A sweet breeze spiced with the flavors of the world, kissing your face, is just one of a thousand reasons to explore the world by motorcycle.
There’s also the endless array of authentic moments that most travelers crave served up to you. Like locals coming out of the woodwork to help you fix a broken bike or when you pop into a small, roadside restaurant that hasn’t served a tourist in a decade—if ever.
Of course, there are some places where you’re going to be better off using public transportation to get around. But, Vietnam is not one of them.
There is no better way than a Vietnam motorcycling tour to soak up the beauty, wonder, and reserved hospitality that can be found down the back roads of the country as they snake through mountain ridges of dense jungles and the vibrant green rice terraces.
It’s along these roads that you will find Vietnam—the real Vietnam. It might be where you find yourself bedding down among locals willing to give you floor space or somewhere to hang a hammock, with the smell of cinnamon drying along the roadside still tantalizing your senses.
Every year, thousands of backpackers (many having no experience on a scooter or motorcycle) clamber onto some 100cc Honda Win motorcycle and take off on an adventure—a Vietnam motorcycling adventure.
Of course, there is a certain amount of risk that comes with jumping on a motorcycle with no experience at all.
That risk—to be fair—might outweigh the benefits. After all, it isn’t that unusual to bump into a foreigner wrapped up in bandages from a bad spill because they have no riding experience. And, those are the ones who are healthy enough to walk away from motorcycle crashes.
That said, a Vietnam motorcycling tour is really the only way to truly take in the subtle, complex flavors of the Southeast Asian country.
Buying a Motorcycle
Getting a motorcycle in Vietnam is straightforward—assuming you don’t plan on legally owning it. You can buy a jalopy for $150-$450 and sell it to another backpacker on your way out of town. Or, if you’re pushing your deadline and have a plane to catch, there are a few shops in Hanoi’s Old Quarter that are more than happy to give you a couple bucks for the machine—and that’s better than just leaving it where it stands.
What would have been a hassle asking for help at a hostel or hoping some fellow backpacker was taking off when you were arriving has turned into the simplest of transactions with Facebook groups. Throughout much of Asia, especially in Vietnam, you can find English-language Facebook groups with people hawking their motorcycles.
There is the Vietnam Backpacker Sales group, as well as city-specific groups for Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Just do a search with relevant keywords and you’re sure to find one to fit your needs.
If you’re not planning on doing a long tour, but still want the Vietnam motorcycling experience, there are several local outfitters that can set you up with a rental motorcycle. Most are reputable and pretty honest.
Just make sure you snap plenty of photos of the bike and any dings or knicks it has before taking it out.
Vietnam Motorcycling Tours: Legal Issues
We could do a deep dive here if it was really necessary. But the reality of it is that the cops in Vietnam mostly leave foreigners alone, as long as they are behaving themselves.
In Thailand, it’s becoming increasingly likely that you’ll get caught up at a police checkpoint and forced to pay tickets for failing to have a motorcycle license (or, honestly, for nothing at all). Fortunately for those interested in Vietnam motorcycling tours, the officers in Vietnam seems to be pretty chill about these things.
Vietnam Motorcycle Tours: Where to Go
Without a doubt, the most famous Vietnam motorcycling trip is from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi (or vice versa). Though you miss Sapa and the Extreme North, the trip takes you down the length of the country, linking its two greatest cities.
The Vietnam Coracle explains, “For years, travelers simply took the most obvious route: Highway 1. Today, however, thanks to ambitious road building programs, there are far more scenic, pleasant and less trodden ways to ride between the country’s two main cities.”
The Classic Route
If you want to explore further off the beaten track, there is the Extreme North Loop, which starts in Hai Giang. The loop takes you through the remote northern stretches of Vietnam. Specifically, through mountainous Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo-Park and various villages of ethnic minorities, their clothing and customs standing in stark contrast to each other and the larger Vietnamese populations.
Other highlights include the awe-inspiring Lung Cu Flag Tower and the thick-walled stone fort of H’mong King’s Palace. On the road to Lung Cu Flag Tower, there’s a section of country fencing that marks the border between Vietnam and China.
So, if you’re bladder is full at the right moment—and your that kind of person—it’s easy enough to stand in one country and piss into another…
You know, if that’s your thing.
Additionally, you can do Vietnamese motorcycle tours from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai to behold the majestic rice terraces. Or, Ho Chi Mihn to Nha tran, via Dalat, basking in what is arguably the most scenic section of road in southern Vietnam.
Driver Beware: The Vietnam Driving Mentality
When it comes to navigating the roads in Vietnam, there’s more to know than just how to ride a motorcycle. You need to come to terms with the mentality of the people with whom you’re sharing the road.
If you’re from the West, be prepared—it’s completely different.
If you remember one thing about driving in Vietnamese traffic, it should be to keep moving at a consistent speed and to not make any sudden movements. As long as you do this, somehow things almost always end up working out.
The same goes for crossing the street in Vietnamese cities.
As Itchy Feet on The Cheap points out, “They’ll [the Vietnamese] do anything they can to have to avoid stopping. This means driving on the wrong side of the road, running red lights, and making danger-filled decisions.”
Additionally, be aware that people will often be driving the wrong way down a street. However, they’ll usually stick to the curb, so don’t hug the curb yourself unless you like head-on collisions.
And, oddly enough, head-on collisions—or basically anything in front of you—is all you need to worry about. At least, that’s all the Vietnamese seem to worry about.
Don’t expect people to be checking blind spots or the mirrors before making turns. If they have a wheel on you, they have the right-of-way to your lane and pretty much anywhere else.
Speaking of right-of-way, don’t forget, at the end of the day, larger vehicles are the winners.
Take Advantage of the Vietnam Motorcycling Community
Though this might be your first foray into the motorcycle world, let it be known that there is a huge, supportive motorcycle community out there. In Vietnam, you can post questions on Facebook groups such as Backpacking Vietnam by Bike – Sales and Advice or Vietnam Motorbike Forum.
Don’t be shy about it—everyone who’s been on the roads in Vietnam have been rookies in the saddle at one point.
Final Thoughts: Vietnam Motorcycling Tours: ‘Cause Any Other Way Sucks
A Vietnam motorcycle tour—from the short 4-day Extreme North Loop to a multi-week adventure—will bring this land of vibrant green rice paddies, sacred pagoda, and fascinating food into sharp focus.
All that said, be safe out there. If it’s possible to get your motorcycle license beforehand, do it. And, be patient as you learn to understand traffic flow like a local.
With temperatures varying from chilly nights in the far north, to tropical days in the south, you’re going to need to rock some sweet hoodies and tank tops — so why not say F*cket and get a matching set?
<em>All Images Photo Credit to Isaac Simonelli</em>
Isaac, previously the managing editor of an expat newspaper in Thailand, is a freelance writer, photographer drone pilot, adventurer, and all-in-all swell fella. Though currently based in Fairbanks, Alaska, he has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Read his articles on TTGA, but also check out his wild travels at www.dicetravels.com.