David G | Mar 21, 2020 | 0
50 Lifesaving Tips to Safely Travel Vietnam by Motorbike
So, you’ve already booked your flight and have an idea of destinations to visit and things you’re going to do in Vietnam. You’ve decided that you’re going to travel around Vietnam by motorbike and go into a full adventure mode.
We made the same decision, bought three motorbikes in Hanoi and traveled all the way south to Saigon in 30 days. That was a unique and bonding experience between three brothers, three best friends. It’s impossible that either of us will forget these beautiful and challenging days on the road, breathtaking views we’ve encountered, how much we learned about the culture and everything in between.
Like my favorite musician put this in words – ‘Every little thing is gonna be alright!’.
After driving for more than 25,000 kilometers around the country in total (including Laos too), here’s the list of 50 things, tricks and tips that will be extremely helpful while traveling around Vietnam by motorbike.
#1- Organized Chaos is Waiting for You!
It was around 10 am when I first set my feet in foggy Hanoi. I was at the airport and just arrived from Croatia. At that time, it was the middle of the winter there and I was so lazy, or ignorant, to do any prior research on weather in Hanoi. The first impression was, shiet, I don’t have the right clothes as my suitcase was packed with winter clothes.
Anyway, I figured that out by wearing undersized clothes around Vietnam, but that’s the story for another time.
The first things I’ve noticed while getting out of the airport is the density of traffic. Around the airport, it was still bearable, but as soon as we approached the city center, traffic turned into hell faster than a blink of the eye.
Vietnam has a rough population of 90 million people while there are about 45 million registered motorbikes! And yeah, we didn’t mention unregistered or self-made vehicles or even cars/buses/trucks.
Putting all of that into the account, we can conclude that almost every person in Vietnam operates a vehicle! Crazy right?
In the cities, motorbikes flock from every possible angle giving you millions of different sounds trying to communicate they are in the traffic. Some drivers drive on sidewalks, some trying to pull out some superhero moves, while others just transport their whole house with family on the motorbike.
If you’re looking to get more information about routes, budget, places to visit and more, head over to our detailed article where we talked about our Hanoi to Saigon motorbike trip.
It’s an enjoyable experience to sit back and watch traffic passing by, but not so pleasant when you’re aware you’re going to be the part of that chaos soon.
Don’t let these first scenes to discourage you as it looks very shocking and surprising for the outsider, but as soon as you start driving and get a bit comfortable in traffic, you will realize that there is an invisible flow in the traffic everyone is following.
#2- Be Careful About Animals in Traffic
In Vietnam, a motorbike is the most common vehicle since it’s affordable and it can serve well for locals to transport things, usually too many things, but it’s working. There are some speeding cars, buses and truck that are racing all the time and seem like they don’t care about anyone in traffic.
It’s astonishing how not only vehicle operates in traffic, but also flocks of cows, angry dogs, lazy cats, buffalos and many other animals. Be extra careful when driving through small towns or villages in the countryside since dogs can run across the street puts you in a very uncomfortable situation.
Always slow down when you see an animal in traffic since they are unpredictable and can cause accidents. We were talking with many travelers who experienced accidents because of the unpredictable animal in the traffic!
Be extra aware of dogs in cities. Owners usually let them off the leash and they aren’t used to traffic. Dogs or cats typically run across the street without any concern. We saw countless crashes, many dead dogs and scratches on people partly because of (poor) animals in the towns/cities.
Don’t speed in the cities as you never know what’s around the next corner.
#3- You Can’t Overuse the Honk
Don’t be scared to push that honk button more often than needed! We’re coming from Croatia where honking is considered rude and offensive, so we’re using that button only when we need to release our anger and others.
In Vietnam, the story with honking is totally different since people are real artists using the honk. Some got to the point of composing beautiful melodies while passing you on the road.
We also had our own melodies on honks! It’s a thing you have to do – compose a few melodies regarding the situation!
Anyway, using honk in Vietnam is a very essential part of a daily routine in traffic since there are literally millions of bikes in traffic each second. Nothing is going by the rules and people will pass you from different angles and sides so honking is just a reminder that someone is there.
Its purpose is signaling people ‘Hey I’m here!’.
I’ve got in two crashes during my time on the road in Vietnam – one was nothing serious, while other was including another local person. Both time, it happened because I didn’t use honk!
#4- Have Glasses for a Night Drive
Glasses can be beneficial while driving, especially during the night drives around the countryside. The roads are dusty and when any vehicle drives on the street, the dust is getting to the air causing all the particles ending up in your eyes. To prevent that, we suggest buying a full-face helmet or wearing sunglasses during the day and regular glasses during night drives.
Having a pair of glasses can help a lot since it will improve your visibility and protect your eyes from dust (and who knows what else can end up in your eyes?).
Also, driving around the countryside during the rice harvest season is the pain in the ass, especially during the night drive. The reason is mighty flies; or better said, the rain of the flies.
At some points, there are so many flies that makes driving hard and painful (without any kidding!).
Without glasses, it can be very very hard to continue your drive so think in investing some money in glasses or a good full-face helmet.
Non-dioptry glasses in Vietnam are very cheap and you can get one for as low as 300,000 VND.
