The Top Gear guys tried to ride from Saigon to Ha Long Bay in eight days.
That was dumb of them.
To do that trip properly you’ll need three or more weeks and even then you’d miss a whole lot of stuff.
Besides the ridiculous time constraint, the route Top Gear took put them on the coast. The coast has major roads and truck traffic. You avoid the highways at home, you should avoid them in Vietnam as well.
Here are three better options for you to see and experience Vietnam:
Option 1: Take 2-3 months to bikepack around the entire country.
This is the best way of doing it. You are in your 20s. You’re dating a girl who is fun and all, but she’s kind of a party girl and not really the type of girl you should marry. Now is a good time to go explore SE Asia and meet other travelers. Maybe you’ll meet a girl there who actually wants to explore new cultures, not just look at them on Instagram. As an added bonus the likelihood of meeting a girl in Vietnam who knows how to ride a motorcycle is close to 100%.
Since you are currently reading this article on ADVrider, statistically speaking chances are that:
- You are somewhere between 45 and 65 years old. Your 20s were a long time ago.
- You now have more hair on your back than on your head.
- You are no longer appealing to the fairer sex. Girls don’t even see you anymore, they look right through you. You have found the magic invisibility potion. It’s called old age.
- You have a job that you don’t really like that much, but financially can’t walk away from.
- You have a family that really doesn’t like you that much, but walking away from them is even more expensive than quitting your job.
Any way that you look at it, quitting ‘real life’ isn’t quite in the cards these days. Fortunately working that 9-5 office job means that you have some economic freedom that 20-Year-Old-You never had. Take the cash in your pocket and spend it on a couple of alternative options:
Option 2: The Sampler Platter
Take a few weeks and hop around the country by airplane. Spend a week in Saigon, Da Nang, and Hanoi. Rent a bike in each city, and do some exploring.
See all those airplanes? $65 or so will take you anywhere within Vietnam.
Option 3: Go Deep
Take a few weeks and go deep into one section of the country. North, Central, or South – pick one region and dig in.
You decide what works for you, I’ll just point you towards some cool things to see, share some resources, and help out with the logistics.
What When Where Why How —
Fortunately (and unfortunately) for Vietnam the word is spreading quickly on how great a place it is. Tourism is booming, capitalism has raised its ugly head, and several amazing places are already being overrun by hordes of tourists.
Fortunately for ADV riders we are perfectly equipped to still experience the “real” Vietnam. We know how to ride, we know how to pack light, and we don’t melt if we get a little wet.
Who What When Where Why How —
Q: What bike should I get? Should I rent or buy a bike?
A: I’ve been to Vietnam twice now. The first time I did the ‘Sampler Platter’, the second trip I ‘Went Deep’. I’ve rented a couple of crappy scooters, a Honda XR150, and a Honda Winner 150 (not to be confused with a Honda Win).
You can either buy a POS and resell it when you are done, or rent a newer bike.
I 100% recommend renting a newer bike, and I’d spend the money to get a XR150 simply because it is physically bigger than most other bikes in Vietnam.
Tigit Motorbikes appears to be the most legitimate place to get a bike. $20/day or $450 for a month for a XR150. Motorvina also seems to be legit.
There are a million rental places that are cheaper, but most of the bikes I saw were junk. When I was just renting for a few days at a time, I ended up with junk bikes. When I did a 2.5 week rental I rented a nicely maintained bike from Tigit.
Still want to buy a bike? You’ll find that most bikepackers are on Chinese knockoffs of Honda Wins. A Honda Win isn’t a particularly good bike, and the knockoff of that bike is a whole lot worse. Disclaimer – I have not owned a Honda Win nor a Knockoff Win, but every day you end up meeting travellers who are riding them. The people who are riding them generally are pleased with how cheap they are to purchase and repair, but unhappy with the oil consumption, the poor suspension, and especially the brakes.
Here are some articles on the Win, and an awesome video from Ed March (of C90 Adventure fame) that includes visiting every other repair shop between Saigon and Hanoi. His group wasn’t on Honda Wins, but you’ll get the idea.
Q: A 150cc bike isn’t fast enough, I want more.
A: No you don’t; a 150cc bike is a monster in Vietnam. You don’t need (or want) to go fast, you just need big wheels, soft suspension, and decent ergonomics.
Locals (and also dogs and livestock) are accustomed to scooters traveling around 15-30mph, anything more than that means that you’ll be going too fast to stop when someone pulls out in front of you.
Vehicles WILL pull in front of you without looking. People WILL walk out in front of you. Cows WILL be standing in the road. Dogs WILL randomly run across the road. A hundred percent of my near misses were dogs running out into the street.
Q: What other bikes are available in Vietnam?
A: Some additional info on bikes available in Vietnam: Some places are starting to rent 250s or other “Big Bikes,” but they are not endemic to Vietnam. If you are doing a two-up ride a larger bike might be a good option, but only for the larger physical dimensions, not the additional power.
Q: Should I bring my own helmet?
A: Absolutely. I would recommend bringing something like a $150 HJC modular helmet instead of a full face. Most locals wear open face helmets, and wearing a full face helmet puts up a “barrier” between you and the rest of the people on the road. A modular helmet lets you open up around town, while giving you a bit more protection at higher speeds.