Thinking of riding from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (or vice versa) by motorbike? Well you have come to the right place! In honour of my return to Vietnam later this week I have decided to write a guide to riding through Vietnam on a motorbike! Yay! This post is dedicated to the Vietnamese lady that works in the gelato shop in the Valley in Brisbane…respect!
I have previously written a 5 part article on my experience riding from north to south in 10 days, but who wants to trawl through all of that crap eh? Probably no-one! So here I will break down the essentials for you, tell you what you need to know and give you a whole bunch of tips as well. Even an idiot (like me) will be able to follow my guide and be able to have a similar adventure to mine! Welcome to…
Probably The Best Damn Guide About Riding Through Vietnam On A Motorbike That I Have Ever Written!
Yes folks so first things first, you’re gonna need some wheels…
Where Can I Buy A Bike!?
Whether you are travelling north from Saigon or south from Hanoi, there are plenty of places you can buy motorcycles. Travellers do the trip so often that they have a constant cycle of bikes being bought and sold in many places. Your best best is to first check vietnam.craigslist.org and do a search for ‘motorbike Hanoi’ for example. Not only do bike shops list here, but also other travellers who have finished with their bikes and are looking to sell. I bought mine here!:
Make sure you test drive it first! Check that all of the lights and electrics work correctly. If you know anything about bikes (unlike me!) then you’ll know what to look for mechanically-speaking. Generally though if you ride it and it feels ‘dodgy’ then there is probably something that needs working on! Get them to change the oil for you. Make sure that a blue registration card is included and the serial numbers on the engine and the plates match up. Oh and get a helmet. You’d be a fool not to wear one! The bike that I bought was a Honda Win 110, which is pretty much the most popular bike for travellers. There are tons of them available usually for around the $200 mark mechanics can fix them easily and they are generally fairly reliable. This was my bike:
So now you’re most likely in possession of a rusty old machine on two wheels which kinda works ok, and you are probably thinking…
I Now Own A Motorbike But I Have No Idea Which Roads To Take! Where’s My Dad When I Need Him!?
This is the route that I took which lasted 10 days total:
And the following is a break down of the places I stopped every day and the distances covered. I felt as though I was a little rushed so you would probably benefit from spending longer doing the same trip, and then possibly visiting more places. I only stayed in one place for more than one night and was on the road most days for at least half of the day.
Get The App!
GPS is your friend. I had an app on my iPhone called ‘CityMaps2Go’ which quite frankly I couldn’t have lived without! I stayed on the Ho Chi Minh Highway for most of the trip but veered onto the busier Highway 1 when I needed to visit towns closer to the coast. I would be checking my GPS multiple times during the day, especially as I came closer to towns, just to make sure that I was taking the right roads. So don’t get lost, technology is your friend!
Trip Break Down
Day 1: Hanoi – Pho Chau | Distance Covered – 381km
Day 2: Pho Chau – Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park | Distance Covered – 133km
Day 3: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – Hue | Distance Covered – 219km
Day 4: Hue – Hoi An | Distance Covered – 138km
Day 5: Hoi An – Kontum | Distance Covered – 245km
Day 6: Kontum – Buon Ma Thuot | Distance Covered – 298km
Day 7: Buon Ma Thuot – Da Lat | Distance Covered – 206km
Day 8: Da Lat – Da Lat | Distance Covered – 0km
Day 9: Da Lat – Dau Giây | Distance Covered – 233km
Day 10: Dau Giây – Ho Chi Minh | Distance Covered – 78km
That was my exact day by day distances covered. I had no real plan when I left Hanoi for where I would end up each day. I pretty much estimated each night how far it was to the next potential stop point and headed in that direction. I would always stop between 12 and 2 for lunch wherever I was. You will pass by so many roadside cafés, restaurants and street food places that you will never go hungry.
Where Should I Stay?
The following is a list of all of the places that I stayed along the way on my trip. If you can’t see any ‘hotel’ or ‘guesthouse’ signs whilst riding, then try looking out for ‘khách san’ (hotel) or ‘nhà nghì’ (motel/guesthouse) signs instead. Also, prices may vary from the ones I have listed below but the average price I paid was around $8. In smaller, less touristic towns I could get a large double room for this price whereas in more touristic places I mostly stayed in dorms.
Hanoi Hostel, 91C Hang Ma Street | Hoan kiem dist, Hanoi 0084, Vietnam
Price: $7 per night for a bed in an 8-bed dorm (breakfast included)
I stayed at some random hotel in town, but I can’t find the name online. This place is small so just look for hotel or guesthouse signs. I found a reasonably large room with double bed in an average hotel.
Price: $8 per night for a fairly large double room.
PHONG NHA-KE BANG NATIONAL PARK
Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Khuongha, Hung trach, Bo Trạch, Quang Binh, Vietnam
Price: $8 for the biggest (double bunk beds!) and nicest (8-bed) dorm room bed I have ever stayed at in any country I have visited. This place is highly recommended.
