Motorbike Tour of Vietnam
Thinking about a motorbike tour of Vietnam, then I strongly advise it. For years travellers have been zipping up and down the country from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and back. This was even popularised by Top Gear. Below are some of the highlights of my trip along with useful information about how to go about buying a motorbike in Vietnam, motorbike maintenance and general travel tips.
- Buying a motorbike in Vietnam
- Motorbike maintenance in Vietnam
- Vietnam border crossings with a Motorbike
- Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
If you are planning on touring Vietnam by motorbike, by far the easiest place to start/finish and purchase a motorbike is either Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. There are plenty of other travellers who travel between these two points buying at one and and selling at the other. The bike of choice is the Honda Win. Ideally a real one, but there are a lot of Chinese replicas which do the job. If you are a little more adventurous and can find a Minsk they are supposed to be bullet proof. The only one I found seemed to be made of oil so I stuck with the Honda Win.
Expect to pay $200 – $300 US or less if you find someone who has just finished their trip and are desperate for a quick sale before leaving. Most people advertise on Craigslist. There are also a couple of motorbike shops that cater specifically for trips between the cities and will either rent you a bike or sell at one end and buy back at the other (price depending on condition). I would definitely check that the bike has two mirrors and that they are attached firmly. Also try to get a good helmet or better still bring one from home!
When you buy a bike in Vietnam you should get the Blue Card showing it’s ownership. Whilst it is possible to transfer ownership it is very common not to bother, so do not worry about owning a bike which has another persons name on it. More importantly, international driving licenses are not recognised in Vietnam and as far as I could find out in order to get a Vietnamese license you have to have residency. Despite that, the only time I got stopped by police was in Mui Ne which is well known for trapping tourists. I had a couple of US dollars in one pocket and that allowed me to continue my journey…
Much of the fun about a motorbike tour of Vietnam is the unknown factor of how your bike will perform. Lets face it, many of these bikes have been travelling up and down the country every week for years!!! There is a good chance that you will break down. There is a greater chance that someone will be able to fix the problem faster than you a breakdown repair van would get to you if you were at home! It is a goo idea to do a regular oil change every couple of hundred miles as it only costs a few dollars. Other than that when your bike starts to splutter or complain, just pull over to any mechanic and they’ll get too work on it. Often filing or replacing a spark plug will breath life back into your motorbike for a dollar or two. For a few more you can change a tyre – I recommend that as most people ride around with bald tyres and no grip. If the worst comes to the worst you can replace an engine for around $50 although I suspect half the time you would get a refurbished one…
Officially when crossing an international border from Vietnam you should get a Cartne or temporary import permit. I am not sure how difficult that would be so here’s what I did. At Ha Tien, the southern most border between Vietnam and Cambodia I arrived mid morning and watched plenty of locals stepping off their motorbikes and pushing them across the border before getting back on and riding off. I parked up out of view of the officials and took my passport to get a stamp out of Vietnam and onto the next office to get a Visa for Cambodia. That was dead straightforward and the visa was charged at the official rate ($20 at time of writing).
The only slightly dodgy aspect was having to see the health officially who seemed overly happy to see a foreigner, pointed a heat gun to measure the temperature of my forehead (presumably checking for Malaria?) and then requested $1 US for the privilege. I am pretty sure that was for his beer fund and nothing official and normally I would question such a charge which does not come with a receipt as it proliferates further “taxes” on other travellers who often have tighter budgets than mine, but I wanted to keep a low profile whilst I “imported” my motorbike. A couple of minutes later I was in Cambodia with an instant change of scenery from concrete buildings to huts on stilts.
Crossing back from Cambodia into Vietnam I used the Krong Bavet border which is on the main route from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. A couple of uniformed guys outside tried to get $5 US off me for a “visa”. They gave up after I told them I already had one. Inside the single immigration officer was extremely slow and took about an hour to process about 10 entries. When he got to me (the first westerner) demanded a $1 US fee which by that point I was all to happy to pay to speed things up. I had just remembered that I had left my laptop and wallet in my bag on my motorbike parked outside and out of sight!!!
Ho Chi Minh City