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Australian Jessica Hayward covered 4,349mi (7,000km) through Vietnam and Cambodia by motorbike, weaving through the chaotic traffic of Ho Chi Minh City and riding the entire length of Vietnam. But, how do you do this legally and safely? Here's what you need to know.
Motorbiking through Vietnam is an immersive, exciting, and spectacular way to enjoy this beautiful country. Tens of thousands undertake this adventure every year; and for many, they have wonderful tales to tell at the end of it. Here’s how to do it safely and legally.
If you’re riding a motorbike or scooter while overseas, you must check the licensing and local laws for the country you’re going to. You must also have a valid licence at home for the class of motorised vehicle you may be renting.
Riding a motorbike over 50cc requires an appropriate license to ride legally and ensure your insurance will honor any claims. Additionally, make sure that you are adequately insured elsewhere. To avoid any doubt, you are not covered under this insurance for third party liability in respect of any mechanical/motorised vehicle. Get your license before traveling to Vietnam as well as some solid riding experience.
Once you have your license, you need to convert it for Vietnam. Here’s how:
Without a valid IDP or Vietnamese license, your travel insurance will not be valid, even if you have a motorbike license in your home country; you are still considered to be riding illegally within Vietnam.
Also note that some insurers may exclude “motorbike touring” for policyholders from particular countries of residence. This means you cannot travel where motorcycle is the primary means of transport, however you are covered for incidental use of a motorcycle. World Nomads policyholders from the UK are subject to this exclusion currently. Always check the wording of your policy regardless of your country of residence.
The consequences of riding without a license, can range from costly to life threatening. You could have your motorbike impounded and your passport confiscated until a hefty fine is paid. Further punishment may also be undertaken by the Vietnamese government.
The most severe consequence is if an accident occurs. Should you injure yourself or others, travel insurance will not protect you if you are riding illegally. You will have full responsibility for any damages caused and will be at the mercy of the Vietnamese justice system for reparations.
Buying a dirt-cheap motorbike for a few hundred dollars is often a popular option for backpackers on a budget; but it can cause a lot of frustration in the long run with maintenance issues, and in the worst case it can be extremely dangerous if the bike has mechanical faults. I would only suggest doing this if you or someone you know has knowledge of motorbike maintenance and can help you select a safe vehicle.
Alternatively, it is relatively cheap to buy a new motorbike in Vietnam, especially compared to western countries. This option is particularly appealing if you intend to travel long-term within Southeast Asia, as you will have ownership papers, allowing you to transit with the motorbike through other neighboring countries legally.
I would recommend renting a motorbike from a reputable company (Tigit Motorbikes for example) allowing pick up and drop off in different areas of the country. Renting is beneficial for multiple reasons:
Vietnam generally only allows Vietnamese bikes into the country. You will be facing difficulties crossing borders from Laos, Cambodia and China on a non-Vietnamese bike.
110 cc to 125 cc will generally be sufficient for touring the country, unless you intend to head through rougher country in the north and west or are deliberately seeking an off-roading experience. In those cases, it's best to hire a more powerful bike. Speed limits are low within Vietnam: 25mi/h (40km/h) for cities and 37mi/h (60km/h) for highways. You can navigate the country on an automatic, semi-automatic or manual transmission, so choose what will work best for your experience.
Try to keep to well-known brands, such as Honda or Yamaha, whose bikes are not made in China and designed in such a way that most parts are very easy to find and replace if needed. With a Honda bike, or similar, you can take it to one of the many Honda stores for service and be assured of legitimate mechanics who will charge you a flat rate.
Despite how congested traffic appears, the relatively low speeds mean it is not as chaotic and difficult as it may appear. Like a liquid, the traffic flows together through the streets smoothly, and your goal is to move with it and keep aware of your surroundings. Locals are paying attention to your horn, indicators and the position of your head when assessing your movement; use all of these tools liberally to help inform them about where you are going.
Expect average to poor roads in most areas of Vietnam. You will be dealing with large trucks on narrow pitted lanes, and they will not move to accommodate you. Roadsides will also often be cramped with stalls, markets and livestock, all of which will often spill into the road suddenly.
Most trucks will beep to warn you out of the way before overtaking, so pay attention to your fellow motorists. Likewise, warn others of your approach with your own horn. This especially applies on the twisting mountain roads in the west and north of Vietnam; there are multiple blind corners, and a horn is the only way to identify your approach.
Always wear appropriate safety gear, ride defensively and be aware of the vehicles around you. It should go without saying that you invest in a decent helmet and wear it properly. Vietnam’s climate has a vast range depending in what area of the country you are traveling in and in which season. One consistent all year round is rain; it will occur at any time, often suddenly, and sometimes torrentially, so be prepared with waterproof gear for yourself and your backpack(s).
It is better to ride with at least one other person to help if things go wrong, especially if your mechanical understanding of motorbikes is limited.
Police are known to target foreigners, because most do not have licenses; if you are pulled over, be prepared to show your documentation. I recommend taking the keys out of your motorbike and storing them on your person, so they are not taken unduly by officers thinking you are another illegal traveler.
Dodgy mechanics also exist, so try to service your bike at reputable stores to avoid this wherever possible. Still, chances are a flat tire will happen out in the middle of nowhere, and you will need to find a local mechanic. Try to confirm the cost before they begin the work.
Fuelling up can also be a trap for the unwary. Always check your attendant resets the fuel gauge before filling your bike so you aren’t surprised by an exorbitant fuel charge.