#5- Avoid Night Drive By All Cost
Driving through the night can be very slow and dangerous since the visibility is scarce. The fascinating thing about Vietnamese roads is that they lack the light network. When driving through the countryside, it’s scarce that you’re going to stumble upon some working lights on the road, maybe around the town center, the lights pop up here and there.
When driving on the highway, you’ll stumble on tiny patches of light through small towns. Time your trip and try to avoid night drives as much as possible.
One traveler had the accident while driving during the night on a highway crossing over the massive rock that was literally lying on the middle of the road.
We drove during the night some parts of our routes since we would always start our journey a bit later than expected (not early risers here), which makes our trip a bit slower and more dangerous, but luckily, nothing bad happened.
Were there any close calls? Too many, but luck is on the side of crazy people!
#6- Don’t Forget Your Raincoat
Never drive without a raincoat below your seat or next to your hands. The weather is very unpredictable, so even if it’s sunny one minute, the next minute you can experience a colossal rain pouring from the sky.
It’s very funny how people handle the rain as nothing happens. When it starts to rain, people just park their bikes for a second, put the raincoat on, and continue as nothing happens. It’s very amazing!
We bought our raincoats at Big C supermarket for around 250,000 VND. After 10 months, we’re still using the same raincoats.
In the beginning, driving through the rain can be very frustrating since the visibility and road conditions are bad, but after a while, you’ll get used to it.
Remember, in case you’re frustrated, just use that honk button on your left handle and everything is going to be alright!
Don’t be cheap and invest in a good quality raincoat as it will save you much hustle while driving. We advise you to get your hands on double part raincoat specially designed for the bikers. You can buy one in the supermarkets.
#7- Mechanics Are Everywhere!
There is an inevitable chance that you’re going to buy a motorbike that has many cross-country trips under the milage. Add to that low-quality parts, the lack of maintenance and you have the perfect equation that results with an unexpected breakdown, preferably in the middle of nowhere!
It is so interesting, but almost every breakdown we experienced was in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, friendly people always jump in and help! Mechanics are just everywhere!
Just look for signs ‘Xe May’ or ‘Hon Da’ which represents a mechanic shop.
Don’t worry though as you’ll find local mechanics shops on every step, even in the most remote places.
There is a possibility that you’re going to put your physical strength in work since the pushing of the bike is proper training, but not for a long.
#8- Don’t Rely Much On Google Maps
Google Maps is a useful app to have, but always have a backup plan since the maps and navigation aren’t the most accurate thing ever.
From our experience, we can say that Google Maps works like a charm when you’re traveling between the cities or places, but you want to go to a specific place in a city, the app tends to freak out.
For navigating around specific locations we found out that Maps.me works so much better and you can use it offline after you download a certain map (whole country’s maps available).
Learn more: Helpful Mobile Apps For Traveling Around Vietnam
Always have both apps installed on your phone in case you get lost or cannot find the location you’re looking for.
Asking people on the road about the specific location doesn’t help since the language barrier is real. We lost so much time figuring out the location once our hope disappeared together with the map.
#10- Don’t Put All of the Money in the Wallet
Never have all of your cash in one place when driving (good general advice!).
First, it can be horrible if you lose your wallet as you instantly need to deal with the loss of your money and possibly some documents. Second, traffic police is known to be on a corruption side (especially the countryside) and they won’t mind asking anyone for coffee money.
If the police stop you, the last thing you want to have is the wallet full of money! These guys are seriously greedy.
Instead, buy another wallet and put some money in. Preferably break down large banknotes into smaller ones. If you ever got caught by the police and they really want a ‘tip’ from you, always remember to bargain and offer them ‘all you have’ in the wallet you have on you, while the main wallet is on the safe place!
Usual coffee price for a police officer is around 200,000 VND. Don’t forget to read our article about the most common scams in Vietnam.
#11- Hey! What About a Driving License?
When it comes to driving license, Vietnam is a very tricky country that always changes the laws and policies regarding international travelers operating vehicles in the traffic.
Travelers from certain countries can legally operate a vehicle on Vietnamese roads with an international driver’s license, while for some countries, it’s required to have a local driver’s license. Head over to Convention 1968 to see if your country is on the list.
It’s a bit tricky, but not that complicated. Head over a complete article about getting a Vietnamese driving license and you’ll get the clear understanding which documents you have to go to be a legal driver in the country.
Oh not to forget! Your insurance won’t cover anything if you have an accident while operating a vehicle without a proper license. So keep that in mind!
To obtain a local driver’s license, you have to have an IDP with a proper category (usually A) to operate a motorbike. Getting a Vietnamese driver’s license is not hard since it requires only translation if you have a proper permit, but if you don’t have, then you have to pass a theory or riding test which makes it a bit more complicated since you need to know a language and have documents in Vietnam.
#12- Avoid QL1 (National Highway) Whenever You Can
A notorious Highway 1 (QL1) gets its reputation as one of the deadliest roads in Vietnam since the majority of fatal accidents tend to happen on that road.
The road connects Hanoi to Saigon, so it’s the usual route of huge trucks and buses. The road itself doesn’t provide you with unique scenery except tiny towns located on the skirts of the road that radiate with the local vibe.
