Hanoi to Saigon - Riding Vietnam Solo?

Discussion in 'Asia Pacific' started by Hominid, Oct 4, 2012.

  1. Hominid

    Hominid Been here awhile

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    I've wanted to see Vietnam for as long as I can remember.
    What better way than by motorcycle?

    I have the bike rental thing figured out.
    Rent bike in Hanoi and drop it off in Saigon (HCMC) for shipment back.

    I've already decided I'm going to do it, starting in December 2013.
    What I'm really looking for in this thread is a little advice.

    I want to see both high country and beaches along the way.
    I've done some research on possible routes and read ride reports from those who have done similar.

    I'm still looking for informed answers to a lot of questions, though.

    For example...

    Am I foolish to attempt this solo? I don't speak any Vietnamese.
    Hiring a guide is possible, but maybe more hindering than helpful?

    Is it possible to do this mostly on pavement?
    I'm weak in the dirt :shog
    It's not clear to me from looking at maps so far which roads are paved, or not.

    Is it realistic to think I can cruise into towns along the way and find a place to sleep without reservations?

    I would love to have route suggestions.

    Where can I expect mandatory water crossings?
    I understand highway 1 along the east coast is crazy with traffic and trucks - 15 preferable?
    I prefer back highways whenever possible - just not goat trails :lol3
    #1
  2. atravlr

    atravlr Been here awhile

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    I took the train from south to north. However it took me a few weeks to complete because I jumped off at every beach town and stayed a few days to drink cheap beer and eat great cheap seafood. I came across several riders from around the world and engaged many about their rides in both directions because I am too interested in embarking in such a journey. What I saw and what they said are very similar. Traffic is very light outside the larger cities. As you know Saigon and Hanoi are notorious for their traffic problems and numerous bikes both motorized and traditional. Just use caution entering the large towns and you should be ok. Holidays can be a little different so be alert on those days. The coastal roads were almost empty of heavy traffic. People were helpful and everyone can help with tire repairs, Gas maybe a problem so carry a extra Coke bottle (1 liter) in case some stations only have diesel . Some close early, so grab a hotel and leave the next morning. Do not ride at night! Too many stray dogs, drunks and vehicles with poor or no lighting. Have Fun!
    #2
  3. going south

    going south hero & Zero...

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    I have the same story as atravir... only I started in Hanoi and did trains & buses to Saigon...
    I was surprised at the number of gringos on two wheels that I met, and they basically said the same thing, not really a problem! the number of locals that speak basic english was also surprising,for food & lodging & transportation.
    so much so that I would not hesitate to fly in and two wheel it.... there are a few good ride reports here as well...

    good luck...
    #3
  4. Hominid

    Hominid Been here awhile

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    Here are some questions I just asked another rider who recently road from Hanoi to Saigon...


    "I'm in the early stages of planning a similar trip and just posted a thread in the Trip planning forum.

    I'm mostly looking for information about road conditions, places to stay, get gas, etc.

    It looks like you rode mostly down the coast, which is a route I would prefer.
    Can you provide more details on your route?

    Was it mostly paved roads?
    Did you have difficult sections of dirt and if so could they have been avoided?
    Any water crossings?
    Tricky wood bridges?

    You mention total bribes paid of $500
    Was that mostly due to the accident?
    Were there other bribes necessary?

    Sorry for all the questions :D

    I'd love to here anything you can share :ear "
    #4
  5. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

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    I have never been to Vietnam but I spent motorcycling around other Asian countries, including nearby Thailand. I asked around this as well because Vietnam is on my to-do list also:

    Vietnam is growing like weeds and it's not as backwards as it looks on TV shows.

    No problem with paved roads. If you want dirt and water crossings, you can have that too - just like I can have that here in Maryland and Virginia if I get off the beaten path and big roads.

    The biggest issue with Vietnam is that it's a crowded country. There is traffic everywhere.

    From the research I've done, it would be a mistake to end in Hanoi. The interesting bits are in border areas with China/Laos. That is where you will find spots that haven't been overrun by tourism, less developed, and with twisty mountain roads and maybe some stream crossings and dirt if you want.
    #5
  6. gavo

    gavo Slacker

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    Hi Hominid
    *I was there last year, second trip, fantastic place. Some answers to your questions
    Solo is good but shared is better, especially if break down or have an accident.

    Even if a road starts out sealed there are constant roadworks, landslides and a general lack of maintenance, you will encounter dirt. But some roads are new and in great condition.

    Learn some basic phrases, I found a guy from Vietnam living locally who was more than happy to help me with some language lessons plus he wrote some phrases in English and Vietnamese in a pad which were very helpful.

