A few months ago motorbiking through Vietnam was still just a distant dream for us. The idea seemed both scary and fascinating at the same time. Slowly the dream started to change to a concrete plan as we started to look for a suitable motorbike for us and found one just a couple of days later. In the beginning of June, we started our trip from Saigon with our aged but still working Honda Sufat.
Our first driving day was full of excitement and also not so pleasant turns. At this point we felt like it was a mistake to buy a motorbike and it wouldn’t surely last the whole way. Later on, our luck turned though and we traveled the rest of the way with out any big technical problems.
A bit more than a month and over 2.000 kilometers later we reached our final destination Hanoi and resold our dear vehicle. As soon as Hanoi started to blink on the horizon, we felt like winners. We made it!
Feelings after the motorbike trip
As many probably know, the traffic in Vietnam is chaotic and the traffic death statistics are sad stuff to read. Besides all the horror stories, we also heard at least as much praising from other backpackers about how awesome motorbiking is in Vietnam. Eventually we decided to go for it and take a risk. In the end, we live only once, right!
Is Vietnamese traffic as horrible as most people think then? Partly yes, partly no. By choosing the route right, you can influence a lot what the traffic is like. We decided to stay away from big highways as much as possible and drove most of the way on small, quiet countryside roads. The traffic in the countryside is almost non-existent and we could drive almost alone. One positive thing is also that the driving speed is very low. This makes it easier to react to sudden situations. We didn’t see one single accident during the whole one-month trip, believe it or not!
On the other hand, it is true that Vietnamese traffic culture is what it is. The traffic rules that a westerner takes for granted don’t apply in Vietnam. The drivers don’t really look around in crossings, lights are sometimes not used even in the dark and drinking and driving is more a rule than an exception. Then again, the traffic also flows smoothly once you get into it and just try to stick to the mass. You must be awake all the time because there can be anything around the corner from goats and cows to a truck or family meeting.
Maybe because of our carefulness or just good luck, we didn’t have any accidents. There were some sudden stops and tight situations though. But we eventually survived in one piece and finished the trip with many new amazing memories. Motorbiking through Vietnam was even cooler than we could ever have imagined. We didn’t regret that we didn’t take the easy route and buy bus tickets.
Summarized, we have a very positive feeling about motorbiking in Vietnam afterwards. It has probably been the coolest thing that we have done on our whole Asia trip! The best thing at traveling by motorbike is the freedom. We were driving completely without a plan or hurry. We often decided the next destination only in the same morning if even then. We were cruising in small unknown fishing villages and towns and confused quite many locals by appearing with our motorbike in the middle of rice fields to drink sugar cane juice or eat some grandma’s pancakes at a street stall. We visited quite many places that are not accessible by bus or train. We got to explore the most remote areas in Vietnam, saw amazing empty beaches and serpentine roads.
Especially memorable things have been the cafe owner that repaired our flat tire in the middle of nowhere, an evening in a fishing village and a deserted paradise beach in the easternmost point of Vietnam, afternoon coffees lazing in a hammock, drinking with a group of local guys, the gorgeous coast landscapes in Central Vietnam and all those confused looks when we appeared in random villages like aliens.
What surprised us positively was how easy and cheap the motorbike repairs were in Vietnam. An oil change costs only a couple of dollars and even a three-hour engine repair set us back less than $20. There are motorbike repair shops even in the smallest villages so we didn’t need to be afraid of driving in the countryside and remote areas. Fixing the bike is also very effective and quick and the motorbike was repaired immediately every time. In Finland you would probably need to wait one week even to get a small thing fixed. It was also easy to find food and drinks everywhere. The countryside in Vietnam is definitely deserted unlike in Finland where you have to drive 100 kilometers to the closest gas station.
We were also positively surprised of the friendliness and helpfulness of locals. Everyone welcomed us so well everywhere. Most of the people were curious and wanted to talk with us even though the English skills were limited.
In short, motorbiking in Vietnam is an adventure that you should really give a chance and say yes!
Our motorbiking route in Vietnam
We didn’t really plan our route before but checked the next step section by section. A normal driving distance for one day was 100-200 kilometers which was definitely enough. Especially if there were lots of things to see on the way. Our main source of information was Vietnam Coracle that is an excellent information package for motorbiking in Vietnam. You can find five ready planned and tested driving routes all the way from Saigon to Hanoi and to the mountains in the north. Anyhow, we recommend to also be brave and explore your own, maybe unknown routes. By doing this you have the chance to find amazing places that most travelers have never visited!
Because we were two people on one motorbike, Jarkko concentrated on driving and Johanna was reading the map and taking pictures. The GPS worked perfectly everywhere in Vietnam and we also had internet which helped us to navigate with Google maps without problems. We didn’t get lost only once during the whole trip! We both our internet sim card in Viettel store. A card with 3 GB internet cost about $5 and you can renew the internet every month for $2,50.
You shouldn’t always trust blindly the routes that Google maps offers and it’s better to check the route a few times before getting on the road. We got to notice several times that online maps are not always accurate and they don’t tell the whole truth. A few times it turned out that a decent looking road was actually a narrow, bumpy and sandy road. Sometimes we had to regret the route we took but we didn’t need to turn back even once. We survived the challenging sections by being patient and with a good sense of humour.
Sometimes we also drove on big four-lane roads that didn’t even exist on Google maps. Vietnam is developing quickly and new roads are built all the time so the apps are not always up to date. Most of the time we could still trust on the map. Exploring small roads was very rewarding and thanks to our the routes we selected, we got to see plenty of authentic rural Vietnamese life.
We stayed most of the time in local guesthouses and cheap hotels. You can recognize these by Vietnamese words nha nghi or khach san. There are accommodations in almost all towns and at highways but not every place accommodates foreigners. We generally paid 140.000 to 200.000 dong ($6-8) per night and managed to negotiate the price sometimes.
On the map below you can see our whole 2.086 kilometers long route from south to north. In case you are planning a motorbiking trip in Vietnam, these tips are hopefully helpful! We are soon gonna write a separate article about Vietnamese traffic and give some tips for motorbiking in Vietnam.
You can find all our travel stories about our motorbiking trip here.