It’s really common for travelers that they take Highway 1 once during their trip, so stopping at small towns is a fantastic way to experience local culture and refresh yourself for the trip that’s still in front of you. Also, if you’re a lack on time, QL1 will definitely make your journey faster since it’s a highway without many obstacles.
If you don’t want to drive with buses and trucks in mind all the time, and also want to experience stunning landscapes Vietnam has to offer, then move inland and drive through iconic Ho Chi Minh Trail next to Laos and Cambodia border.
Thinking of crossing to Laos with your motorbike? Here you can check everything you have to know about crossing from Vietnam to Laos by motorbike.
Traffic on Ho Chi Minh Road is very light, the roads are windy offering you a great driving experience while being surrounded by breathtaking nature.
What more to ask for?
If you have a very limited time in Vietnam, then Highway 1 will be a faster way to travel between the locations, so it really depends on your situation which road you’re going to take.
If you have enough time to explore the beauty of the country, we recommend avoiding Highway 1 at all costs and drive inland instead.
#13- Fill a Bottle With a Fuel
Having a bottle filled with gas will never hurt you while traveling around the country, especially if you’re taking a Ho Chi Minh Road.
On the Highway, there are gas stations on every few kilometers, but once you start driving through secluded routes don’t expect the same. The gas stations will become scarce and if you don’t properly prepare yourself, you’re going to push your bike a long way.
Always put some fuel in an empty bottle to avoid the struggle and hustle as it will serve you as S.O.S. bottle!
We were driving from Da Nang to Kon Tum without knowing that on the way there are like 5 gas stations for the route of 300 kilometers through mountainous area featuring crazy and challenging passes.
Can you guess what happened? Yeah, we were pushing bikes for some time during one stormy night around Central Highlands!
Don’t be like us and plan everything in advance!
#14- Don’t Forget to Cover Your Body From Sun (Wear Sunscreen)
That one is a no-brainer, but still, you will see many foreigners with minimalistic fashion driving around the country in the middle of the summer. Don’t get us wrong, we were doing the same!
It’s hilarious and different when you arrive in Vietnam and see how much people care about their skin and how many layers of clothes they put on themselves while driving. As much as it’s funny, it makes total sense as Vietnam is a very hot country with many sunny days in a year.
Always drive with long sleeves and possibly apply sunscreen with a high factor on you! It’s recommended to buy the sunscreen in your home country since it’s costly in Vietnam and you’ll have a hard time to find a skin product without a whitening effect.
We were all very sunburned during our trip and believe us it sucks when you have crazy sunburns but still need to drive the next day. Just keep the care of your skin!
#15- Always Have a Few Days Unplanned
Before arriving in Vietnam, it’s an excellent thing to have your itinerary and route planned. For us, and many other travelers, it was easy to plan destinations, but the hard task was to plan the exact amount of days we’re going to stay at a certain place.
You never know when a certain place intrigues you and you feel like you need more time to explore. It was almost every place!
Always have a plan of your route with exact timing, but don’t forget to have few days unplanned as it will give you the flexibility to stay at some locations for a long time without compromising with other locations.
We had 6 days unplanned and it worked like a charm since we stayed in Da Nang and Phan Thiet longer than planned.
#16- Whenever You Need Help Locals Will Jump In
Running out of the fuel or getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere sucks, especially if you travel alone, but don’t worry since you are never alone in this beautiful country.
You will always find a local person who’ll be more than happy to give you a hand or call others to help.
In the end, if you experience the same in your country, would you help a foreigner? Of course!
Antonio got pushed many times by locals when he ran out of the gas in the middle of nowhere. They just put their leg on the bike and push which is very unusual and funny but also be careful as it can be very dangerous too.
Vietnam is a country where people will help you without asking anything in return, so uncomfortable situations aren’t such a huge problem here.
Just relax and you’ll be fine!
#17- Basic Phrases Save Lot of Hustle (e.g., have Google Translate with you)!
Many travelers will share the same advice when it comes to traveling to any country – learn language basics.
In Vietnam, knowing the basic phrases can go a long way since there is a considerable language barrier, especially in remote places.
Even simple phrases like greetings can give you an advantage when it comes to getting a better price for goods. We get an impression that people become friendlier when you greet them with a simple ‘Xin Chao’ and they become eager to help you even more.
Knowing numbers and food names can help you a lot when it comes to bargaining and ordering in the restaurants. We saved so much time when dealing with mechanics during our trip just by knowing to say a few phrases.
Anyway, if you don’t have a chance or time to learn basics, don’t worry since Google Translate works like a charm for a basic conversation. The translation isn’t the most accurate, but people will get the context…in most cases.
Have in mind that Vietnamese is a vocal language consisting of six different tones which makes it extremely difficult for foreigners properly intonation the words. There are many words with the same spelling, but different intonation and it will give you a completely different meaning.
Also, as you start to travel around different provinces, the language begins to sound a bit different (dialect).
#18- Don’t Forget to Get a Valid SIM Card
A valid SIM card in Vietnam is a must-have! It’s relatively effortless to get your hands on a valid phone number with 4G ultrafast internet.
