Ultimate Guide to Buying and Driving a Motorbike in Vietnam


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.


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.

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. Instant panty dropper.

Bikes to Avoid

Honda Win


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.


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