How to buy a motorbike in Vietnam
Travelling Vietnam by motorcycle is a big adventure – but there are a few things to consider.
How to buy a motorbike in Vietnam
When we arrived in Vietnam we had no idea of how to find a motorbike we could buy. We already settled the idea of buying a Honda Win, because none of us likes to drive a scooter. The question was answered as soon as we arrived in our hostel: Countless printed advertisements of people selling motorbikes and scooters were displayed in the lobby. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any available Honda Win at this point (the sellers use to write the dates of their stay on the advertisements and if they are due, most of the motorbikes are already sold). To have the possibility of checking offers online, we bought a mobile SIM at the airport (besides that you can find WIFI in nearly every Café or bar). It didn’t take long for us to find our motorbikes on trawelswop.com (a plattform like craigslist from travellers for travellers): A couple from Germany was on their way down to Ho Chi Minh City and wanted to sell their Honda Wins as a pair. Some messages were exchanged and we agreed on meeting a few days later.
Mike and Anne were in their late twenties, suntanned and a bit exhaustet when we met. Excited they shared stories from their way down and they recommented to travel at least some days per motorbike. And so we find ourselves some hours later, withdrawing 12.000.000 Dong from an ATM.
But besides money…what else has to be taken care of?
Checklist for buying a motorbike in Vietnam
The blue card isn’t any bigger than a driver’s license and something like a vehicle registration. The light blue piece of paper often is shrink wrapped and gives you all the information about your motorbike. If those are correct and if Mr. Nguyen ever owned my motorbike – you’ll never know. Although it is worth looking for a motorbike with blue card, because the police often asks for it.
Do a test drive!
Ask the seller to meet somewhere quieter, if you don’t feel ready for the chaotic streets. Get familiar with the bike and take a good look at it. If you know nothing about motorcycles or you’re just uncertain, we are sure you’ll find someone in a hostel/hotel, that knows at least a bit more than you. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most of the Honda Wins have a kickstarter – learn how to use it! You never know how old the batteries of the motorbikes are. At our first visit at a garage my electric starter was deactivated (read about it here) and I had to kickstart my Honda Win every day – so you can do it, too! Our Honda Wins had drumbrakes in the rear and front – they allow you to have a longer stopping distance. If the breaks give you a “clacking” sound / feeling or if the breaks don’t work at all, they have to be replaced.
A working speedometer is rare, don’t wonder if yours doesn’t work.You won’t be able to drive fast with the Win anyway.
The light on our Win was not working very well too– there are flashlights brighter than this small light bulb. Our main reason for NEVER driving at night or in the dark. The shock absorbers on our moorcycles were really soft and worn out, this is definitely a point where more money is well spend – your back and butt will thank you a lot. The streets in Vietnam are actually pretty good, but sometimes interrupted by potholes (potholes are assholes!) and speed humps (ouch!). It’s definitely good, to have working blinker lights because you never know how the vietnemese interpret your hand signs. A MUST HAVE is a working honk. The louder, the better. Even if using a honk in germany means “Move up, get out of my way”, using a honk in Vietnam means: “Be careful, here I come!”
A lot of Honda Wins are sold with a luggage rack, to give you the opportunity to take your backpack or other baggage with you on the trip. This is fantastic, especially when you plan a longer trip. We also recommend you to bring or buy a lock for your motorbike. Friends of ours got their motorbikes stolen and we don’t want the same happening to you. With approx. 100kg the Honda Win is an easy catch and vietnamese thiefs are known to be very quick. We, by the way, didn’t observe something like that on our motorbike-trip.
The price of a used Honda Win is quite steady at about 200 to 350 US$. Often the motorbikes will be a bit cheaper in the north, because there are more travelers that start their motorbike trip from north to the south. We bought our motorbikes for 250 US$ each in Ho Chi Minh City and sold it for 230 US$ in Hanoi.
Motorbikes, that are sold for small money often are a safety risk (they are anyway). We hardly advise you not to buy the cheapest bike available. We were lucky to get “cheaper” bikes, but both of us would definitely spend more money the next time.
Do I need an international driver’s license to ride a motorbike in Vietnam?
To say it very cautious: Yes and no. At least in our case there were no big problems. In four weeks we roughly had one real police encounter, where our driver’s license was demanded. Our german driver’s license got accepted (maybe because we both are in the possesion of a license to ride big motorbikes), but we had to pay anyway. So we can’t give you a guarantee for that. We recommend you to have an international driver’s license, a motorbike driver’s license or at least some experience riding a motorcycle. You see too many tourists with motorcycle-accident typical injuries, because they “just want to try” riding a motorbike on vacation. Please don’t be that kind of tourist, it still is risky riding a bike in Vietnam.
What about safety?
Actually we heard a rumor, that there is no word for “safety” in the vietnamese language and that is exactly what our feeling was, when we came to Vietnam. Everything seems to be improvised, things are fixed with duct-tape or cable ties. Some vehicles seem very negligent and that alone is a reason for wearing protective gear. We admit, we didn’t wore more protection than a helmet and gloves and we are not proud of it. We brought our own helmets from home, because what they call a helmet in Vietnam is mostly not more than a tupperware-bowl. Integral helmets are very rare, most of the vietnamese helmets are produced cheaply with a thin, foldable visor, various comic-prints and a hole for your ponytail.
Workshops and garages
Visiting a workshop in Vietnam is one hell of an adventure, if you are used to European ones. You can find them on every corner, in houses or garages and they are often labeled with a sign that says “Sua Xe”, “Xe Moto” or “Hon Da”. You won’t be able to do buy a motorbike in Vietnam without visiting a workshop at least once.
More informations about buying a motorbike in Vietnam
If you have any further questions about riding or buying a motorbike in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org