1. Buy your bike in a city and sell it in a city
Vietnam is a long, thin country, so it makes the most sense to start in either Ho Chi Minh in the south or Hanoi in the north, and then ride to the other. Luckily, it is also the most effective way to buy a bike and then sell it again after your trip.
In the cities, where there are more bikes for sale and competition among sellers keeps the prices lower, a motorbike should cost around $200-$250. If you’re paying more, you’re either buying something that is more than you need or you’re being ripped off.
Unless you absolutely trash your bike, you should be able to get the same amount back for it when you sell it in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. Effectively, you’ve rented a bike for free.
2. Prepare for extremes
Vietnam is a country of weather extremes. In the south, it is hot and sticky. In the north, it can get wet and surprising cold. At any moment on your journey, you could be rained upon in biblical proportions.
I got caught out by both. In the south, I got sunstroke. In the north, I caught a cold. And there were times on my journey when I didn’t think I’d be dry ever again. Take gear to cover all possibilities and drink lots of water.
3. Spend more time in the north
The north is less developed and hence has a lot more beautiful places to ride through. There are mountains, valleys, remote villages and caves. Every corner reveals another breathtaking view.
Sadly, I left the north until the end of my trip and had to rush through it. Don’t make the same mistake. Take your time to explore the north of Vietnam.
4. The roads are slippery – really slippery
Vehicle maintenance is not a huge priority in Vietnam, and the ingenuity of the locals in keeping their trucks and vans going is something to behold. The downside is that there are a lot of vehicles on the road that shouldn’t be. Many of them are leaving a slick of oil and petrol – and the occasional engine part – on the road.
That makes the roads treacherous for motorcycle riders, particular after rain. High in the mountains, where it rains a lot, great care should be taken. I managed to navigate the slippery roads right up until my last day, when I lost control of my motorbike and dislocated my thumb. It was in plaster for three weeks.
5. Motorbikes are great ice-breakers
Making friends while travelling in Vietnam on a motorbike is definitely not an issue. It’s the way most locals get around, and every time you stop, someone will appear to check out your bike and ask where you’ve come from.
Your bike will also get you to corners of the country that a lot of visitors don’t see, so there isn’t the ‘backpacker fatigue’ from locals that you’ll find in some of the more popular traveller areas.