Thinking about visiting Vietnam and book a motorbike tour? Already here and wanting to escape the city for a while?
You’ve got the right idea. There’s no better way to explore Vietnam than on the seat of one of our ubiquitous motorbikes.
Why a Motorbike Tour is Crucial for Exploring Vietnam
Vietnam is the undisputed Country of the Motorbike. The Ministry of Transport states that there are 45 million registered motorbikes in Vietnam… a country with a population of 92 million.
With a motorbike for every other person, the vehicle can’t help but be an integral part of every day life. They act as taxis; they act as trucks. Sometimes they’re also minivans.
There’s nothing more Vietnamese than hopping on the seat of a motorbike to get to the shopping center. Motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians weave an intricate dance along the roads (and sometimes sidewalks).
But getting on a motorbike is more than just a convenient mode of transportation or a check on the bucket list. It’s a glimpse into the real life of Vietnam; a behind-the-scenes view of wet markets and back alleys, of people scraping by and people living luxuriously. They tie together every person and all walks of life in Vietnam.
There’s a lot you’ll see on the back of a motorbike that you’ll never see walking around or riding in a car.
Get a Motorbike Tour Guide
There’s no doubt you’re an intrepid adventurer, but to really make the most of your Vietnamese motorbike tour, you’ll want to enlist the help of a guide.
The immediate benefits are obvious:
- Learn about the history of extraordinary places and see the story through the eyes of a native.
- Have someone on your side to help you negotiate sticky situations and shopping
- Learn to move and motorbike through Vietnam safely and efficiently
- You’ll pick up a few important words and phrases to help you navigate daily life in Vietnam.
- Get suggestions and samples of the best cuisine!
But that’s what you can expect from any old guide. A truly excellent guide will bring you off the beaten path to experience unique perspectives and craft an unforgettable experience.
Here are some of the premier motorbike tour agencies in Vietnam.
I Love Vietnam Tours
I Love Vietnam is an all-female tour guide company. It’s perfect for women traveling alone that want to feel extra safe. It’s also a great option for family tours, since the ladies at I Love Vietnam love kids as much as they love Vietnam.
This tour takes place on the backs of motorbikes, so you won’t do any driving yourself. That’s a good choice for beginners to riding and people new to Vietnam since the roads can be pretty intimidating.
I Love Vietnam operates out of 5 major cities – Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Hue, Danang, Hoi An, and Hanoi. They also conduct longer tours between cities, have options for car tours, and are happy to work with you to build a custom tour.
A large aspect of the I Love Vietnam Tour company is social entrepreneurship and female-empowerment. They donate a portion of revenue to charity and work within communities to inspire and uplift women. Money spent here is money well spent!
Vietnam Easy Riders Tours
Although the ‘Easy Ride’ in their name refers to a ride on the back of a motorbike, don’t let that fool you. Vietnam Easy Ride Tours has loads of tour options, and that’s just one.
If you want, you’re more than welcome to drive your own motorbike, or manual or automatic Jeep. You can even do combinations of the above for a little taste of everything. Private and Luxury cars are available for those who want to see the sights without getting their hands dirty.
There are many exciting motorbike options too: anything from an “easy rider” 150cc moped to loud, growling 400cc motorcycles. The vehicles are all from leading companies, mostly Japanese, and you can be sure they’re not the shoddy Chinese counterfeits that are a liability to safety.
Vietnam Easy Ride Tours is an older and well-established company. They offer a lot of services other Tour companies don’t – including (optional) insurance and extra protective clothing at no extra charge. They also have a vast network of tour guides and trips – you can start and end in just about any major city in Vietnam.
Popular Motorbike Tours
There are innumerable motorbike tours you could go on, and all of those options make it hard to choose. We narrowed it down to a few of the best types to ask your tour company about.
Every city in Vietnam has a unique feel to it. The chaotic dynamism of Ho Chi Minh contrasts greatly with the slower, purposeful Hanoi. The cities in between – Danang and Hoi An – are known for their beaches and their backpackers.
If you have the time, you should really do at least a daylong tour in each city you travel through. Those tours tend to be fairly inexpensive and are a great way to see all of the local landmarks. Vietnam is rich in museums, statues, parks, and palaces as a result of its interesting history, so make an effort to see as much as you can!
Vietnam is a foodie’s paradise. Each region of the country (North, Middle, and South) have a distinct cuisine and a whole host of dishes to explore.
Food tours are some of the most popular in cities. Street food tours that take you into every nook and cranny or go barhopping at the infamous street-side bars in Saigon. Spend the morning on a coffee tour sampling locally grown coffee made from exotic robusta beans.
