So, you’re planning to visit Vietnam and explore the beauty of the country by motorbike? We know how much time it takes on planning all the routes, itineraries, tours, but have you ever thought about the time you will spend to find a reliable motorbike?
Finding a bike in Vietnam is very easy since the country has around 45 million registered motorcycles on the population of roughly 90 million people!
It roughly means that every second person has a bike, or better said – every bike serves (at least!) two people! How crazy is it, right?
Don’t get excited too soon, as finding the reliable motorbike that will be your truthful companion around the country can cause few headaches! Locals around the city mainly use motorbikes as the mean of transportation as they don’t usually travel long distances, so the bikes are in better condition than your average ‘backpacker’ motorbike.
We have the experience of buying and maintaining three different bikes and driving a few other bikes. Nothing is certain on the road except one thing – BREAKDOWNS!!!
There were many breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, oil leaks, flat tires, you name it!
We want to share bits of knowledge we gathered from driving 5,000kms around this stunning country and help you in picking the suitable motorbike for your trip!
…because a breakdown in the middle of nowhere isn’t funny at all!
Where to Buy a Motorbike in Vietnam
You will most likely start your trip in either Hanoi or Saigon and these cities are the biggest hubs of backpackers and also the major starting point for travelers who’re traveling around by the motorbike. The motorbike market in these two cities is huge which can be very tricky as you can choose between million bikes!
We didn’t have any prior mechanic experience when it comes to motorbikes, so it was a bit tougher to pick a reliable bike. We had a bit of luck to have prior experience in Vietnam with motorbikes and many local friends, so we were poured with a dozen of advice when it comes to buying the bike.
The usual advice is to buy a motorbike in Hanoi and sell it in Saigon. The reason is that China is nearer to Hanoi and many bikes are coming from China, so the price is lower as there are not as much logistics costs as in Saigon.
Many stories will tell you that you can even earn money by selling the motorbike in Saigon. It wasn’t our case! A bit of money was lost, but nothing significant!
We didn’t have much trouble when buying a motorbike in Hanoi, and it took us one afternoon to do a test drive and close a deal.
We posted on the Facebook group called Vietnam Backpackers Travel and Sales that we’re looking for a motorbike, and there were so many comments in the few minutes. Many of the people are sellers and agencies which is rather good as they have a Facebook page where you can check the reviews.
We decided to check a Mr. Leo agency as the guy had one automatic and semi-automatic motorbike at the time.
We spent around 3 hours checking the bikes and doing test drives since David never drove anything except a bicycle. Anyway, it was a successful afternoon as we got two bikes and we were ready for our motorbike trip around Vietnam!
So, to answer the question of where to buy a motorbike in Vietnam – it really doesn’t matter as you’ll probably going to start your journey from Saigon or Hanoi. The market is enormous in both cities, and you shouldn’t have any struggle while finding a motorbike in these cities.
The best advice we can give you is to never to believe people who say that they never experienced a breakdown on the road!
The chances for that are close to zero!
What Kind of Motorbike Should You Buy?
There are so many different types of motorbikes in Vietnam, so sometimes it can be very confusing when picking the suitable motorbike for you.
Here are the most usual motorbikes travelers get for the Vietnamese trip:
Backpackers usually go for ‘Honda’ Win. Please note that the original Honda Win is hard to find since Honda stopped to produce these bikes almost ten years ago. They sold that series to Chinese and Vietnamese companies, so now, you have many different versions of Win motorbike. None of these bikes is Honda since real Honda Win will cost you around $1000.
Funny fact: Antonio got his bike as a gift in Hanoi!
A ‘Honda’ Win’s price usually goes from $150 – $500. We advise you to not go for the cheapest one since these bikes have so many kilometers under the belt and you can expect many breakdowns on the road with the cheapest ones. Instead, aim for the bikes that are in $300 price range. You can get a decent manual bike in that range!
There are many different brands of Wins now, but from experience, we think Sufat and new Detech (2016+) are the most reliable. Antonio was driving Sufat from Hanoi to Saigon without any significant problems on the machine. The only problem he had was the electric, so he had issues with starting a bike sometimes. Also, the indicators usually don’t work on these bikes, so be careful when it comes to checking the fuel. His Sufat left him without the gas in the most remote areas few times!
Don’t be like Antonio and always fill your tank!
We found out that semi-automatic bikes are very reliable but slightly more expensive than manuals. Lovel was driving Honda Wave, and he didn’t have any major breakdowns except broken chain and few problems with a gearbox that he changed on the road.
The bike is cruising like a charm, and you can easily reach 90 km/h which is ideal for many roads around the country. The indicators work, so you don’t need to worry about fuel consumption. Also, the bike has a lot of strength so climbing on the steep mountains won’t cause obstacles to a well-maintained Wave. The Waves are delightful and comfortable to drive, but be careful that you’re buying a real Honda since there are many versions of Chinese waves as Lifan.
Yamaha Sirius and Taurus are another good to go semi-automatic bikes, but they will cost a bit more, and their fuel consumption isn’t as good as Wave. So if you’re thinking about buying a semi-automatic, definitely go for a Wave.
