Vietnam is known for its insanity with traffic full of motorbikes and there is no place else as crazy as in this country. There are over 37 millions registered bikes in compared with the population of 90 million people, which is quite a huge amount. However, it actually comes handy if you have a bike and riding a motorbike is the best way for you if you desire for a full experience of travelling in Vietnam.
I spent two months zigzagging my way from North to South of Vietnam on a Honda Win, which is a very common thing to do for most backpackers. One thing I have learnt after 60 days on the trail – whatever people say about driving in Vietnam is true. It is stressful, crazy, painful, but a lot of fun. So, if you are planning to take a motorbike and drive cross the country, here are things you need to know:
1 – Which motorbike do you need?
Honda Win is the common best choice for most backpackers because it is rather affordable, stylish, and able to handle the rough roads. If you plan on driving on bumpy, stony roads with treacherous terrain like driving in the north of Vietnam, Honda Win is the good mate for the ride. You can buy a new Honda Win 110 from $580 or easily get an used one from a bike store or from other backpackers for $250 – $350. The off side of having a Honda Win is that it does need to have a check-up frequently and it has some problems from time to time which costs quite some money to fix.
If you are not comfortable driving on a clutch bike, a semi-manual or semi-automatic bike could be an option for you. A Honda wave is a cheap option for semi-manual and it does the work. If you look for an easy ride, Airblade is a great semi-automatic bike that you can get the hang of it like a piece of cake. Those two are sold second hand with a range of price from $150 – $300.
2 – Route plans
Either you go from the North to South or South to North, there are quite many routes for you to reach from one place to the other. However, one big recommendation: FOLLOW THE YELLOW LINES ON GOOGLE MAPS. Those yellow lines illustrate the highways – QL, DCT, TL, etc. Driving on the white line roads could be a pain because the road condition could be very bad and you would only able to drive 20km/h. However, they might lead you to some beautiful landscapes which are off the beaten track.
For specific routes, I recommend you to take a look at Vietnam Coracle for some great guidelines on which route you should take for certain attractions and experiences.
3 – What are traffic rules?
Vietnam is known as a rule breaker when it comes to traffic. People are quite ignorant and they drive the way they want without bothering their surroundings. That makes driving in Vietnam could make you so angry and stressful. HONK & HONK – the only way to get around.
“Do I need a driving license to drive a motorbike in Vietnam?”
The answer would be yes and no. Yes because it is the legitimate regulation to have a driving license if you drive in the country. But no because policemen do not even care if you have a license or not and literally let you go because they cannot speak English. That might sound very confronting but that is how it works in Vietnam – rule breaking. However, if there is anything happens, you have to take the full responsibility. Therefore, a license is recommended.
Please notice that big vehicles in Vietnam have a higher priority on the road. They are very aggressive and they drive fast. If you see or hear them, move on the side for your own good.
4 – Vietnamese words come handy on the way
Driving in Vietnam could be difficult because there is no sign in English and Vietnamese people do not speak much English. So here I provide you some handy Vietnamese words that could help you on the road:
Sửa chữa – Repair (when you see this sign, that’s the mechanic)
Xe máy – Motorbike
Thay dầu (north) /Thay nhớt (south) – Oil change
Bơm xe – Pump tires
I would recommend you to ask for a list of translations for each part of the motorbike at the shop you buy.
5 – What should you bring?
- Helmet (find a proper helmet which could be given free from the shop or costs $25)
- Long pants and long sleeve shirt
- Masks (you could get them for 5.000/mask in any pharmacy)
- Bungee cords (to strap your backpacks securely on the bike)
- Rain covers for your backpacks
- Raincoats (a proper set of jacket and pants costs 400.000 which I would recommend, rather than 10.000 plastic poncho)
- Shoes (use an old pair because you would regret to use good shoes)
Driving in Vietnam could be so much fun but it could be a pain in the arse. I felt so mad sometimes because of the traffic, the people and times that my bike broke down. But I am glad that I made it to the end and trip was certainly worth it.