The main details…
We bought a 2017 Honda Win 1100cc for $330 in Kampot, Cambodia, and sold it for the equivalent of $270 in Hue, Vietnam. We named him Bruce. Helmets cost us $24. We had a few flat tyres, but these never cost more than a dollar or two to fix. We NEVER broke down! We had one little service on the bike when we got him back from he train, where the front wheel had to be tightened. This cost us about a fiver. Fuel was super cheap and lasted us a long time – so financially we saved a lot. We also had so much fun – selling the bike was a really sad day. The best roads we drove were around Cam Rahn, into Nha Trang, and the Hai Van Pass. The worst were in Ho Chi Minh rush hour.
When James’ first suggested we travelled the whole of Vietnam on a motorbike, I responded with a definite no. Never having really been on motorbikes other than for fun in a field when I was younger, the idea of driving one on a road/around a whole country terrified me! I, like most people, just thought of motorbikes are generally unsafe. You always just hear horror stories, or of people getting hurt. And I’m a pretty cautious person, so I was definitely not sold on the idea. May I add – I never actually drove the bike, so all of this is from the point of view of a passenger! Though if I’d had to, I would have! I just didn’t need to, as James wanted to and had more experience so it seemed like the smarter idea.
Once we got out to Asia, I realized that it’s very different driving a motorbike in there than it is in the UK. Over there, motorbikes rule the roads – there are way more bikes than cars or anything else! We first hired a moped in Koh Samui (Thailand), and although I was a bit scared at first it only took me about ten minutes to get used to it – and then I loved it! As we travelled to different places, I realized that without a bike you can’t really properly explore – it would take a long time on foot and a car wouldn’t fit down most of the roads! It became obvious as to why everybody had one, and why every traveller hires one. Sure, they are dangerous (as are all types of transport) – but the difference here is that other drivers are FAR more aware of bikes. In the UK, they have to have signs to say ‘Think Bike’ and have to advertise it on TV. Over here in Asia, well… you definitely can’t forget about motorbikes, they’re everywhere!
After driving a bike around the Thai islands, we had a bit of a break whilst in Malaysia. We next hired a bike in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was our first proper experience of actual driving I would say, as the islands hadn’t really had busy roads or junctions or anything like that. They also drive on the same side of the road in Thailand as the UK, which makes it a bit easier. Cambodia and Vietnam, however, drive on the opposite, so that took some getting used to. But driving in Siem Reap, although seemingly terrifying at first, was actually fine! I soon realized that there’s no such thing as a right of way at a junction – people seem to just go. This sounds crazy and at first, I thought it was. But I soon noticed people are a lot more diligent with checking their mirrors, beeping to let you know that they are there and driving slow enough to stop or manoeuvre around each other. What seemed like chaos at first, started to actually make a lot of sense.
Fast forward a week or two to Kampot, and we decided to buy a bike. Between Siem Reap and Kampot we’d got a ‘luxury’ over-night sleeper bus and a minibus to get between places. If we didn’t buy a bike for Vietnam, we’d be using buses/minibuses to travel between places. And trust me, I felt a LOT safer on the back of a bike than I did on the buses! The drivers were pretty crazy, making very questionable decisions a lot of the time and putting way too many people in one vehicle (in my opinion…). Driving on the back of a bike that James was driving seemed like a far better option, and he was a much better driver! He’d also biked the whole of Vietnam last time he’d come out here two years ago, which made me feel much better. We decided to buy a bike and if I didn’t like it, we could easily just sell it. To me, it just made sense. Rather than hire a bike each place we went then pay for a bus between places, we may as well just buy a bike and make our own way there! We’d looked at our route and we once in Ho Chi Minh, and we wouldn’t have more than a couple of hours driving each day between places. The freedom of being able to go places when we want, or stop when we drove through somewhere cool also won me over. With buses, you have to rush or wait around due to their timetables, and you can’t ask to stop and admire a view or explore a town. I didn’t think that my mind would’ve been changed if you’d asked me back home, but over here I had a completely different view!