An automatic type of motorbike is the most suitable for total beginners who never had any experience with the bikes or people who don’t want to think about changing the gears while focusing on chaotic traffic around.
Automatic bikes aren’t the most comfortable bikes and there is not much space, so prepare for a bent back and be ready to put some money for a massage here and there.
Also, when hitting the hills with an automatic, you will obviously have a much harder time as you have no control over the transmission. Driving on the challenging Ho Chi Minh Trail was really slow on this bike.
David was driving SYM Atilla along the way and he passed 3,500 km with the bike without a single breakdown! Without a single breakdown, you heard it right!
He even didn’t have a flat tire or broken chain. Literally nothing except changing the oil every 1,000 kilometers.
Here and there, you may end up with some slight issues with the electric starter, but that’s not a permanent issue. Also, this bike has a kickstart for situations like this.
If you’re thinking about getting an automatic bike, then we advise you to go with SYM Atilla or Honda Lead (a bit more expensive) as these bikes are very reliable, but once they break down, you will have a hard time to find a mechanic who can help you!
Motorbike Newbie Here? Things to Check Before Buying a Motorbike
So now you know where to buy a motorbike and which types of motorbikes are the most usual in Vietnam! It’s time to go into details and talk about the things you should pay attention to when testing the motorbike.
These tips will definitely help people without any mechanic experience since we’re the same, but it turned out these things can save you a lot of time and money on the road, so let’s start:
- Check the condition of both tires. You can put the price down if the tires are well-used and you should change the used tires as the roads can be very slippery in some sections.
- Front and rear signals are working?
- Front and rear lights are working? Does the brake indicator on the back work?
- Always check out the condition of your horn and loudness level of it! It’s one of the most important things on your motorbike!
- When doing a test drive, try out your brakes and get a feeling of tightness. It can be fixed easily since the mechanic just needs to adjust the cables and wheel.
- Try to turn on the motorbike with a kickstart and on the electric starter.
- Drive a bit and leave the motorbike on the stand. When the engine gets a bit warmer, you shouldn’t see any oil leaks below. If you notice any leaks after a short ride, it’s the sign that engine isn’t in the best condition.
- Put the bike on the center stand and rotate the rear wheel to see if it’s centered.
- Drive in all gears and check out if there is an anomaly when changing the gears. The gears should change without much effort and you can also put in the neutral gear once you’re in 1st and 2nd gear (manual bikes).
- Check out the suspension when you’re braking and also see if there is any rust or cracks. When you’re driving everything should be smooth without any wobbling and vibrations.
- The bike shouldn’t have any sprayings on the machine since it can be an indicator that the seller is trying to hide a broken part from you.
- Double check the numbers on the blue card. Both numbers should match the machine and the case.
These tips can help you so much in filtering bad bikes! If the bike passed all the checks, then there is a huge possibility it’s the right bike you should buy for your trip.
Another great tip when buying is to have a local friend who knows people and who can help you with negotiating the price. Believe us, the language barrier can be a deal breaker here!
Bike Accessories That Will Make Your Life Easier
There are some things that will save you a lot of time and hustle on the road if your bike has it. It’s not a major deal breaker if the bike doesn’t come with these things, but always ask for it, or bargain the price.
- Bungee cords are necessary since you need to tie down your luggage to the rack. Be sure that you use at least one more bungee than you think you need since the roads are usually unpredictable and you don’t want to lose your luggage on the way.
- Many sellers will usually give you a helmet with the bike, but it’s not important as they will probably give you a cap helmet that is maybe suitable for a bicycle. You need to invest in a proper full-face helmet!
- Luggage rack that is extended on the back of the bike is an essential thing since you will be carrying a lot of luggage with you. Double check for the rust and strength of the rack!
- Cell phone holder is a handy tool since you can put your phone with the map and navigate without reaching your pocket and stopping. This is a major time saver!
- Chain and a lock for the safety of your bike. This comes in handy when you’re doing day trips and you don’t park your bike in a safe place. In the big cities, thefts are not so common but are possible, so always secure your bike with the lock or park on the place where a security guard will watch your baby.
These are just some of the things that will ease up things a bit when you’re on the road!
Logistics and Safety Tips for Driving Around Vietnam
After you’ve got a nice and reliable bike, it’s time to talk about the safety and logistics tips that can save your time, money and life while driving around the country!
Cost breakdown: How much a motorbike trip around the country will cost you?
We didn’t apply all of these tips and when we reflect on the journey, these tips could make our trips much more enjoyable with the less headache on the road.
So here you go:
- Don’t hesitate to buy a few more bungee cords for your luggage. These are very cheap and you can usually buy one cord for around 10,000 VND on every local market. It’s always better to have more cords as you don’t need to worry about the safety of your luggage while driving on bumpy and clumsy roads. Believe us, Vietnam is full of these roads!
- Always have a raincoat and poncho for the luggage. Don’t be cheap and save money on that equipment. In the supermarkets like Big C, you can get a decent raincoat for around 250,000 VND, which will totally protect you from the rain. Also, almost every backpack comes with the poncho, but in the case you don’t have it, just buy a few trash bags to put your backpacks in. It worked for us!
