So anyone who has been following this blog will know that we spent nearly four months traveling Vietnam on a Motorbike that we brought in Hanoi. Due to this we now consider ourselves experts in the field and wanted to share with everyone some of our advice! We had some sound advice before setting off (From Joel Hodder hope you’re reading) as he’d done a bike trip before. And we are really keen to pass on some general info and tips specific for Vietnam… Please enjoy and let us know if you have any other tips!
1. Buy from someone you trust – Now this may sound like stupid advice because you are just going to land in Vietnam and not knowing anyone how are you going to know whether to trust them or not? I would say to get loads of advice from different people and visit a lot of places. We looked online and asked people around. In the end we brought from a shop where most of the mechanics are British or American. i think after what I know know about Vietnamese people and mechanics it would have been just as safe to buy from a local. But having just arrived in hanoi this gave us a bit of piece of mind and took away the language barrier making communication very easy. In hindsight I think we probably paid a little more for that piece of mind than if we’d brought from a backpacker or local but you live you learn. The going price for “Honda Wins” (because lets face it no-one knows what these bikes are) is around $150-$350 and it all depends on what you want! I would says its not always true you get what you pay for we’ve seen people pay $350 for a bike thats ascetically pleasing but breaks down all the time. We paid top end and were lucky Hettie the Honda broke down a lot but more wear and tare than any actual major malfunctions!!
2. Try before you buy – This should go without saying but you would honestly be surprised. If you have never ridden a motorbike with gears before my honest advice would be DO NOT LEARN HERE! But I know people who have and they are (some by a miracle Rosannah) still alive. A lot of backpackers off lessons to people wanting to buy and Joe taught a few people along the way so maybe this is a sensible idea. Test the bike. How does it sound? How does it feel? How are the brakes? If like us you know nothing about motorbikes don’t be put off from asking questions. Ask everything even if you think its silly! When was it serviced? When was the oil changed? If you’re buying from a backpacker ask about breakdowns? police checkpoints? And use your judge of character and common sense! If in doubt, ask to go for a ride on the back with whoever’s selling. Might give you an idea of how they’ve treated the bike the whole time so cant hurt.
3. Practice makes perfect and drive within your capabilities – Sound advice we had from Joel straight after buying the bike.. practice braking from a fast speed and practice swerving at a fast speed too. if you’ve got loads of luggage to carry practice with that because extra weight can make a big difference to how the bike handles. Get to know the bike and drive within her capabilities! Joe has driven a few since we’ve been here and i’ve sat on the back of a few they really are all different so before you head off find some land and practice. Drive within your capabilities… if you were formally part of nitro circus then by all means fly round corners, jump over ramps, pull wheelies and ride with no hands. If you are not however maybe just air on the side of caution. We have had the best time in Vietnam and a lot of that has been down to the motorbike but we’ve also seen a few nasty injuries and accidents a lot of them were caused by people going too fast when they didn’t really know how to ride a bike or dare I even mention people who were drunk. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE its illegal in most countries for a reason and its really stupid. Sure, have a beer or two at the waterfall before you ride back to town but treat it like you would a car, if you’re struggling to walk, it’s never going to end well. (my -Paris- driving capabilities are that i can’t drive a motorbike i tried and failed therefore I don’t drive simple right!)
4. Download maps.me (or another offline map-app) – We did two days with a road map and then discovered this gem! My sense of direction is not the best and i’m pretty sure without maps.me, we’d still be in Vietnam!! The road maps are not very good out here and we scoured for the best we could get and half the roads were missing to the extent where we were constantly ending up in peoples gardens. maps.me works offline and has a lot of tourist attractions and hostels pinpointed on it so it really is a helpful app! Not to say that we haven’t been lost or taken down a dirt road since we had the app but that is part of the adventure. At least when you do bottle it, you can re-trace your route to find somewhere to stay.
