Motorbikes are as much a part of daily life in Vietnam as Phở. With 37 million vehicles registered in the country, Vietnam trumps the rest of the world when it comes to using bikes for daily transportation. It’s the preferred way of getting around for locals, but throw in the stunning scenery and cheap costs, and motorbiking Vietnam becomes a backpacker’s dream.
The long narrow country makes driving the length of it the perfect way to soak up as many sights and experiences as possible. You’ll see breathtaking mountain passes and fascinating historical relics, eat authentic food, and meet like-minded travelers, all while getting to know the real Vietnam and its people. Vietnam should be on every travel bucket list, but motorbiking the country is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
This guide runs through everything you need to know about motorbiking Vietnam, from the best route to take to where to get your bike. You’re in for a bumpy ride, but it will all be worth it. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Before You Go
Our itinerary goes from north to south, but you could just as easily do this route in reverse. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are equally accessible with bustling international airports. Yet, Hanoi is the capital and a good place to fly into.
Strategically located close to Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, Ho Chi Minh is a great place to finish if you’re continuing with your Southeast Asian adventure. But as our itinerary suggests, the city is also a vantage point to the Southern islands of Vietnam, where you deserve to relax in paradise for a few days after your epic 2,500-kilometer adventure.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was once a system of mountainous jungle paths from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (the North) to the Republic of Vietnam (the South). Running through Laos and Cambodia, it was used during the Vietnam War to get troops and supplies to the South.
In the last 15 years, the trail has been paved over to create the Ho Chi Minh Highway, a 1,000-mile road from Hanoi to Saigon. Our route mainly follows the Ho Chi Minh Highway, traveling inland at points for fantastic village stop-offs and unmissable views. But if you want to spend less time riding, you can stick to the coast for more direct routes. The roads here are faster, but the scenery won’t be as impressive.
Getting a Bike
You have three options when it comes to motorbiking Vietnam; renting a bike, buying a bike, or booking a guided tour. Depending on how long you plan to travel the country, buying a bike is generally the cheapest option. It’s easy to sell at the end of your trip, and you could get the same price you paid for it or near enough.
Renting is more hassle with insurance, repairs, and returning the bike. Motorbiking Vietnam is a popular option for travelers, and many bike rentals will have bases in both the North and South, so you won’t have to journey back the length of the country to return your rental. Still, you have to consider the price of any bumps and scratches you’ll inevitably incur on your journey and that not all rentals are easygoing. If you plan on motorbiking Vietnam for more than three weeks, buying works out cheaper.
Tours can be relaxing and less daunting if you’re not familiar with riding a bike, but you have less freedom, and this is the most expensive option of the three. Our itinerary below is a suggested route for driving across Vietnam yourself. Guided tours will have their own arranged routes, but there’s always some wriggle room.
Buying a Motorbike
Motorbiking across Southeast Asia might sound like an appealing adventure, but if you plan on arriving in Vietnam by bike, think again. Vietnam only allows Vietnamese bikes across their borders unless you’re prepared to pay a hefty bribe. Buying a bike once you’ve arrived in any of the major cities is your best and cheapest bet.
One of the easiest ways to get your hands on a second-hand bike is to buy it off a fellow traveler for as little as $200. Use your judgment and buy from an honest person or a reputable company. Honda and Yamaha’s bikes are the most reliable, and you should try to avoid Chinese knock-offs. Several “Honda Shops” all over Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi fix and sell bikes and also offer buy-back deals when you’re done with it. Still, whatever bike you get your hands on, you’ll likely have to spend some money on maintenance, so make sure you factor this into your budget and always ask the seller for a history of recent repairs.
You only need a 110cc to 125cc for touring Vietnam, unless you plan to extend your trip into the rougher country in the North and West. Vietnam generally has low-speed limits, even on the highways; a very powerful bike won’t be necessary or convenient, especially in congested areas. An automatic motorcycle is the easiest to drive and tends to need less maintenance than a manual. But if you have experience with a manual motorbike, the ride will be better.
