No visit to Vietnam can be considered complete without a ride on a motorbike. Whether you simply chance upon a guided scooter food tour or book a thoroughly planned self-drive trip through the mountainous northern region, you are bound to ride a motorbike at least once during your Vietnam visit. So read on, and discover everything you need to know about motorbike tours in Vietnam.
Vietnam is the world’s undisputed Mecca of motorbikes. In a country with roughly 90 million people and over 50 million registered motorcycles, the bike plays an integral part in the country’s culture and every-day life. It is the sole mean of transportation for a large part of the population.
There is nothing more Vietnamese than hopping on a motorbike and weaving through heavy and chaotic traffic. But this is more than just a convenient mode of transportation or a box on the bucket list. The experience provides you with a glimpse into real-life in Vietnam.
On a motorbike, you’ll be able to navigate the local neighborhoods and the back alleys to discover the lives of the locals. You will also be able to drive through the countryside without hassle, visit the small villages and get to know the friendly people who live there.
See also: The Ultimate Guide to the Mekong Delta
Vietnam’s Many Motorbike Tours
You have virtually limitless options when it comes to choosing the right motorbike tour. But ultimately, your choice should, first and foremost, depend on your travel and riding experience.
You can find food and sightseeing tours in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, and all the major cities in Vietnam. These city tours are usually conducted on the back of a scooter and are safe and suitable for most ages.
Look for the tours that take you off the beaten track, that steer away from the touristy hotspots, and take you through the back alleys where you can visit the locals and enjoy the incredible cuisine.
Then there are moderate countryside tours to areas such as the Mekong Delta, Dalat, Ninh Binh, and many of Vietnam’s national parks. Most of these tours are appropriate for any skill-level, although some experience is beneficial if you’re going to be driving yourself.
The more adventurous tours are the Pan-Vietnam tours which usually take you from Hanoi to Saigon or vice-versa, and the northern Vietnam tours through the mountainous regions of Sapa, Ha Giang and Cao Bang.
For these tours, we recommend that you have at least some prior riding experience as some of them involve challenging rides through dirt trails and narrow roads.
Finding the Right Motorbike Tour
Because of the number of tours available, choosing the best and most suitable can take both time and effort. For your convenience, we have taken the liberty of making a list of our absolute favorites.
The Best City Motorbike Tours
Every city in Vietnam has a unique feel to it. The chaotic dynamism of Saigon contrasts significantly with the calmer, purposeful Hanoi.
The major cities in between—Da Nang and Hoi An—are known for their beaches and backpackers, while Dalat is famed for its untouched nature and fresh mountain air.
If you have the time, you should try to do day tours in each city you visit. These city tours are normally quite affordable and offer a great way to visit both famous attractions and to discover hidden gems.
Due to the country’s rich and turbulent history, Vietnam’s cities are home to an abundance of museums, monuments, historic landmarks, parks, and palaces, and you would do well to make the effort to see as much as you can.
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The country is, moreover, a food lover’s paradise, so many of the city tours are either food tours or a combination of cultural, historic, and culinary experiences.
And keep in mind, that each region has its own distinct cuisine and a wide variety of dishes to savor.
Guided Saigon Food Tour
Jump on the back of a scooter on an afternoon street food tour and navigate the bustling streets of Saigon.
This guided tour will take you to six different street food stalls to discover the fantastic cuisine of South Vietnam before taking you to visit a Saigonese culinary master who will teach you how to cook a Vietnamese dish from scratch.
The Saigon Backstreets Experience
On the guided Saigon backstreet culture tour, you’ll navigate back alleys, visit local markets and explore three of Saigon’s busiest districts on a back of a scooter.
The tour allows you to avoid the touristy areas and visit some of the most exciting parts of the city, including Chinatown, historic temples, and Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, a lively backstreet in District 3.
The Hanoi City Highlights & Street Food Tour
Discover the highlights of Hanoi on this afternoon scooter tour. Visit the Temple of literature, the Women Museum, and the infamous Hoa Lo Prison Memorial, also known as “Hanoi Hilton.”
At the end of the tour, you’ll get to feast on some of Hanoi’s very best street food, including crab noodles, fresh spring rolls, and Vietnamese BBQ.
The Hue History, Culture & Cuisine Tour
This unforgettable food and sightseeing tour allows you to explore Hue on the back of a scooter.
A female driver will take you to Hue’s hidden gems along with its most notable places, including Vong Canh Hill, Tu Hieu Pagoda, and to the source of the beautiful Perfume River.
The Best Countryside Motorbike Tours
The picturesque Vietnam countryside envelopes some of the most beautiful regions in Southeast Asia. In the north, there are areas such as Ninh Binh, Halong and Tam Dao. And in the south, you will find the Mekong Delta, Cat Tien and the Vietnam War battlegrounds of Cu Chi.