    The road from Sapa to Lai Chau is good and take you over Vietnams highest pass theTran thom pass
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I think you will get accommodation most places, depends on what standard :evil just stay clear around the time for Tet celebrations, lots of Vietnamese tourist both local and from o/s

    And be careful of speed limits especially in towns around 40kph, one of our group got busted :lol3
    People are very friendly as long as you show respect, enjoy your trip.
    #6
  7. Motoguy

    Motoguy Adventurer

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    I am in the process of planning a trip to Vietnam this upcoming December. My sister and brother-in-law live in Hanoi, (he is director of columbia sportswear/moutain hardware in asia). I've done quite a bit of research on this trip and it looks like a great trip. Mixed reviews on going solo. I am accustomed to taking long solo trips so not a big issue for me. I've been told the language issue can be a barrier but really don't need to have a translator. The beaches are stunning I've been told and I've seen many pictures to confirm this. Also, some great hidden treaures in the jungle, but a little riskier given the remote locations of some of the very old Bhuddist temples. I've been getting assistance from my sister regarding maps and travel in Vietanm since she lives there and has also traevled extensively throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
    #7
  8. Hominid

    Hominid Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the input guys - very helpful.

    I'm planning for 20-25 days starting December 22nd 2013.

    I've heard about drastically increased traffic during Tet holiday, but wondering is it similar over Christmas and New Year?

    I'm assuming Christmas is almost a non-event in Vitetnam and that our Western New Year is less of a big deal than it is over here.

    Am I wrong about that?
    Will traffic and finding accomodations be difficult on these traditional western holidays also?
    #8
  9. Hominid

    Hominid Been here awhile

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    Has anyone rented one of these contraptions?

    Cuong has quoted me $18/day for one.
    He also has a Honda FTR 223 for $25/day.

    Been trying to research the WH 125, but not a lot of info found so far.
    Apparently it's only sold to the Chinese market?

    Anyone know what the fuel capacity is?

    Are they reliable or complete rattle traps?

    :D
    #9
  10. gavo

    gavo Slacker

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    Haven't had any experiance with the wh 125 but being a honda it should be reliable, as for the ftr223 I ride one in 2 weeks in Laos for 10 days so I can give you an in depth test report :lol3:lol3
    #10
  11. Marine By Choice

    Marine By Choice Sergeant 0311

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    Western holidays are not celebrated as much, except in Hanoi and Saigon.

    In Hanoi consider visiting the American Embassy. You can get great current info there.

    Take the Honda. Reliable and a much better ride.

    Rain gear is a must as well as mosquito repellent.

    Roads can disappear in hours due to heavy rain.

    Don't worry. The memories of your trip will last forever.
    #11
  12. katalyst

    katalyst Adventurer

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    Riding solo: not a problem. Most hotel/guesthouse operators speak passable English, and pointing and gesturing will generally be sufficient for food, petrol, etc. Language can be a problem when your shitbox bike dies and a mechanic is required. As a general caution, the entire population will try its best to, at every possible interaction, take advantage of you, so inability to speak the language will leave you vulnerable in this respect.

    Pavement: coastal roads are almost invariably paved and in fair condition. There are sections under construction, but it's not like you'll encounter prolonged sections that simply are not, and never have been, paved. As far as I know, there are routes along the HCM Trail (i.e. the network of roads through the mountains along the western border) that are entirely paved, though dirt can be found if sought.

    Traffic: no worse than any other developing-world country. All that is required - even on Highway 1 - is your attention.
    Accommodation: will be available without reservations in every major tourist destination, and should be available in any regional centre. If you plan to ride to remote areas (e.g. loops around Sapa, or into the mountains along the border with Cambodia/Laos), check in advance.

    Water crossings: no

    Bike: Honda Wins and Bonuses (WH125) are the most common. They're fucking horrid bikes, in every respect, but mechanics across the country will be able to repair them if anything goes wrong. Trying to find anything better (XR250s, DRZs, etc) is probably not worth the expense and bother. Cuong and Flamingo Travel are the two best agencies in Hanoi. A bike from either of them might kinda, sorta, maybe be reliable. A bike from anywhere else will probably require an engine rebuild every second day.

    Navigation: take a GPS. The paper map that is often recommended (published by a government agency) is of some assistance, but the categorisation of roads is almost arbitrary and not a reliable guide (e.g. one that appears to be a major road might in reality be little more than a country lane), and signs are largely absent or misleading.

    Bribes: laugh, play it cool, and ride away; you're twice their size.
    #12
  13. Hominid

    Hominid Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the excellent feedback.

    Yup, GPS mandatory based on everything I've read.

