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Traveling Vietnam by Motorbike Q&A: Riding From Saigon to Hanoi

When most people think of Vietnam they imagine an exotic land filled with adventure and countless places to explore. While the majority of travelers take on this journey by bus or train, there’s a select few who dare to do it by motorbike! Are you planning on traveling Vietnam by motorbike? Well good news! Two people we love chose this wild method of transit and did a complete Vietnam motorbike trip. Over 45 days they traveled from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike and have all the stories and tips that come with it. In this candid Q&A with our friend Stefanie, we dive deep and discuss everything from buying a motorbike in Vietnam to the route they took from South to North!

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Vietnam Travel Inspiration

Why Did you Choose to Travel

Vietnam by Motorbike

?

My boyfriend and I chose to travel from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike for several reasons. I think Vietnam has this sort of mysterious vibe about it, but at the same time it seems like I’ve known it my whole life.

The history of Vietnam has always been known growing up in the United States, but “the unknown” I believe is what drew us in. Overall, a Vietnam motorbike trip seemed like the perfect place for an adventure.

What was Your Initial Reaction to the Country?

In one word, terrifying. To me it was a different planet! Flying into Ho Chi Minh City I quickly saw swarms of mopeds, and heard stories of people being robbed or worse. Needless to say, this kind of put me off to a rocky start on Vietnam motorbike trip.

I think I stayed in my hotel room for at least 24 hours contemplating if we had made the right decision. We even were searching for flights out until I decided that I wasn’t going to let “stories” dictate my trip. Making the choice to get over my shock and continue with plans to travel from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike was hard, but one of the best I’ve made. 

What was the Process of B

uying a Motorbike in Vietnam

Buying a motorbike in Vietnam as a foreigner is illegal, and for good reason. You can apply for a Vietnamese license in advance, but the paperwork is challenging to say the least. Not to mention the fact you have to leave enough time to actually get approved and receive it. Really though, this is Asia after all so we figured out the easiest solution… Risk it!

When we started our search into buying a motorbike in Vietnam people saw us coming from miles away. All they saw is money, money, money. Selling was the same because it seemed like all people wanted to do was screw you over as much as they possibly could. They definitely carry the view that all foreigners have to be rich.

Most people buying a motorbike in Vietnam do so with a Vietnamese person they meet and can trust. Either that, or from someone fresh off their own Vietnam motorbike trip with the most beat up piece of crap you can ever imagine.

Everyone claims they have the best piece of machinery you will be able to find. They also have a “blue card” with some random Vietnamese persons name on it. This apparently is the only way you can actually try and prove you own it.

I think if you plan to travel Vietnam by motorbike and try and buy a bike without any knowledge of how they function, or signs of something reliable than you must stupid. If you’re buying a motorbike in Vietnam by yourself from a local without a Vietnamese person to help you better have your wallet chalk full of Dong.

How Much Did you Pay?

We originally thought that $300 USD would be a more than generous budget for buying a motorbike in Vietnam. We really didn’t think that was too high or too low. Unfortunately, after we searched for days we realized that we needed to spend more. It was necessary if we wanted to survive our Vietnam motorbike trip without breaking down 10 minutes outside of Saigon.

Well $600 later and a lot, and I mean A LOT of effort from Dustin we felt that we had chosen a reliable steel horse. Most people will hear what we spent and immediately say it was crazy or too expensive.

However, most people don’t actually plan on becoming one with the open road. We were now ready for the long ride from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike! 

We bought a Honda Super Dream 250cc because anything more will get you into trouble with local police. They cost a fortune if they even exist anywhere. Dustin was able to recognize that the parts were Japanese which is a big deal, especially to Vietnamese people.

That’s what they want, not Chinese. Boy, the Honda dream really was a dream. For the first 1000 miles at least… After that I thought I would lose my legs from how uncomfortable the seat was!

We only spent money on oil changes (100-200,000 Vietnamese Dong) which was part of our budget to begin with. Not because we needed it, but just for peace of mind. We also splurged and bought huge pieces of foam that we tied down to the bike every day for padding. After the foam was purchased we really were dreaming.

We got plenty of bizarre looks and trying to explain that we just wanted foam not a seat was super interesting. Luckily, the foam saved my lower half. I truly don’t know if I would have been able to go from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike without it. 

Is Traveling Vietnam by Motorbike Right for Everyone?

There are more people than you think buying a motorbike in Vietnam who want to cruise the countryside. We chatted with a bunch of those people. Some were covered in road rash, broken down, cutting their trips short, and selling their bikes.

It’s not just the motorbike you should worry about. It’s really the fact that you probably don’t encounter these garbage roads and crazy riders in your hometown. I don’t care if you lane split in California, or go from 0 to 60 in seconds in New York City.