We paid 90,000 VND for 1 month of 4gb per day data plan. You don’t need to provide any documents when buying which makes it extremely easy for you to have the card and also, the 4G cover around the country is impressive.
You can experience the lack of signal in the highlands near the borders with Cambodia and Laos, but around the country, we must say we were shocked in a good way about the internet.
Go for Viettel (Vietnamese army is using this provider) or MobiFone.
#19- Be Extra Careful of Buses and Trucks
QL represents a national highway in Vietnam and every QL road consists of three tracks. Two were for big vehicles while the small one is for motorbikes. The motorbike lane is the most right lane on the road and it’s usually in pretty bad condition filled with rocks, a lot of mud, potholes and passing animals.
We were mainly driving on the middle track, but doing so, you put yourself in the risk of encountering racing buses or trucks.
Always, remember watching your mirrors!
That’s an unwritten rule of driving around Vietnam! It’s imperative to know what’s in front of you, but it’s even more important to understand what’s behind you. It’s horrifying when you drive and you’re totally relaxed and at one moment, there is a racing bus behind you starts to honk at you to move!
Whenever you see a bus, truck or a car in your mirror, just politely move a bit on the right side until they pass you.
We had a few close encounters with buses and trucks on the highway because it’s hard to pay attention to your mirrors when you have stunning scenery all around you.
On smaller roads in the mountains, the traffic isn’t so heavy, so it’s more pleasant and safer to drive. Anyway, be extra careful of what’s going behind your back!
#20- Majority of Roads Sucks
Conditions of Vietnamese roads aren’t a thing you will remember with a happy smile on your face. The majority of roads sucks!
Highway 1 is mostly in good condition, but heavy traffic and dust make it dangerous to drive. Also, we’ve encountered countless rocks and other objects on the road that can make you fall from the bike in a blink of the eye.
Antonio met a few travelers in Nghe An, where he was volunteering as a teacher, who had the accident because of the rock on the road. That’s one of the reasons we always emphasize avoiding a night drive.
When you add the weather conditions and wrap it up with road conditions, it makes it very fragile to drive even for experienced drivers.
Sometimes you can drive through a mud or oil patch that will make your motorbike unstable; sometimes the foggy or rainy weather will make it extremely hard to drive. It’s primarily related to Hai Van Pass!
Country roads are charming to drive, but you should be careful of the holes along the road. We encountered hundreds of holes that can do serious damage to your bike and you.
Be careful and don’t speed on the roads you’ve never driven before!
#21- Does Anyone in Vietnam Have a Driving License?
Once you join the chaotic traffic, you will see many unexplainable things including kids driving the motorbikes. It gives the impression that not many people in Vietnam have a proper driving license.
The most dangerous is turning without giving the proper signal or doing U-turns without looking for the upcoming traffic.
Once you hit the road, you will experience all kind of crazy things in traffic, especially people not respecting almost any traffic rule which makes the impression not many people hold any driver’s license here. It’s not only that you’re going to be surprised by people’s driving skills, but expect to experience a crazy amount of culture shocks in Vietnam too.
Be extra careful when you’re driving around Vietnamese roads as you never know what’s the person around you have in mind.
#22- If You Got Pulled Over, Just Speak Another Language Than English
Do you remember the times your family was telling you that knowing the languages can be a tremendous asset? Well, in Vietnam, knowing English and one language other than English is a huge asset!
If you’ve ever got pulled over by traffic police, just remember not to speak English. Not many police officers know to speak English, but if they do, they will most likely request a juicy ‘tip’.
For instance, if you start speaking a language they don’t understand, after a few moments of hustle, they will realize it’s not worth to spend time on you, so they will probably just let you go since there are millions of other people to stop. We wrote a huge article explaining how to deal with the Vietnamese police where you can get some interesting insights and tips.
Even if you’re not speaking any language other than English, just invent your own language.
#23- Regular Bike Maintenance
There is a huge chance that you’re going to drive around Vietnam on a very old motorbike that already passed the country countless times. These bikes need a crazy amount of care and maintenance, especially when driving them long-distance.
These bikes aren’t made for driving a few hundred kilometers per day and it tears down their engine. It’s of uttermost importance that you track your kilometers and adequately maintain the bike.
Don’t forget to do regular oil changes every 500 – 1,000 kilometers.
Once you do an oil change, be sure to tighten the chain and breaks and also lube the chain so your bike will drive smoothly around all kinds of terrains.
#24- Get a Smartphone Holder and USB Charger
Ah, sweet smartphone holder! It was so easy to navigate once we had a proper phone holder on Antonio’s bike. These holders are very cheap and you can find them anywhere. Just head over a local market or any electronic shop and you can get yours for about 50,000 VND.
When we had a phone holder, it was effortless to drive around the country, even in the most remote areas. Without a phone holder, you will lose so much time stopping and checking the map all the time.
There is one story and only Lovel knows what really happened there. We were heading to Mui Ne from Nha Trang and we had a meeting point in Cam Rang. David and I have already met, but there was no Lovel. We called him and he said he drove about 50 kilometers out of Nha Trang, stopped at the gas station and returned back to Nha Trang.
