Vietnam is in mainland Southeast Asia and has over 90 million people. Motorbiking in Vietnam is extremely popular, with nearly 50 million motorbike riders.
Most motorbike riders in Vietnam have small scooters, however a manual bike is much better as it gives you more power options and better suspension as well as a braking system.
Do you need a license to drive a motorbike in Vietnam?
You’ll be able to ride a motorbike up to 50 cc without a license in Vietnam, however these motorcycles are quite small and not suitable for extended travel throughout the country. For city travel, though, they’re perfect.
If you’re renting a more powerful motorbike, then you’ll need a drivers license. International Drivers Permits are given if your home country has signed under the 1968 convention (it’s the countries in green on this map). You need to have a motorcycle license from your home country and have it registered on the IDP. Note that if you’re from Australia, UK, USA and Canada, you’re drivers license is not valid.
You’ll need to transfer your license from home to a Vietnamese license in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh.
Many travelers don’t go through this process, however be aware that if you don’t have a valid motorbike drivers license in Vietnam, your travel insurance won’t be valid.
If you’re thinking about renting a motorbike in Vietnam, you’ll need to be aware of the rules to follow to make your experience more enjoyable!
Rules to follow when motorbiking in Vietnam
Below are a few rules on how to use a motorbiking in Vietnam roads:
- Larger vehicles have right of way. Avoid anything bigger than you and slow down.
- Traffic is like a river, you have to flow in it. Riders will find a way to move forward.
- Use signal and the most important thing is the horn. People don’t care about the noise of horns.
- Speed limit in Vietnam is very low (25-80km/h). Don’t break the speed limit, a speeding ticket is expensive.
- Animals are everywhere in the country or mountain roads. Dogs and chickens are the most then come water buffaloes, cows, pigs and horses etc. If you kill a dog or a chicken don’t stop, cry and feel sorry, it’s not your fault. Slow down when you spot these animals and don’t hit water buffaloes, cows, pigs and horses, simply they are too big!
- Space between you and other riders (local people, guide etc.) should be far enough in order to have no surprise. In cities or crowded roads, the traffic is usually slow. On wide open roads or in the mountains, we suggest 10-20m. Don’t ever ride alongside your guide because he has lots of work to do.
- Be careful with split oil from trucks and buses at curves on the mountain roads, extremely slippery and we have had at least four small accidents related to this matter.
- Buy a good road book (Vietnam Atlas) and do the timing and routing before you start a ride. If you get lost, ask more than two people as they may use different mileage unit or even direction.
- If the police stop you (this rarely happens), just keep talking English or whatever you want and they’ll soon give up and let you go in less than five minutes.
- If the road is wet, use both brakes at the same time with more back brake as if you apply more front brake it slips. Most of our bikes have front disc brakes and on 250cc dirt bikes you have front and back disc brakes.
- Do not drink and drive.
Safety and Guidance Tips for Your Vietnam Motorbike Tour
Here’s a few safety tips when doing a Vietnam motorbike tour.
1. Reasons for choosing a motorbike in Vietnam
A motorbike is considered the best means of transportation for travelling mountainous areas due to its convenience and initiative. With a motorbike, one is free to go wherever he loves, despite all kinds of road’s condition. He can stop whenever he feels like to take photographs or relaxing, instead of depending on the driver or tour guide. Motorbike helps integrating people with nature and fresh air, and one will never be afraid of motion sickness.
If choosing a car, people are likely to waste hours sleeping in passenger’s seat with air condition, not to mention the car sick caused by consecutive slopes and mountain passes. Riding on the motorbike means living on every single kilometer of your itinerary! Moreover, one can ride a motorbike in any kind of terrains, and it is much easier to repair in case of breaking down.
2. Which kind of motorbike and when?
100 cc-or-more semi-automatic motorbikes are all suitable for roads in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous area. The main criteria for choosing motorbike are strong engine, gasoline-saving and flexible packing space.
Weather is one of the most essential issues regarding planning for motorbike trip. The best time for exploring those mighty areas is from late September to the beginning of December or after Tet Nguyen Dan, when there is almost no rain and the temperature is cool. The spring’s rain and summer’s heat in high region somehow are hazardous for health as well as damaging to the road’s quality.
But remember, the rainy season is different in different parts of Vietnam. So when you decide to travel depends on where you want to travel.
3. Be well-prepared!
There are indispensable things that one has to bring whenever travelling to remote areas such as specialized clothes and shoes, personal stuff, map, contact information and medical bags. However, a motorbike trip requires more than that.
One will have to be well-prepared with a protective helmet and a motorcycle repair tool kit, and of course, certain skills of mending engine. An extra spark-plug and motorbike’s key are always in need. Remember to maintain the whole motorbike before setting off, change the oil and check its tyres, brakes, mirrors, horn and light. Fill up your motorbike with gasoline and know the location of gasoline station!
4. On the way
If possible, travelling in groups of two or three motorbikes with one experienced leader is advisable. All members of the group are required to have detailed itinerary to get rid the risk of getting lost. People should not ride parallel to each other and talk while controlling the motorbike, thus, stop the bike if feeling a need for a conversation.
Pay attention to the bend and ones driving contrariwise and do not drive into other lane. Sometimes, there may be animals like buffaloes, cows, dogs or even pigs crossing the road, so one should decrease the speed and avoid making them panic. At night or in rain weather, when the vision is limited, travelers had better pause the journey for resting and safety reasons.
5. Other things to remember
- Do not ride when you feel tired or sleepy.
- Do not ride after drinking alcohol.
- Avoid riding too fast or stop without noticing.
- Observe carefully and pay attention to road signs.
- Bring your identity paper and driving license because there will be police checking along the road (however they will not be very strict to foreigners).
- Be extremely careful when crossing any stream; be sure about the depth of the water to have the best arrangement.
- Respect the ethnic minority people and their distinctive culture.
- Protect the environment and always remember: Safety is of primary important.
- Use the Ex-Pat community for advice, and find a trustworthy translator to go with you depending on where you are going for how long. Find one who is also a mechanic. It wont cost much and will be worth it.
- While traveling main roads always check out the shoulders which will be there on the main roads but not the smaller more rural ones. Sometimes, you will find two big vehicles coming your direction on a two-lane road using both of the two lanes. You are left with the shoulder. And don’t be surprised if the vehicle in your lane has his tires on the shoulder where you are. You can manage that but don’t panic.
- Animals on the road is a serious problem. My experience is that you pay the owner some money and keep going. Same thing happens if you hit a person. Even if it is not your fault, just accept the fact that you need to pay something. A friend had to pay $200 for hitting a man even it wasn’t his fault.
- Traveling in a van-bus will likely be more dangerous than on two-wheels. They do have large buses with seats that recline into beds. But motorbikes are fun.