We joined a Kampot classified sales group on Facebook and that is where we found our lovely bike – a 2017 Honda Win 1100cc. Most people in Vietnam drove a Honda Dream, but they’re smaller and even though they’d fit both of us, they wouldn’t have had room for our bag. Our bike had a luggage rack at the back which we strapped our big bag to, then plenty of room on the seat for both of us. We bought it off a Dutch man, who’d actually just driven it with his girlfriend from Ho Chi Minh to Kampot (and only used two tanks of petrol for the whole trip). It was advertised for $350 but we got him down to $330. It was in really good condition – so assuming that we kept it that way it shouldn’t be hard to sell for a little less at the end of the trip! We went and bought ourselves helmets (safety first!) which cost $24 – we could’ve spent less but we got good ones rather than the cheap ones – definitely a good investment. Mine was pink, which I LOVED. I actually brought it home with me! We both got ones with visors too, as the roads can be super dusty which isn’t fun for your eyes. Financially, a bike was also a much cheaper option than getting buses. I couldn’t believe how little they cost fuel wise!
Everyone, meet Bruce!
We took him out on a test drive at Bokor National Park, which for other reasons was a disastrous trip (read about that one here…), but the bike was great! I learnt the hard way that motorbikes, unlike mopeds, do not have exhaust covers. But the burn on my leg means I won’t be forgetting that any time soon, and to always get off to the left, away from the hot exhaust! It was also raining loads, so we looked a bit ridiculous in our macs. See below…
Our first drive was from Kampot to Phom Penh, which was all going just fine until we got a puncture on the outskirts coming into the city, and as we did it started to hammer it down with rain. Half an hour and $1 less later, we had a fixed tire but ended up driving into the now flooded city at rush hour – a bit of a nightmare. Despite not having a rain mac (we’d put it on the bag) and being completely drenched through, James got us there very wet but in one piece. This gave me a lot of confidence – if he could manage that then I’m pretty sure he can manage anything else the trip throws at us! The drive from Phom Penh to Ho Chi Minh was the longest – and involved crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border. This drive went even better than the last! We stopped every 50 km or so for a drink and to stretch our legs, but the weather was beautiful! The border at Vietnam was really disorganized – we stopped and went into the building where there was lots of people just stood around not really sure where to go. I went over to a line that had other backpackers in, and gave my passport to the man only to be told to go to the other line, but the whole process took about 45 minutes as we weren’t sure what was going on! We stopped for dinner in Trang Bang then carried on into Ho Chi Minh – which was only 50km away. The main road into the city had a separate road for bikes, so it was a really easy drive! With Ho Chi Minh apparently being home to 5 million motorbikes, it makes sense for them to build the roads with bikes in mind. Driving through the actual city centre again was hectic, but at least it wasn’t raining this time! We arrived at our Airbnb at about 9pm, which felt very long as we’d left at 1pm. We should’ve left a bit earlier in hindsight! But this did include an hour stop for dinner, nearly an hour at the border and a few twenty-minute breaks, so it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. The longest part was getting out of Phom Penh, which took an hour and a half for 30km! The journey overall was 250km, and the majority of it we made good time, but coming in and out of cities was slow. Luckily, we won’t be doing much of this again!
By the time we got to the coastal part of our journey, it was much more straight forward. We had a lot of LONG days, but nothing compared to the traffic we’d experienced those first few days! The great thing about driving along the coast too was we could stop at random places for a break and carry ongoing, as long as we set off early enough in the day. I’d recommend doing Vietnam by bike as it was so incredibly beautiful! You’d miss so much by going by train or bus.
We ended up selling our bike in Hue, it’s last journey being the beautiful Hai Van Pass. We’d originally planned to drive all the way up to Hanoi, but had ended up running out of time – our visas were a month long. We’d saved travel time between Nha Trang and Danang too, by putting our bike on a train and getting a night bus to Hoi An, spending a few days there then getting a taxi to Danang to meet our bike. It takes a few days for the bike to arrive, though they never actually rung us to let us know it had. We ended up just going to the station with our ticket hoping it had arrived, luckily it had! We sold the bike for $270 which was less than we’d hoped, but selling it in Hue was hard as it wasn’t a very big place. We sold it to a company that rent our bikes in both Hue and Danang for you to drive the Hai Van Pass, so at least we know our Bruce is having a nice life driving the most beautiful road in Vietnam!
All in all, I’d definitely recommend buying a motorbike to travel Vietnam – it’s the best way to see the country for its full beauty and it’s a lot of fun. Just remember to be safe – always wear a helmet and don’t drive like an idiot, or in weather conditions you’re not comfortable in. We tried to avoid driving at night unless in a well-lit area – and we definitely didn’t drive in the dark whilst it was heavily raining!
If you’ve got any questions because you’re considering doing this yourself, pleeaaase get in touch! I love chatting about our experience and would love to help anyone have as much fun as we did.