Tigon Hostel, 11B Nguyen Cong Tru Street, Hue, Vietnam
Price: $8 for a 10-bed dorm bed (including the best buffet breakfast I have had in a while, just make sure to wake up early!)
I actually stayed at some random family’s house that was masquerading as a phone shop. It was located just off Trãn Cao Van (nearer to the Tran Hung Dao end), just up the road/round the corner from Moe’s Tavern and the Laugh Cafe. Many people I know stayed at the Sunflower Hotel/Hostel here.
Price: $7 I paid for a single room which is cheap for this tourist-infested town. Last time I was here (have been 3 times now!), the family had just made available a larger, much nicer room for $8 per night. Contact me if you wish to know exactly where it was. I also got very cheap motorbike rental whilst staying here – $1 per day for a semi-automatic motorbike the first time I stayed and $2 on my third visit (inflation!). The second time I was here I obviously had my own motorbike so no need to hire!
Hong My Hotel, 09B, Ngo Quyen, Phuong Thong Nhat, Kontum 58000, Vietnam
Price: $8 for a pretty large double room.
BUON MA THUOT
Khách Sạn Ngọc Dung, 122 Chu Văn An, Tân An, Buôn Ma Thuột, Đắk Lắk, Vietnam
Price: $7-$8 for a large double room, TV, fridge, the lot.
Cam Tu Cau Hotel, 118 Nguyen Van Troi, Da Lat, Dalat, Vietnam
Price: $8 for a decent sized, very nice, clean room. This hotel was awesome and also cheap for the standard. The service was great, the staff were friendly and they also arrange canyoning tours which go daily. the breakfast here is an additional $1, but for that you get a baguette, butter, jam and eggs. I think that a drink (probably juice) was also included.
Many people stay at the Family Hostel in Da Lat which is more of a crazy/interesting experience where a local family has opened up their house to backpackers. Worth checking out if you want to meet other travellers and feel like part of one big, crazy Vietnamese family!
The Gateway To Hell. I won’t even bother listing the place where I stayed here. It was awful. There weren’t many places around here to stay. I would recommend just carrying on straight to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh as it isn’t far and get a decent place there instead.
HO CHI MINH / SAIGON
Hotel 97, 97 Bui Vien St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Formerly My Hoa Hotel)
Price: $8 for a decent sized double room with a not so decent sized television! I love this place as it is one of the most competitively priced places to stay in Ho Chi Minh if you are looking for a private room.
What Do I Need To Take With Me?
There are a few essentials that I would recommend that you take with you.
A rain poncho is an essential depending on what time of year you go. I was pretty lucky with the weather but my friend that is currently travelling through the country has been rained on constantly for pretty much the last week. The rain is generally worse in the north and at higher altitudes. Once you pass through the mountains it usually gets hotter and dryer. You might also want to consider waterproof trousers.
A phone with GPS! As I mentioned earlier you will find this an invaluable tool to help guide you in the right direction to those small towns, especially when the light may be failing and you need a place to stay for the night.
Decent protective gear. You may feel the urge to ride in your shorts, vest/singlet and flip-flops because it is 30 degrees and you’re boiling your ass off, but when you get run off the road by a huge truck that doesn’t give a cap about the little man, you’ll regret not wearing something a bit more substantial! I wore gloves, a wind proof jacket and shorts. I could have been much more kitted out and I met people who were wearing full leathers from head to toe. Just be sensible kids! You may think you look like a badass now, but when you’re scraping your skin off the tarmac you’ll regret not being more sensible…this ain’t no game! This is your life! and the rules of the road here are rather sketchy at times.
A half-decent knowledge of the rules of the road. You will pretty much pick this up as you go along but you will quickly learn that the rules on the roads of Vietnam are very different to the rules in western countries. The biggest vehicle wins is rule number 1! You will often find yourself facing two vehicles side by side using both lanes hurtling towards you at ridiculous speeds at which point you may be forced off onto the dirt track at the side of the road. Just be wary and keep your wits about you at all times. Buses, coaches and trucks quite often just want to get from A to B in the quickest possible time and really couldn’t care if they put your life in jeopardy. I had a small crash where a van coming from the opposite direction just completely cut in front of me to turn into a side road. I didn’t have time to slow down. Another time in the mountains in the north (where there is pretty much only one lane to begin with) I was riding uphill and a huge truck was coming towards me. There was a scooter also coming towards me. The truck decided to overtake the scooter at the exact point where I would be passing in the opposite direction, forcing me off the side of the road and eventually losing control of the bike and dropping it, breaking a wing mirror. The woman on the scooter also came off her bike. This was in the mountains in a relatively dangerous area. Someone could have died! But the truck really just did not give a toss. He was the biggest vehicle and so he won. The end.