Riding in Vietnam
Vietnam has well-built concrete highways, and the Ho Chi Minh Highway is one of them. But many faster roads are only safe for cars and trucks and come with a toll. Most vehicles stick to the narrow and treacherous routes across the country that motorbikes must use.
You can expect average road conditions and heavy traffic most of the time, but if you’re a good driver, there’s no reason to be scared. The lack of traffic regulations sometimes makes life easier for bikers, as unlike in the western world, motorbikes seem to get the right of way, and cars have to look out for them.
We strongly advise investing in insurance to cover you for all the bumps and scrapes you’ll encounter along the way. Your insurance also won’t be valid unless you have an international license to drive motorbikes, so always read the small print and make sure you have all appropriate documentation on you when you’re driving. Also, make sure you are always wearing a helmet. Not only could it save your life, but you will also get pulled over and fined by the police if you don’t wear one.
As mentioned, you’ll probably need some repairs along the way. Most Vietnamese know the basics of repairing motorbikes, and it is easy to get help if you break down, even in remote areas. But get to know your bike and research the model before you drive. You’ll be more alert to scams if you have an idea of the repairs your bike might need.
Motorbiking Vietnam – Our Itinerary
Our suggested itinerary covers around 2,500km, starting in Hanoi and finishing in Ho Chi Minh, but choose the direction that works best for you. The route covers most of the Ho Chi Min trail, but you can take Highway One during some portions of the drive. These roads can be faster, especially at night, but can be highly congested by day, so it is best to avoid them if possible.
This trip takes around four weeks but with only nine driving days between two and eight hours each day. It would be easy to do this route faster or take your time with more stops along the way, depending on how much time you have to spare.
Hanoi – 3 nights > Ninh Bin – 100km
So you’ve arrived in Hanoi and secured your bike for the next few weeks. We recommend giving yourself at least three nights to see the city, if not longer. After all, Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital, and you won’t see it all in just a few days.
It’s vastly different to the south and feels more like a large village than the capital city. Known for its ancient temples, museums, citadels, markets, and French-colonial architecture, you’ll find influences from all over South Asia and Europe here. Still, the chaotic streets of the Old Quarter remain very traditional. Arranged by trade, you can feast on the most authentic Vietnamese food and spend hours touring the markets and coffee shops.
If you have time, we highly recommend dedicating a few days to Halong Bay before you make the trip down south. Halong Bay is a World Heritage Site and one of the most breathtaking areas of natural beauty in the world. You can motorbike to the Bay just a few hours east of Hanoi, but it’s out of the way from our Ho Chi Minh trail ride. Booking onto a cruise or river tour is the best way to take in the 150,000 hectares of islands and limestones cliffs.
It’s time to leave Hanoi, and whether you’re a little rusty around the edges or a seasoned biker, you’ll likely be a bit wobbly on your first stretch of riding. A hassle-free way to kickstart your trip is to pay a motorcycle taxi to lead you to where the AH1 highway exits the city. This saves the trouble of checking directions while navigating the traffic-choked streets.
There are fewer cars and trucks once you’re on the highway, but the traffic doesn’t move very fast with the thousands of scooters. Still, this can feel like a safer way to ease into your trip. It should take about an hour to exit Hanoi, and then it’s an 85km drive to Ninh Binh that should only take another hour or two.
Ninh Binh – 2 nights > Phong Nha – 400km via Vinh
Often referred to as the inland Halong Bay, Ninh Binh is peppered with karst mountains and lakes, and the scenic drive into the province is a sight for sore eyes. Ninh Binh is a small city and the capital of the region. The rice fields and mountain caves are worth a day of exploring, and the villagers are notoriously friendly.
Two nights is the perfect amount of time for your first stop-off, but you could also absorb a lot of the scenery in just one day. Take a boat tour, hire a bicycle for the rice field trails and try some local rice wine. Ninh Binh also has some great backpacker hostels, and you’ll likely bump into like-minded travelers on a similar route as you. Check out Golden Bell Backpacker Hostel for a real budget option and social dorm rooms, or Ninh Binh Brother’s Homestay for $10 private rooms in the center of town.