There’s no way you’re going to be prepared for this. I think you have to be lucky when you’re buying a motorbike for a trip on the roads you SHOULD be taking. A little luck and knowledge of how motorbike function. Those are key!

Is Bribing the Police in Vietnam Just a Myth?

We never got pulled over on the Vietnam motorbike route which again is very lucky. I’ve heard so many horror stories about going from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike and vice versa. For foreigners getting pulled over it’s often the choice between bribing an officer or losing your wheels.

For that reason, we always kept two separate bills in our pockets so we didn’t have to reach into our main wallet. One had 200,000 Dong, and one had 500,000. You never know what can happen and we even had a budget for that.

The Honda Dream demanded respect, and most days that’s just what it got. We were always able to convince hotel owners to let us park it inside. This is a very important tip for your own Vietnam motorbike trip because people do get their motorbikes stolen at night.

Was it Hard to Sell Your Motorcycle?

We traveled from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike and sold it at the end. It was a close call to say the least. A lot of tourists start South and end in the North, so there is no shortage of motorcycles in Hanoi.

Guess what? Everyone is stressing the same thing. Your trips over and you’re running out of time. If we had ended in Ho Chi Minh City we maybe would have had an easier time selling, but that’s a big maybe.

In one hotel we met a really nice Vietnamese guy who loved our bike and wanted to help us sell it. He helped us set up a Craigslist add in Vietnamese, and also helped me find a SIM card with a number for people to call. He took Dustin to a place he knew of that bought bikes that were actually worth buying. Come to find out it was basically what Dustin describes as “the Vietnamese mafia.”

These guys gave Dustin a really low offer on the first day, but after our friend argued with them a little that changed. Dustin left and figured if he gave them a day or two they would come around. A few days later, Dustin and our new friend went again. After another long discussion between our friend and these hardcore guys, Dustin was told they were offering $375 USD.

If that wasn’t good enough then they were just going to take the bike! Sold, to the crazy Vietnamese gangster with a visible knife! So after all of our efforts we ended up having a motorcycle for $225 USD for 45 days. This was actually below or initial budget, and equaled out to an experience of a lifetime.

What was Your V

ietnam Motorbike Route

We really weren’t too sure on the route we wanted to take other than that we heard highway one (the main road from south to north) was a really good way to get yourself killed. So with that in mind, our mission was to avoid highway one at all costs.

We left Saigon at 4am to avoid swarms of scooters which was our first moments on the open road. I’m pretty sure after Dustin had been out in the traffic searching for a motorbike for a couple days he knew it would be insane if we didn’t head out early. 

When we got to a place he would get online right away and research the road ahead. We read every blog and article we could on Vietnam motorbike route suggestions. Then we picked a route that seemed like the best, and always got a good nights sleep so we could physically handle a long day.

We did end up on highway one a few times only because there really wasn’t any other option. If we had to ride hundreds of miles out of the way to avoid that death trap of a highway then we didTrust me, you will never regret this choice. We also stuck to our “be at a place to sleep before it gets dark” rule. That also turned out to be a wise choice and good rule for our Vietnam motorbike route.

If we would have traveled directly from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike it would of been around 2,000 miles. Instead, the Vietnam motorbike route we took was over 6,000 miles in 45 days! That should give you an idea how far out of the way we chose to go from highway one.

How Did you Extend Your Visa?

Initially our visa process was pretty easy. Apply online, pay, print out your approved letter, and enjoy. However, once we started our Vietnam motorbike trip we realized that a 30 day single entry was not the best. Mainly, because we had just bought our expensive wheels and wanted to get our moneys worth.  Also, we wanted more then 30 days if we decided to travel at a slower pace.

When we got to the halfway point of our Saigon to Hanoi motorbike trip we knew for sure we weren’t going to make it to Hanoi in time to sell our bike without our visa running out. I frantically started to search online for how we could extend our visa while we were in a bigger city.

Our options were limited, as there are only 3 locations you can apply for an extension in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, or Hanoi. A lot of people were saying it was a waste of time to go apply yourself which was the cheapest option (around $50 USD each). As we found out, unless you’re fluent in Vietnamese for the application then it definitely is!

After feeling pretty stumped on options I decided to ask the girls at the front desk of where we were staying. They told me they knew of a man who would get the job done, but the catch is we would have to give up our passports. This was a huge problem, because everyone knows the first and most important rule of traveling abroad.

Never ever ever give up your passport.

Well of course I said no… But after searching more I found out that travel agents were more than willing to get my extension. It would only take a week or so and $100-150 each and they would mail everything out to Da Nang for me! Unfortunately, that’s just time and money we didn’t have to spend.

So I went back to my girls and they got me on the phone with “Mr. Hung.” He came to the hotel with paperwork in hand, and explained “I know people, don’t worry.” Then we unwillingly signed and handed him are most prized possessions.

