If you have a chance to visit Vietnam, even for your very first time or you are familiar with the destination, it will be great to rent a motorcycle and go around. In Vietnam, a motorcycle is the most popular vehicle on the street because of its convenient, affordable and works best with the road system.
But more important, with a motorcycle, you can experience more like local people than going like other tourists in a common way. You can easy to stop everywhere you want for a quick photo shoot, visit a local house and interact with local people, enjoy the freedom of controlling the wheels, feel the wind through your hair and never get bored of sitting in a car.
With the road system in Vietnam, you can reach to everywhere with a motorbike, but not with a car. That’s the first score of traveling by motorcycle. You can go further and deeper into authentic areas and proud to show all of those pictures. When you want to stop, it’s not complicated as parking a car. And you won’t miss the best moments for your photos.
During the road trip, you can learn how to handle things and situation, such as running out of fuel, stuck on a rough road, etc. All of that will teach you interesting things and raise you more if you try to stay out of the box.
Finally, traveling by motorbike would be more valuable, compare to what you gain and what you have to pay for.
However, to completely enjoy the fun of the trip, there are plenty of things you need to know before hitting the road, especially for your safety. Even you are a professional rider, you might hear that the traffic in Vietnam is chaos and there are much different from your place.
Here are 13 things to keep in mind when you are traveling by motorbike in this Southern East Asia country:
If you have a motorbike at home or not, motorbike in Vietnam is still a bit different in the transmission. The most common type of transmission in Vietnam is continuous variable transmission (CVT). It is easy to ride at the beginning but not a great option for long road due to its fuel consumption. The other one is sequential manual transmission (SMT), which could be familiar to you. This type of transmission makes your motorbike easy to fix and control the speed when going downhill. Just go with the type that you are familiar with or easiest to control.
Vietnamese people are normally smaller than Westerner so you might want to check how you will sit on the motorbike and choose the one that fit for you most. It could be two to three hours driving without stop so make sure you feel comfortable.
After renting the model you like, ask the renter to check your bike with you to detect any problem that might happen during your trip. Check the tires, brake pads and replace the oils to make sure that motorbike is in good condition. The light systems should be checked as well. You don’t want to be hit just because your brake lights do not work on the road. If you don’t have experience on that, try to ask an expert to check it for you or take your bike to a garage to have them checked.
Understand the way will let you know which situation you might have to deal on the road. You might know in advance which part is bad or in construction, uphill or downhill and estimate the time of traveling. Estimate the road and time to make sure you can reach to rest stop during the day and avoid to riding at night. The more you know about the route, the better you can prepare for your trip.
As you understand the route, you will know exactly what you need to bring. And some extra survival tools are helpful right when you need it.
The first thing you need will be an exquisite helmet. It’s better with a windbreak and more efficient if cover at least half of your head. Some protection pads for arms and legs will give you more protection too.
An essential repairing kit should be on this list. If you know how to change the tires or some basic adjustment to your scooter, that is great. If not, it’s still helpful to have the kit in your pack. You can find someone on the road to help and provide any tools they need to fix your motorbike.
Next is a big bottle (about 1.5 liters) and this is not for containing water. This is for fuel. Unless you know where the fuel stations on the road and understand your motorbike, a backup bottle of fuel is always helpful when you are in the middle of nowhere.
Some snacks, chocolates, and water will keep you healthy enough for a long ride.
A raincoat can be missed and it will be more safety to use a separate jacket and trousers. The big robe could block the wind and make it harder to control the wheels.
Rope, rubber bands will be used to fasten your stuff to your motorbike or maybe, help to drag your motorbike when needed.
When you are traveling in a different country, it’s better to follow the law and stay out of trouble. Understand the law well and pay attention to sign board on the road will let you travel safe and continuously and won’t have to meet local police.
To be honest, local police could ignore to some small faults. But don’t make that to your advantage. Sometimes, the police can be really aggressive and they do not hesitate just because you are foreigners.
Go in two third of your lane and never encroach other lanes. Don’t go near the roadside because this place usually has nails and other stuff that could damage your tires.
Never drink any alcohol at every rest stop. Even a little is still dangerous for you. Furthermore, the government punishes this fault really hard in Vietnam. This action is all for your safety.
Don’t overtake when your sight is limited and avoid passing on the right side. When overtaking big car like containers, try to keep a safe distance and give the signal first.
When riding at night, use the head lights proper. Low the light when facing opposite vehicles to avoid a strike at their eyes. If they do not do the same, slow down and pull over and never try to turn the light on them.
For uphill and downhill, remember if you go uphill with which gear then you will go downhill with the same gear.
Mirrors are necessary to watch your back so ask the renter to install it for you. Most of the motorbikes in Vietnam have these mirrors removed due to owner hobbies (actually I don’t know why they do that) but you will definitely need them, especially when the law required them too.
Vietnamese people is friendly and hospitality so if you get lost or don’t know exactly the way, go ahead to ask anyone on road. Look for young people will be more helpful as most young people in Vietnam can speak English pretty well or enough to understand you.