Your third day on the road means it’s time to do some proper driving. When it comes to motorbiking Vietnam, it’s just as much about the journey as the destination, if not more. Leaving the AH1 in Ninh Binh, you’ll join the Ho Chi Minh way, where you’ll find much less traffic and incredible panoramic views. If this 400km drive seems too much, or you’re just looking to stop off on the way, Vinh is around halfway between Phong Nha and Ninh Binh and worth a visit. The large city is north-central Vietnam’s economic hub, and the industrial landscape starkly contrasts the country motorbike trails.
Once you’ve navigated the mountain passes from Vinh to Phong Nha and likely come into some cold weather, you can put your feet up with a few nights in the national park.
Phong Nha – 3 nights > Dhong Ha 150km
Home to Hang Don Soon, the world’s most extensive collection of caves, Phong Nha Khe Bang National Park, is one for history lovers and adventurers. You’ll also find Paradise Cave here, previously the biggest cave in the world before Hang Don Soon’s discovery in 2013.
Exploring the fascinating gallery of tunnels and caverns should be your first port of call. That’s after you’ve rested from your ride. You can venture the first four kilometers of Paradise Cave for as little as $10 or embark on a four-day trekking and camping trip to Hang Don Soon, depending on your budget and interests.
There are tons of other things besides the caves to explore in Phong Kha, including the Water Buffalo Springs, Botanical Gardens, and Nuoc Moc EcoTrail. Check out the Phong Nha Farmstay for serene rooftop sunsets, cold beers, and clean rooms.
It should take just over three hours to make the trip down to Dhong Ha from Phong Nha. The drive is part of a 300km winding mountain route, and the single-laned road is one of the clearest you’ll experience on this itinerary. The mountain town of Khe Sanh is just 60km outside Dhong Ha and was home to the longest and most devastating battle of the Vietnam War. We don’t recommend wandering off the beaten track here as there are still many unexploded land mines around, but the scenery from the road will impress.
Dhong Ha – 1 night > Hoi An – 200km via the Hai Van Pass and Da Nang
The lesser-known city of Dhong Ha, just north of Hue, is a great vantage point to the DMZ Zone and Vin Moc tunnels. The tunnels were built to shelter people from American bombs, dug 30 meters deep, and some people lived in them for six years. They are a fascinating piece of wartime history and a must-see if you’re staying over in Dhong Ha.
The drive to Hoi An from Dhong Ha is a 200km journey that should take around four to five hours, but you’ll want to make the most of it. The iconic Hai Van Pass that featured on the Top Gear Vietnam Special in 2008 is the main route to Hoi An. The 21km stretch is just beyond Hue and will be the last stint of your drive to Hoi An, but it will make the long day of travel worth it.
Time the drive for sunset, and you’ll be met with some of the best views you’re likely to see in your life. It only takes around an hour to conquer, and many travelers ride it back and forth several times just to take it all in. The road runs along the border of Da Nang, and if you have time to spare, this coastal city has something for everyone.
Hoi An – 4 nights > Nha Trang – 400km
The ancient town of Hoi An is an unmissable spot in central Vietnam. The Thu Bon River runs through it and is fringed with Chinese-style shophouses, famous for their cheap and high-quality clothing production. At night, you can grab dinner on a junk boat and take in the breathtaking sea of Chinese lanterns that line the river bed.
You should also visit the Me Son ruins while you’re here, take a Basket Boat Ride, and book a Vietnamese cooking class. It’s a long drive to Nha Trang from Hoi An, but you can speed up the journey by taking the notorious AH1.
Nha Trang – 6 nights > Dalat – 130km
Nha Trang is a charming coastal city and the capital of the Khanh Hoa Province. The resort area is known for its beaches, diving sites, and offshore islands, while the Tran Phu walking street has excellent seafood restaurants and backpacker bars. Soak up the laidback beach vibes for a week or so and get a break from bike life. Perhaps try your hand at scuba diving, and make sure you embark on a day trip to Vin Pearl Island.
