Motorbike Riding in Vietnam: Know Before You Go

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Motorbiking in Vietnam is a popular way for travelers to get around, but the process isn't simple. Jessica Hayward gives us the lowdown on how to ride legally and safely.


Photo © Jessica Hayward

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.

Motorbikes up to 50 cc can be ridden without a license in Vietnam, but this size of motorcycle is not suitable for extended travel throughout the country.

International Drivers Permits are currently legal IF your home country has signed under the 1968 convention (countries colored green on this map). But you must hold a motorcycle license at home and have it registered on the IDP. Australia, UK, USA, and Canada have signed only the 1949 convention on IDPs, so they are not valid and you will be riding illegally.

A Vietnamese license is otherwise required. Whilst many travelers ride without one, and successfully bribe their way out of police stops, if you cause damage to yourself or others you will be held fully responsible and be at the mercy of Vietnamese justice.

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.

Be aware that 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 riding illegally.

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 at this time. Always check the wording of your policy regardless of your country of residence.

Renting or buying in Vietnam

Try to rent from reputable companies that provide reliable vehicles (Honda, Yamaha etc), rather than Chinese knock-offs. One of the most popular is Tigit Motorbikes. Many travelers choose to buy cheap $200 bikes from fellow backpackers to keep their travel costs down. I cannot stress enough the value in renting or buying a proper, well maintained bike; the hassle of repairing your constantly breaking bike and cost will soon match or exceed the price of renting a newer motorbike. Vietnamese roads are dangerous enough without making life harder with a faulty motorbike.

Renting a motorbike outside Vietnam

Vietnam generally only allows Vietnamese bikes into the country. You will be facing difficulties crossing borders from LaosCambodia and China on a non-Vietnamese bike. Expect to pay some hefty bribes, or not cross at all, depending on how frequented your border is and how much the border security cares about letting you in.

What bike to rent

110 cc to 125 cc will be completely sufficient for touring the country, unless you intend to head through rougher country in the north and west. In those cases, it's best to hire a more powerful bike. Speed limits are low within Vietnam – 25mi/h (40km/h) for cities, 37mi/h (60km/h) for highways – so having a very powerful motorbike can often be a detriment in congested areas. You can navigate the country on an automatic, semi automatic or manual, so choose what will work best for your experience.

Try to keep to known brands such as Honda or Yamaha. Whilst most Vietnamese know how to repair motorbikes, if you do not know what they are doing it will be hard to judge if you are being scammed or sold faulty repairs. 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. These stores are in almost every town and city.

Riding in Vietnam

Expect average to poor roads the majority of the time, along with heavy traffic. Vietnam has built good highways but only cars and trucks are allowed to use them, and as they come with a toll, most vehicles will still use the rougher and narrow roads that motorbikes must use.

Roadsides will often be filled with stalls, markets and livestock, so please pay attention at all times.

Traffic is chaotic, but drivers in Vietnam are politer and more aware than other South East Asian countries. Most trucks will beep to warn you out of the way before overtaking, so pay attention to your fellow motorists. If you're not sure they can see you, warn them by using your horn. This especially applies on the twisting mountain roads in the west and north, as there are multiple blind corners with no space and the only way to know you can pass safely is to ensure any oncoming traffic can hear you coming!

Riding in Saigon and Hanoi may seem intimidating, but traffic speed is so low it is generally safe. The trick is to look directly where you are going so motorists know where you are headed. If you need to cross oncoming traffic, do so slowly and steadily; everyone will get out of your way if you do not make erratic movements. Follow the flow!

Be aware of the weather. Rain can and will come at any time, so be prepared with waterproofs. In a downpour a good road can rapidly become slippery and dangerous, so please consider this and your visibility when deciding to travel in bad weather.

Scams to look out for

Police are known to target foreigners, because most do not have licenses. You can avoid this by not advertising your nationality. Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, with gloves, and you will be no different to every other local on the road.

If you have valid licenses or IDP, the police will leave you alone. Without them, you will likely need to pay a fine/bribe to continue on your way.

Dodgy mechanics – while it may be unavoidable to use local repair places at times, try to service at reputable stores to ensure you are not being scammed.

Fuel – this is not common, but always check your attendant resets the fuel gauge before filling your bike.

Dangers while riding in Vietnam

Vietnam is an extremely safe country, but the roads are some of the most dangerous in the world. For this reason, wear appropriate safety gear, drive defensively and always be aware of the vehicles around you.

Theft is a problem – make sure your motorbikes are in secure, safe parking each night, and do not leave them unlocked/unattended for long (if at all). Gear left with your bike can and will be stolen, including your helmet, even if it is locked to your bike. Thieves will simply cut through the strap and take it anyway.

Best biking routes in Vietnam

Main Route: Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and vice versa, following the east coast. Mostly good roads, if busy, and access to all main cities like Hue, Hoi An and Da Nang. Most travelers choose this route. It should take one to three weeks travel time, depending on speed.

Ho Chi Minh Road: Starts outside of Ho Chi Minh and winds all the way to Hanoi on the western border of the country. Incredibly quiet road with spectacular scenery; highly recommended for nature lovers who want to experience untouched Vietnam.

Ha Giang Loop: Heading from Ha Giang to the very north of Vietnam and circling back, this is widely known as the best of Vietnam’s scenery. Three to six days to complete. The road conditions alternate between great and terrible, so expect the unexpected.

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  • John Seccombe said

    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
    Company name

    John Seccombe

  • mikes said

    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?

  • David Pearlman said

    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.

  • Me said

    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???

  • Me said

    So how do you do that???

  • Maria said

    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)?

  • Richard said

    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.

  • Art said

    My idp says that it doesn’t matter if vietnam is not part of the 1949 convention. The country still honors the idp.

  • Vegar said

    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."

  • Loek said

    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: – can’t recommend them enough!

  • Linh said

    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

  • John said

    "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".

  • Trung Trịnh Văn said

    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: 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.

  • iHerb Code said

    Thanks for an explanation.

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