Vietnam is well known for a beautiful and peaceful destination with many stunning landscapes and ancient sites to visit. But not all of them are ideal for traveling by motorbike due to the activities in there. You can ride to Ha Long Bay, but it seems pretty lame because all you are going to do is on a boat and the road does not have many things to see. With this thought, this list below could be a good start for you to ride and I would like to show you some off the beaten track place than popular area. We will start from main cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, where you can easy to rent a motorbike and reach to other places.
Tam Dao (86 kilometers from Hanoi)
It is the easiest place to go in the North of Vietnam. It takes only 3 hours driving to get there which is a great option if you don’t have much time or you just want to try a bit. Tam Dao is a small province located on the top of Tam Dao Mountain with great weather and atmosphere. This place is popular with local people, so you will find it different from other locations dedicated for foreign tourists.
The best thing about Tam Dao is the air. Its temperature is always cooler than Hanoi. Furthermore, some researchers report that there are many suitable ions in the air which could make you feel better and stronger. The price in Tam Dao is reasonable, and they have a wide range of good foods to try.
The road is easy to go with the clear direction you can find on Google maps. Especially, at the last 18 kilometers, you can test your skill on the uphill road to get to the top of Tam Dao. This part could be the best part of your trip, and you might want to do it twice.
As a matter of fact, you can go around Tam Dao by a motorbike and it’s not crowded of full of traffic. There are many places to visit like the National Parks, the Old Stone Church, the Silver Waterfall, the Mother Temple, center market and a medium hiking to the middle of the forest.
Mai Chau (150 kilometers from Hanoi)
If you prefer to learn more about local culture and people, then Mai Chau will be a right choice for you. Not too far from Hanoi and also easy to ride, Mai Chau is a beautiful valley with full of friendly ethnic people – Thai people. It will take about nearly 4 hours driving from Hanoi to Ban Lac Village, the center of Mai Chau.
This place could be a bit touristy now but still worth to going there. Beautiful landscape with signature terraces and houses on stilts are what waiting for you in there. Ride around the village and talk to local people will be a great experience that we cannot have every day.
On the way, you will ride through Thung Khe Pass and have a chance to enjoy a stunning view of the valley below. The pass does not have many turnings and hills, but you have to pay attention to big van and containers on the way. Also, remember to avoid riding at late afternoon and early morning because of thick fog.
Sapa (370 kilometers from Hanoi)
Sapa is indeed a popular tourist spotlight, so I don’t want to talk much about this place. However, since the new highway from Hanoi to Lao Cai finish, it helps shorten the road from Hanoi to Sapa and make it easier to go by motorbike. You now can get to Sapa from Hanoi in about 5 hours driving.
This place is far away, and the road has many hills and turnings so unless you are professional, then don’t try to go on this route for the first time. However, the reward is worth, and if you can take this route, you will never regret. I’m sure that you will have enough pictures to post for a month after this wonderful trip.
Ha Giang – Quan Ba – Lung Cu – Dong Van (650 kilometers)
This route is only for professional riders and people who love to explore deeper into the local culture and prefer moving. Follow this road, you will have a chance to experience authentic culture and local people on the way. You will meet many ethnic groups in the North of Vietnam like Hmong, Meo, Dao, etc. They are still untouched, and their customs are still original. The landscape is pretty like Sapa but bigger and more stunning.
In return, the road is extremely hard with lots of hills turnings and not many rest stop or fuel station on the way. You should have a superb preparation to make sure that everything will go smoothly. For safety and easier for you on the way, I highly recommend you to have a local people go with you to lead the way and communicate with them in there.
In case you love this route but want to reduce the risk, some local travel agents can offer the same route in a van, and you can ride in some specific places. That’s still a good option for those who prefer a different route. Please note that it takes at least 5 days 4 nights to cover all of these places and maybe longer if you cannot ride fast enough.
Mekong Delta Area (300 kilometers or more)
In the South of Vietnam, the best place to ride would be the Mekong Delta. With many cities and towns, you can pick any places you want and ride there because they are pretty similar. The road is one of the easiest path compared to other highways and roads of local villages. So, you don’t have to care about up or down hill.
The common scenic would be river and tons of boats for fishing and even live in there. Depend on how much time you have; you can cover the whole delta with your motorbikes, from Ho Chi Minh to the end of Vietnam is Ca Mau.
There are some highlights places that you might want to consider are Ben Tre – home of coconuts, Can Tho – famous for Cai Rang floating market and Chau Doc – with the amazing melaleuca forest Tra Su. A normal route in this delta is starting from Ho Chi Minh to Ben Tre and spends one night in there. The next day you will head to Can Tho, another night in this peaceful city and end up in Chau Doc. From Chau Doc, you can head back to Ho Chi Minh, or you can go to Cambodia if your schedule is allowed.
All of these experiences are gained through my own practical traveling time. Some might be faults so feel free to check for other references. However, I’m pretty sure about my experiences, and I believe they could be useful for many tourists, including you.
In short, all you need to remember is your safety must be the priority when going to explore Vietnam by a motorcycle. Wish you have an amazing and safe ride in Vietnam!