Exploring Vietnam on a motorbike is clearly an unforgettable experience. Not only for the adrenaline of riding a bike into the bowels of a completely different culture but also for the sheer land beauty of this wonderful country.
With my princes as my partner, Cuca “The Mighty One”, a Honda Win 2013 with only 110cc, we managed to cross every kind of road that was ahead of us.
Through the most breathtaking mountains and their views, down to the peaceful beaches which go from North to South, or through the hearts of rice fields and the beautiful villages that surround them. With every kilometre I did on my bike, I was adding new words to describe the beauty of this madness. Worthy of the most romantic poems, the magnitude of the art that will be presented to you along the way will surely let you want more.
For the adrenaline addicts, for the wanderers, for the fearless, this would be an adventure you will never forget. Luckily, there've been many others that have done it and shared their stories. You should be aware of the unpredictable situations that might happen along the road, so, before packing your bags, let me give you some fundamental tips to take into account while exploring Vietnam on a motorbike.
Drivers Licence And How To Deal With Police
To begin with, licence. For your own commodity, you'll need an international licence that abides by the 1968 convention (the 1949 convention ones are not accepted) or you need to convert your licence to a Vietnamese one. The ones you have from your countries will not be useful when the police stop you. What happens if you don't have an international licence or a local one? Well, this is a very common and interesting way that many backpackers seem to be riding around these roads.
If you get stopped by the police, you'll have to prepare to negotiate with the officers, which lucky for us among the wonders of a third world country, can always be fixed. During your shared time with the police, you will have to take precautions such as taking the key off the bike as soon as they stop you, showing the passport in your hand but never giving it to them and last but not least, money…
They will start asking for 200 dollars and god, with the face they will look at you, you will believe that you are going to pay it, but keep calm and relax, this is normal. Which steps are the famous to follow among riders? DO NOT SPEAK IN ENGLISH, this is an important tactic as they will get tired of hearing you try to find words for the situation.
Always carry around 15 dollars (200.000 VND) in your pocket as they probably will take it, and never show your wallet. Negotiation can be stressful, even if we can get out of it, that's what most people complain about.
But to be fair friends, take a minute to think what would happen if they stop you without a licence in your home country. Yes, “it can always be worse,” says one famous proverb and good lord how true this is. We are a long way from home, let's keep it simple people and just have your international licence ready and always, always have your passports with you.
What Bike To Buy And Where
Let's move on to the second most important tip of your future road trip, the motorbike. 95% of the travellers seem to take a route from South to North or the other way around. So generally the bikes are purchased in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. In other places in central Vietnam, such as Hoi An or Da Nang you can find mechanics or fellow travellers that will be selling as well.
I personally recommend making contact with the other travellers to avoid the extra price that mechanics put on it, which as lovely as they can be, they will charge you more. You will find many bikes for sale on Facebook pages such as Vietnam Backpacker Sales. The most common bike for sale is the Honda Win which is also known as Sufat or Espero.
They generally are 110cc or 120cc but don't get fooled by their small motor, because these beauties will climb the highest mountain or go faster than the bus drivers taken from Formula 1 races and put behind the wheel of those “sleeping” buses.
You'll be heading up North or South making around 2.000 km, so be prepared to have some issues along the way. Well, this is one of the main points why people choose the Honda Win. This bike can be fixed by every mechanic around Vietnam within your backpacker budget. Even in remote villages, it will be possible, and if you are lucky these beautiful people will invite you for a dinner afterwards. Why not spend the night surrounded by Vietnamese hospitality.
With your bike and drivers license sorted now, it is time to hit the road. One thing you have to know about Vietnam, it will never disappoint you with its variety of marvellous scenery. The entire East part is coast as well as South Vietnam, further inland you have breath-taking mountains, going up north you find the perfect maintained towns and villages among hills and plantations.
Let's start in the south. In Ho Chi Minh City, the driving will be hard, be careful riding in the big cities of Vietnam or almost all the big cities in Asia. Norms and values as are known in the West, are not so well respected here. Many people learn how to drive small motorbikes around Asia and that includes me, so be more aware if the bike is manual as generally, the Honda Win is. The main attractions surrounding this city are easy to find such as the Mekong Delta adventure or the Cu Chi tunnels.
Mui Ne, will give you the peace that you need after the eight million people city of HCMC. This coast town will provide you with the first taste of beautiful beaches along the road. Try to take the coast road instead of the main road when you ride up to this fantastic city.
As well, be careful of police around this area as it is a well-known police stop. Get your coats now, because after Mui Ne you'll have Da Lat. This is an amazing mountain town and the drive there has to be one of the most beautiful roads in Vietnam. You'll not only find outstanding views, but also the most beautiful waterfalls around this country. After Da Lat go back to the coast to drive towards central Vietnam.
You'll first have to find the energy for a city as Nha Trang, known for its great nightlife and many activities around the area. But don't worry there are plenty of other places en route to relax and rest, like one of the most traditional and beautiful towns in Vietnam, Hoi An. Protected by UNESCO, this romantic city will allow you to soak up local and external architecture, food, temples and beaches. Da Nang, is the next city on your map, only 25km away from Hoi An, but surrounded by amazing off-roads up in the hills or through beautiful sunsets on the rise fields that surround the town, and the beach here is huge.
Driving along the coast your next destination will be the city of Hue, with its imperial palace. This is a peaceful place to be, if you have a time limit don't spend longer than two days here, as famous as it is, it's just an in-between stop for the next destination which is Ninh Binh. You are entering the North of Vietnam, so get ready for unforgettable experiences in the towns that are ahead of you. This city is surrounded by the most incredible caves around Vietnam.
After Ninh Binh, the options of road travel become more varied and it depends on your personal taste of where you want to head to. You are not as limited as in the centre of Vietnam when it comes to routes you can take.
For the beach lovers, you'll find the famous places of Ha Long and Cam Pha with their diverse and epic kinds of beaches. On the other hand, for adventure lovers, you'll find unforgettable trekking in Sapa. Days walking through the remote lands of this mystic area, among the most extraordinary kind of people who live there, will charge unbelievable low rates for food and accommodation along the way.
You'll need some days to overcome these wonderful memories that you'll collect along the way, and there is no better city than Hanoi for this task. Different from her big sister in the south, Hanoi is a well-preserved city, based on old and charming buildings which will create a cosy atmosphere for making it even harder to end your adventure.
There are many destinations or things to do that I have not included in this bucket list trip. There are no words that can describe the freedom that you'll feel riding into the roads of the unknown experiences that are waiting for you along the kilometres. Now that you have the tips you can start writing your own motorcycle diary. Pack your bags and prepare to taste the excellence of Vietnam.