- A toolkit for changing the oil, tires and tightening the chain can be very handy especially when you’re driving through remote areas.
- Be sure to have a valid SIM card with 4G internet as it will help when driving around the country!
- Invest in a full-face helmet and don’t be cheap! Helmets in Vietnam are a joke and safe helmets are very hard to find. Usually, the best helmets are around $25, but the quality is very bad! We advise you to bring a helmet from your country since it will add up tremendously to your safety.
- Always check your mirrors! Sometimes, the huge buses or trucks will start honking behind your back in full speed, and you don’t want that unpleasant surprise. You should always be aware of the traffic in front and behind you!
- Don’t forget to honk! Honking in Vietnam is common and without it, there would be so many accidents! Honk is just a signal that tells people where is someone and in which direction someone is coming from. It’s not impolite to honk; just be sure that your honk is working and use it as much as possible.
- Use motorbike lane as much as possible since you won’t encounter buses and trucks so much. The only problem with these lines are things like rocks and bumps on the road. Be extra careful not to hit rocks on the road as it can result in the accident.
- Don’t drive too fast since the road conditions aren’t the best and the road on some sections in muddy and slippery. We were usually driving around 70 on the highway and 60 on other roads.
- Have a bike lock or park the motorbike on the parking that is secure.
- Long sleeves and sunscreen will definitely help in protecting your skin from a crazy strong sun in Vietnam. Sometimes, it’s cloudy, but don’t be fooled! Always protect your skin from the sun!
Follow these tips, and you should be alright on your motorbike journey through Vietnam!
Maintenance Before and On the Road
Remember one thing when getting a second-hand bike in Vietnam – these bikes passed the same trip you’re planning to do hundreds of times!
Many bikes didn’t have a proper maintenance and you want to be sure that you start off your trip right and check everything about your bike.
Here are the things we advise you to check and change before starting your crazy trip:
- Change the oil and clean the engine (500 – 1,000 km)
- Check out the mirrors and all the screws/bolts on the engine and frame
- Test your brakes and adjust them if necessary. Also, changing the brake pads will help a lot!
- Change plugs
- Tighten and lubricate the chain
TA-DA! Your motorbike is ready for the trip!
Once you hit the road, you don’t want to torture your bike. You should always take a good care of it and visit a mechanic once in a while. Don’t worry, that won’t be a problem as you will probably visit the mechanic more than you want!
Here are the maintenance things you should consider doing once you hit the road:
- Change the oil every 500 – 1000 km
- When you change the oil, always tighten the chain and adjust the brakes
- Put extra air to the tires and check out the condition of your tires
- Check out the bolts and loose parts and tighten them
That’s it! Do these things and you are totally ready for this trip!
How to Deal With a Breakdown?
You will probably experience at least one breakdown on the road, but don’t worry! There are mechanics on every step who will know how to repair your bike.
In Vietnam, it seems like every kid knows how to drive and maintain the motorbike, so even in the most remote places, you won’t be alone!
If you experience a breakdown that won’t enable you to continue driving, then just look for the sign “Xe May” or “Hon Da”. These two means that the mechanic for the motorbike is there ready to help!
They can help you during the day and sometimes during the night, but you might be unlucky around their lunchtime since they are enjoying their Siesta time and there is a huge possibility they won’t do anything, no matter how much you’re going to pay them.
(At the time of writing, the exchange rate from USD to VND is 23,470VND for 1 USD.)
Here are the usual prices of the repairs, so you can notice when someone wants to rip you off:
- Oil change with chain lubricating, tightening and brake adjusting – up to 120k
- Spark plug – 70k
- Flat tire (inner tire) – 100k
- Changing the inner and outer tire – 300k
- Battery – 250k – 350k
- Suspension – 300k
- Brake pads – 100k
- Exhaust – 250k
- Front light – 200k
- Backlight – 100k
- Chain – 150k
- Carburetor – 250k
- Cylinder – 400k
- Brake or clutch handle – 70k
- Set of mirrors – 90k
- Changing the clutch – 500k
- Front rim – 300k
- Back rim – 500k
- Complete new gearbox – around 1 mil
- Alternator – 200k
Always ask for the price up front as a mechanic won’t be able to manipulate you on your ignorance. Once the price is set, Vietnamese respect it and they won’t change it. Just take a look at the prices above so you know what’s the usual price for the parts. With that knowledge, you’ll have a good starting point for bargaining.
There are millions of bikes in Vietnam. Choosing the right one may be easy for motorbike experts and enthusiasts, but if you’re a newbie on that front, it might be a challenging endeavor.
We hope that the tips you’ve seen above will help you with your decision on buying the right bike!
It may seem that there is a lot to do, but when you tick off the things from that list, you realize that maintaining your bike isn’t so demanding after all!
Follow these tips, and the bike won’t leave you hanging in the middle of nowhere.
Have any more tips to share while buying a motorbike in Vietnam? Don’t hesitate to write a helpful comment!