BY LIV SEURING
When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh we had no idea how to find and buy a motorcycle in Vietnam. We’d already settled on the idea of buying a Honda Win, because neither of us wanted to ride a scooter.
But how were we to go about it? The question was answered as soon as we arrived at our hostel: Countless printed advertisements of people selling motorcycles and scooters were displayed in the lobby. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any available Honda Wins (sellers write the dates of their stay on the advertisements and if they’re old, most of the motorcycles are already sold). To look online, we bought a mobile SIM at the airport, though you can also find WIFI in nearly every cafe or bar. It didn’t take long for us to find our motorcycles on travelswop.com, a platform like Craigslist from travelers for travelers. A couple from Germany was on their way down to Ho Chi Minh City and wanted to sell their Honda Wins as a pair. Messages were exchanged and we agreed on meeting a few days later.
Mike and Anne were in their late twenties, suntanned and a bit exhausted when we met. Excited, they shared stories from their way down. And some hours later, we found ourselves withdrawing 12,000,000 Vietnamese Dong from an ATM (a bit over $500USD).
But besides money… what else had to be taken care of?
Checklist for buying a motorcycle in Vietnam
The blue card isn’t any bigger than a driver license and something like a vehicle registration. The light blue piece of paper is often laminated and gives you all the information about your motorcycle. If those were correct, or if “Mr. Nguyen” ever owned my motorcycle – I’ll never know. (Note that it is worth looking for a motorcycle with a blue card, because the police often ask for it.)
Take 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 or hotel that knows at least a bit more than you. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Most of the Honda Wins have a kickstart – learn how to use it! You never know how old the batteries on the motorcycles are. On our first visit to a garage, my electric starter was deactivated and I had to kickstart my Honda Win every single day – so you can, too. Our Honda Wins had front and rear drumbrakes – thus a longer stopping distance. If the brakes give you a “clacking” sound or feeling, or if the brakes don’t work at all, they have to be replaced.
A working speedometer is rare. But you won’t be able to drive fast with the Win anyway.
The light on our Win was not working very well, either. There are flashlights brighter than that small bulb, and that became our main reason for never riding at night. The shock absorbers on our motorcycles were really soft and worn out. This is definitely a point where more money is well spend – your back and butt will thank you. The streets in Vietnam are actually pretty good, though sometimes broken up by potholes (potholes are assholes!) and speed bumps (ouch!). It’s definitely good to have working blinkers because you never know how the Vietnamese interpret your hand signs. But a must have is a working horn. And the louder the better. If honking in Germany means “Get out of my way,” honking in Vietnam means “Here I come!”
A lot of Honda Wins are sold with a luggage rack. This is fantastic, especially when you plan a longer trip. We also recommend you bring or buy a lock for your motorcycle. Friends of ours got their motorcycles stolen and we didn’t want the same happening to us. At approximately 220 pounds, the Honda Win is an easy catch and thieves are known to be quick. Though it’s important to note we never encountered anything like this on our trip.
The price of a used Honda Win is quite steady at about $200 to $350USD. Often the motorcycles will be a bit cheaper in the north, because there are more travelers that start their motorcycle trip from south to north. We bought our motorcycles for $250USD each in Ho Chi Minh City and sold them for $230USD in Hanoi.
Motorcycles that are sold for less are a safety risk (they are anyway), so we strongly 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 next time.
Do I Need an International License to Ride a Motorcycle in Vietnam?
To say it cautiously: yes and no. At least in our case there were no big problems. In four weeks, we had only one real police encounter where our licenses were demanded. Our German licenses were accepted (maybe because we were both in the possession of a license to ride big motorcycles), but we had to pay anyway. So we can’t give you any guarantees. We recommend you have an international driver license, a motorcycle driver license, or at a minimum, some experience riding a motorcycle. You see too many tourists with typical motorcycle accident injuries, because they just wanted to “try” riding a motorcycle while on vacation. Please don’t be that kind of tourist. It’s risky business riding a bike in Vietnam, especially if you have little to no experience.
What About Safety?
We heard a rumor that there is no word for “safety” in Vietnamese (though we don’t think that’s true!). Still, that’s the feeling we had upon arrival. When we first got to Vietnam, everything seemed to be improvised, things fixed with duct-tape or zip ties. Some vehicles seemed very negligent and that alone is reason enough for wearing protective gear. We admit, we didn’t wear more protection than a helmet and gloves, but we’re not proud of it. We brought our own helmets from home, because what they call a helmet in Vietnam isn’t much better than Tupperware. Proper helmets are rare, and most locals wear helmets that 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, especially if you’re used to American or European ones. You can find them on every corner though, 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 buy a motorcycle in Vietnam without visiting a workshop at least once.
Vietnam is a stunning country and really worth a visit. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is good and the nature is breathtaking. We hope you’re inspired to travel Vietnam by motorbike — it’s a modern day adventure that lets you get to know the country in the most authentic way. Hopefully you’ll love it as much as we did.