Taking a motorbike road trip through Viet Nam is an exciting adventure I’d highly recommend. The country offers beautiful scenery, an array of attractions and presitine beaches. You’ll meet plenty of expats on the road, and at hostels, along the way.
Buying a motorbike is easy, and costs between $200-$600. A “motopacker” is someone who travels by motorbike with only a backpack. Typically, riders in Viet Nam start in the South, at Ho Chi Minh/Saigon and head North to Hanoi, or vice versa. Travelling the national AH1 highway is most common. Navigating between the two cities, without GPS, is easy. The trip will be the ride of your life!
Having travelled over 2,500km in Viet Nam by motorbike, and over 12,500km in China, I’d like to share my first hand knowledge to help you stay safe and be prepared. Keep reading to learn the six items to have, and four rules to know, before your Viet Nam road trip!
6 Items To Store In Your Motorbike
Carrying a first-aid kit is a must for motorbike riders. Purchasing one online is easy. Prices start at $20.
A decent kit will include:
- alcohol pads/wipes
- various bandages
To bring your kit to the next level, add:
- metal tweezers
- fire starting materials (cotton balls and petroleum jelly work amazing)
- needle and thread
- pain killers
Riding in Viet Nam is a blast, but certainly no joke. Accidents frequently happen. It took less than a week on the road to witness my first fatal accident. Other foreigners reported seeing them as well. To read about my road trip experiences, click here. Scroll to the sub-heading “Death.” WARNING the content is graphic.
“When it rains, it pours,” aptly describes Viet Nam on many levels. The weather changes at a moments notice, thanks to the mountains and valleys.
Buying a shitty poncho on the roadside for 10,000VND/$0.50USD is always an option. But, a tear will happen in less than five minutes, and it won’t cover your backpack. Find a local market, buy a thicker poncho for $5USD and be done.
Given the topography of Viet Nam, the rain also happens in (relatively) small clusters. Seeing a torrential downpour off in the distance, is beautiful. When approaching these patches, pull over and get your poncho. Use the locals as a reference.
I invested in a Flying Tent before moving to Viet Nam. It converts between a tent hammock, bivy tent and poncho. The design includes a hood, internal pocket and snaps on the sides! Drawstrings offer adjustments to the fit and it’s long enough to cover your legs while riding (something the roadside ponchos fail to do).
Having rope will provide at least four options:
Thanks Angie for bringing this rope from Canada!
Carry two bottles with you, one with water, the second with gasoline (preferably 1L).
Long trips appear to involve little energy, but hydration is still important. A little extra will boost your morale. Don’t expect gas stations to sell literally anything else other than gas, and oil. There aren’t magazines, drinks, snacks or other conveniences that us Westerners are accustomed too during road trips. You’ll need to find a convenience store.
Maintaining a back-up fuel supply demonstrates preparation. While gas stations are frequent along major routes, fuel efficiency plummets on steep mountain roads.
Keep a 1L jug of back-up fuel. If you’re in a jam, us the fuel as a bargaining chip. Expect to pay a hefty premium on gasoline while in remote areas. Partially due to extra shipping, but mostly because you’re a desperate foreigner.
If there’s no gas stations around, look for these three alternatives:
Vietnamese Dong (VND)/USD
Keep at least 200,000VND, and $15USD in the storage area of your motorbike.
Filling up the tank shouldn’t cost more than 100,000VND, and the remaining money is enough for food if you’re stranded. Three banh mi sandwiches cost between 25,000VND-40,000VND at most street vendors.
When buying items, don’t use the USD. Save it for bribing the police. Most of the time, they won’t bother you unless you’re being extremely stupid, or remain at the scene of an accident.
The protection from a dry bag is always appreciated. Whether you’re driving in the rain, or find a beach and take a spontaneous swim, this bag is worth it’s weight in gold. Toss your first-aid kit, wallet, passport, sunglasses, keys and electronics inside. It’s incredibly strong, lightweight, versatile, waterproof and easy to carry. There are a variety of sizes. I’ve found the 10L bag strikes a good balance. The shoulder strap is adjustable and can be removed. Making it easy to suspend the bag from a tree branch, backpack or secure it to your motorbike. Put all the items in this post, inside the bag, and your storage compartment will stay neat. Amazon offers plenty!
4 Basics To Driving In Viet Nam
You’re Their Insurance:
In the not-so-unlikely event you’re involved in an accident, if you’re able to move, GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE! Even if you’re not at fault. GTFO: You’re about to be! You’re a foreigner. You have enough money to travel here. You do not speak the language. Locals see nothing but dollar signs on your head ($1US = 22,718VND, which is the cost of a meal).
Scams abound of individuals intentionally getting hurt with foreigners. In China, I was t-boned by an old man on my scooter. The moment I hit the ground, he immediately started claiming pain and gesturing money symbols. In China the law states if you injure someone, you must pay their health damages, which are dramatically over-stated, and often pre-existing. This has lead to the hit-to-kill phenomenon. While China now has video cameras covering every inch of every street, Viet Nam does not.
You are the fast track to instantly making a few thousand dollars. Which is higher than most make in a month, working 16 hour days, six days a week. If the police come, which is a huge if, they aren’t there to protect and serve your interests. You’ll be picking up the service charge for them to document the local witness reports and implement sidewalk justice. Hint, the outcome is predetermined. If the accident is serious, you could face charges, additional fines and deportation — but not until you pay up.
A Sitting Duck:
Stopping is the most dangerous thing to do. Why? Because nobody else will. You’re a sitting duck. It’s significantly harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one. Don’t fool yourself into thinking everyone is paying attention. They’re far too busy racing around, texting, or talking with their passengers... all three of them on a bike like the one above. Breaking? With four people crammed on the seat? LOL!
Get yourself out in front of the cluster of riders and avoid being a gazelle in a herd of stampeding elephants (you’re the gazelle, buses and trucks are the elephants). Agility and acceleration are your biggest strengths, use them.
Remember when you did the drivers test? Well, Viet Nam may require a licence to drive, but like most countries, the letter of the law and on-the-ground implementation, are two very different practices. To save you a heap of frustration, and help adjust your expectations, here are some tips:
Breaks & Acceleration:
When buying or using a motorbike, acceleration and breaking are the most important components. The former will remove you from being hit in tight traffic situations. The latter, will buy you time to move away from getting in an accident. Getting out of the way is as equally important as not being in the way. You have to learn the ebbs and flow of traffic. Navigating requires you command the flow to respect your confidence. Otherwise, they will feed on your trepidation.
I recall being in Ho Chi Minh and walking through a wall of motorbikes. Eying them down while crossing the six lane road with nearly 100 racing past, all without pausing for a step. Traffic is very similar to this. There will never come a moment when there are no cars, and motorists wait for you to cross. It’s literally a game of who has bigger kahuna’s.
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