    Also sounds like whatever I rent it's basically a crapshoot and I should budget time and money for breakdowns :lol3

    I totally get the concept that every local huckster and con artist will try to take advantage of me. Been there, seen that, in Cambodia, Mexico, Malaysia, and even in France and Amsterdam :boid I know how to say no thanks. When in a foreign country I tend to keep my head on a swivel. :wink:

    Bribes? Well, at 5'7" I'm just above average in terms of size even in Vietnam :shog I do like the idea of playing dumb and just riding away - good tip :clap
    #13
  14. katalyst

    katalyst Adventurer

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    It is worse than normal in Vietnam, and it kinda ruined the experience for me: I came to regard almost every interaction with the Vietnamese as adversarial.

    Hehe worked well for me recently in India: jetting down a highway at 130km/h (90km/h zone) and ran into some police at a roadblock. Perfectly clear why I was in the shit, but I pretended not to understand and, thinking quickly, pointed to my dash where the average speed was displayed as 85km/h. After we repeated the cycle of 'over speed!!' and a charming, smiling response of incomprehension, I was allowed to ride on, and the police even shook my hand as a measure of their appreciation for my breaking the law. :D
    #14
  15. katalyst

    katalyst Adventurer

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    By the way, a bike from Cuong or Flamingo should be fine, but it should only take one glance at the descriptions of bikes being sold by travellers via the Internet (invariably, something like "engine rebuilt only 500km ago!!", as though that's a desirable thing) to understand the general state of the motorcycle fleet in Vietnam. In Hanoi and HCMC, actual motorcycles (as distinct from scooters) are generally only bought and sold by foreign tourists, so they're in about the worst possible condition imaginable and - at that - Chinese replicas of bikes in the worst possible condition imaginable.

    One further tip: bring saddlebags. I'm considering another trip to Vietnam (the first was interrupted by gastro) and I've yet to hear of anywhere that sells reliable gear.
    #15
  16. mustardfj40

    mustardfj40 Been here awhile

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    I rode my bicycle solo from Hanoi to Saigon (the distance was about 1200 miles), it was an experience of the life time...My advice to to get the Lonely planet guide, there are many things to see on the side....There is only one road: Highway 1 from north to south, so you can't get lost. Have fun..
    #16
  17. Elizadz21

    Elizadz21 n00b

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    Hi... I bought and rode a Honda Win 110 cc in Hanoi and rode it for 2 winters( 5 months total) thru all of Vietnam,and parts of Cambodia and from southern to northern Laos. I rode solo, am female and 55 years... I loved every minute of it and experienced the most friendly people on the earth in Vietnam and nothing but friendly and interesting people in the rest of SE Asia...Always felt safe.. Lots of dirt roads but no problem ... best to get several maps and compare... no road signs most places so be prepared to ask for direction with smiles and hand signals...Never a bribe or problem anywhere except for speeding which i was... but got off both times...I did have to pay a fine for no helmet going down a one way street one time..... You can by a bike in Hanoi from 200-500 US dollars... Everyone everywhere can fix them and parts are available. I leave for a round the world journey on my BMW 650.. Email ...blog.. www.Elizajmassey.blogspot.com
    #17
  18. LastWalkman

    LastWalkman Adventurer

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    You can buy a old motor from rider who done their trip already or on the way but will leave Hanoi as long as your arrival
    #18
  19. 0theories

    0theories Enthusiastically Skeptical

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    I bought a Honda Bonus 125 in Laos and rode all over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam solo two springs ago. The trip was amazing, but the Vietnam part was my least favorite :( I didn't meet a whole lot of people (other travelers) and it was a little lonely. That was part of the downside, and probably I was getting burned out by then (I was on month 5 of my trip), and also compared to Laos and Cambodia, the people are not nearly as nice or accommodating, but they're not bad...

    In Vietnam I rode from Saigon to Hanoi (S to N). I mostly took the inland Ho Chi Min Trail route. It is an amazing series of smaller roads through the mountains, inland. I would highly recommend that route over route 1, with an occasional spur ride out to the coast. When I was on route 1, it was like riding a very busy highway through USA :( Not much to see except traffic and the smog (truck fumes) make the air barely breathable.

    I did have to rebuild my engine once, that's just normal for one these bikes. It only cost ~$70 for the full rebuild and ran beautifully after that. Consider buying a bike and reselling. I bought mine for $300 and sold it for $300. Basically just paid for maintenance and gas. The roads were all just fine to ride (way better than Cambodia) and there were no water crossings. Gas can be found everywhere so capacity is not an issue. I never even came close to running out. I had no trouble finding hotels/hostels anywhere I went, did not speak the language (some phrases) but I do speak Russian which came in nominally handy,

    The country is beautiful and you will have an amazing time.
    #19
  20. catweasel67

    catweasel67 Honda XRV 750 RD04

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    FWIW Top Gear did an awesome "RR" on this trip, check it out on youtube :)
    #20