Theft is a real problem. Never leave anything unattended on your motorbike – it will get stolen if it is not secured (and sometimes even then). Helmets will be cut off by the strap even if locked onto the bike, so carry them with you.
Make sure your bike is locked up in secure parking each night. Nearly all hostels or homestays have areas to secure motorbikes.
I traveled with another woman through Vietnam safely. Confidence is very important, and you need to demonstrate this when interacting with locals. Single female travelers (whilst accepted) are still an oddity; many local women I spoke with told me that the journey we were undertaking would be considered unusual for a woman. However, I found the Vietnamese people to have a very healthy level of respect for women and we did not experience any harassment.
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I organised a August 2017, 8 day, 1500klms motorbike tour over the mountains, up to 2000 meters height.
90% off road.
Riding Honda XL250cc, with a very professional guide and support Van with spare bike. US$1500 plus flights, every thing supplied except beer.
We all had International drivers licenses. I was 68 years of age last year when I did it absolute adventure, youngest of group was 58 years of age. Just watch out for buffalo around the corners.
With full knobby tires very careful on sealed roads, but off road no problem.
Check out https://www.facebook.com/sapahomestaysasia/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
Company name http://motorbiketourexpert.com/
Good article. However, two things:
1) I am confused by: "...USA, and Canada have signed only the 1949 convention on IDPs, so they are not valid and you will be riding illegally. "
This says to me that my Int'l Driving Permit (IDP) I get from AAA every year here in California is irrelevant in Vietnam. Is this correct?
2) re: You can have a valid license from home transferred to a Vietnamese license in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh with a bit of time and paperwork. Here’s how to do that....
-- I do not see where you describe how to do the "time and paperwork" part. Did I misinterpret something?
I was just in Vietnam, but I "wimped out", and decided to tour the country using the "open tour" buses, rather than rent a motorbike.
Staying in hostels, I met multiple foreigners who had slings and/or bandaged arms from getting in motorbike accidents. I wish you would have addressed why foreigners seem to get in accidents, and how to avoid them.
You can have a valid license from home transferred to a Vietnamese license in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh with a bit of time and paperwork. Here’s how to do that.....and???
So how do you do that???
So am I correct in understanding that it is NOT POSSIBLE to drive a motorbike in Vietnam LEGALLY as a Canadian tourist (with a tourist visa)?
Tourists from US and Canada still cannot legally drive. That being said, most places will still rent scooters to people illegally but they will want to hold your passport or $1500 to $5k as a deposit.
My idp says that it doesn’t matter if vietnam is not part of the 1949 convention. The country still honors the idp.
Hi hope that this will help you guys out;
"Today, two conventions cover 98% of world countries: the 1949 Geneva Convention and the 1968 Vienna Convention, and nearly all IDPs are issued under these two conventions’ regulations.The authority for IDP-issuance resides in countries that are contracting parties to one of more UN Conventions on Road Traffic. Most of these countries delegate this task to the Automobile Clubs and motoring associations. This is the reason why AIT and FIA Clubs are the world’s largest organization issuing IDPs.If there is an Automobile Club which issues IDPs in your country of residence, this website will help you access the Club’s IDP information section."
After reading your blog, my girlfriend and I decided to go for it, and also had an amazing experience in Vietnam on a motorbike. As we only have license that is valid for bikes up to 50cc (which are nowhere to be found in Vietnam...), we decided to ride with the easy riders, I believe their names were Mr Vu and Mr Ben. We didn’t want to book the tour with someone who approached us on the street, so ended up booking with these guys: https://www.easyridersvietnam.org/ – can’t recommend them enough!
We are all connected by a love for travel. And if you are heading and planning on driving a motorbike through Vietnam, do not miss out our talking. You and my backpacker friends can gossip about amazing travelling experiences.
- The top motorcycle routes that you should discover and guide you the least-visited local places where you'll find gorgeous natural beauty, culture and history without pushing through a thicket of selfie sticks.
- I make some bilingual flashcards by Vietnamese and English to give you (just a small gift with the hope it’s useful for you to mingle with the local at each destination that you drop by).
- Accommodation suits your budget
- Vietnam’s traffic and law you should learn
- Mechanical issues you may have during the ride
- Guide you where to buy motorbike and more importantly, if you worry about Vietnam’s traffic, we have available motorbike for you to try.
Riding across the whole length of Vietnam will be one of the best adventures of your life, so it’s pleasure to share with you and wish you can get some tips as well as might be helpful for your trip.
Add: Harry Homestay – 38/1, Street 19, Hiep Binh Chanh, Thu Duc Dist, HCMc.
Phone number: 093 277 3305
"Traffic is chaotic, but drivers in Vietnam are politer and more aware than other South East Asian countries.". Seriously? I've been living in Vietnam for the past 2 years. There's nothing polite about people on the road whatsoever. The general selfish attitude is" me first".
In my opinion, it's better for you to take short journey ride. That means you should take motor ride in about 50 or less than 50 km. Riding in National Roads (roads links provinces together) is very dangerous.
If you come to Can Tho City, the biggest city in Mekong Delta area, I can help and offer you good services and advices to take safe rides and things you can do while you stay in my city.
You can contact to me via my email: email@example.com or my facebook with the same email. I can introduce to your good services with very reasonable cost. I do these because I want my students who are learning English to have chances to be a tour guide and have chances to practice their English.
Thanks for an explanation.
Dear worldnomads.com webmaster, Great post!
If you go to the United Nation treaty pages you can see that Vietnam signed both the 1949 and the 1968 treaties! They signed the 1949 treaty in 1953. Therefore, an IDP from say the USA would be legal.