It’s our warmest recommendation always to have a phone holder on your motorbike! Don’t forget to get a bike with a USB charger!
#25- Invest a Bit More in the Bike to Avoid Breakdowns and Delays
When buying a bike, don’t be greedy and invest a bit more in the more reliable bike. Driving a cheap bike can be a double-edged sword since you never know what’s the condition of the engine and when and where another breakdown is going to happen.
Breakdowns may be tough hits on your wallet and time and by all costs, you want to avoid them. We changed our plans many times and overstayed in some locations since Antonio had a very bad motorbike and he was the known customer around mechanic shops…
We advise you to invest in a real Honda or Yamaha bike, a possible semi-automatic that is very reliable, and even it the case of a breakdown, all the mechanics will be able to help you. Read more about our motorbike trip budget breakdown to plan your budget accordingly.
For instance, Honda Wave is the perfect bike. A genuine Honda costs about $350+, but it won’t give you any struggles during the road trip. Unfortunately, you’ll have a bit harder time to sell your bike quick since it’s a bit on the expensive side.
You can read our complete guide on selling motorbikes in Vietnam that will provide you with valuable tips and ideas on selling your bike fast and for the same price you bought it.
In the end, your cheap bike will cost you probably the same as a bit more reliable bike since you’ll probably get many breakdowns on the way.
#26- Ask for a Test Ride and Check If Numbers on the Blue Card Matches
Buying a bike is always a tricky thing, especially if you don’t have any mechanic experience. The motorbike market is enormous, so there are all kinds of bikes in different conditions and many scams are going on.
We wrote a massive and detailed post about buying a motorbike in Vietnam, so be sure to check all the details before getting yourself a motorcycle.
The most important thing or document that comes with your bike and probably give at least half of the value to the bike is a famous blue card. It’s a small document proving that you own the bike.
There are two significant numbers on the blue card – a chassis and engine number. Be sure these numbers are visible (not scratched) and matching the number on the blue card.
If these numbers don’t match, there is a considerable possibility there is something wrong with the bike, or even the bike is stolen. The bike as that loses almost all the market’s value, so always check the numbers! Also, the police will give you a hard time if they check the bikes. They usually don’t do it, especially to foreigners, but better be safe than sorry.
It will take a few minutes from your time to check these numbers, but it will save you many headaches in the future!
#27- Get Travel Insurance!
Wherever you travel, don’t forget to insure yourself and your belongings as you never know what can happen on the road. The last thing you want to experience is the accident in a foreign country without insurance. It can be very costly, no matter of the country’s standard, so investing in proper travel insurance is the right decision.
Travel insurances are very affordable these days while covering the majority of your belongings and most importantly, your health. Traveling around Vietnam with motorbike really requires travel insurance as the traffic is so unpredictable and one moment you enjoy, the next moment you can experience a crash.
Do the research and compare the most relevant insurance policies that suit you.
Remember that insurance won’t cover the medical/hospital costs if you were involved in an accident without a proper driver’s license.
We advise you to check out World Nomads insurance as they also ensure your belongings and technology which comes handy when traveling the long distance in unpredictable weather conditions and chaotic traffic.
David’s laptop was broken during the ride from Da Nang to Kon Tum since we were driving for 15 hours through a crazy storm.
His backpack was filled with water and his laptop didn’t give any sign of life. Sadly for David, he didn’t have insurance that covers technology, so all the losses went directly to his wallet and time. Later, we found out his backpack was only water resistant that can’t handle being exposed to rain for 15 hours. If you’re traveling by motorbike around the country, we suggest to learn what’s a difference between water resistant and waterproof backpack. It will save you a ton of money and headache.
#28- Buy a Bike in Hanoi and Sell in Saigon
The motorbike market in Vietnam is simply enormous. Keep in mind the fact that there are about 45 millions of registered motorbikes operating in traffic daily.
Majority of travelers will recommend you start your journey in Hanoi since the motorbikes are easier to get there and the prices are bit lower.
The main reason for these price fluctuations is Hanoi’s location. Majority of the motorbikes in Vietnam comes from China or factories there, so logistic costs are lower to bring the bike in Hanoi than Saigon. That results in a slight cheaper bike. For instance, Sufat or Detech Win in Hanoi is on average $50 cheaper than in Saigon.
We bought our bikes in Hanoi and sold them in Saigon without getting more money than we invested. You can’t expect that and be happy if you get the close price. You can read our recommendations and tips that will definitely help you when buying a motorbike in Vietnam.
You can definitely profit by selling your bike if you have at least a week in the ending destination. That way, you have all the time to check different potential buyers and also, it gives you a negotiation power since you’re not in a rush.
When your flight is leaving in a few hours, the last thing you’ll think about is to earn like $50 on selling your bike!
#29- Take Coffee and Food Breaks
Driving a long distance on the bikes that are not designed for it will be very exhausting and painful, especially for your back and ass. If you’re on a taller side, you’ll definitely have a problem adjusting your body to the motorbike since the bikes are produced for the local population that is in general shorter than westerners.
After a long driving, you will feel an urge to stop and refresh yourself. Also, don’t forget about your old motorbike to always make stops so the engine can rest a bit. Many locals recommend us to stop every 100 km to give ourselves and our motorbikes a rest.