Ho Chi Minh Trail
This famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) trail played a vital role in the Second Indochina War/Vietnam War. It was a vital supply line for North Vietnam.
It was more than just a single road though, it was a network of ancient roads and trails that wove through Cambodia and Laos as well. While your tour probably won’t take you across borders, you’ll be able to experience some of the incredible geography of that region all the same.
There are many routes and different motorbike tours offered on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, so inquire with your guide about the specifics.
Mekong Delta Tours
The Mekong Delta is a hidden gem of Vietnam. It’s one of the largest estuaries in the world, home to incredible diversity of plant and animal life. It’s the Amazon of Southeast Asia!
It’s also some of the most productive land in Vietnam – a majority of crops are grown here, and the country’s famed fisheries call this region home as well. Many motorbike tours take you between the small, scattered villages filled with friendly people.
The floating markets of the Mekong Delta are a huge tourist draw and completely unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Wake up early to get out on the water and see the thriving trade that’s been much the same for hundreds of years.
Driver’s Licenses in Vietnam
It is, of course, illegal to drive or operate motorbikes in Vietnam without a valid license. Your license from your home country will not be accepted whether or not you have a motorbike endorsement.
There are two ways to get a legal license:
- Obtain a Vietnamese Motorbike License – Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get a Vietnamese License while using a tourist visa. You’d have to have a business visa, work permit, or a residence card to be eligible for a Vietnamese license.
- Obtain a 1968 Convention International Driver’s License (IDL) – With a 1968 IDL, your home country’s license with a motorbike endorsement, and insurance, you can legally drive a motorbike in Vietnam!
Generally, one must obtain their IDL from their country of residence before going abroad.
Driving Without a License in Vietnam
Realistically, very few people drive in Vietnam with a valid license. Only a fraction of the natives have one and only the most prepared of tourists come bearing an IDL. No motorbike tour company requires proper licensing, so it won’t inhibit your ability to experience Vietnam.
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 (Saigon) 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 police. They’re looking for bribes, not arrests, so don’t panic. A relatively small sum will get you back on your way in a few minutes with no additional hassle.
If 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 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, consider it a tax on the price of all that cheap food you’re eating!
If you are with a tour guide, though, there’s practically no chance you’ll be bothered by police. Just another perk of traveling on a tour!
Riding a Motorbike Safely in Vietnam
Riding in an unprotected vehicle is a risky affair whether or not you’re in a developing country. In Vietnam, the rules of the road are… confusing at best (what are lanes for anyway?). You’ll also be combatting poorly maintained streets and even poorer weather.
Sounds like an adventure!
You can still have a safe and rewarding experience with a little bit of upfront preparation. Although a reliable tour company will provide you with the necessary gear and training, there are a few extra precautions you might want to take.
Motorbike Riding Gear
It’s illegal to ride a motorbike without a helmet in Vietnam. That’s one of the few things the police actually enforce, too.
Tour companies and even local motorbike taxis are very responsible about providing a helmet. If you plan to do a lot of motorbike touring, though, you should consider investing in a full-faced helmet. They are generally more comfortable and provide more complete protection.
Anytime you operate a two-wheeled vehicle you should at least wear long pants and a long-sleeved top. That’s the bare minimum in protection (and helps prevent you from being outed as a foreigner so easily). We recommend investing in a padded jacket and pants, which will protect you from the worst of road rash in the event of an accident.
You’ll also want a poncho or full-body rain gear, especially if you’re visiting in the rainy season (the latter half of the year). The skies can open up without warning and the rain is often pretty harsh for a while. You can expect your tour operator to provide ponchos (or trash bags to be made into ponchos), but it’s a worthwhile investment to grab your own.
Anytime you travel abroad you need to have decent insurance. It’s simply not worth the potential hassle, or even danger, of needing medical care and not being able to receive it.
When you plan to take on an activity like a motorbike tour, insurance is doubly important. While there is little chance of anything going wrong, it’s always a risk – particularly since vehicular accidents are often severe in nature.
Traveling insurance is usually quite inexpensive but inquire directly about whether or not you are covered in auto accidents (especially if you’re going to be unlicensed).
Tips for Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam
- Imagine traffic as a school of fish. People weave in, out, and around each other. You part around large objects (cars or trucks) and move past them if necessary. Go with the flow and it’ll be okay.
- Traffic lights and signs, even things like lanes and sidewalks, are really just suggestions to the Vietnamese motorbike driver. When in doubt, do what everyone else is doing.