5. Take your time! – One of the best things for us about Vietnam was the view, I know I sound like my nan. But seriously if you’ve never been you won’t understand just how beautiful it really is. The dramatic difference in landscapes between the different provinces is stunning and something you really have to experience. So take your time that was the one thing we had plenty of don’t rush! If you have limited time concentrate on doing a little bit and don’t try to cram everything in! We were pretty lucky that in the four months we were there we got to see a lot of it! But we by all means didn’t see everything and thats something we have to look forward to in the future because we’re 100% sure of one thing and thats coming back. If you’re in a rush, take a little more care in planning a route on decent roads so that you can barrel along but otherwise go for it and explore.
6. Look where you’re going!!!! – Like most of this advice this should go without saying it really is not rocket science but you’d be surprised. The road surface can change about 30 times on a 1km stretch from mud, to gravel, to grass, to pot holes, from narrow to wide. Thus making it important to look so you don’t come a cropper to a massive pot hole (some of them are about half a foot deep). theres also a lot of hazards on the roads in Vietnam. Look out for these trust me you do not want to run into a water buffalo. I’ll list below and am welcome for suggestions of things i’ve missed off… *please not this list is not exclusive just contains some of the more common hazards you may face:
-Chickens with their chicks
-Children on bikes
-Children on bikes going the wrong way up the road
-Dogs and puppies (lots of puppies)
-Lizards and potentially snakes
-Cows on leads with babies and children
-Rope – there may be a buffalo on the other end
-Pop up Markets
– Crazy Locals
– Crazy Non-locals
Basically, take your time and keep you’re eyes peeled. The second you stop concentrating will be the very moment that the 8 year old loses control of her herd of cattle and that could be messy.
7. MAINTENANCE!!!! – Can save you a lot of breakdowns. Compared to some people we were a little lazy with this at times and hence broke down a lot more than some people we met. Brakes, chain and oil are the main ones every 200 – 350km and you should be good to go. Its not expensive so really there is no excuse. If you hear a rattle of something that doesn’t sound healthy, work out what it is and get it seen to, it’ll only get progressively worse.
8. PPE – Also known as Personal Protective Equipment – You’re an idiot if you don’t wear a helmet, although its tempting when none of the locals have one on and after all you’re only going up the road! But yeah just wear a helmet end of. Also, like cover up i’m guilty of being on the back with little on because its hot and i’m on holiday but if you do come off like that you’ll be left with some pretty nasty road rash. Full leathers are probably a little extreme but at the very least some jeans and shirt should help you getting seriously cut up if you do happen to come off.
9. Meet and quiz other riders – Loads of people head down the same routes on popular bike trips such as in Vietnam. If you bump into someone who has been the way you’re heading, quiz them on every aspect of the ride. It’s so easy to miss an amazing waterfall or a particular hostel which could potentially make your trip. Also, there’s a couple of hot-spots for police who can make an easy buck from issuing fines to travellers. Sometimes this is unavoidable and then you just have to wing it but it’s always good to know what to expect. As a general rule when it comes to police, if you cant confuse them with masses of paperwork and fake phone call’s to the embassy, offer a bribe that will keep them happy and not break your bank account. Just don’t call it a bribe, call it a fine which you want to pay directly to them.
Finally, return the favour, if you’ve just had an amazing ride for the day, tell people. You might not think it but you could prevent someone from having one of those nightmare days full of getting lost and ending up staying in a dump. Surely, that must do something for your Karma right?
10. HAVE FUN!!!!! – If you have half a good a time as we had it’ll have have been worth every penny so enjoy yourselves you only live once!! #YOLO
NOTE: When it comes time to sell, try not to take the piss. What we mean is, if you paid $300, don’t try too hard to sell it for $350. You will have had an amazing time with that bike, so let someone else feel just as good about it. At the end of the day, the bike will be going back to another traveller who will also be on a budget. We lost a bit of money on the bike but we know we would have spent more on public transport and not had half as much fun. Hopefully this will all be good karma and you can reach enlightenment like us twits!!!!
Any questions ore extra advice you feel you need! Please feel free to comment and we will do our best to help you have the trip of a life time!!!
*Please keep an eye out for the gopro edit of our trip to follow!!!