The next morning after no sleep and developing an ulcer due to the situation he showed up. With him he had our passports, an extension stamp, and only charged us $70 USD each. This is exactly what we agreed upon!  

Mr. Hung told us that we were lucky to have chosen him because it’s the weekend, and cops don’t work on the weekend. Mr. Hung is a boss and he knows people. Period.

How was Your Experience Traveling

Vietnam by Motorbike

Different From a Typical Backpacker? 

What sets us apart from typical backpackers in Vietnam is we got to see things you never would by bus or train. On our Vietnam motorbike route we got to come and go as we pleased. We got to see jasmine, coffee and ripe dragon fruit fields. We also smelled fish, shrimp ,and salt farms along the way. Strangely, all of these smells I seriously miss.

We traveled on roads where locals were sleeping because they rarely have people passing through. We stopped at beaches that were so pristine because bus loads of tourists weren’t being dropped off. I’m talking beaches with no trash like a lot of places in Vietnam! Many times we had the beach all day to ourselves with not even fisherman in sight.

We saw locals drying all of their pepper, cinnamon, and different veggies on the side of the road, and huge clay pots of fish sauce getting nice and potent. Also, plenty of people burning garbage and parts of the jungle for farming. Water buffalo blocking our way plenty of times, and we met fellow riders on their own Vietnam motorbike trip which we immediately had an unspoken comradery with.

Vietnam showed me that you have to keep an open your mind, and realize that just because you’re out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean your way is right. In fact, I saw a lot of things wrong with how I live my life. There is something to be said about the way people live in Vietnam. It was a very humbling time for me. The only other traveler who might have had a more rewarding experience than us is a man we met BICYCLING the entire coast of Vietnam. He really earned every second of his trip!

What was the Best Moment of Your Vietnam Motorbike Route?

I’ve had so many great moments it would be hard to choose just one. Discovering another meal I liked and a new Vietnamese word to add to my very short collection. Silk lanterns and fresh beers in Hoi An, amazing scenery, 4-5 star hotels that I could actually afford, plus trinket shopping and all that comes with it.

If I had to narrow it down to one time it would be a middle of nowhere hotel we stayed at. After checking in with a girl around my age we left and got something to eat. When we came back to change and check out the town there were a few girls waiting outside. I had no idea they were waiting for me!

In broken English they explained I was a pretty American girl and they wanted to show their friends, HA! I guess I have never felt like such a spectacle. I didn’t really get it, but I was flattered nonetheless. They took what felt like a million pictures giggling the whole time, said thank you, and that was it. Who only knows what they actually said to their friends!

One Place Not to Miss While Traveling Vietnam by Motorbike? 

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park or Hoi An. Phong Nha was really a magical place and one of my favorite on our Vietnam motorbike route. The largest cave in the world was recently discovered here called Hang Son Doong. Good luck getting into this impressive spot where national geographic has even taken mind blowing photos.

Tours are booked far in advance and only about 500 people are allowed in per year. You have to have a special permit and it’s really out of most people’s budget unless you really are a cave dweller and that’s your thing.

Oh yeah, and after August it rains too much. No can do. Not to worry though, the rest of this rainforest is open to explore with plenty of other cave touring options for a lot less money.

The National park is a UNESCO world heritage site with over 300 caves and grottos, and a ton of limestone rock and scenery that will make you understand why dinosaurs were around at one point. The T-rex must have flourished here unless he couldn’t handle the heat, and I guess that would explain why he doesn’t exist anymore.

Between the turquoise rivers and leaves of a plant bigger than your body, the nature will make you want to stay an extra week! Truly one of my favorite places along our Vietnam motorbike route.

Hoi An just had everything I wanted in one place. The best food, accommodations, souvenirs, and the easiest area to be able to explore on foot, bicycle, or scooter. The silk lanterns, fresh beers, and market area really sucked me in and will always be a place I want to get back to.

Would you Go Back to Vietnam?

If I could leave tomorrow and be back in Vietnam I really would. I wouldn’t think twice about buying a motorbike in Vietnam again. This place has officially changed who I am as a person, and I will always be desperate to go back and make new memories. The cost of being around pure and utter chaos is in my mind exciting and absolutely priceless.

Unfortunately, it isn’t priceless because one day I just woke up broke after my Vietnam motorbike trip. When I was just starting to plan our Vietnam motorbike route I was told  “Take this trip to Asia and I guarantee you will never look back and say wow, I wish I had saved that money instead.” And I 100% agree.

Are you currently planning on buying a motorbike in Vietnam? If you have any questions about the process, or things to see as you travel from Saigon to Hanoi by motorbike let us know in the comments! Otherwise, feel free to share your own Vietnam motorbike trip tips for the road.

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar

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Explore More of Vietnam

Northern Vietnam

Central Vietnam

Southern Vietnam

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This page may contain affiliate links. By booking through our website we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This allows us to continue our travels and keep providing great content to our readers!

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