Travelling Vietnam by Motorbike
Are you considering travelling around Vietnam by motorbike? Great! I did the exact same thing and rode all the way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, in 1 month.
Buying my own motorbike and riding solo, from north to south, was one of the most empowering and fulfilling experiences I have ever had.
In this post, I am going to cover absolutely everything you need to know, in the hopes you will also get to have this amazing experience. It wasn’t easy but definitely worth it… so are you up for the challenge?
Good To Know Before You Start Travelling Vietnam By Motorbike
Getting a tourist visa for Vietnam is pretty easy and you have a couple of options. Check out https://vietnamvisa.govt.vn/vietnam-tourist-visa for more information but basically, you can get a 1-month or 3-month tourist visa, depending on how long you want to take for your trip.
I did a 1-month visa, which was a great amount of time for the journey I am going to share with you.
You apply online and its costs just under $40 and takes a couple of days. But make sure you do get a visa or they will not be letting you in.
It is worth mentioning that I have a full motorbike license, so I jumped right in and got a manual bike. That being said, I met plenty of people on automatics and scooters having just as much fun.
Also, most people didn’t have a motorbike license. Not sure I’m supposed to advise it but as long as you have a driving license, you should be fine.
Best time of year to travel to Vietnam
This is a tricky one because of the length of the country the north and south can have very different climates. For example, when I went in February the north was rainy and cold but the south was lovely and hot.
That being said the best months to visit Vietnam are Month – April.
Travelling Vietnam by Motorbike – Buying vs Renting
One of the biggest and most important decisions to make is whether you will buy a motorbike and sell it on afterwards or if you will rent one for your time in Vietnam.
Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam
I decided that for my time travelling Vietnam by motorbike, I would do the north-to-south route. Which means I went motorbike shopping in Hanoi. Although, from what I know it’s the same in Ho Chi Minh too.
To buy your bike and sell it at the end, you have a few choices.
- Go to a bike dealer or bike shop.
- Check out the many Facebook groups of other travellers selling their bikes.
- Walk the streets and see bikes with for sale signs on them, and there are plenty.
- Check out notice boards in most hostels of people selling their bikes.
I went to a small bike shop in the centre of Hanoi called Phung Motorbike. Turns out they have a huge warehouse just outside of the centre, with TONNES of bikes for sale.
It is pretty simple… they will take you for free on the back of a bike to the warehouse if you buy a motorbike when you get there. If not, you pay them the transport fees.
I picked a bike, had a test drive and went for it. The motorbike I had is one of the most popular makes available, a Honda Win (most definitely a replica).
Just make sure before you take the bike that they do a full check;
- The tyre pressure and tread
- The brakes
- The chain
- Oil levels
- Headlights and brake lights
- The kick starter and ignition button
My motorbike cost me $310, which was a bit high. You can get the same bikes elsewhere for $200-$300. But I was in a hurry and bartering prices has never been a strength of mine.
***Just a heads up that despite buying the bike you never actually legally own it, as only a Vietnamese citizen can actually own a vehicle. So just beware, if you get pulled over (which most people don’t) the police may use this as an excuse to fine you.
Renting a Motorbike or Scooter in Vietnam
If you don’t have a licence or don’t feel comfortable riding a manual motorbike, then renting an automatic bike is another good option. There are rental shops all over Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and I know that most will allow you to rent from one city and drop the bike off in the other. Some even had shops in Hoi An so you could do half the journey too if you wanted.
Things you NEED to pack
Ok trust me when I say these things are a MUST when travelling Vietnam by motorbike;
- A waterproof jacket.
- A waterproof cover for your backpack.
- Bungee cords – to tie your bag to the bike.
- A very secure phone holder to go on the bike – and I mean Very secure, it’s common for guys to whizz past and try and grab your phone so I used about 8 elastic bands to keep mine in place.
- Clear bag for your phone to go in when it rains.
