7 Tips from Motorbike Experts for First Time Riders in Vietnam

When in Vietnam, you must drive a motorbike as the Vietnamese do. This may seem like an obvious mentality to adopt, but driving a motorbike alongside the Vietnamese will at times challenge every one of your natural instincts. The western world’s highway code does not apply here, and at times the traffic in Vietnam can seem unforgiving. However, practice makes perfect, and Hidden wants you to be safe and have a fun experience while motorcycling. Which is why we have rounded up motorcycle experts from all over the globe, to ask them the all-important question: 

 “What’s the one tip you would give to someone new to motorbiking in Vietnam?”

What about the legality of renting and riding a motorbike in Vietnam?

Before we dive into the tips, it’s important to stress that we want you to be safe! The suggestions and advice in this article are meant to be part of your planning process and not the only resource you take into account before setting out. 

The legality of renting and riding in Vietnam is both very simple and confusingly complex. To ride legally in Vietnam, you’ll need a Vietnamese driver’s license or a motorcycle license from your home country with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), which is recognised by the Vietnamese authorities. Read more about renting and riding in Vietnam in this article.

The busy streets of Vietnam packed with motorcycles
Vietnam’s roads are often a swirling mechanical mass of motorcycles.

1. Tom from Adventure in You

Tom and his partner Ann are full-time adventure travel bloggers who jet-set around the globe on countless adventures and journeys. From leaping out of airplanes to trekking the jungle and driving motorbikes, they share their first-hand knowledge at adventureinyou.com

“Definitely wear a helmet and invest in a good one. During the final week on my bike, I turned a corner and fell off due to sand being all over the road. My friend (who was riding behind me) then also fell off and his bike landed on my head. It was only because I was wearing a good helmet that I walked away with minimal injuries. The helmet though… was crushed.”

A motorbike tour with Courtesy Adventure in You
Tom and his friends during their motorbike trip through Vietnam. Photo: Courtesy Adventure in You

2. Jeff Burke Founder of Onyabike Adventures

Motorcycles are Jeff’s passion in life. From riding offroad with friends and family all over the world to racing motorcycles in Australian Championships, he has never been far from a bike. Jeff founded Onyabike Adventures to offer the best, fully licensed, motorcycling experience in Vietnam.

“Come prepared for an adventure in Vietnam, allow ample time for your daily ride to stop and experience anything amazing around the next bend or dirt track. Don’t rush and ride defensively. Your attention, as much as what’s on and off the road in front of you, will ensure a safe and exciting journey. 

Come fully licensed and insured from your country of origin, if not then pillion ride with a trusted licensed guide. Make sure the company you entrust your journey with is licensed, using legal international accredited guides and registered modern maintained motorcycles. Then all you need to do is enjoy the experience, or if you’re riding pillion, sit back and enjoy the movie like scenery and life events you are about to encounter in the amazing Vietnam.”

Onyabike motorcycle tour
The Onyabike team riding their Royal Enfield Himalayan bikes through Vietnam. Photo: Onyabike

3. Chung Can from Motorbike Tour Expert in Vietnam

Chung and two friends founded Motorbike Tour Expert in 2004. Being one of the first motorbike rental shops in Hanoi, they pioneered many of the most popular tour routes in Northern Vietnam. Over the years, Chung has worked with guests of all skill levels to provide safe and fun trips all over Vietnam. 

“Riding motorbikes in Vietnam is not easy even for experienced riders. There are plenty of tips for a novice rider as well as tips for different types of bikes.

First, keep calm and ride slowly. learn to ride on an automatic bike which is less than 125cc (however this kind of bike is only suitable for paved roads). The easiest way to learn is to ride behind somebody who can ride well. Spend time practicing riding in a big yard or a safe area to have an idea of how to use your brakes and how to accelerate smoothly. If you don’t practice you may forget where the brake is and how to slow down after a few minutes riding.

Use your horn anytime you overtake somebody because a lot of local people don’t look at their mirrors or pay attention to others behind them.  So please use your horn to make lots of noise so they pay attention to you.”