The Cu Chi Tunnels History Road
This private scooter tour from Ho Chi Minh City takes you to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels.
Your knowledgeable guide will tell you about the rich history of the area and the guerrilla war tactics used during the Vietnam American War.
You will walk through the thick jungle a few feet above the tunnels, crawl into the subterranean labyrinth and shoot from the Vietnam War era weapons.
Guided Dalat Countryside Tour
During this tour, an experienced guide takes you to local villages, and the stunning Elephant Waterfall.
You’ll explore the coffee plantations of Dalat before enjoying the traditional cuisine at a fantastic local restaurant.
Can Gio Mangrove Forest Adventure from Saigon
This tour lets you discover the Can Gio biosphere reserve, a mangrove forest and wildlife sanctuary that hosts numerous rare species of plants and animals.
You’ll visit the Bat Swamp, crocodile farms, and enjoy delicious fresh seafood from the Mekong Delta.
What are the Best Adventure Motorbike Tours?
Many consider Vietnam to be among the world’s leading adventure destinations. The following tours are some of the most exciting you can find, and cater to the wishes of the more daring travelers.
13-Day North Vietnam Motorcycle Adventure
This ultimate motorbike tour allows you to mount the iconic Honda motorcycle to discover northern Vietnam.
You will ride over 1,200 miles (2000 km) in 13 days and explore some of Vietnam’s most beautiful areas, including Mai Chau, Sapa, Ha Giang, Cao Bang, Ban Gioc, and Halong Bay.
This tour is ideal for adventure seekers who want to get the most out of their Vietnam journey.
Seven Day Sapa Motorbike Adventure
This week-long, 600-mile (1000 km), motorcycle ride takes you through the beautiful Sapa region in northern Vietnam.
You’ll discover the valleys of Muong Thanh and Muong Hoa, ride through Pu Luong National Park, visit the Moc Chau plateau and explore the minority hill tribe villages in the mountainous regions.
The Ha Giang Loop in Three Days
On this three day motorbike tour from Hanoi, you ride through the mountain trails of Ha Giang to discover some truly stunning off-the-beaten-path destinations.
You’ll visit the local villages, explore the rice terraces, and take in breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys.
Should You Choose Guided or Independent Motorbike Tours?
There are many things to consider when you choose the perfect tour, including whether to opt for a guided tour or an independent self-drive.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both choices, but fortunately, you have plenty of options.
Guided Motorbike Tours
We recommend opting for a guided tour unless you have both extensive experience riding motorbikes and traveling in Vietnam.
Even the most seasoned travelers will benefit from having an experienced guide to make the trip smoother and even more memorable.
The key benefits of joining a guided tour are the following:
- The convenience of having your tour guide do the planning and preparation. All you need to do is to show up for your trip.
- To allow you to get the most out of your trip, the tour guide will be educate you on the history and culture of the area you’re traveling through.
- A knowledgeable tour guide will be able to point out hidden gems in the area.
- It is safer to be on a guided tour as you always have someone watching your back and ready to support you.
- The guide will know where to get the best local cuisine.
Independent Motorbike Tours
There are benefits of traveling independently, such as having the freedom to go wherever you want, when you want, and you’ll be able to pick your travel buddies.
Choosing the Right Motorbike
If you intend to ride the motorbike yourself rather than being on the back, you’ll need to choose a suitable bike that fits your size, the journey, and your experience.
For inexperienced riders, it’s probably best to get a basic 125cc automatic scooter as those are easy to drive and handle. A 125cc bike has enough power for city and countryside driving.
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You will be able to explore coastal roads, Mekong Delta, Ninh Binh, and similar areas on a scooter.
Many have even driven from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on a 125cc scooter, although we don’t recommend it as scooters are not the most convenient vehicles for long-haul transportation.
If you plan to visit the mountainous regions of Vietnam, you may want something more potent than a scooter. Many self-drive travelers choose to purchase the Honda Win, or its Vietnamese copycat, the Sufat.
These motorbikes are very affordable, reasonably reliable, and easy to obtain. Other travelers go for semi-automatic scooters, such as the Honda Blade, as they have more torque than the automatic scooters.
For those who seek more power, or want to travel in style, there are several tour operators and motorbike rentals that offer 150cc to 250cc enduro-bikes that are suitable for both city riding and dirt trails.
These larger bikes are more convenient for extended travel and are ideal for the northern mountainous region.
Driver’s Licenses in Vietnam
It is, of course, illegal to drive motorbikes in Vietnam without a valid driver’s license. Your license from your home country will most likely not be accepted regardless of whether or not you have a motorbike endorsement.