- A Helmet – I went for a full-face helmet and I’m glad I did, the roads can get very dusty.
- Full shoes or trainers, especially if you are getting a manual bike.
- A power bank to make sure you can always charge your phone.
Keep in mind that whatever you take is going to take a battering. It’s a tough life on 2 wheels you know.
Travelling Vietnam by Motorbike – The Route I Took
Hanoi > Ha Long Bay > Ninh Binh > Phong Na > Hue > Hoi An > Kon Tum > Nha Trang > Dalat > Ho Chi Minh
I flew to Hanoi in the north of Vietnam and stayed there for only 2 days. Although I wish I had spent longer here, I met a couple of guys who were headed out the next day. Knowing I wanted to start my journey with other people, I rushed to get ready in time to go with them. Hence slightly over-paying for the motorbike.
While in Hanoi I did the obvious bike shopping but also tracked down shops I could buy a helmet, gloves, bungee cords and adjustable straps. Ones that I could tighten, to keep my backpack on the back of the bike. These were a lifesaver!
I also met a group of awesome people at the hostel I was staying at. On my first night, we all went for dinner to a really quirky little place that I think was just someone’s house.
We were the only ones there and the owner sat with us most of the evening and plied us with sake all night. A traditional liquor made from rice I believe.
The second night we went to a karaoke bar. Believe me when I say no one loves their karaoke like the Vietnamese do!
When I arrived, it was the end of February and the weather in the north wasn’t great. So we set off on our journey in the rain. The rain didn’t ruin the experience in any way because I had the right waterproofs for me and my bag. Just make sure you ride carefully folks.
Ha Long Bay
Our first destination was the very well-known Ha Long Bay, I couldn’t wait!
Sadly though our timing was off. It was cloudy and raining the entire time. Not to mention the visibility was really bad. However, I can still share how we did it and for super cheap as well!
Ha Long Bay the Backpacker Way
We got a Ferry to Cat Ba Island, which only costs $2/3. The ferry leaves from Bai Chay and takes about 2.5 hours. It takes you all through the bay and the beautiful towering rocks.
Once on Cat Ba island, there are plenty of cheap hostels and guest houses. We explored some markets and Caves and rode around the island but that was about it due to the weather. If it’s nice you can take boat trips out from here too for far cheaper than booking tours from the mainland.
After a few days on Cat Ba Island, we headed back on the Ferry to the mainland. This is where I parted ways with the boys and headed solo to Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh is a truly magical place and is pretty much just an on-land version of Ha Long Bay. It has the same towering rock formations, rivers and rice fields. It is just beautiful to explore both on foot and by motorbike. There are viewpoints you can go up to and riverboat tours.
I spent a couple of days here but I could’ve easily stayed for a week it was so beautiful.
From Ninh Binh, I had a very long day’s ride down to Phong Na to go visit the second-largest cave IN THE WORLD! This town is basically just one long street with hostels and restaurants. It is a tourist attraction, so it’s very easy to meet other people here.
I signed up for a full-day tour of the caves which included being picked up and taken to the second-biggest cave in the world…trust me it is HUGE! And then a boat ride into some other very large impressive caves.
It was a great day and despite being very busy I would definitely recommend it.
I had decided before I set off, that I wanted to experience the Ho Chi Minh trail rather than riding down the coast so most of my journey was inland close to the border of Laos, surrounded by jungle and with very, very few other vehicles.
The roads on the map are the QL15 & QL14.
One day I was riding on the trail and hadn’t passed another vehicle for about an hour. I stopped by an old abandoned mansion in the middle of nowhere to pee and then my bike wouldn’t start again…PANIC!
I tried for what seemed like ages and eventually accepted my fate was to perish right there and no one would ever find me. Luckily, about 20 minutes later I heard the sound of another motorbike and flagged down a local man to help me get going again.
The Vietnamese people will always help you and pretty much all of them know how to fix a motorbike. Thank god for that man!
