Disclaimer: The following article is brought to you by a sarcastic, pessimistic and opinionated bastard who likes motorcycles, beer, spicy food, and not much else. Assume everything you read here is completely wrong. Enjoy.
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Q: Why should I go to Vietnam? There are a bunch of other places that I haven’t visited and Vietnam is a long way away.
A: Timing is everything. Vietnam is developing rapidly, and mass tourism is a booming industry. Natural and cultural wonders are being spoiled by hordes of tourists. Go now while there is still some “real” Vietnam left to visit.
— Who What Where Why How —
Q: I heard that riding is insane there – what are the rules of the road?
A: I’m so glad you asked. The following link explains everything. Go directly to this article. Do not pass go, do not collect $200: https://matthew-pike.com/how-to-drive-a-motorbike-in-saigon-de0697496402
Q: Do I need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP)?
A: Yes. Just go to AAA and get one for $20.
- When Top Gear was filmed Vietnam did not honor IDPs; we all got to enjoy watching Clarkson utterly fail the riding test.
- In 2015 Vietnam started honoring IDPs.
- Apparently many backpackers don’t have IDPs. The police know this and they get targeted for shakedowns.
- Since you are old and gray like me chances are the police won’t bother you. I have been stopped exactly zero times in Vietnam, despite doing many stupid things right in front of cops. They don’t care about us.
- That being said, I still recommend that you visit your local AAA office and pay the $20 to get an IDP. You don’t need to be a AAA member.
- If you are going to do the Ha Giang loop then you will definitely need to get one as there is a checkpoint north of town.
- I have heard from multiple sources that there is a lot of targeted traffic enforcement around Mui Ne and Nha Trang in the south but I have not been to either of those places.
- Here is a more comprehensive explanation regarding licensing and IDPs: https://www.tigitmotorbikes.com/international-drivers-license/
- There is confusion regarding whether or not Vietnam honors the 1949 or 1968 drivers conventions. If you are really interested, you can download the convention and read for yourself: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/conventn/Conv_road_traffic_EN.pdf
Q: Do I need a Visa?
A: Most likely.
From most countries, you can do either an E-Visa or Visa on Arrival (VOA). These are two different things so don’t get them confused.
- An E-Visa is only for a 30-day single entry visa. It is cheaper and much less hassle when you arrive.
- If you need more than 30 days or a multiple entry visa, you’ll need to do a VOA.
This is the official E-Visa website. Yes it looks sketchy, but believe it or not it is the official site:
Send a photo of yourself and a scan of your passport, along with $25 and Vietnamese Immigration will email you your E-Visa confirmation in a few days. Print out your E-Visa and bring it with you to the passport control station at the airport and you are good to go.
Visa On Arrival
Visa on Arrival is a lot more complicated. For a VOA there is no official government website. You send your info (and approximately $6) to a random guy in Vietnam, he takes it to the embassy there and gets you approved, then emails your approval letter back to you.
Upon arriving in Vietnam, you take that approval letter, your passport and $25 USD in cash to a booth at the airport and hand over your money and paperwork. About 20-60 minutes later an official calls your name and you pick up your passport and visa.
This is the guy that I have used before. Yes, his website looks totally sketch but it’s legit: https://vietnamvisapro.com/
Yes I actually sent this guy $6 and he got me a VOA approval letter:
Q: What is the lodging situation?
A: There are 4 different types of places that my girlfriend and I have stayed in.
- Homestays / Farmstays
- Guest Houses (a motel/hostel hybrid with shared bathrooms)
- Basic Hotels
- Luxury Hotels
Luxury hotels in Vietnam are reasonably priced. We stayed in the executive suite on the top floor of the nicest hotel in Cao Bang for $44 USD per night. In the same nice hotel, a standard room with a private bath would be approximately $25. In Hanoi or Saigon the price would have been $60-70 for a comparable room.
While you are traveling in the countryside most small towns don’t have luxury hotels. That leaves Basic Hotels, Guest Houses or Homestays. In that case I recommend staying at a Homestay; they are the same quality/cleanliness as a guesthouse or a budget motel, as long as you can deal with the shared bathroom.
We have a love-hate relationship with the Homestays / Farmstays.
- Most places offer a family style meal, which is the absolute best way to meet people. The food has been great too.
- It’s great to meet other travelers and get their first-hand opinion on routes and restaurants and to hear their stories of traveling throughout SE Asia.
- The hosts are equally fascinating and most are really outgoing and eager to share their culture and learn about yours.
- Farmstays offer an additional bonus: quietness. Silence is a true luxury in a noisy culture.
- The shared bathrooms which tend to be an all-in-one combination of the toilet, shower and sink.
- The general lack of cleanliness. This applies to most lodging in Vietnam, with the exception of the luxury hotels.
- Bugs. So many bugs. Same as above, if you aren’t in a luxury hotel you’re going to get bitten by mosquitoes and/or bedbugs if you don’t put on insect repellent.
- Germs. Shared common spaces and bathrooms increases the chance of getting sick from other people.
