Vietnam motorbike trip from my experience
One of my previous clients just emailed me today letting me know he’s coming back to Vietnam and will be conquering the northern hills on motorbike. He actually did that area 3 years ago by car but stills wants to try a different feeling on a bike. What a great idea! While I’m booking some services for him I think I can share some of my thoughts with you about traveling on a Vietnam motorbike trip.
This is me waiting to get through border gate between Vietnam and Laos
Vietnam motorbike trip what to prepare and tips for safety
When coming to Vietnam, beside big cities’ well-known tourism destinations, many foreign travelers, especially young sport enthusiastic love spending their time chasing the wind on the road of the wildly mountainous areas by motorbikes. I had roughly 5 years working as an adventure guide touring mountain biking, motorbiking and kayaking in Vietnam, I can say motorbike is one of the best ways to explore Vietnam.
What are the reasons for choosing Vietnam motorbike trip? Motorbiking is considered to be one of the best means of transportation for traveling mountainous areas. It is so convenient and so much of freedom. There no limitation of distance and ambience. On motorbikes, we are free to go wherever we want, challenge all kinds of roads in any condition. Seeing a stunning scenery or locals in their every day’s activities? We can stop whenever we feel like to take photos, to talk to the locals and learn their culture. We can turn from main roads to back streets, from paved way to buffalo trails to get from village to village. Motorbikes connect riders with nature and fresh air. Let’s forget about motion sickness if you have one. Riding motorbikes makes you live every single moment of your trip!
Be as well prepared as possible. Anything can arise during a motorbike trip
So what kind of motorbike to choose? The most available motorbikes in Vietnam are 100cc Honda or automatic Yamaha Nouvo. Looking for something more powerful to conquer dirt tracks? There are some Honda XR or Yamaha Serrow 250cc for you. Those are suitable for all conditions of roads in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous area. What to note when choosing your motorbike? There are 3 factors to note: durable engine, gasoline-saving and flexible packing space.
- Engine is the most important part of the bike. Believe me you don’t want your bike to break down in the middle of nowhere and the nearest bike fixing shop is 80 miles away. Unless you are an engineer who can fix bikes you should ask for a bike with a well durable engine. Don’t forget to check that well before. To my experience, the best way to check the bike is to do a small trip around Hanoi before you do your main trip. Get that bike to explore Duong Lam village, Tay Phuong pagoda or the Perfume pagoda…in one day. After that short trip the bike is still running like a teenage horse that’s the one you want! Safety gears are also vitally important. Check the brake system, light and horn…carefully. As a matter of fact you should check everything!
- Petrol saving is also an important factor. You may be doing it the whole week and one day the bike has to take you around 100 kms in different road condition. Choose a bike that doesn’t drink too much gasoline you’ll save some bucks for a few beer as reward in the night. Plus it is very common that gas stations are hard to find in remote areas of the northern part of Vietnam. Running out of gasoline in the middle of a jungle is a nightmare. Really!
- Also, choose a bike that gives you lots of space to pack your stuff. You may need to carry tents, clothing, water and food…even a gas cooker with you. Bikes that have been modified to give you extra space are always recommended. There are bike shops in Hanoi that can modify your bike if you have your own.
Always ride with a gang. You’ll support each other a lot
Now when is the best time for a Vietnam motorbike trip? Well it is not different than other “classical” trip. I already mentioned in another post about “When is the best to travel Vietnam”. You don’t want it to be too hot neither too cold nor rainy. Weather is always one of the most essential issues when planning a Vietnam motorbike trip. Again, the best time for a Vietnam motorbike trip exploring the northern areas is from September to the beginning of December. This is when there is almost no rain and it is not too hot not yet too cold. Avoid to do your Vietnam motorbike trip for the rest of the year as the spring’s rain and summer’s heat in high regions is not good for your health. Too much rain in the summer and small rain constantly in the winter damage the quality of the roads.
What should you pack for a motorbike trip? Unlike “normal” trip when you have your tour guides to take care of everything for you. A Vietnam motorbike trip requires a lot of preparation. There are indispensable things that one has to bring whenever traveling to remote areas like the northern part of Vietnam. For a Vietnam motorbike trip you need to prepare specialized clothes and shoes for the most comfort and safety when riding a motorbike. Besides, personal stuff, maps, contact information and medical bags…are essential. A good quality protective helmet is a must and don’t rely on the shop who you rent the bike from. Fake helmets are too common in Vietnam and you have to make sure the helmet you bike is a genuine one. Don’t forget to pack a motorcycle repair tool kit. And if you a not an expert at fixing bikes, take a quick course to learn some basic skills of mending engine. An extra spark-plug and motorbike’s key are always in need. Doing a Vietnam motorbike trip in the northern part you’ll be likely to encounter lots of remote areas where there are not too many services available. Make sure you pack tents, food, drink and a gas cooker in case you get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Riding in a group you will also avoid having to pack too many necessary items
The best way to do a Vietnam motorbike trip is having someone to do it with you. Motor biking is an extremely adventurous activity and no matter how well you prepare, there are problems that happen. When you travel with a group of about 3 to 5 riders (which is a recommended number) you can support each other a lot. One may be good at leadership, one is a good bike fixer, and you may be a talent in cooking who knows? Before you set off, everyone has to discuss well about every details. All members of the group are required to have detailed itinerary to avoid getting lost. Always travel in group but not to close. Keep the distance as long as you can see the one in the front. The best experienced person should always go at the end.
Remember: Traffic in Vietnam is crazy and Vietnamese drivers are maniacs. Hehe. When riding, always keep your bike on the right hand side of the road and pay attention to the bend and ones driving contrariwise. Never ride into other lane. The second thing to remember: Vietnam is an agriculture country and you’ll be passing many farms and fields. Thus, there may be water buffaloes, cows, dogs or even pigs crossing the road. Always keep a moderate speed and watch out for animal suddenly appearing. And always know your limit. I don’t recommend riding at night or when it rains too hard, or when you feel a health issue. In such situations you should stop, find a shelter, have a rest and get ready for next moves.
Motorbiking is an extremely adventurous activity. Know what you do and keep common sense
Important things to note when on the road doing a Vietnam motorbike trip:
- If you feel tired or sleepy, stop to rest, make yourself a coffee or just simply have a nap.
- Only drink a moderate amount of alcohol at night when you finish riding. I know you want to reward yourself with some cold beer. But drinking too much alcohol will result a spinning head for tomorrow’s ride. And never, ever drink and ride.
- When on the road, ride with a moderate speed. Don’t do it too fast or stop suddenly. Make sure people know what you are up to. The key to be safe is “see and be seen”.
- Road signs are everywhere. Respect them.
- When crossing hazard areas such as a stream or muddy path make sure you inspect it before going in.
- Be friendly to local people and respect the culture.
- Always have emergency contacts with you.
- Be well prepared for anything that may arise.
Have fun riding!
By Pham Tuyen