As daunting as that may sound, please don’t let it put you off because that route truly is beautiful.
Then it was on to Hue. Hue is full of things to do and some of my top recommendations are Khai Dinh Tomb and the abandoned water park. Both of these are a short drive from the town centre so lucky you, having a motorbike, you can just jump on and go explore.
For the water park, do not go to the main entrance. There is a security guard and he will not let you pass. Just sneak in through the woods next to the road and wander until you find the abandoned rides. It is super eerie and not something you see every day.
Hue is where I experienced my only real scam being a tourist on a bike. I will tell you all about it later in full detail, in the hope you can avoid falling for it like I did.
Later that day on the next leg of the journey I was riding through a very remote area, about an hour from Hue when my bike just stopped! Luckily, I was riding with a friend and she waited with the bike while I rode hers back to the last village we had passed, to ask for help.
It took communicating through google translate to finally find someone who could point me to a mechanic. During this time, another backpacker had seen us and stopped to help too.
It didn’t take long for the mechanic to fix the bike and we were all on our way. I just wanted to show how often these poor old bikes are likely to break down, but also how easy it is to get going again. Don’t let this put you off.
This stretch of the journey was to the famous Hai Van Pass, between Da Nang and Hoi An. It’s a very pretty road with a few fun hairpin turns, but it’s also understandably quite busy with tourists. Once you’ve gone over the pass you’re into Hoi An.
Hoi An is a truly, lovely city and is known as the city of lanterns for a reason. There are countless shops selling beautiful, coloured lanterns. If you explore at night (and it feels perfectly safe to do so) then the city lights up with all the lanterns too.
Hoi An is also very well known for its tailoring. There are hundreds of shops where you can get personalized suits or formal wear made just for you if that’s your thing. Just remember whatever you buy has to fit on the bike.
I had met a group of girls in Hue that were travelling down the country by bus, so I kept meeting them along the way. We took a day trip out to My Son Temples, which was a little bit overrated if I’m being honest and super crowded.
We also had a lovely day lounging on the beach and even got free tattoos for International Women’s Day, at a local tattoo studio.
After a few days of enjoying Hoi An, we all continued on our way.
The next stop on my way down the country was Kon Tum. I only spent one night here. It isn’t a town that is on the tourist route so there wasn’t much to do. I had a walk around and ate at a local food stall but the next day I carried on my journey to the next town.
Nha Trang was a nice change of scenery as it had a more developed feel to it and I even visited a couple of shopping malls. It has a long beach and a few really great vegan food places, all of which I found using the happy cow app.
Nha Trang is nice for shopping and recharging but I would say you don’t need more than a day or 2 here.
From there I rode back inland to Dalat which has loads of cool things to do. If you’re a waterfall lover like me, then from here you can visit Datanla Falls and Elephant Falls. There are also a few more that I didn’t get to visit including Pongour Falls and Prenn Falls.
Another really funky place I went to was the Maze Bar. Very easy to get lost in but a crazy place and well worth a visit.
From Dalat, I had originally planned to go to Mui Ne but I was running low on time, so I rode straight to Ho Chi Minh. This was a pretty intimidating ride the closer I got to the city.
Ho Chi Minh
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh felt like an enormous victory. I had been riding for a month and covered 2669km. I had successfully made it from one end of the country to the other.
In Ho Chi Minh I focused on selling my bike using Facebook groups. I did end up selling it within a couple of days, to a fellow backpacker for $200. I explored the city a little bit and visited the American war museum which was an emotional experience and definitely worth a visit.
Travelling Vietnam by Motorbike was honestly one of the proudest moments of my life. Guido and I, cannot wait to go back and do it together.
How Much Does It Cost To Travel Vietnam By Motorbike
In one month my total spend was $673 with an average spend of $24 per day. Vietnam is incredibly affordable to travel.
To break down the spending;
- Transportation – $192 – This includes the cost of me buying the bike for $310 and only selling it for $200, Fuel, ferries and my bus to Cambodia.