It’s incredible that no matter where you are you will always stumble upon coffee shops or restaurants on the road. Our favorite refreshment drink was a cold Vietnamese drip coffee or Nuoc Mia (sugarcane juice)! It’s filled with natural sugar, it’s cold and it makes the job to hydrate you and make you ready for the road ahead.
Did you know Vietnam is the country with such a diverse, fresh and delicious street food? Don’t forget to taste one of delicious street food delicacies while traveling around Vietnam.
Don’t try to rush that extra kilometer when you feel tired! Just stop for a while, take your time, enjoy the local cuisine, give your motorbike a rest and continue when you feel it.
The roads are a dangerous place to wander around when you’re tired, so don’t risk!
#30- Be Extra Cautious While Crossing the Road
No matter if you’re one crossing the road or you notice people crossing the road, be extra cautious! People crossing the road usually have a rough time since no one seems to care about them. It’s very dangerous for both parties – drivers and walkers.
In small towns and rural areas it’s not a huge deal, but try to cross the road in big cities and you will get what we’re talking about.
In traffic, it’s vital that you can read the situation, or be very accurate in that since you’ll know how to react without causing trouble for anyone, including you.
Whenever you see someone crossing the road, always slow down! Check the mirrors since some people won’t notice that someone tries to cross the road and that’s a widespread accident cause.
#32- Traffic in Saigon and Hanoi is Tough! Be Ready!
It’s interesting how local people who’re living in the city don’t usually travel around the country by the motorbike. After talking with many locals, the usual answer is ‘It’s too dangerous to drive around the country.’.
We would say that the most dangerous parts to drive around Vietnam are cities like Hanoi and Saigon. These two cities combined have more than 20 million residents and only God knows how many motorbikes in the traffic.
Traffic jams are a usual part of life in the cities and when you add the lack of respecting the rules, you make a very dangerous environment for anyone involved in traffic.
It’s very tough to drive in these two cities, so if you don’t have any prior driving experience, be sure to take time to get used to your motorbike before hitting the road. Traffic is scary and so many things happen at once, so there are too many things to focus and you don’t want to put so much effort in figuring out how your motorbike works when you’re in the middle of the chaos.
Another piece of advice is to avoid rush hours that usually happen around 7 am, 11 am and 5 pm!
#33- Don’t Put Your Cards on Weather Forecast
It’s good to check the weather forecast so you can mentally prepare yourself for an upcoming day, but don’t put all of your bucks into the reliability of the forecast.
We were always making sure that we have the idea of the weather we can expect on the road, but all the time, there were some terrible misses in predictions.
The weather in Vietnam is very unpredictable, especially once you hit the famous Highlands near the Laos and Cambodian border. In one moment you will experience a clear sky with a fantastic view in front and around you, while after the next hill there is a small storm waiting for you.
You never know what to expect, so always make sure to have a raincoat and rain cover for your luggage ready.
#34- Lock Your Bike or Park It On the Secured Spot!
Bike robberies aren’t very common around the country, but still, there is a possibility that your bike won’t be at the place you parked it the last night.
The scary situation happened to Antonio on our first night of the trip in Hanoi. We went to an expat pub and we parked our bikes in front of the pub. After a while, Antonio went outside to check his bike and he couldn’t find it.
Imagine the scene ‘Dude where’s my bike!’
He was searching his bike for a while and finally found it thrown in the middle of the small alley. It happens when you park in front of someone’s doors, so always be aware where you park your bike.
We advise you to invest in a durable U-lock and always park in a secured parking place. It costs like 5,000 – 10,000 VND for a whole day and you can really relax without worrying about your bike.
Many hotels/hostels/guesthouses have the parking lots for motorbikes, so while you’re staying in, you can really enjoy the experience. Just be sure to check if your accommodation has the secured parking on site. If they don’t have one, then they will probably just park the bike inside the lobby during the night.
#35- Have a Rain Cover For Your Luggage
The rain cover for your luggage is the must!
It doesn’t need to be an original backpack poncho or cover, but make sure that you always have a waterproof cover when traveling on a motorbike since the weather is very unpredictable.
We bought a few trash bags and always covered our luggage with these before every trip, even if it was sunny since once it starts to pour, it takes a bit to cover the luggage and hit the road again.
Always have all the things that you might require for the trip in your daypack since you don’t want to reach your luggage and uncover the rain cover searching for something you need!
It’s a pain in the ass and it’s never enough emphasizing this!
#36- Get a High-Quality Full-Face Helmet
Having a good helmet while driving a motorbike is a common-sense, but you will see many people driving with the baseball-hat type of helmets. These helmets can’t protect you from anything, but it serves the purpose of avoiding the problems with police when driving around.
The protection and quality standard in Vietnam is different than around the world, so we advise you to buy a helmet and bring it from your home country. You won’t have any problems or extra costs while doing that. Lovel brought his helmet from Croatia just in case to be extra safe.
When buying a motorbike, the sellers will usually provide you with their helmets that are very unsafe and can’t protect you much, so always invest in a full-face helmet once in Vietnam.
