Two Girls, Two Motorbikes, One Country

At first we thought it was crazy.  Motorbiking through Vietnam? What?! We had loads of travelers tell us it was one of the most amazing experiences they’ve had in Southeast Asia much less Vietnam. We believed them, but still thought it was a little insane. In the end, we decided to pursue it.

We became the proud owners of two semi-automatic Honda Waves. We bought them for $250. In hindsight, we could have bought them $230 since typically the prices range from $200 and upwards. Most of the people we have met have spent between $230-350 with the exception of one person who spent $700.

Initially, we had heard about motorbiking through Vietnam in Cambodia and Laos. We entertained the idea, but weren’t fully committed until we reached Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The first reason we were nervous is pretty obvious: we’re two females. Don’t get us wrong, we do believe that females can do whatever males can do, but most of the information we gathered from motorbiking was from males or females who had a male travel companion. We even read a blog from a girl who said don’t motorbike unless you are accompanied by a male. That freaked us out a little. The main factor we were concerned with was our safety. We didn’t want to accidentally get stuck somewhere in the middle of the night without a guy to help us in case we had an issue. Since Shaili has a track record of having the bike fall on her, we were a little concerned about not having the muscle power to lift the bike back up, too (haha).

BOY (AND GIRL), WERE WE WRONG.

In fact, we met two girls, one from Canada and one from the Netherlands who were SEPARATE and solo motorbike travelers. We learned quickly that if we couldn’t start our bikes or if we dropped our bikes, locals would run into the street, laugh at us, and then help us. I (Rina) even had a moment where my bike stopped on a steep hill in the middle of a road and a local ran from his home to help me. I didn’t even have the chance to say thank you before he sent me on my way. This is just one of many examples where the Vietnamese people have selflessly helped us. Getting stuck at night has never been an issue for us. If it does get late while driving, we always find a cheap hostel, hotel, or guesthouse to stay at for the night. For the most part, we’ve always had a destination, knew how long it would take to get there, and made it to our destination safely.

When we first began our trip, we were freaking out. It was monsooning, our bums hurt, and we had a long way to go before we reached our destination. We both instantly regretted dishing out $250 to buy our bikes and thought the entire idea was stupid. After our first day or two of motorbiking, however, we became well adapted to the way our bikes worked, the roads, and the journey as a whole.

For those who are still weary or skeptical or have zero idea about vehicles, there is a mechanic shop almost every 100 meters. We had no idea about the mechanics of a bike and learned along the way. Pointing, hand signals, and making sound effects really helps get the point across. Also, when you’re driving through small towns, strangers will honk and point at you if something is wrong. That tends to help a lot too.

Costs of Maintaining a Bike: 

  • Oil changes range from 60,000-90,000 VND  (be careful, they might try to rip you off...you shouldn’t be spending more than 90,000)- One time, we realized we needed an oil change (black smoke came out of our exhaust pipes) while we were on a mountain. The lady knew we were desperate and tried to charge us 400,000 VND  each. We laughed and kept driving to the nearest town and only paid 80,000
  • Internal wiring and fixing can be a little more expensive like 100,000 and upwards
  • Headlights, mirrors, and fixing tires should be around 50,000-60,000
  • Gas – a typical full tank was 45,000 VND and some cities might charge 60,000, but we rarely paid that.
  • Usually the folks who sell gasoline in bottles on the side of the road charged us more.

What You Will Need:

 Saigon traffic 

Saigon traffic 

  1. A motorbike would be helpful
  2. Rack for your bag/luggage
  3. Two bungee cords (Rina’s got stolen so we bought another 2 for a total of 10,000 VND)
  4. Helmet
  5.  Poncho (a thick plastic one, don’t be cheap with this)
  6. Raincoat
  7. Rain cover for your bag
  8. Sunglasses (you can buy a pair of cheap, but fairly decent knockoff Ray bans here)
  9. Face mask (it looks like a cloth surgical mask and should be around 10-15,000 VND)

Note – Most of the equipment we needed was included with our bike purchase. The seller gave us a rack, helmet, bungee cords, a full tank of gas, and a new oil change. He also gave us a map, helped us figure out our route, and guided us out of the chaotic driving city that is Ho Chi Minh. 

Helpful Tips:

1.       If you’re travelling in a pair of two or more, have one person be a navigator and have one person be an accommodator. One of us (Shaili) would always take the lead and navigate us to our destination, while the other (Rina) would always find a place to stay. The accommodator will most likely be the one who isn’t the best at directions (i.e. Rina).

2.       We bought a Vietnamese SIM card so we could use data for Google Maps and/or to call each other in case one of us got lost (this only happened once). If you don’t have an international phone, MapsMe is a great offline navigation tool. In fact, Shaili thought MapsMe was better than Google Maps.

3.       Whatever you choose, whether it be Google Maps or another map system, make sure you double the total travel time. Sometimes the app would tell us it would take 3 hours when in fact it would take us 6 hours. This makes sense because we’re not going as fast as a car, we needed to stop for breaks, and we needed to be a little more careful when driving around bigger vehicles.

4.       You will need a minimum of 3 weeks to motorbike through Vietnam. If you’re itching to explore more towns or spend more time in an individual place, then we suggest at least 5 weeks. Most people apply for a 1 month visa, which is the perfect amount of time to motorbike from the South to North, or vice versa, and include Sapa and Halong Bay for your last week.

5.       It’s better to go to a mechanic in a smaller town since they are more likely to charge you an honest price. Certain cities like Hoi An, which is known for having an abundance of foreigners, will try to charge you triple the amount.

a.       Rina had to get her wheel mount fixed. The mechanic told us a final price of 300,000 VND. He said each part was 150,000 VND so he was doing us a favor since he wouldn’t be profiting. We took the risk of not getting her wheel fixed. Then in Danag, we found a mechanic who only charged us 90,000 VND. 

6.       Parking your bike is fairly easy. Wherever you decide to crash for the night should have free parking. If you’re driving into a particulary busy area or restuarant, then parking might be 5—10,000 VND. The attendants will give you a chip with a number and then write that number on your bike with a piece of chalk. 

One last thought:

 Us wearing our glorious ponchos

Us wearing our glorious ponchos

In case you haven’t already noticed, motorbiking through Vietnam has been one of the best experiences we have had to date. For us, traveling isn’t all glamor and bliss, it’s about experiencing, understanding, and digging into a deeper side of ourselves we didn’t know existed. There have been times where I’ve (Rina), quite literally, driven into the sunset and felt something I’ve never felt before. If you’re looking for a truly authentic experience, ditch the buses and buy a motorbike.

With love,

The traveling duo, Rina & Shaili