I was in a hostel in Hong Kong, exactly 1 month into my first backpacking trip, when I started making small talk with a guy I just met. I can’t remember much of the conversation apart from him insisting that if I did one thing during my travels, it should be to travel all over Vietnam by motorcycle. Five months after that conversation, I was on a sleeper bus from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh Vietnam, getting ready to buy a motorcycle. The next few weeks, I found myself riding over 3500 km through jungles, cities and villages. I crashed my motorcycle around midnight at the top of mountains near the Chinese border, I ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere and more importantly, I made memories that I would never forget.
I didn’t spend long in Ho Chi Minh. I did the typical tourist activities but mainly spent my time checking out different motorcycles to buy. A lot of that was spent trying to haggle down the prices and test riding them to see if they sounded okay. Within the first night, I had met 2 guys who had the same plans as me and we ended up doing the whole route together. Soon, another guy joined us along the way and on our first stop, I met a silly cute girl named Anna (my partner in crime for running this website)
Editors Note: If you are heading to Vietnam check out our guides on Where to Stay in Vietnam
Motorbikes Available in Vietnam
Our trip was made up of 4 guys and 4 motorcycles. 3 Honda Win manual 110cc and 1 automatic 125cc Scooter. There are a range of motorcycles available but these 2 types will be the main ones you will come across. All bikes had covered a lot of kilometers in their time (I’m talking 80,000Km plus which for a bike is a lot!) and were old. Needless to say, we all had mechanical issues during the ride. If you can think it, it happened to us. Punctures, bike racks snapping in half, gear boxes breaking, electronics failing, suspension snapping, oil leaking, brakes failing and the whole bike going up in flames! (yep, that was my bike). However, the beauty of riding a motorcycle in Vietnam is there’s always someone who can fix your bike in sight, usually for very cheap. Some will try to take advantage, but it is nothing a little haggling can’t solve.
What Motorbike Did I Get You Ask?
I bought an orange Honda Win manual 110cc for $250. Don’t ask why I chose that color! It came with ropes to strap my backpack on, 1 helmet, the backpack rack and half a tank of gas.
The Route We Took and The One You Should Take
We started in Ho Chi Minh and rode all the way up to Hanoi. After Hanoi, myself and Steven (one of the guys I met in Ho Chi Minh) actually kept our bikes for another 10 days and continued to ride all around North Vietnam. The photo below shows our route across Vietnam.
Click to open a large version then scroll down to see where we slept
Quick Facts about our Vietnam Motorbike Route – Hoi Chi Minh to Hanoi
- Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne took 1 night and 2 days (we got lost).
- Mui Ne to Dalat took 1 day (approx. 8-10 hours)
- Dalat to Nha Trang took 1 day (approx. 8 hours)
- From Nha Trang, we did a 3 day ride inland trip all the way up to Hoi An.
- After Hoi An, we did the High Van Pass or “Top Gear Route” all the way to Hue. This took approx. 8-10 hours as again we got lost.
- After Hue, we did another 3-day leg going inland, staying on the Hanoi trail.
Related: Vietnam by Motorbike: 8 Things you Should Read First
Our first day riding was one of the most eventful days we had. We left Ho Chi Minh a little bit after breakfast. Soon, we encountered 3 breakdowns, crazy traffic, night driving with no lights and even ended up getting lost after just 3 hours. Let’s just say it was an awesome start to our adventure. The first night was also a story in itself. We pulled up in the middle of nowhere asked if this guy had anywhere for us to sleep and amazingly, the guy owned a small bar/ barbers (Yes, you read that right!). He took us around the back (don’t worry- not to kill us) and ripped a piece of wood from a doorframe, placed it on the floor, hung up a mosquito net and VOILA! The three of us had a bed for the night. Oh, one of us also got a free haircut! The first half of this epic journey saw us riding along highways, across mountains and coastlines. The scenery was amazing and different every time we set off. Most days would consist of around 9- 14 hours riding. Why so long? Well, we rode the most scenic routes and took no shortcuts. Yes, our butts were sore after a few days.
Insider Tip: If you want to spend less time riding stick to the coast. There are more direct routes and the roads are a lot faster. The view won’t be as good though – bare that in mind!
The first half of the journey finished in Hoi An, a small town known for its “old town” and a beautiful river and beach nearby. They also have the ever so popular “Why Not” bar, which let’s just say always leads to an eventful night (5 bucks unlimited drinks kind of eventful). By this point, we all had broken down and my bike had seen the worse of it. My bike quickly got the name the “Phoenix” as it burst into flames while I was riding out of Nha Trang. 1 mechanic, 10 minutes and $3 later, she had risen from the flames and was back on the road. She took me around 400 km further to Hoi An before calling it a day again.
The second half of the journey saw us riding all the way to Hanoi, where we said goodbye to two of the guys from the Wolf-pack (Yes we had a name!). We then continued to do a loop around the North before finishing back in Hanoi. This was where we sold our motorbikes to the next adventurous backpackers for the same price we bought them. That’s right, we sold them for $250, which was what we bought them for. Considering we (meaning I) had broken down a lot and put around $120 into it, we felt this was a fair price. We were honest with the guys buying our bikes and I think they respected that, so they quickly bought them from us. It was a sad day if I’m honest. We had just spent 6 weeks riding these bikes almost every day and had gone through a lot. The second half of the journey was where we rode through jungles and over rough terrain. We as a group had one big crash and a few small ones in between. Despite all the misadventures, we were all having the time of our lives.
Read: Where to Stay in Hanoi
Insider Tip: Make sure you wear a freaking helmet! Trust me. A motorbike landed on my head and I would not be writing this if it weren’t for that helmet.
We rode the “Top Gear” route, Hai Van Pass, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh trail, and in my opinion, the best route of all – the road to Sapa. In short, we did it all. If your thinking of doing this, check out our route and I highly recommend you stay as inland as you can. The jungles, rivers, waterfalls and the amazing roads, will blow you away.
The Country – What is Vietnam Like?
Good morning Vietnam! The country has everything from jungles to beaches to as much noodle soup as you can handle. You will experience crazy parties in Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay. You will relax on beaches and hike through the rice fields of Sapa. You will experience the cooler temperatures while canyoning in Dalat (climbing down waterfalls!). Compared to Mui Nei where you will slide down sand dunes, fall in love (in my case) and possibly windsurf (if it’s the season!). There is a water park in NahTrang, a one of kind cave in Hang Song Don and mountains up in the north, which you will never ever forget. Overall, it is a breathtaking country.
The Experience of Riding a Motorbike across Vietnam
Riding a motorbike across Vietnam is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you are heading there, I would highly recommend either buying a Honda win manual 110cc or if you are not a confident rider, a scooter. One of the guys who rode with us bought a scooter and he broke down the least, so it’s not a bad option. As far as adventure goes, this is right up there. You have danger, adrenaline, enjoyment and hard times all in one. It is the ultimate recipe for an adventure.
Read: What the Hell does Adventure Mean
You will meet people there who will become your friends for life. Just recently, we traveled through Holland and met back up with Steven. The guy put a bed in his kitchen so we had a place to stay the whole time we were there.
If you talk to any backpacker who has traveled through Vietnam, I would bet 9 out of 10 times you will hear they had a great experience. They might differ in their opinion about the country, but I bet they had a great time. In short- Buy a motorbike already and travel across Vietnam. This will be a story to tell the grandkids.
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