Ultimate Guide to Buying and Driving a Motorbike in Vietnam

vietnam-model-motorbike

What’s up readers?

This week we’re going to move away from talking about bobs and pusi, banging waitresses, or writing a dating guide for shy guys. Instead, you get a fairly comprehensive guide to buying a motorbike in Vietnam (mainly Ho Chi Minh City).

Owning a motorbike definitely helps in the women department, believe me. It also makes your life so much easier. No more having to wait around for Grab and dealing with those dumbasses getting lost.

Anyway, the first thing people ask about riding a motorbike is:

Do I need a license to ride a motorbike in Vietnam?

Yes. You need a license to drive any motorbike over 50cc.

Getting a license is difficult for foreigners. Vietnam also does not accept an International Driver’s license, so you have to get the license. That means you have to take a driving test and do a written test in Vietnamese. You can also bribe them for a license because “lol Asia.”

However, 99% of expats do not have a license and drive bikes over 50cc. Honestly, the police don’t care if you have a license. They just want a bribe when they pull you over, which I never advise breaking the law…

If you were to bribe the police it would cost 200k ($8.80). They might threaten to seize your bike or want a $100 bribe. Just ignore them and give them 200k. They’re too lazy to seize your bike.

Long story short, get your motorbike license to remain 100% legal for health insurance and stuff. Ride without a license at your own risk.

The Blue Card

You might see people talk about blue card this and blue card that. The blue card is just the registration to the bike. Only buy a bike if it has a blue card.

I think you’re supposed to carry it with you, but most expats don’t seem to carry it when they ride the motorbike. The police just want a bribe anyway.

On the rare occasion that they seize your bike, then you go to the station and hand them the blue card and some tea money. Don’t worry if it’s not in your name. They just want the VIN and license plate number to match.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way we can go over the different type of bikes depending on your budget.

How to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam

Vietnam is famous for the insane amount of traffic in the city. It’s crazy how many motorbikes are in this country.

Everyone also drives like a maniac.

Driving on the wrong side of the road. Not looking before turning. Tailgating. Running red lights. Driving with a sofa on a motorbike.

You get the point.

Driving is actually not that difficult though. Just follow these rules:

  • Go slow.
  • Don’t hit anything in front of you.
  • Look straight ahead.
  • Honk your horn when passing or when a person might cut in front of you.

Follow those four rules and you should be ok most of the time. Everyone just assumes you’re looking straight ahead, so no one bothers to look before doing anything. They literally make righthand turns without looking left.

Madness.

Types of Motorbikes you should buy

These are the different kinds of motorbikes you should buy.

Before buying it make sure everything on it works properly. “Everything” refers to the gas gauge, headlights, horn, turn indicators, and taillights. Also, check the tread on the tires and look at the chain. Make sure the motorbike doesn’t let out a huge plume of smoke or leak gasoline either.

That’s about all you need to really inspect when buying a used bike.

Yamaha Nouvo/Honda Wave/Sym Atilla: The Beginning Expat Bike

Yamaha-nouvo-vietnam

Yamaha Nouvo.

I’m just lumping all these bikes together because they all hover in the same price range. You can buy these bikes used for as low as $200 to around $450 for a nicer one. These are the bikes you should buy when you first move to Vietnam for two reasons.

First, Vietnamese will generally not go out of their way to steal them. Motorbike thieves that get caught stealing get the crap beat out of them and then spend a few years in jail. They tend to focus on stuff with a bigger payoff. Don’t leave the keys in the ignition or anything, but you shouldn’t have to worry about them cutting locks or anything.

The other reason, these bikes are relatively cheap. If you crash it or drop it, then it won’t hurt your pocketbook too much. You probably won’t even care if it gets a scratch or two on it. Trust me, when you start out riding you might drop your bike and it will definitely get some scratches.

Enough of that, time for talking about the bikes.

The Sym Atilla will be closer to $200. Sym is a Taiwanese company and they make decent motorbikes, but they do not cost much used. You shouldn’t pay more than about $250 for it. These motorbikes are super heavy though. You’ve been warned.

The Yamaha Nouvo has a bigger price range. Some go for like $200 and some sell for $450. It just depends on the condition of the bike, whether it’s automatic or semi-automatic, and how desperate the seller is to sell the bike.

The Honda Wave is supposedly more common than the other bikes. However, I rarely see it for sale on Craigslist or in English. This bike should cost $250-$350. It’s a semi-automatic bike too.

Honda RSX and Honda Air Blade: The Long Term Expat

These two bikes are for the longer term expats. You can buy them new for around $1000 or for around $700 or so if they are used.

These bikes look sexy. People will know you are serious expat not to be messed with when they see you on a bike like this.

If you roll up to a date on one of these bikes, then your date will get on her knees and start blowing you.

Just kidding. Some of the people on the expat Facebook groups would have you believe that though. These bikes are nice and you will have less issues with them breaking down.

Similar bikes include the Honda Lead, Honda Blade, Suzuki Hayate, and Yamaha Luvias. There are more, but those are the only ones I can think of at the moment.

suzuki-hayate-vietnam

Suzuki Hayate. Instant panty dropper.