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There are three ways to get a legal license:
- Obtain a Vietnamese motorbike license: The government has been cracking down on foreigners getting a permit if they don’t have permanent residence cards. Still, some people have had success going through local agents, although it’s getting more difficult. A new regulation forbids the presence of translators during the written test, making the test impossible to pass unless you speak Vietnamese.
- Obtain a 1968 Convention International Driver’s License (IDL): With an IDL, your home country’s license with a motorbike endorsement, and insurance, you can legally drive a motorbike in Vietnam.
- Have your home license converted to a Vietnamese driving license: Converting your home license can be done at the local government office at a minimal cost, but you will need a local address, and depending on the commune, they may require a resident permit.
Driving Without a License
Most local drivers in Vietnam do not bother getting a driver’s license. Neither do most tourists traveling in Vietnam, and most motorbike tour companies do not require a proper permit.
So, not having a license, won’t inhibit your ability to experience Vietnam on a motorbike.
Still, you should be aware of the dangers of driving without a license. Motorbike accidents are, unfortunately, relatively common in Vietnam, especially in crowded, bustling cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Double-check the terms of your insurance as you might not be covered if you have an accident while driving illegally.
Additionally, there’s a good chance that, as a foreigner, you’ll be targeted by the police. They are usually looking for “tea money,” not arrests, so there is no need to panic if you get pulled over.
A relatively small sum will get you back on your way in a few minutes with no additional hassle.
If you get pulled over, immediately take the keys out of the ignition and put them in your pocket. Some police try to take them so that they have the upper hand in the negotiations. Be polite, but firm.
If you’re unable to communicate effectively, just stuff some cash in their hands and try to leave. Between 200K and 500K is a safe bet.
If you are with a tour guide, though, there’s very little chance of you being bothered by the police. Just another perk of traveling on tour!
Riding a Motorbike Safely in Vietnam
Riding a motorbike is always a risky affair regardless of what country you’re in. But in Vietnam, the rules of the road are confusing at best. You’ll also be combating poorly maintained roads and unpredictable weather.
You can still have a safe and rewarding experience with a bit of upfront preparation and planning. Although a reliable tour company will provide you with all the necessary gear and training, there are a few extra precautions you may want to consider.
Motorbike Riding Gear
It is illegal to ride a motorbike without a helmet in Vietnam. That is one of the few things the police enforce, along with speeding and using the turn signal.
Tour companies and even local motorbike taxis will always provide you with a helmet. But if you plan to do much riding, you should consider investing in a full-faced helmet. They are generally more comfortable and provide better protection.
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Anytime you operate a two-wheeled vehicle, you should at least wear long pants and a long-sleeved top. But we recommend investing in a padded jacket and pants, which will protect you from the worst road rash in the event of a minor accident.
You will also want to pack a poncho or full-body rain gear, particularly if you’re visiting in the rainy season. The skies can open up without warning, and when it rains in Vietnam, it pours.
You can expect your tour operator to provide ponchos, but it’s a worthwhile investment to grab your own.
Anytime you travel abroad you should have decent travel insurance. When you plan to take on an activity like a motorbike tour, insurance is especially important.
While there is little chance of anything going wrong, it’s always a possibility, and then it’s better to be well covered.
Travel insurance is usually quite inexpensive, but you should inquire directly about whether or not your coverage includes auto accidents. You may not be covered if you’re riding illegally.
Tips for Safe Riding
- Not all drivers follow traffic lights and signals, so be careful when crossing junctions.
- Avoid driving during the night.
- Be mindful of animals jumping out on the road. In the cities, it can be dogs and rats while in the countryside it can be anything from snakes and monkeys to buffalos.
- Honking cannot be overused in Vietnam. Use the horn to let other drivers know you’re there.
- Be careful of trucks and buses. Traffic in Vietnam is like a jungle, and as the king of the jungle, the truck drivers will expect you to avoid them. Some truck drivers use drugs to keep themselves awake so they can work longer hours, making them very dangerous on the road.
- Carry a phone with a local SIM card so that you can use the map and make calls in the case of an emergency.
- Get your motorbike serviced regularly. Servicing the bike will both improve reliability and safety.
- It may be too hot for full protective gear, but as a minimum, you should invest in a full-face helmet.
- Take breaks during your trip. It’s essential to rest and stretch your legs. If you join a guided tour, your tour guide will make sure to take regular rest stops.
- Keep up with the traffic, but avoid speeding.
- Even though it may be a common practice in Vietnam, do not drink and drive.
After reading this, you are hopefully ready to plan, prepare, and book your Vietnam motorbike trip!