In March 2014, alongside a very worthy riding partner, I spent 6 weeks motorbiking up the length of Vietnam. I have posted about this experience before over a few blog posts (‘Top Gear Vietnam Bike Special‘, ‘Do one thing everyday that scares you‘ & ‘Goodnight Vietnam‘) but I thought a one-stop shop for anyone thinking of doing this themselves might be useful (you’ll be the judge of that!).
So here goes…
Pros & Cons
Most people travel up Vietnam by either Bus, Train or Plane as it’s cheap, direct and there are opportunities to meet other people, but by doing this you only really see 5-6 key cities on route. By hiring or buying your own transportation, such as a Motorbike, you are able to see so much more, immerse yourself within the local people and cultures to a greater extent, and really have an adventure of a lifetime. Here are a few of the pros & cons of travelling by Motorbike:
– It’s something you’ll NEVER forget (trust me)
– You see so much more of the detail when travelling from one place to the next (as oppose to being asleep on some form of public transport)
– You can stop whenever you want to admire some scenery, grab some food…go to the toilet!
– You will find waterfalls, secluded beaches and amazing scenery that virtually no other travellers will have seen
– You are on your own schedule
– You stop and stay in many more of the smaller Vietnamese towns as you ‘pitstop’ overnight on the way to the bigger destinations
– It’s cheaper (see section below on costs)
– It’s the story I told the most when I met new people…you’ll have a real sense of pride
– It takes much longer (longest ride was 9hrs!) as you physically can’t go as fast as some other means of transport (unless you have a superbike and a death wish!)
– It’s hard…i’m not going to lie it’s physically & mentally challenging
– You get filthy; exposed to the elements, vehicle exhausts and dusty roads
– It’s dangerous; buses overtaking cars overtaking motorbikes coming straight at you!
– You are treated by other motorists as a second class citizen and must get out of the way of everyone (including those coming towards you on your side of the road)
– Numb bum!
I drove North up Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Hanoi, but the route I took works just as easily driving South, and it gave a really good mix of driving the Ho Chi Minh Trail (which is the route the VietCong took to get supplies down south during the Vietnam war), and a coastline drive north of Hoi An to Hanoi. Here is the list of places I stopped to help you plan your route:
1. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – start point
2. Mui Ne – beach town (popular with Russian tourists – wouldn’t recommend)
3. Dalat – ski resort like town in the mountains (chilly at night)
4. Nha Trang – beach town (popular with Russian tourists – much nicer than Mui Ne so would recommend)
5. Buon Ma Thuat – first stop on the HCM trail, very rural
6. Pleiku – small town where not many locals had seen a westerner before
7. Kontum – very charming town, again not many westerners stop here
8. Kham Duc – a slightly bigger town but again not many westerners stay here
9. Hoi An – beautiful, charming town half way up Vietnam that most travellers stop at
10. Danang – Vietnams 3rd largest city but one most travellers miss out as the beach & city centre is a little soulless
11. Hue – Another cool traveller town with some interesting history
12. Dong Hoi – you can access the stunning Phong Nha caves from here
13. Ha Tinh – small town just south of Hanoi
14. Hanoi – a must do (obviously)
15. Halong Bay – I didn’t ride to this as I was quite tired by this point but a must do side trip
17. A stop on route to Sapa – you cannot reach Sapa in one day by bike as it’s normally an overnight bus journey
18. Sapa – beautiful Machu Pichu style place up in the mountains near the Chinese border
locations 5-8 are areas that are definitely not on the tourist trail, where not much (if any) English is spoken, you are stared at a lot as locals have rarely (perhaps never) seen a westerner and only local food is available (duh!). There isn’t much to do in these places other than have a quick look around, try the local food, have a shower, interact with the locals and sleep before continuing on your journey, so an evening and one night is more than enough time spent in these places.
I tracked all costs during my travels to be sure I stayed in budget, so here is a fairly accurate breakdown of what it costs to motorbike up Vietnam over a 6 week period. I will only focus on the actual travelling costs here:
– second hand yet reliable bike £190
– new helmet (safety first!) £11
– fuel £49
– bike repairs (all minor) £22
– Misc (parking etc) £7
– sold bike for £126
Total Cost = £152
Once I had sold the bike the total cost of travelling by Motorbike worked out cheaper than travelling by public transport (generally!), you get to see a whole lot more of Vietnam and it’s a damn good experience!
Hints & Tips
– I would recommend buying a bike from this western run shop ‘Saigon-Minsk’ near the main travellers area in Saigon (saigon-minsk.com)
– You’ll need a rack & bungy cords as you will not want to have your backpack on your back when riding
– You will not be able to navigate from a paper map so don’t buy one! Instead you’ll need to use Google Maps for up-to-date real time roads (the Vietnamese are building hastily!) which means you’ll need an unlimited data SIM card
– When selling in Hanoi ask your hostel if they know any good buyers and get some quotes, but we sold with the main dealer Mr Phong who is located right opposite Hanoi Backpackers Original
– If you are not confident enough to ride on your own but still want to see some or all of Vietnam by you can use a service called ‘Easyrider’ which is a great alternative (vietnameasyrider.com)
– Ladies, I wouldn’t recommend travelling alone..I hate to say it but travelling with a guy is much safer
Above all this is a great experience and a lot of fun so give it a go but above all be careful!
If you have any other questions please feel free to drop me an email