Rent or Buy a bike in Vietnam
My first hand experience is with renting, so I will try to give the best advice to help you on your way! Not sure if you want to bike, check out your other options with my blog Bike, Flight, Bus of Car in Vietnam?
Which Company did you use?
We used Dragon Bike Tours; they have a branch in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, as well they allow you to ship your bike back from Da Nang (approximately half way in between the two) and they offer 24 hour road side assistance. We did run into a problem with our bikes and they promptly asked us where we were and what location is most convenient for us to get to.
How did you decide?
It was overall, not that expensive (only USD $120) for just over two weeks. It was relatively risk free; if your bike broke down, Dragon Bike Tours offered 24 hour assistance. They do take a deposit amount of USD$500 which is refunded at the end of your trip minus the rental cost and any significant damage incurred. The only extra costs are gas (approximately CAD $3/day) and minor repairs along the way (such as a flat tire anywhere from VND 50 000-90 000 (CAD $2.50 – 5) or damaged mirror).
Halfway return. Because I only had the one month visa, it would be pretty difficult to see everything that I wanted to see and squeeze it in to one month, so we rode from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang and shipped our bikes back by train (around USD$30). If you are buying a bike, and want to sell it at the halfway point, I suggest Hoi An instead of Da Nang, I saw lots of opportunities for bikes for sale from other backpackers and it is only 30 minutes from Da Nang. If you are continuing to Hanoi, most tourists take the trip from Hanoi south, so if you are like us and going north, there will be lots of opportunity to sell your bike in Hanoi as well.
The reason that many people buy a bike is because they sell it at the end of their trip in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and they do not incur any cost, except for gas and minor repairs along the way. They do not have to worry about damage (except for resale value). You also may be able to afford a newer motor bike which may be more reliable. If you have the time to stick around and sell your bike, this may be a viable option for you, however, we were unsure how long selling a bike would take and could not risk the initial investment to end up losing most of our money. If you are planning to sell your bike in HCMC, it may be more difficult because there are not as many tourists heading north from HCMC. If you buy your own bike, however, you do run the risk of a previous faulty repair (which happened to a friend of ours) which can be very costly to you.
Were there extra or hidden costs?
Almost guaranteed costs that you will have along the road are: at least one popped tire (especially if you are traveling with a group), oil change (every 1500kms) and gas. Other potential expenses include repair due to faulty mechanics along the road or damage to the motorbike due to an accident. We had a crash, but the company does not make you pay for minor scratched, not bad damage. We were worried that we would have to pay quite a bit at the end of our trip for repairs, but it only came out to CAD$8! Our bike rental place was very upfront about costs of certain repairs and you can always ask if you want to know of any other potential costs.
Other risks associated with riding include running into bad weather (extremely strong cross winds in some areas and heavy rain), roads that are not maintained which can have very dangerous pot holes or roads which end and turn into gravel, kids and pets running onto the road especially around the time school gets out at about 3pm, cops and of course death or serious injury.
Things you MUST have while riding:
A Helmet. It is illegal not to wear a helmet for anyone adult or child. Everyone is supposed to wear a helmet at all times. (And you certainly don’t want to draw more attention to yourself as a tourist.) I am especially glad I had my helmet because I did get into a couple accidents and without my helmet, I probably wouldn’t be here today!
Things you probably should have while riding:
First Aid Kit, even a small one is better than none! At least one person you are traveling with will get some bumps, scrapes and bruises and you are going to want to rinse that out as best as you can and as soon as you can and if you already have a handy First Aid Kit, you will be less likely to get an infection. Make sure to keep an open wound covered!
A Phone Plan in Vietnam is ridiculously cheap (in comparison to Canada’s outrageous prices). We found the best phone plan for traveling around Vietnam via motorbike is with Viettel which has the most coverage (you can also use this Sim in Laos and Cambodia, but buying individually for each country is cheaper). A phone plan in Vietnam costs around VND 250 000 (CAD $15) for the month (at the airport). This was an unlimited plan that we got, but it ended up signifcantly slowing down after about 10GB of usage. Unless you plan on pulling out a map every 20 minutes or so, this is going to be your route lifeline. It is not perfect and google maps isn’t 100% yet, but it got us to where we needed to go.
A phone bike mount (or four). We bought one, it broke…bought another, it broke, so on and so fourth, morale of the story is, buy more than one just in case because the roads are bumpy and if you buy the same model we did (Motorbike Mount) , than it is likely at some point you will need another one. To attach it, you unscrew your mirror and screw the mirror back on through the phone mount hole.
Rain ponchos. Even if it is scorching hot and seemingly unlikely that it is going to rain when you start out, be aware that there are lots of little micro climates in Vietnam, especially through the mountains, you are also traveling long distances, so when it is warm in one city or town, it may be raining and cold in the next. We started off in 30 degree weather and got down to 15 degree weather with wind and rain.