Antonio bought a full-face helmet from Royal company for 500,000 VND and the quality isn’t the best, but for Vietnamese standard, it is a helmet that can protect you from serious injuries.
Don’t be cheap and invest in a good helmet. You don’t want that few dollar helmet is protecting your head.
It doesn’t sound safe or smart at all!
#37- Take Enough Time to Buy/Sell a Motorbike
Buying and selling a bike is a whole process that requires proper planning and organization. The market of the motorbikes in Vietnam is enormous, so getting the best deal can be tricky.
When buying a bike, we advise you to take a day or two to explore the market and check out a few bikes. Don’t buy the first bike and just take your time when buying!
The same goes for selling. If you want to get the asked price for your bike, then prepare to put some effort into selling. We did a whole marketing campaign for selling our bikes a week prior we reached Saigon.
Always start with planning and organizing before as you don’t want to be stuck in the country with the bikes and flight in a few hours.
That’s an excellent recipe for underselling your bike!
#38- Be Comfortable While Driving
Never start to drive long distance until you’re not feeling completely comfortable in the chaotic traffic.
For instance, David never drove anything else than a bicycle in his life, so we had a tough time when starting our trip in Hanoi. Traffic there is very chaotic, so we were a bit skeptical about how it will all go with David and his motorbike.
We decided that the best would be that he goes for a scooter since it’s straightforward to drive it without thinking about changing the gears. His only concern was being present and aware of things that going on around him. He did a few test drives around calmer parts of the city and once he got a grasp for the motorbike, we just started to drive around the city.
Don’t forget to read our detailed guide that will make your motorbike trip in Vietnam much better and comfortable.
At first, you will feel very uncomfortable dealing with traffic and rules, since no one seems to respect the rules, but after a day or two, you will start to feel more comfortable.
Just drive slow and follow the flow and you’ll be fine. And yeah, don’t become too comfortable as the accidents usually happen when you start thinking you’re a master in traffic.
Ask Antonio what happens when you become too comfortable and start to drive recklessly around the Vietnamese traffic!
#39- Never Enough Bungees for Your Luggage
Always be sure that you have at least two more bungees than you need!
The last thing you want to experience is losing your valuables somewhere on the road. It’s hard to notice your luggage falling from the bike since you have to focus on many things while driving and also the sound of your motorbike and traffic don’t go into your advantage.
You can buy bungees everywhere, but we were mainly buying in the local markets. The price for one bungee is around 10,000 VND so that it won’t break your bank, but it will make one worry go away!
Our tip is to tie a backpack strap to your pants while driving so in case of backpack going loose, you’ll feel it on your pants.
Also, we had an experience of breaking the bungees many times. When it breaks you can always tie it together and reuse. But anyway, get few just in case.
#40- Get Lost Sometimes!
Don’t blindly stick to the planned itinerary or the route. Wander around and take that unknown way or small alley that definitely doesn’t seem to bring you to the destination. You never know what beauty you are about to encounter!
We were always doing that, so we stumbled upon too many outstanding places during our travels around Vietnam.
It’s tough to get lost since Google Maps is always helpful, but also, if you don’t have an internet connection don’t forget to install (and download maps) Maps.me which is a great map application that works offline too.
Go off-the-beaten-path since it will provide you with the views and experiences that will stay with you forever! For instance, we decided to skip all boat tours in Ha Long Bay and decided to climb Bai Tho mountain! It was such a good decision.
#41- Have an Idea on Gas Level or You’re Going to Push the Bike Around
Regular backpacker’s motorbikes aren’t in the best condition, so it’s scarce that you’ll stumble upon a bike with a working speedometer and all indicators on the driver’s board. The gas indicator is probably one of the most important things you can have on your bike.
Luckily for us, we had two bikes with working gas indicators which makes our trip much more pleasant since after a while we knew how many kilometers we can drive with the full gas tank. The problem was Antonio and his old Sufat Win which didn’t have any indicator and it was a bit hard to predict how much fuel is remaining in a tank.
Always be aware of the level of the fuel in your gas tank. If you don’t have a working gas indicator and you’re not sure about the levels of the gas and the consumption of your motorbike, be sure to have one water bottle filled with the gas on you.
Another good advice would be to always fill your gas tank to the top before starting a long journey as it will save a lot of time if you run out of the gas in the middle of nowhere.
Looking for an unforgettable adventure? Just hit up Antonio as he became a professional bike pusher in all kinds of terrains around the country!
#42- Always Check Your Kickstand Before You Start Driving!
Sometimes, when you just start driving a motorbike, you may forget about the kickstand. It’s very dangerous to drive with kickstand pulled down, especially in the curves during the higher speed.
Usually, that results in the accident, so don’t forget to take a second to check if you pulled the kickstand up!
Also, it’s a hilarious fact, but the police can actually stop you if they see you driving with a pulled kickstand and write you a fine.
Vietnamese people always scream or point at your kickstand if they notice you driving like that! Such a friendly bunch of people!
#43- Make Stretching a Habit!
Driving a long distance is a very exhausting activity, especially on the motorbike that isn’t designed for that purpose. If you buy a regular backpacker’s motorbike like Honda Wave or Win, you can expect a very uncomfortable bike, especially if you’re a taller person.
