucks worse than having your only source of directions die on the way to your destination.
- “Full”= “Dai” (pronounced like “a pair of die”)– to fill up your gas tank
- “Guesthouse”= “Nha Nghi” (pronounced like “nya nyee”)– in case you are in an area void of hostels
- “Rice”=“Com” (pronounced kind of like a “comb your hair”)– because that’s mostly the food you will find on the road
- “Repairs”= “Sua xe” (pronounced like “soo-ah say”)– in case you need a mechanic
- “Gas”= “xang” (pronounced like “saang”)– because there aren’t too many gas stations on the Ho Chi Minh Road
Final Tip: Keep only 100,000 VND in your wallet at all times and the rest of your money/credit cards, your passport/ID and your blue card in a different location. This is just in case the police pull you over. They will ask you for 500,000 VND or they will threaten to take your bike and if they get a hold of any of the above items then they will demand a payment to have those returned. But if you show them 100,000 VND is all you have they will most likely let you off with just that.
Honestly, we met a lot of people who had been in accidents or broke down which made for great stories but one guy had a broken arm, another ended up in the hospital with the lady and child he hit, and many had scrapes on their sides. It all comes down to your own intelligence. There’s no need to show off, everyone is doing the same trip.
In the end it’s all about the journey! Have fun, connect with other drivers, rest when you need it, take pictures and always wave at the locals, they’re friendlier than you think. Safe travels!