Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is something many want to experience which is just as complicated as crossing the roads. It’s old to say this but the roads in Vietnam are dangerous. Therefore, think thoroughly before deciding to ride in Vietnam if you feel uncomfortable with the traffic system or have no riding experience. However, riding in Vietnam is in fact quite fun and exciting if you know how to do it properly.
Check out more information on how to cross borders into Laos and Cambodia with a motorbike!
In the past, to ride in Vietnam, you need to have an international driving permit from National Automobile Association in your country first then in Vietnam, a valid local license issued by Vietnamese authority is required. This license can only be given to you after passing a driving test. You must show your motorcycle license from your home country. You sit a written test and a riding practical. You are allowed to use an interpreter. BUT now, the international driving permit/license is enough for you to ride a motorbike in Vietnam, you no longer need to do a local test to have a Vietnamese license.
In reality, many visitors coming to Vietnam having no license still ride around the countries and even cross into Laos and Cambodia. Few lucky times don’t mean that way is legal. If you are stopped by the police, they might seize the motorbike or you might have to pay fine. Things can be more complicated since you are a foreigner. Using bribe works most of the times but not when you hit or get hit.
Do not forget to travel with insurance which includes full medical evacuation coverage. This insurance can also help in case you get injured but only when you drive legally. You are not covered when you don’t have a license, driving in a state of a dunk or on drugs, or not wearing a helmet (this is compulsory in Vietnam, Cambodia and some other Southeast Asia countries) yet it mustn’t be an unsafe helmet.
Buying and renting a motorbike
If you are going to live and work in big cities like Hanoi or Saigon, buying motorbike is very easy. The prices will vary depending on the seller, their situation and the age and condition of the bike. Ensure that the Blue Vietnamese Registration Card is included in the sale with whosever name it is in (names don’t really matter in Vietnam but be a big deal in Thailand). Get all the keys from the seller and their contact details for the future.
Honda is most common for getting around towns and cities. But if you want to do a motorbike tour from Hanoi to Saigon or an off-road tour to rural regions, we advise you some types which are more suitable. Russian Minsk is made for those who don’t have a large budget. The price ranges from $100 to $400, for renting information, you can visit http://www.offroadvietnam.com/motorcycle-rentals/road-bikes/minsk-125cc to know more. Honda Win 100cc is the most popular and most reliable on the road. Nevertheless, this brand is hard to find and is quite expensive, around $500 or even more depending on the age of the motorbike (visit http://www.offroadvietnam.com/motorcycle-rentals/road-bikes/honda-win-100cc for more information). Suzuki GS 125cc would be a good choice for those who prefer big seat with more space; Suzuki is also slightly cheaper than Honda and as reliable. If this is the first time you buy or rent a motorbike, you should ask a local who has experiences to do the negotiation.
Buying a motorbike is not really a great option for a short visit, and luckily, rental service is available in almost every city. Renting a motorbike for one day might cost from 100,000VND to 200,000VND, usually, fuel cost is not included. You can ask your hotel and hostel to know the price in each province and some of them even have a rental service.
Locals don’t follow the rules really well, for example, some of them don’t stop at red lights and almost every driver swerve lanes when they like. Some say that in Vietnam there are no lanes because people don’t stay in their lanes. It’s true but the police have the very right to stop you if you drive in the wrong lane, so it’s better to do it right from the beginning to avoid any trouble. A helmet is mandatory and you should have to yourself a proper one which isn’t made out of cheap plastic with a thin layer of porous in the inside. In cities, the allowed speed is between 30 and 40 km/h, on highways, it is from 50 to 80 as shown on the signals. You drive on the right side but overtake on the left.
Rhythm, space and honking are the keys to survive in manic and overwhelming traffic of Vietnam.
- Go with the flow is the number-one advice. Because of the enormous amount of vehicles with the majority of which are motorbikes, people often drive in a slow tempo so you can easily stop and avoid getting hit. But at the same time, due to the slow speed of vehicles, pedestrians always jaywalk in the middle of the roads, bikes and motorbikes suddenly come out of the alleys. So you need to pay full attention to the right side of the roads. Another important thing is to go at the same speed as others and join the flow. When you get into it, you will find it very easy to do. When you want to speed, change into the left side, and when to slow down, right side.
- Keep enough distance with the vehicle in front of you. The faster you drive the more distant it is. In Vietnam, people will drive into the empty space and attempt to overtake you if they get any chance. So always predict for someone to outstrip you when there is space around you even how small it is. Look at the rear-view mirror before you change direction or lane. In rush-hours, you will be amazed at how little space you will get the ocean of motorbikes. You might think it’s impossible to move in that congested traffic but it isn’t.
- Roads in Vietnam are always noisy with honking. People honk when they want to warn others while they start crossing, inform their presence when they enter an alley, rush others to move when red lights turn green, or to let pedestrians know that they aren’t giving way. Beware of the loud honking voice from coaches and trucks on highways and gateway roads, it might startle you and make you stumble.