Before You Go: Getting Prepared for the Ride of Your Life

Planning a motorbike road trip across Vietnam? You should be. 

Riding a motorbike down the spine of southeast Asia is the best way to experience authentic Vietnam. On your trip, you'll explore parts of the country usually reserved for locals and like-minded adventurers. This epic journey requires a degree of planning, some money, and an adventurous mindset. Read this guide to prepare you for the adventure of a lifetime.

Buying vs. Renting

The most crucial requirement for an extended motorcycle trip is having a reliable set of wheels. So, should you buy or rent your motorbike?

Unless you live in Vietnam, buying a motorcycle for one road trip can seem farfetched. After all, when your journey's over, you won't need it anymore, and it's not worth taking back to your home country. Following this logic, it seems more sensible to rent a bike instead of buying one. But is it really better to rent your motorbike?

There's a convincing argument for both sides.

The easiest option would be to rent your motorcycle. Renting a bike means you're only responsible for the vehicle for the duration of your road trip. After your journey, you can hand it back to the rental company, and that's it. You can fly back home or onto the next leg of your holiday without a care in the world.

Choosing to rent may have some other benefits. Some rental companies offer roadside assistance, so they'll send help if you break down within a designated distance from their shop. Most rental shops also offer valuable advice regarding routes and rest stops along the way.

When you rent a bike in Vietnam, you pay monthly or daily. Expect to pay USD 450 for a decent 150cc motorcycle for one month. You can find a cheaper bike, but often, if you pay for less, you'll get less. A cheaper vehicle may be more prone to break down and less suited to a long road trip. A reliable bike is an absolute necessity for this kind of journey, so when it comes to payment, this is not where you should be trying to pinch your pennies.

Buying a bike in Vietnam should set you back anywhere between USD 250 – 1500. Many travelers who choose to undertake this kind of trip believe it will be much cheaper to buy a bike at the start and sell it for the same price at the end. It's true that if you take good care of your steed, you MAY be able to sell it for a good portion of what you initially paid, but this doesn't always work out.

The reality is that it can be challenging to re-sell your bike. Many other travelers will have the same idea as you and will be trying to sell the same kind of bike at the same time. As departure dates approach, people gradually reduce their asking price in a desperate attempt to sell their bike before they leave. Ultimately, you may have to sell your bike for much less than you bought it, making purchasing a bike not as cost-effective as people think!

There are also a few more factors to consider if you decide to purchase a bike. If something's wrong with the vehicle, you can't just call someone or return it to the shop. The bike will be your responsibility, and you'll have to find a roadside mechanic to fix it. A breakdown shouldn't be a massive problem as mechanics are easy to find in Vietnam, and the fees are cheap compared to Western prices.

How to Choose the Right Bike

1. Choose Manual or Semi-Automatic Vietnam is hilly and mountainous, so you should choose a manual or semi-automatic bike. You need a bike that allows you to control your RPM (revolutions per minute) when going up and down a mountain. For better performance and safety, go up and down hills and mountains in a low gear revving the engine.

2. Consider Power - if you're big, you'll need more of it! Consider your body weight plus the weight of your baggage, and make sure you choose a bike that can handle both. If you're a bigger person, or if there'll be two of you on one motorcycle, you'll want at least a 125cc bike. If you're smaller, you'll be okay with 110cc.

3. Check the Bike's Condition Check everything and then recheck it before you commit to a bike. Ensure the motorcycle has decent tires, two mirrors, all the lights work, the ignition starts up, and the fuel gauge is functional. You should also check the kickstart, brakes, engine, and gears. If any of these things don't work, go for a different bike.

Whether you decide to buy or rent, make sure you give the motorcycle a thorough check. Go for a lengthy test drive and see how it holds up. If in doubt, go for another bike!

Driving Legally in Vietnam

A run in with the law can ruin a perfectly good holiday. While you’re in Vietnam you’ll want to stay on the right side of the law to make sure your road trip runs smoothly. Ideally, you should have a Vietnamese driving license as this is the only way to drive 100% legally. The next best thing is to hold an international driving license. If you don’t have either a Vietnamese or international license, then your last option is your driving license from your home country. Your home country’s driving license is not recognized in Vietnam and driving with this, or without a license at all, is a risk that many foreign travelers do choose to take. Whatever you do, drive safely and obey the traffic rules to avoid running into unnecessary problems.

Travel Insurance

Before undertaking any trip, you should always arrange adequate travel insurance; this trip is no exception. If you have an accident in Vietnam and you don't have insurance, you'll have to pay for the fees out of your pocket, and they can get very costly.

If you get travel insurance, you should also get your international drivers' license, as the insurance won't payout if you were driving illegally.

Get a plan that covers you internationally, and always keep your emergency information on your body.

What to Take With You

Pack light for your trip and only take the essentials. As well as your personal items, remember to bring:

  1. A Helmet - This is essential for safety and legality.
  2. A physical map - In case you can't access the internet.
  3. Some Waterproof clothes - It rains torrentially in Vietnam during the rainy season.
  4. A high factor sunscreen - It's easy to get sunburned without realizing it while riding a motorbike.
  5. Sunglasses - To protect your eyes from sun, dust, and insects.
  6. Cash - Vietnam is a cash-based society.
  7. Carry your belongings in a big 70-liter backpack and secure it to your bike using rope or bungee straps.

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