You might also want to take with you some basic tools so that you can tighten screws and what-not (yep, technical speak!), and do a bit of maintenance on your bike if you feel it isn’t running correctly. I didn’t do this cos I know very little indeed about mechanics and there are garages all over the place offering cheap prices!
DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE YOUR HORN!
Your horn is your friend, it lets people know you are approaching and it is not rude to beep people, it is actually polite. So beep, beep, beep away my friend!
What Attractions Are There To See Along The Way?
There are a few places that I would recommend stopping at along the way and here are some of the ones that I managed to fit in as follows:
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – Yes, you can go and see the body of a man that has been dead for 50 years. I didn’t get to see him as I was unlucky with timings. You have to get there early and possibly take your passport with you. No photos allowed!
Vietnam Military History Museum – Learn all about the Vietnam War and there are also lots of tanks, helicopters and other military vehicles and weapons on show. Photos allowed!
Hoa Lo Prison – Used by the French during the first Indo-Chinese War to house political prisoners, and then used again by the Vietnamese during the second Indo-Chinese War (Vietnam War) to house prisoners of war. It was sarcastically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US soldiers.
PHONG NHA-KE BANG NATIONAL PARK
Caves – There are loads of big caves to see here. Get on a boat with a bunch of other tourists and go and float into one. Interesting stuff.
The Vinh Moc Tunnels – These are actually about 70km north of Hue so best to visit on your way to the city, rather than after you get there as you’ll only be backtracking. These were a system of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the last Vietnam War, similar to the Cu Chi Tunnels in/near Ho Chi Minh. I found these very interesting indeed and it was fascinating to learn about how whole families lived within these tunnels for long periods at a time. You can still see ‘rooms’ within the tunnels which are basically just cavities in the walls of the tunnels. This area of Vietnam, named the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was one of the most bombed areas during the war.
The Imperial City – This is pretty much like a smaller version of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Where the last Vietnamese emperor lived. Go check out his gaff, it ain’t half bad!
Tombs – There are lots of tombs scattered around the city where various emperors and other important people (hey, I’m not a tour guide and don’t know specifics ok, gimme a break!) were buried. My personal favourite was Khai Dinh’s tomb which was rather impressive indeed!
The old town – Kind of goes without saying really. When you are here, have a wander into the old town and see the famous bridge that was apparently a gift from the Japanese (once again, I am clearly no tour guide!). They weren’t charging entry the first time I was here but now they do. You have to pay to just walk into the old town. Apparently it is to maintain it or something. Shouldn’t cost too much, maybe like $5 (don’t quote me on that one).
Beaches – There are a few beaches round here. An Bang is probably the cheaper and least populated one. Last time I was here the water was infested with jellyfish though… watch out!
The Wooden Church of Kontum – As far as churches go, this one was pretty nice! A little different as it is all constructed from wood and definitely the nicest church that I came across in Asia.
The Minh Thanh Temple – Just south of Kontum is the BEST temple in Asia as far as I am concerned! I seem to always be banging on about this place. It is so visually stunning and a lot of effort has been put into the construction of both the temple and the very large pagoda that is next to it. The gardens surrounding the two are very beautiful as well.
Ho Chi Minh Statue – There is a massive statue of Ho Chi Minh here. Someone told me that it was the biggest statue of him in Vietnam. Not sure if that is actually true but it’s pretty big!
BUON MA THUOT
Ethnographic Museum – Gotta squeeze in a museum now and then! This one focuses on all of the local history in the area, including people, local tribes and settlers, the environment and contains many artefacts, videos, pictures and models! Very interesting and informative and the building itself is also rather impressive to look at!
The Crazy House – This is a house/former hotel that was designed by a Vietnamese architect, which is a little bit like something you would find in an amusement park. It is a house that is essentially ‘crazy’ in the way it has been built.
The Old Train Station – This train station is no longer in use but still houses some old trains which are nice to look at and pose in for photos! One of the carriages has been transformed into a café so grab an iced coffee and chill…
Canyoning! – This costed me $18 through my hotel (Cam Tu Cau) and is a great fun way to spend a day! The day will contain abseiling down rocks and waterfalls, floating down river and down natural water slides, plus cliff jumping. Very fun indeed! Here is a video of my little adventure:
HO CHI MINH / SAIGON
The Cu Chi Tunnels – These, like the Vinh Moc Tunnels in the DMZ were used during the war by the Viet Cong to protect them from the bombing on the surface. These are extremely cramped and you can crawl (literally) through them if you like, just so long as you aren’t claustrophobic!
The War Remnants Museum – More war remnants! Vehicles, weapons, pictures, etc. The lot. Some absolutely incredible war photography on show here as well! Worth checking out just for that.
CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’VE FINISHED YOUR EPIC JOURNEY!
…well the epic journey of reading this blog post anyway. Hopefully you are now a bit more clued up and can use this as some kind of resource if you are planning to do a similar trip. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!
Patrick out…*vroom vroom!*