The four-hour drive from Nha Trang to Dalat offers incredible scenery, but you’re likely to encounter unwelcome weather in the high mountain passes, so make sure you stock up on rain ponchos before setting off. Make the most of beach life before making this trip dress appropriately.
Dalat – 3 nights > Mui Ne – 150km
Dalat is home to some of Vietnam’s most famous coffee plantations, and coffee tasting should be on the agenda here. The Ko Luwak farm tours are also a must, with their renowned excrement-born coffee beans.
Check out the Hang Nga Guesthouse, affectionately nicknamed the Crazy House. This curious architectural wonder is the perfect place for your Instagram moment. Three nights in Dalat is just enough to rest, recuperate and indulge in all the activities on offer.
The drive from Dalat to Muine promises to be one of the most pleasant and hassle-free portions of your trip. No trucks are allowed on this portion of the road, and the spiraling mountain pass to the ocean is a joy to do on a bike. These 150 kilometers take a little longer to cover due to steep winding roads, but it will be worth it.
Mui Ne – 1 night > Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) – 220km
Mui Ne is the kitesurfing capital of Vietnam, and the white dunes are worth a visit. You can board, hike or drive ATVs through the dunes on guided tours, and you’ll feel like you’ve left the country and been transported to a desert country. Stay the night at Mui Ne Garden, a good option for kitesurfing packages where dorms cost just $4 a night before heading off on the final stretch of your Vietnam motorbiking adventure.
It’s only fitting that your last drive is a long one. Ho Chi Minh is 220km from Mui Ne, but you’ll likely meet crazy queues and traffic-choked roads coming into the city which can take six hours to navigate. Head to the hostel area on your way in to avoid the chaotic center. Pat yourself on the back when you’ve got there. You’ve just traveled near the entire length of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh – 4 nights > Phu Quoc (Optional) – 400km
Ho Chi Minh is modern and industrialized and a world away from Hanoi. The city has towering skyscrapers, fascinating military museums, intricate palaces, and thriving nightlife. Depending on your plans, you should try and spend upwards of a few days in the city and consider a Mekong Delta cruise while you are there. Or you can continue the adventure and drive the 400km to Phu Quoc Island.
End your trip with a bang and take your bike aboard the 2-hour ferry off the southwest coast of Vietnam. Phu Quoc is underdeveloped and picturesque. It’s home to one of the best beaches in Southeast Asia, Sao Beach, and the perfect place to end your Vietnamese adventure in paradise. Sell your bike in Ho Chi Minh and book a local bus to the ferry port for less hassle. Parting with your trusty motorbike will be an emotional experience, but you’ll likely be a little happy to see the back of it.
Is it safe to motorbike in Vietnam?
There are less risky ways to spend a few weeks than motorbiking Vietnam, but there’s no reason for you to feel unsafe. Vietnam is a safe country in itself, but the roads are poorly maintained and can be dangerous, especially as there aren’t many driving regulations.
A motorbiking adventure might not be for you if you’re not a confident driver. But we recommend getting some practice and refresher lessons before you head off on your trip, even if you are experienced on a bike. Always wear appropriate safety gear, drive defensively, exercise caution around larger vehicles, and look out for erratic drivers.
Do you need a license to drive a moped in Vietnam?
You don’t need a license to drive a 50cc scooter or less in Vietnam, but these bikes aren’t equipped for high-speed, long journeys, so you will need a permit to motorbike the country. You can obtain a Vietnamese driving license if you have the correct visa. Or you can apply for an international driving license in your home country, which permits you to drive a motorbike in Vietnam. Carry both your national and international driving permit with you at all times when riding in Vietnam to avoid fines.
Can a foreigner buy a motorbike in Vietnam?
In Vietnam, foreigners can buy, rent, and sell motorbikes legally, but only if they hold a long-stay resident permit. This is how you obtain a Blue Card, which is the Vietnamese registration paper for your motorbike. Police might ask for this if you’re stopped on the road, but it will be checked when crossing the border or getting aboard a ferry, so make sure your bike has one if you’re purchasing it for the long haul.