Bring a long sleeve and a pair of pants. it is hot in Vietnam, but riding around in shorts and t-shirts might not be your best idea. It doesn’t have to be heavy material, but even the thinnest of material can help! First of all, wearing long sleeves and pants will make you less dirty at the end of the day; you are probably still going to want to shower, but riding behind some trucks kicks up a lot of dirt which is pelted at you and feels like a thousand tiny needles hitting your skin all at once. Second of all, as mentioned above, it does get pretty cold and rainy in the northern parts of Vietnam. Lastly, if you do crash, which is pretty likely to happen at some point even on a minor scale, you will be glad you had the extra layer of protection.
Have a real great, long playlist loaded on your phone! Playlist suggestions: Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, I’ve Been Everywhere by Johnny Cash
By a facemask (or bring a bandanna from home). You can buy face masks at the markets, but they are a one size fit all, and they do not fit all; bandannas are hard to come by. However, you will need one or the other especially going in and out of the big cities, the trucks can spit up a lot of dust.
Goggles or sunglasses, if your helmet does not a visor, I highly recommend you wear goggles or sunglasses (or both), not only for UV protection, but so that you are not blinded by dirt, rain or winds while driving. My helmet had a visor on it which was great protection for dirt and rain, but I found I needed to wear my sunglasses underneath as well to help prevent wind from drying out my eyes and to help with driving off into the sunsets!
Things to know before riding:
Do as the Vietnamese do. If you are unsure of how to cross a road or anything, tuck yourself behind a Vietnamese citizen and do as they do, soon enough you will get all the tricks, but here’s a list to keep in mind!
Watch in front of you. This is a weird concept to North Americans or Europeans, but in Vietnam, as a motorcyclist, you do not shoulder check as you will likely end up hitting the person in front of you, especially if you start out in a big city.
Honk whenever passing someone, especially at higher speeds. If someone is going a little slow, just make sure they know you are there and give a couple honk warning, especially if they have their blinker on. The honking is, therefore, sometimes excessive!
Signal. Signal. Signal! Especially in roundabouts. People will move around you. (Not everyone’s blinkers work properly, so just be cautious at all times!)
Trucks, cars and buses have the right of way. The bigger the vehicle, the more you have to get out of the way. I think the buses would rather hit you than stop. (Though one did stop for me, but it did also almost hit me! Sooo… you decide what you prefer! Haha)
Watch out for bikes coming out of side streets. There are motorbikes crawling out of the wood work, make sure someone isn’t aimed right for you, and toss a little honk if you do see them before they enter the intersection.
Watch out for kids and animals. Though the majority of pets, strays and kids know to stay off the road, there is always the chance for an occasional one to decide to take a stroll while you are least expecting it.
When crossing the road to a roundabout, just go at a crawl. Everyone will go around you, just move slowly and they will predict your approximate path and go around. Everyone weaves through each other.
Motorbikes can NOT go on roads starting with CT. I believe CT stands for cars and trucks, but in any case, motorbikes are not allowed on these roads. The main road tourists take is the QL1A. It is the most direct, but also not very scenic. (My suggest route is below.)
Cops. It is suggested that you keep VND 200 000 (CAD $10) in a separate pocket in your pants or jacket. Cops are known for pulling over tourists without reason. If you do get pulled over, be polite, they are not stupid and they know you don’t speak Vietnamese. After attempting to understand, they will be demanding a large amount of money from you, pull out that money and insist it is all that you have, show your empty pocket. The worst they can do is threaten to take your bike, which they do not want to do because then they make no money from it. The longer they spend with you, the less time they will have to pull over other tourists. Try to stay calm. There are certain areas where cops are more commonly found, you can research and google these areas.
Consider getting an international license. You are technically supposed to have an international license to motorbike in Vietnam. If you have a motorcycle license from you home country, consider getting an international license, this may aide in ease with #9 as they may ask to see it. However, they may still demand money or insist they pulled you over for another reason.
You can start from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. We started from Ho Chi Minh and went from South to North, but the more popular route is from North to South. I also only drove to Da Nang due to time constraints, but I will have listed below suggested cities to visit on your way up.
Where we stopped: Ho Chi Minh – Ba Ria – La Gi – Bao Loc – Da Lat – Nha Trang – Qui Nhon – Quang Ngai – Hoi An – Da Nang
The Scenic Route: The route leaving Ho Chi Minh is not too exciting, however, you will want to take the QL 55 from La Gi to Bao Loc, it is absolutely stunning, a must see! When I was posting about this location on my Instagram, I even received comments saying that the locals had no idea that some of these spots were available to them, so definitely check it out!
The mountainous route from Da Lat to Nha Trang is also another amazing trip, but the trip up the coast from Nha Trang to Qui Nohn is a must see! Take the QL1A to QL29 and follow it up the coast, you will also want to ride along the coast as much as possible, the roadside cliffs against the blue ocean make for an amazing ride. You will eventually reconnect to the QL1A, but the journey is worth it.
Suggested cities to stop at if you continue up the coast toward Hanoi from Da Nang: Hue, Dong Ha, Dong Hoi (while in Dong Hoi, definitely check out Hang Son Doong, but you must book ahead and be prepared for a large expense), Ha Tinh, Vinh, Thanh Hoa, Ninh Binh, Hai Phong, Hanoi.