Before we even thought about booking our tickets to Vietnam, we started to plan about what we would do there.
After watch Top Gear do it, one of my dreams would be to buy/rent a motorbike and take the long, breathtaking journey from South Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) to North (Hanoi). In a perfect world, this would be a breeze. Strolling to a shop, picking the perfect bike and riding off into the Vietnamese sunset like how all those fairytale movies end. However, this turned out to be a lot tougher than we all thought.
If you’ve followed my last two posts, you would know that we arrived into Ho Chi Minh City for 4 days, before travelling on the dreaded Vietnam Night Bus to Da Lat City, so we only started to look for biked in Da Lat. Looking for the best deal proved hard, so some of the steps below could help you beat those hurdles, or probably make it worse. Your choice…
Where do you even begin to start looking?
The most obvious and most popular choice to find this out is Google. Typing ‘How to buy motorbikes in Vietnam?’ will throw up thousands of recommendations of where to look and how to find the best deals. We found a few little gems that helped us get a good judgement on how much they’ll cost us.
Pages like Vietnam Backpackers Travel & Sales is the main hub of information. Fellow travellers who have bought bikes throughout their trip, posting inspiring stories and images of how wonderful their bike is and why it’s a ‘steal’ and their $300 price mark. In reality, most of their story is bulls**t and used to hide the fact that their bike breaks down every 100km. In all honesty, if you’re on a budget like we were and not willing to part with more than $200 (4,500,000.00 VND) then your bike is going to break down, they all do. So don’t panic, they’re easy and cheap to repair and it makes the trip a lot more exciting.
Vietnamese Mechanic shops.
Once you’ve landed and settled ( and the culture shock has calmed down) you will find that Vietnam is full of A) Motorbikes and B) Motorbike repair shops. Dotted around everywhere in every city, you’ll find these mechanics fixing and cleaning bikes. Usually they take in old bikes, fix them up and sell them off to travellers and local who are looking to ride up the coast. You may think they take locals for a ride (pardon the pun) but in fact, these mechanics have some of the best bikes around. Putting in brand new parts and turning that rusty old motor into the Roles Royce of bikes. A quick trip to one of these shops might well fix your bike problem.
As we arrived in Da Lat, we started to search. A good couple days went by and we weren’t any closer to finding our bikes. The most popular of bikes were the Honda Wins, which seemed to be everywhere! After passing a side road on our way to the market, we found a local who was selling a Honda Winn with an asking price of $300, well over our budget. Our friend travelling with us snapped it up though, as time was running out. We started to feel the pressure.
Once tip that I wish we did was to dedicate more time into finding the best deal. Shop around online and in the streets and always make sure you test drive it first. It may seem like common sense, but when you’re in a rush to find a bike, you can easily forget this. With half a day to go, we luckily found one through our hostel owners, giving me the night to learn how to ride a fully manual Honda Winn.
What are the roads like?
If you’ve never rode a motorbike before, then choosing Vietnam as your first location to learn probably isn’t your best choice, and you’ll see what I mean when you get there. The inconsistency between the roads are crazy. One minute you’re riding through the most beautiful mountain paths, the next your battling huge potholes and lorries overtaking each other on blind corners. Best thing to do is give yourself more than enough time to travel point to point up the map. So if a route takes 4 hours, give yourself 6-7 hours and take it slow. I’l also recommend to do shorter journeys, theres always so many villages and cities people miss on the way. Take a look on maps and research different places on your route to see if theres anything you like. On Motorways, there’s designated lanes for motorbikes, which proves a great way to escape those crazy lorry and coach drivers.
The mountain roads were easily my favourite to drive on. Miles and miles of quiet roads, surrounded by untouched land just adds so much more to the long journey, especially when it’s raining. Buying a sim card pack for 200,000 VND will help you navigate through different roads and tracks.
What about the police?
A big issue that faces travellers riding bikes in Vietnam, are the Police. Before venturing out there, we heard many stories about how the police can bribe you for all the money in your wallet, or worse. Speaking to travellers whilst you’re out there, who have bikes or have had bikes during their trip, will help you learn tips in dealing with this awkward situation, if it comes up. We luckily met a group of travellers in our stay at the Treehouse Hostel, Da Lat. They had taken the opposite (and probably better route) of travelling from North to South Vietnam. They told us about the police presence up north, pointing out certain hotspots where they tend to stop bikers. Below are a few tips they shared with us.
When you spot police up ahead, check the traffic behind and drive off.
This one proved the best piece of advice during our trip. As we saw police stops up ahead, we knew they would stop us. As you reach them, you should look over you right shoulder, as to make it look like your haven’t seen them and are checking the traffic, and simply carry on going. The police there rarely chase you, as they are usually sat at the side of the road, waiting to wave you down.
Mask up and wear your helmet.
The biggest give away that you’re a tourist is not wearing your helmet. We all hate it, but it’ll stop you from getting pulled. Wearing a mask helps too. not only does it help with keeping out all the dirt and smoke on the roads, it also acts as a disguise. If you’re wearing a plain outfit, with sunglasses, a mask and a helmet, then you’ll blend in a much as the next guy, making it harder for the police to distinguish you as a tourist.
It’s worth checking your bike and making sure the lights work.
Theres nothing worse than being pulled because of a fault on your bike. During use, your bike will definitely experience issues with the electric. A quick trip to the mechanic will be a cheap and easy way to avoid this.
What about the gear?
With every biker, having the right gear essential. Vietnam has an unpredictable weather pattern. When travelling South to North or vice versa, you will need to pack clothing that’ll get you through anything.
Picking up a mac that’ll cover your entire body during the heavy rain will set you back around 50,000VND. These are life savers, saving water from soaking through whilst on a long trip. They also come in handy to cover your bags to prevent everything you own getting destroyed, because during the wet season, your things NEVER dry.
If you travelling heavy, or as a couple like we were, having a bike rack is a god send. Not all bikes come with them, so if you wanted to add this to the back of your Honda Winn, then a 200,000VND trip to the mechanic will sort this.
To help strap your bags on securely, bungee cords are another essential. I can guarantee wherever you are in Vietnam, you’ll be able to find these at the local market.
Lastly, I’ve left the hardest till last…selling your bike
This could prove the most difficult part of owning your bike. Like I touched on before, you see so many people selling their bikes on Facebook, decorating their posts with so much bull, just to make you buy it. If you were like us and had a bike (we called ours Lara) that constantly broke down, didn’t start and had multiple things fall off it, then trying to make it look pretty when you’re selling is hard. However, we found out that honesty is key.
Where to sell?
The two best places to sell your bike are in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, two of the biggest cities in Vietnam. The reasons for this are that many people fly into these two cities at the start of their trip, looking for motorbikes. If you are in a hurry to sell, then your best bet is to sell to a mechanic at a cut price, because unless you pumped loads of money into your bike, you’re going to make a loss. We found we had a lot of enquires through the Facebook groups, although you do get a lot of ‘no shows’ and annoying messages.
How much to sell for?
If you’ve purchased your bike for $200 and you haven’t looked after it fully, then don’t expect to get $200 or more back for it. Many people like to take advantage of first time buyers and speak the whole ‘You’re getting a bargain” nonsense. Be honest in what it is you’re selling. If it doesn’t turn over well, or the kick start isn’t working, then tell them. It won’t effect the price too much, as it’s so cheap to repair your bike in Vietnam!
It’s definitely worth buying a bike out in Vietnam, as long as you’ve taken your time in shopping around and fully prepared for the journey on the crazy roads. The biggest tip of all, is to chat with others. Listen to their stories and take tips from their experiences, plus you’ll make some new friends along the way.