Bikes to Avoid

Honda Win

honda-win-vietnam

This is the most popular type of motorcycle with backpackers in Vietnam. I’ve never seen a Vietnamese person riding one of these piece of shit bikes, which should tell you all you need to know.

It might be because it’s an actual motorcycle and Vietnamese are scared to ride it because it has a clutch, but I doubt it.

The only people you will ever see driving these are backpackers going from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. I actually had one of these bikes and it was a total piece of garbage. The registration card said it was made in 1977. It had probably been rebuilt at least a dozen separate times. Some of the problems my Honda Win had included:

The horn did not work.

It leaked gasoline.

It let out a plume of blue smoke anytime I opened up the throttle.

In summary, Honda Wins are crap bikes that looks ugly as well. Avoid at all costs.

Real Motorcycles

By real motorcycles I mean the normal motorcycles we think of in the United States. Ninja’s, Harley’s, and bikes that.

First, you need a special license to own and ride a bike with that much CC. Next, these bikes will draw an insane amount of attention to you.

I have literally seen rich Vietnamese dudes go by on a 1000cc Ninja and watched as every head turned to look at them. Yeah, some of you probably like that attention. However, as a foreigner this is just going to mean you’re going to get pulled over a lot. Even worse, people will target these bikes for theft.

Finally, you never get the full opportunity to really open up the throttle on these motorbikes. In the city, traffic moves like 20 miles per hour. There is no way you could ever get out of first gear in the city on a crotch rocket or a Harley… this defeats the purpose of owning one of those bikes.

Café Racers

I love café racers. The look sexy and sound great. However, you should avoid these bikes in Vietnam.

Most of them are built in an alley from a bunch of spare parts, so their reliability can be questionable. They also draw unnecessary attention to you, but not as much as a real motorcycle.

This unnecessary attention can result in police pulling you over or people trying to steal the bike. Not something you want.

If you still insist on getting a café racer, then you get pick them up for around $600-$850 on Craigslist, so not bad.

 

Final Thoughts

Well, I think that covered most of everything you need to know about riding a motorbike.

All in all, buy one of those beginner expat bikes I mentioned above. If you don’t crash it, then you can sell it for about what you paid for it. At that point you can upgrade to one of the nicer expat bikes if you want.

Or not, many expats just keep the cheaper bikes. Less attention and less chance of theft. The choice is yours.

Just avoid the Honda Win.

Leave a comment on your experience with riding, or buying, a motorbike in Vietnam.

18 Comments

      1. Hi,

        Thanks for the reply. I have a couple of questions still:

        1) It seems that vietnamese roads are hard to navigate without a GPS, especially given that we are not locals. So, in that case how do you navigate to your place of destination? Do you stop at the side of the road and open google map or have a motorbike holder holding the mobile phone? I figured that would be quite dangerous right given the road conditions of vietnam?

        2) Where do you buy insurance for motorbike in Vietnam or you use an insurance company from your home country?

        3) I cant quite figure out like how do vietnamese ride and stop motorbikes in a standstill? Meaning that for example in a traffic jam,I often see they move the bike on a slow pace, stop, use their legs to seemingly move along and then go on a slow pace again. How do they do that? Is it a case of applying throttle, brake and then throttle again? Why do they use legs along? I do not have much experience riding a motorbike so i am not too sure.

        Appreciate your reply. Thanks

        1. 1. I just stop and pull out my phone. NEVER PULL YOUR PHONE OUT NEAR TRAFFIC (road or sidewalk). SOMEONE MAY TRY TO STEAL IT. Turn your body away from the road and put the phone down between your legs. Some people use a holder, but I don’t like taking my eyes off the road for more than 1 second here. Too dangerous.

          2. Insurance not valid unless you have a motorbike license, which you won’t get in Vietnam. I don’t think international driver’s licenses are valid either. Most people just ride with no insurance.

          3. I put both my legs out and go with the flow of traffic with throttle + brake + throttle. It just takes practice. We use both legs to keep the bike standing while going slow. Sometimes there isn’t enough free space to use throttle. I push the bike with my legs and stop with the brakes in that case.

          It’s hard to stay stable when moving under 5 km/h. Legs really help.

          1. Okay thanks.
            I just started riding and i find a few issues.

            1) You say is not possible to get a license here but apparently, many expats have already like gotten theirs? I mean some also get fake license from someone they know. Or else, they actually took the practical test with the written test done by an agent…Any ideas or would you do that yourself one day?

            2) I kinda find it difficult to turn left on the junction as I would be afraid that there are cars behind me when I want to turn, either at the junction or when I cross lane from right to left. I consulted my vietnamese friends and they say they just used indicator lights? I recall not seeing any locals used indicator lights? I kinda doubt if they will obey? What is your experience with regards to this?

            3) Do you sometimes mistime your throttle and almost rammed into somebody else? It could be applying too much throttle or just simply misjudging the distance.

            Thanks for your valuable time.

            Regards

          2. 1. You can get anything you want with enough money in VN. A visa agent would be able to help you get a license.
            2. I check the mirror, wait for a gap, and go. Sometimes I go slow; sometimes I go fast. It depends on the size of the gap. My indicator lights are broken lol. Your horn is more important.
            3. No. That just takes practice with the throttle and braking distance. It should go away in a few days.