Off road roate through Northern Vietnam
The Motorbike Tour Expert team on an off road route through Northern Vietnam. Photo: Courtesy Motorbike Tour Expert (Header image also)

4. Thuy Le  | Motorbike Tour Operator with ADV Motorcycle Tours & Dirtbike Travel in Vietnam

ADV Motorcycle Tours, formally called Insight Viet Travel, was founded in 2005 by members of the distinguished Dirtbike Friends Club here in Vietnam. After spending time exploring Vietnam on motorbikes, the all-Vietnamese team decided to start a tour company. Having literally grown up riding in Vietnam, you can rely on their advice.

“Traffic in Vietnam looks very complicated, but don’t worry too much. When you join the flow of people on the road, you will find riding in Vietnam much easier than you think. Good concentration is a must – and do as the locals do.”

Round up post of a policeman directing traffic
A policeman tries to direct traffic on a busy road in Hoi An

5. Katie and Ben Zweber: Two Wandering Soles

Katie and Ben have been travelling the world since 2014. Form Columbia to South Korea and beyond. They are adventure lovers and travel addicts with years of experience on motorbikes in SE Asia and beyond. Their blog TwoWanderingSoles.com will inspire any traveller but they have a special passion for showing how travel on a super tight budget.

“Vietnam is an amazing country to see on a motorbike, but before you hop on two wheels, there are some important precautions to take. I would tell anyone who is new to motorbiking to start by driving on less crowded streets, sometimes a difficult thing to find in Vietnam! Hopping straight onto the crazy streets of Hanoi and Saigon – some of the most congested streets in the world – is a sure way to trigger an anxiety attack and potentially make a mistake. This could put yourself and others in harm’s way. Instead, smaller towns and countryside roads are not only safer but more scenic as well. And most importantly, protect yourself with both a helmet and travel insurance. We’ve heard some horror stories, so you’ll want to make sure you’re covered.”

Roundup post of the Hai Van pass
The Hai Van Pass reflected in a roadside mirror. Photo: WNFDiary

6. Ms.Thao Nguyen Motorbike Booking Manager at XO Tours Vietnam

Running since 2010, XO Tours are Vietnam’s first all female motorbike tours. Boasting over 100,000 happy guests and with tours featured on ESPN and the Travel Channel. Ms.Thao and her team are well versed in the biking culture of Vietnam.

“The best tip we give to someone new to motorbiking in Vietnam is to “go with the flow” and imagine that you’re in a school of fish. Try to stay in the middle of a group of other bikes if possible. When turning, use the other bikes that are turning in the same direction to block traffic for you. If you’re turning left at an intersection, for instance, use the bikes to the right of you as blockers.”


7. Julian from Ride Expeditions

Julian is the writer behind the Ride Expeditions blog and has ridden many of the recce tours and customer tours they offer. A motorcycle journalist for just short of fifteen years, Julian’s riding has taken him all over the world. From testing Yamahas in Corsica, racing Husqvarnas in Temecula and touring KTM’s in Morocco.

Julian advises, “Like any good Scout, ‘Be prepared’. Riding bikes is a great way of exploring this incredible and beautiful country, but you still need to wear good protective kit and a quality helmet just like at home. You should also consider going through an organised tour company like Ride Expeditions. They’ll sort all the accommodation, bike hire, mechanical support and logistics so you can then just get on enjoying riding the stunning scenery and wonderful roads.”

Julian on his expedition in Nepal
Julian poses with his bike during an expedition in Nepal. Photo Courtesy Julian Challis

Hidden’s Thoughts

We hope the tips from our top tour guide bikers prove to be useful to first-time riders eager to take to the open roads of Vietnam. These experts have spent a lot of time biking around Vietnam, some even do it for a living!  Therefore their first-hand experiences are invaluable lessons to learn from. Our top takeaways: use a helmet, get travel insurance, go with the flow, and don’t panic! 

Touring the country from top to bottom on two wheels is a quintessentially Vietnamese way of taking it all in. From the mountains of Sapa to the rice fields of Dalat, there’s an infinite amount of scenery to be in awe of. Remember, be safe and get proper training before setting out on your journey of a lifetime. Most importantly, embrace the madness and take comfort in the knowledge that Vietnam has perfected the notion of organised chaos. 

A big thank you to all the experts that contributed to this article. 

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