Undoubtedly one of the top highlights of our travels! Motorbiking Vietnam was simultaneously a challenge and treat. We had very little experience on motorcycles and even less experience with Vietnam. Riding from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi turned out to be an awesome 5 week adventure. We stuck mostly to the Ho Chi Minh Trail rather than the larger international Highway. I highly recommend this trip to other travelers – it’s a great way to see the country and experience the culture. I believe anyone who’s looking for adventure can buy a motorbike in Vietnam, make this trip safely, and enjoy the nearly 1,000 mile journey.
But, before you hit the open road, you need a bike. I’ve compiled a list of places to start your search, and things to look for to save you time, money and hassle. Our Big 5 Guide to buying a motorbike in Vietnam breaks this down into 5 easy steps.
1) Starting your search.
The search for a bike in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City can be as easy as walking onto the street. Backpackers and locals alike have bikes for sale in backpacker and tourist areas. You can also start your search online. These sites craigslist, travelswop, Offroad Vietnam and Tigit Motorbikes are a good place to get an idea of what’s out there and what prices to expect. Tigit also offers a buyback program on some of its bikes and can assist in getting your bike fixed if it needs maintenance along the way.
The majority of the bikes you see are Honda or Yamaha. Know that very few of those bikes are actually Hondas or Yamahas. They’re a cheap Chinese imitation and this is why you can get a bike for around $200-400 USD. Granted, these are probably not the safest machines on the road, but they’ll do the trick.
*In our experience, there were a lot more people selling bikes in Hanoi than Ho Chi Minh City. Meaning, we saw lower prices and more options in Hanoi. Thus, a better sellers market in HCMC.
2) Narrowing your search:
The toughest part of the search is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes to choose from. The first and easiest way to narrow your search is to decide if you want a manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic transmission. You should choose a transmission style that fits your riding level. If you’ve never been on a bike before, I wouldn’t recommend buying a bike with a manual transmission.
You’ll probably be excited and wanting to hit the Ho Chi Minh Trail ASAP, but being patient and looking at a number of bikes can be beneficial. It’ll give you the best chance of finding the right bike at a price you’re willing to pay. Backpackers often offer the best price. While buying from a company like Tigit offers you peace of mind that your bike has been recently looked at by a mechanic and they’ll help you get it fixed along the way.
3) Test-driving bikes:
You’re past the dating phase with the idea. Now it’s time to get serious about finding and buying a bike. Whether you buy from a fellow backpacker or a local, be sure you ask the right questions and check a few things before you commit:
- If buying from a backpacker, ask what maintenance they’ve had done, how much they spent on repairs during their trip and if the bike was involved in any accidents.
- Make sure both the electric and kick starter work.
- Check the kickstand and center stand to make sure they function properly to support the bike.
- Make sure the headlight works. It will probably be a pretty sad headlight, and you shouldn’t ride at night. anyway. But, if the headlight doesn’t work, it’s a good indicator that there could be other electrical problems lurking.
- Check tires for tread. Good tires can make your ride a lot smoother and safer.
- If the odometer & speedometer aren’t working, don’t worry. Most Vietnamese don’t use them and most mechanics won’t even bother to connect them. Most won’t even do it if you ask.
- Make sure the horn works. It could save your life. Plus, you’ll feel left out if you don’t have one. There’s literally a symphony of bike horn beeps at every intersection and around every bend in Vietnam.
- Make sure that the clutch and the gears work smoothly. Check that the gears shift smoothly all the way up (gears 1-4) and all the way down (4-1).
- Check the bike for rust. Press on metal areas with a pen or stick (don’t use your hand as engine parts can be hot even after a short test drive). It’s very easy to just paint over rusted areas. By pressing you can see if there are any trouble areas where serious rust has set in.
- Take a peak at the chain – it should be well greased and fairly tight-fitting.
- Test both the front and the back brakes – you’ll absolutely depend on both. Don’t get a bike with bad brakes.
Once you’ve found the bike for you, negotiate to a price you like as much as the bike. I could do a whole section on haggling for price, but everyone’s got their own negotiation style. Settle on a price you’re comfortable with.
4) Registration card:
Before you start talking price, make sure the seller has the proper paperwork for the bike. If they don’t have it, it’s not worth it. You don’t need that hassle. It’s just a small, laminated card that proves the bike has been registered at some point. It won’t have your name on it as it’s actually illegal for a foreigner to own a motorbike in Vietnam. Although, the law is rarely enforced. It’s just a formality that you have it and in the case you have any trouble with the authorities you’ll need to present it. Also, not having it could make selling the bike difficult. Be sure to buy a bike with a registration card.
Lastly, ask if the bike comes with any extras. Luggage racks and helmets are usually included with a motorbike in Vietnam. If the bike doesn’t have a luggage rack, I recommend getting one. A luggage rack attaches easily to the rear part of the seat and you affix your backpack to it with simple bungee cords. It’s much more comfortable than wearing your pack while you ride. If buying from a local, they will usually throw it in for free and attach it to your bike for you. If buying from a backpacker, there’s a good chance the bike already has one.
Helmets often come with the bike, as well. If you buy from a local, just ask and they will usually throw one in. Backpackers are usually looking to get rid of theirs and include it in the sale. Helmets are not necessarily of great quality in Vietnam. Helmets are mandated by law, so be sure you wear one at all times to avoid trouble with the authorities. If your helmet doesn’t meet your standards or doesn’t fit properly, you can find shops that sell helmets starting around $30 USD.
Extra Tips for Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam:
Some bikes also come with a lock and a chain. They’re a good idea for security, but not a necessity. You’ll also need a poncho/rain gear for yourself and your pack. If your bike doesn’t come with some sort of rain gear, it’s cheap and easy to find. Every local on a motorbike in Vietnam is wearing a mask. So, follow their lead and pick one up at any market. Also ask whoever you buy from if they have a sheet with phrases in Vietnamese that you can show to a mechanic. Simple things like “I need an oil change” or “My bike is making a bad noise”. This was helpful to us because many of the mechanics we encountered didn’t speak any English. If the seller doesn’t have a sheet, ask someone at your guest house or hostel if they can write down some phrases for you.
The fact is, after all that work, you’re still going to have a Chinese made fake Honda motorcycle that may or may not last the trip. Just be sure that once you buy it, you plan to get the oil changed every 500 kilometers. Most mechanics will check the tires and fluids if you ask.
So, now you’re ready to go. Riding motorbikes across Vietnam was an epic experience that we highly recommend to other adventure travelers!