Hey fellow travellers
I have recently ridden a moto through Vietnam and into Laos and thought I would share some basic information in the forum for others who wish to undertake a similar adventure. Here is a quick guide and I am happy to respond to any enquiries.
Ride Vietnam – Cheap and Easy
A basic intro and guide to riding your own bike on Vietnams beautifully scenic and challenging roads.
BEFORE ENTERING VIETNAM
Get an international drivers permit from your National Automobile Association.
Buy some high quality protective motorcycle gloves such as Dianese.
Arrange your VISA.
Buy an internationally compatible smartphone with Google Maps and GPS capabilities or a Vietnam Road atlas and Compass.
AFTER ARRIVING IN VIETNAM
If landing in Saigon stay in District 1, if Ha Noi stay in the Old Quarter.
Get a local 3G SIM card, Vinaphone offer unlimited mobile internet for one month on prepaid that cost 100,000D.
Walk around the streets where the hostels and budget accommodation are as backpackers have their bikes advertised on the footpaths and there are notices on street poles around advertising sales. Craigslist Vietnam is an excellent resource for buyers and sellers of second hand motorcycles.
To avoid unwanted attention from the police and thieves you will want to get an older model low engine capacity common bike. The prices will vary depending on the seller, their situation and the age and condition of the bike.
Honda Cub – $400
Honda Win or Replica – $300
Suzuki GN – $500
Minsk – $400
Honda Dream – $800
These bikes are the most common on the roads of Vietnam and also the most suitable for getting around town and through the winding coastal roads.
INSPECTING A MOTORCYCLE
Once you have found a bike that snares your interest meet the seller and ask as many questions as you can possibly think of about the performance of the bike, what repairs have you paid for, who sold it to you and where, what route did you take. Take it for a serious test drive of at least 20 minutes and test everything; the lights, horn, transmission, brakes, suspension, kick starter, electric starter, clutch. If anything does not feel right consider looking for another bike. There are frequently plenty of bikes for sale.
BUYING A MOTORCYCLE
Most sellers prefer USD but you can pay in Dong.
Ensure that the Blue Vietnamese Registration Card is included in the sale. This will most likely not be in the sellers name but this
is not a concern. If asked by an official who the owner is just say it is your friend Peter who lent the bike to you.
Get all the keys from the seller and their contact details for the future.
A lot of bikes sold in D1 – Saigon come with elastic straps, Poncho, Lock and Helmet. These are all essential accessories. If you need to purchase any of these ask your guesthouse, a travel agent or an employee at a western restaurant for the nearest local market or hardware store.
MAINTENANCE AND EMERGENCIES
Look for shops by the side of the road which have signs reading Xe May or have an air compressor out the front and motorcycle parts hanging in the shopfront, there will usually be at least one partially dismantled moto in clear view. These blokes can fix anything that goes wrong with your bike in no time and for a pittance. It is a good idea to change the oil every 1000km ($5), also check the tire pressure and chain tension.
As long as you are not driving like a bat out of hell in a built up area or have an accident you will be very unlucky to get stopped by one of these cream clothed cops. They do not seem too bothered by westerners on motorbikes. If you are obeying the road rules and have your Blue Rego Card and international Drivers License, hopefully common sense will prevail and you will be on your way or at worst you will be subject to a measly un-receipted fine of around $15.
TAKING YOUR BIKE ON A TRAIN
Locals do this all the time. Especially for overnight journeys, train travel is relatively inexpensive in Vietnam and a great way to save
on one nights accommodation. You need to book your ticket in advance for yourself and a separate ticket for the bike. The ticket can be booked on the day of departure but is not advisable as for a 14 car train only one is used for cargo so the bike allocations fill up quickly. From Ha Noi to Lao Cai (Sa Pa) expect to pay 400,000D for a hard sleeper for yourself and 250,000D for your bike. Do not fill up your tank before getting to the train station as the petrol is drained prior to boarding.
RIDING IN VIETNAM
The traffic in the cities is manic and can be overwhelming. The best technique is to stay in your own space and then try to increase that space. This allows you more time to avoid a possible collision and minimises your chances of being hit. Travel at a speed you are comfortable with, motorcycles do not travel very fast and the slower you go move furthest to your right. When at traffic lights move as close to the front of the intersection as possible and accelerate quickly when the lights turn green, giving you plenty of relief from the traffic behind. The highways can be dangerous due to buses traveling in the opposite direction on your side of the road. It is best to travel on the far right and prepare to move onto the shoulder of the road at any moment, if you ever feel unsafe, slow down until the danger has passed.
Always wear a helmet it is a requirement of the law.
Mui Ne to Da Lat – Beautiful Coastlines, Gigantic Sand Dunes and Steep Winding Mountain Roads
Da Lat to Nha Trang – Gorgeous Mountain Views, Waterfalls and vast plains of bright green rice fields
Da Nang to Hue – The most breathtaking coastal road in South East Asia… The Hai Van Pass
Phong Nha Ke National Park – Serene Limestone Kast Scenery and an excellent stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Highway
Lao Cai to Sa Pa – Only 40km but it is ALL astounding. Misty Mountains, smooth winding roads, terraced rice fields.
Sa Pa to Dien Bien Phu – The QL279 is a bit rough in patches but the greatest mountain scenery in South East Asia. Thousands of curves.
CROSSING THE BORDER INTO LAOS
As of January 2013 Vietnam registered motorbikes can cross into Laos at the Far North border of Tay Trang(V)/Sop Hun(L)Connecting Dien Bien Phu and Muang Khua.
Take your passport, international drivers license and blue registration to check out of Vietnam. At least one official will speak excellent English and will cordially assist you. Get your passport stamped then head to customs and fill out a temporary export form with all the details from your blue registration card, sign and keep a carbon copy. Ride 6km to Laos customs. Buy your Visa pay the un-receipted service fee, get stamped in pay another inexplicable service fee, pass your Viet blue rego card to customs and they complete a form for import of vehicle pay another undocumented fee, keep a copy of the import form and you are in LAOS!
The Vietnam customs officers have the Laos currency Kip which they can exchange for Dong and USD at a more reasonable rate than the Guesthouses in Dien Bien Phu. There are also currency exchanges in the cafes at the Laos