My suggestion is to stay in the nicest place you can in any major town. Sometimes you need a break from the chaos.
Q: Should I bring my camping gear?
A: I wouldn’t bother because you can always find a place to stay. Every little town has a Nha Nghi (Budget Hotel / Homestay) or two. In minor cities hostels are $5 per night, homestays and hotels are $10-25 per night. If you can afford to get to Vietnam you can afford to sleep indoors.
Q: Should I bring rain gear?
A: The correct answer is “yes of course you should,” but going native is so much more fun. Ponchos are how the Vietnamese do it, and how we did it too. Good article here:
Q: Do I need to get vaccinations?
A: It depends on where you are going in Vietnam, and what vaccinations you currently have.
- Check out the Center for Disease Control’s website.
Q: Will my phone work in Vietnam?
A: Not sure, check with your carrier.
- If you want a local number it is very easy and cheap to get a Vietnamese sim card and use it in your existing unlocked GSM phone.
- How cheap? It costs $6.50 for 30 days and 60 gig (yes 60 gigabytes) of data from Vinaphone.
- As far as I can tell all three Vietnamese service providers (Vinaphone, Viettel, Mobiphone) use the same frequencies. I’ve used Vinaphone and Viettel and had no issues with either.
Q: Is English widely spoken there?
A: Yes – most adults speak a little English. Younger generations speak quite a bit of English.
- People working in the service industry speak English relatively fluently.
- The only Vietnamese I learned is basic hello / goodbye / thank you / how much / etc but communication really isn’t an issue at all.
- For complicated interactions use Google translate from your phone – it works amazingly well.
Q: I heard that they allow pigs and chickens on Vietnamese airlines? Is that true?
A: Only if they buy a separate ticket (Just kidding, of course)
- Every plane I’ve been on in Vietnam has been very clean.
- Not only are they clean, they are relatively new 737s and A320s.
- Heads up – your domestic flight will likely be delayed by 30-60 minutes.
- There is a high probability that your flight will arrive safely. There is a low probability that it will arrive on time. Do not ever, EVER, schedule 2 flights in the same day, especially if that second flight involves you getting home.
Q: Is Uber available?
A: The Vietnamese equivalent is called Grab and it works just like Uber except you pay cash at the end of your trip.
- Download the app before you go or after you get a sim card. It requires text confirmation to complete the set-up process.
- I recommend doing it after you get a sim card so that your new Vietnamese phone number will be linked to the app.
Q: Is there a 911 emergency service?
A: Kind of, but it’s not an all-in-one number. Write these down somewhere:
- Search and rescue: 112
- Police: 113
- Fire: 114
- Ambulance: 115
- International phone assistance: 110
Q: Should I bring bug spray?
A: Yes. There are bugs in SE Asia. Tons of them. They all want to devour you.
Q: Who else is out on the road?
A: Most of the other moto travelers are 20-something European or Australian kids or empty nesters near retirement age. We didn’t meet many people traveling who fell in-between.
Q: What other resources did you find online?
A: There is a ton of information available online.
The absolute best site that I have found is Vietnam Coracle: http://vietnamcoracle.com/
— Who What Where Why How Extra Credit —
Q: Do the Vietnamese hate Americans?
A: Nope. There have been A LOT of wars in Vietnam over the years. The American War, as the Vietnamese refer to it, was recent, and it was a big one, but it’s just another blip on the war radar.
- There doesn’t seem to be a lot of animosity towards Americans in general, more of a “after we kicked the French out, the Americans tried to colonize us next and we kicked their asses too” kind of vibe.
- Additionally, most Vietnamese are young (37% are under 25 years old and 82% are under 55). The American War happened before most of the current population was born.
- My general observation is that there is far more anti-Chinese sentiment than anti-American sentiment.
Q: Is it safe in Vietnam?
A: Yes. You won’t get robbed but you might get really bad diarrhea.
- The most dangerous thing you can do is drink the water.
- The second most dangerous thing is crossing the street.
- Riding a motorbike is probably the third most dangerous activity when you are in Vietnam.
- There’s probably a chance of getting pickpocketed in the tourist areas of Hanoi or Saigon, but you’re an ADV rider, so you probably won’t be spending much time there at all.
Speaking of crossing the street – don’t rush. Just walk slowly and steadily and traffic will go around you. Here’s a quick primer:
Q: What do I do if I have a problem?
A: Assuming it’s not safety or health related, just go find a hostel.
- Hostels are full of travelers and younger locals with decent English.
- Whatever problem you are having, they have seen it before and know how to fix it.
- Cell phone quit working? Go talk to this guy. Need brake pads for your bike? Go see that guy.
Q: What didn’t you like about Vietnam?
A: The litter and the constant noise. There is lots of honking, and lots of loud speakers. The rural areas are a lot quieter, but are still very noisy compared to western norms. My girlfriend didn’t like the constant chaos but that didn’t bother me a bit.
Q: I hate commies. There aren’t any commies in Communist Vietnam, are there?
A: I met a lot of Vietnamese and they were ALL capitalists.