          3. I’ll add: You don’t want to spend a lot of time looking at your mirrors. A quick glance to make sure a truck isn’t barreling down is all you need.

        2. once you know the streets well enough–which doesn’t take long since they’re basically laid out in a grid–you check the map for 10 seconds before leaving and then drive based on memory. You only want to check the map while en route if it’s a necessity, and you’d be wise to pull over away from traffic and potential phone snatchers.

  1. Hey,

    I land in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday. Planning on ridding through the country for a month. Can you please expand on the police situation if getting pulled over. And give some insight in worse case senoires

    1. Just pay them a bribe and be on your way. 200k ($8), don’t pay much more than that. take the keys out of the ignition before you approach the cop or else they’ll take them and want more money for them. have a separate wallet (buy it at a street stall here) with 200k in it and some random small notes. that way they don’t see your main wallet with like 2 million because they’ll want the whole 2 million.

      Mui Ne cops target foreigners and will impound your bike, but most cops here just want a bribe. no cop will take you to jail for riding without a license. General rule: if the cops have a truck, then they are more likely to impound your bike. two cops on a motorcycle will just want a bribe.

      Worst case scenario is you kill a Vietnamese in an accident. might have an angry mob beat the shit out of you AND go to prison for a few years in that case.

      Don’t ride at night. Try to avoid Highway 1 or whatever the name of the main trucking route is. stick to the lesser traveled roads (Vietnam Coracle is your best resource on route selection). do all that and you should be safer, but it’s still dangerous out here.

      you’re going to want either a semi-auto or manual because of the mountains. don’t get an automatic lol. disaster waiting to happen. The Honda Win sucks, but that seems to be the most popular option because it’s cheap.

  2. Hi,

    Okay thanks.
    Then what about like going up, going down or turning into a steep slope?
    I just have a minor crash when I tried to turn right into a steep slope to my right.
    I am not able to control the downward momentum of the bike and it crush my left ankle.
    Thankfully, nothing really serious. It was just some minor scratches.
    Is this normal here or it was just a case of my incompetency?
    I saw Vietnamese people able to turn right or left, keeping balance under any circumstances.
    Do you have any tips about how to manoeuvre an automatic bike under these scenario?
    And what about mounting up the curb to park the motorbike?

    Regards

    1. Keep one foot down (ex. turn right, keep right foot down) and go fast as you hit the slope. Easier to stay balanced the faster you go. EDIT: If it’s a downward slope, then just go slow with one foot out.

      Going up the curb is easy. Just turn the wheel so it’s at a 90~ degree angle to the curb and slowly accelerate up the curb. I like to keep one foot down to make balancing a little easier.

      1. Okay. Thanks for the answer.

        But sometimes I find the curb too high for me to mount it. I almost always managed to mount the front wheel but the back wheel proves too difficult to mount and I ended up turning off the engine and pushing it up instead. I am afraid of exerting the throttle too much and the bike end up losing control and crash in front. Do you think it would make a difference if I instead just drive it up the curb using the forward momentum of the bike rather than stopping and then attempt to mount it? Will the momentum help the back wheel to move up?

        The other thing is that do you use back or front brake or are there specific instances where both will be required or only one? I bang into a back of a motorcycle as I attempt to stop at a red light the other time. I was employing the back brake only and did not manage to stop in time. Luckily, it was just a slight knock. Is knocks common here in Vietnam?

        Thanks for getting back

        1. Ya, bumping into the motorbike in front of you happens.

          I just keep accelerating until the back wheel goes over and then hit the front brake. I wouldn’t worry too much if you have to push it though. I don’t like going fast to hop a curb. That’s just an accident waiting to happen.

          The front brake is the main brake on every two wheeled vehcile! The rear brake doesn’t do much. Personally, I only use the front brake, but my bike is so heavy that I doubt it’s going to flip.

          You should use both brakes at the same time, but mostly the front brake.

  3. Thanks. And what about pillion riding. Are there any general guidelines to follow?
    I read somewhere we have to adjust the bike suspension etc to allow for extra weight?
    I doubt vietnamese people do that.
    Having a hot vietnamese woman as a passenger must be the greatest feeling in the world.
    Ha

    Regards

    1. Nah. Nothing to worry about with a passenger. It can affect the balance, but that’s more noticeable with a heavy passenger (100kg+) or if you have two passengers.

      My favorite is a hot girl with a short skirt riding sideways with crossed legs. Super hot. Two hot girls riding on the back is also nice.

  4. Hi,

    That would be awesome! I believe i should get to experience that soon..
    So, what are the things that one should take not of when riding with a passenger?
    Like being extra careful when on a turn etc?

    Regards

    1. Don’t let them put their feet on the pavement when you stop the bike.

      Make sure they sit far back on the seat or else they’ll push you off the front.

      Vietnamese women don’t weigh more than like 55kg, so it isn’t that difficult. If you carry a western guy that weighs 90kg, then it becomes more difficult with balance and braking.

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