After a few hard days sitting on the bike, you will definitely feel that your body is crushed, so it’s very smart to do daily stretches combined with massage here and there. We took about 5 – 10 minutes per day to stretch and it helped a lot. Also, physical activities like hiking, running and swimming help a lot!
The foam roller is fantastic equipment to always have in your bag, especially if you don’t want to spend money or time on massage that may not be that beneficial.
#44- Be One With the Flow of Traffic
Once you land in Vietnam and see the traffic, there is a huge possibility you’ll be shocked.
We were very shocked at our first sights of traffic and we couldn’t believe we’re going to travel around the whole country on motorbikes. It seemed so dangerous and impossible at that time.
There are so many things going on at the same time and when you add that traffic rules are almost non-existent, you simply don’t get any idea how is it possible to drive a motorbike in Vietnam safely.
It very bizarre to see traffic going on around the huge crossroad. It looks like everyone starts driving at the same time and somehow everyone avoids each other without any accidents. To an observer, it may seem very impressive and impossible, but once you start driving, you will realize there are patterns and specific flow in traffic.
People can read situations and adjust to it very good which makes it much easier once you get used to it.
The best advice we can give you here is to follow the flow. Don’t drive faster than anyone else, don’t do things no one else is doing and you’ll figure things out.
#45- Drive Relaxed – This Isn’t a Road Rage Country!
This one applies basically everywhere in the world – never drive tired or stressed! For some countries, it goes a long way, especially when we’re talking about Vietnamese traffic.
Honking culture is entirely different than in the western world and it’s usually not a sign of aggression but rather politeness.
Don’t drive recklessly and always respect other people and their safety!
When someone pulls out something stupid or dangerous in traffic, don’t stress yourself over it since you’ll encounter many illogical and dangerous things people are doing in the traffic.
Just kindly remind yourself you’re in Vietnam and it’s time to adjust to Vietnamese traffic.
#46- Remember to Double Check Both Sides at Intersections!
Be extra careful when crossing intersections, especially in the cities. Even if there is a traffic light, always drive slow and check both sides!
The habit of people is to start driving when the red light is still on (a few seconds before green light), which makes it extremely dangerous for the ongoing traffic on the other side of intersection which still has a green light on.
Always slow down on the intersection and check both sides twice before crossing.
We saw quite a few accidents that looked very nasty on the intersections because people didn’t slow down or other people started to drive before their green light.
#47- Choose Your Bike Type Wisely Depending on Your Skill Level
When buying a bike for your epic motorbike trip around Vietnam, always have in mind your motorbike skills and prior experience.
With a regular motorbike license, it’s illegal to drive any bike that is bigger than 175 cc. Even if you want to get a big bike, it’s tough to find a bike and it will be even harder to sell it on a limited time, so we advise you to skip it and go with a regular backpackers’ bike.
The most common bikes are automatic, semi-automatic and manuals that range from 110 to 125 cc. Choose your bike according to your skill levels and experience.
Also, if you plan to drive two people and the luggage on the bike, it’s advisable to go for 125 – 150 cc since you’ll need more power to pass all the obstacles waiting for you on the road!
#48- Don’t Drive Batshit Drunk or High!
This one is so logical and it’s almost no point in mentioning it, but still, there are always people who’re driving after a rough drinking night, including us sometimes.
Driving under the influence not only puts you in danger but also all the people in the traffic around you.
The transportation options in Vietnam are vast, so whenever you plan to have a great night with a few drinks, always call a Grab or take public transport. It’s cheaper and safer than sitting on a motorbike and risking the life of you and others.
#49- Respect Locals – You’re the Guest After All!
Don’t be a disrespectful foreigner who thinks of himself as the owner of the country just because of the money. We saw many people like these, just throwing money at people, not respecting their customs, traditions or culture.
It looks very impolite and it gives a bad reputation to all foreign travelers. Please learn about the culture and be respectful to people. Vietnamese people are thrilled, friendly and hospitable people willing to help at any time. Don’t make these nice people change their minds over time. Antonio had a chance to celebrate Tet holiday with a local family!
#50- Don’t Contribute to Environment Pollution and Be Conscious About It!
Pollution levels are high and awareness levels are extremely low. People mainly lack the proper education when it comes to environmental preservation, so don’t be shocked to see pollution all around you. It became part of Vietnamese culture.
We were very shocked when we traveled around the countryside through small fishermen villages where people mainly live from fresh seafood. The beaches and the surrounding area serves as a place to throw the trash for the local population. When you think about it, these people are basically shooting themselves in the foot by doing that since they are decreasing the quality and number of the fish which means less money for them. Who knows and who can predict what’s waiting for the future generations without the proper education.
Please don’t leave traces behind you when traveling around Vietnam and you never know, maybe you’ll inspire some locals by your example. Don’t order takeaways or if you order, make sure that you bring your own reusable cup or container for the food. Buy a reusable water bottle, refuse a plastic straw in your drink and also, put your things to a reusable bag instead of using plastic bags.
Hope these tips are helpful and will make your travel around Vietnam by motorbike much more comfortable and memorable. If you have anything to add, feel free to reach us out!