- Accommodation – $140
- Food – $125
- Activities – $64 – This included a day trip to the second-largest cave in the world! And several other very large cave systems, including a boat ride. Entry into various waterfalls, temples and other tourist attractions.
- Shopping & other – $90 – Including $40 for my Visa to Vietnam.
- Mechanics – $36 – Most of this was a scam I experienced but I had to stop a couple of times to have minor fixes and the fees are very low.
- Alcohol – $19 – I know I’m shocked too, but it really is that cheap
Check out my blog on budget travel for more ways to save money.
Best places to stay in Vietnam
1 – Cat Ba Oasis Bungalows – $15 per night for a bed in a dorm – Book your stay here!
2 – Trang An Retreat Nihn Bihn – $7 per night for a bed in a dorm – Book your stay here!
3 – Central Back Packers Hostel – Phong Nha $10 per night for a bed in a dorm- Book your stay here!
4 – Dalat Friendly Fun Hostel – Dalat $10 per night for a dorm bed – Book your stay here!
5 – Orchids Saigon Hotel – Ho Chi Minh $60 per night for a private room- Book your stay here!
These were all mid-price hostels. I could’ve stayed places for a lot cheaper, but I read reviews to find hostels that were popular with good atmospheres.
If you want to know more about how to find and book cheap accommodation you can check out this post for more tips.
Motorbike Scam to Avoid in Vietnam
The biggest scam that I fell for was so obvious in hindsight and so easy to avoid. When travelling Vietnam by motorbike you are bound to come across a scam at some point, so best to be prepared.
A stranger approached me at traffic lights and told me my chain was loose and it looked really dangerous. I checked it and it seemed fine, so I ignored him and carried on. Slightly further down the road, a different man pulled up alongside me and did the exact same thing. So now I was worried (yep I fell for it). They were clearly working together.
This guy got me to follow him to a nearby Garage, where one man proceeds to distract me while a mechanic literally just takes the bike apart! He comes over about 20 mins later and rattles something in my face and tries to charge me literally millions in Vietnamese money, saying it’s broken. I don’t even think it was a part of my bike.
By this point, I knew that NO work on a bike should cost anywhere near $90, so I fought back with no luck. I ended up calling the guys at Phung Motorbikes, where I originally bought the bike from.
Luckily he negotiated with them on the phone for ages and eventually got them to accept $25. Still far too much but I was so grateful for his help.
TOP TIPS For Travelling Vietnam By Motorbike
Here are some extra tips that will make your life a lot easier when you do this type of trip;
- I used a very secure phone holder, with my phone in a clear plastic bag, tied on with about 8 elastic bands to keep it secure while riding.
- For Sat Nav you can download areas on google maps for offline use for directions. If my battery was running low, I would plug my phone into the power bank in my backpack and have the wire tucked under my arm and into the bag.
- Wear a smaller backpack with water, food and extra layers because the weather can change very quickly.
- Avoid riding on the highways as much as possible (QL1A), they are full of trucks and not the safest place to be. Also, try to avoid riding in the dark for the very same reason. The roads are in poor condition so imagine trying to miss potholes in the dark…nightmare!
- I kept my days of riding to about 6-7 hours max and always set off between 8-9 am to make sure I wouldn’t get caught out riding in the dark.
- Always let someone back home know where you are and where you will be going next and the route if possible. As I was riding alone most of the time, having my parents know my plan gave me peace of mind.
- ALWAYS refuel before leaving a town, and if possible, take a spare bottle with you, especially when doing more remote routes such as the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Final Thoughts – Travelling Vietnam By Motorbike
Vietnam is a truly amazing country with so much to see and do. I hope to go back soon and explore some more.
I hope you found this helpful and if you get to travel to Vietnam someday, I’d love to hear about it. Also, always happy to help with any questions you may have so feel free to get in touch!