Cruising down the roads on a motorbike and taking in Vietnam’s rich culture along the way is truly an unforgettable experience. However, obtaining a bike requires you to either rent or buy, and coming to a decision on your own can be a daunting task.
To make planning your motorbike trip a little easier, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about renting or buying a motorbike into this convenient guide. From what to bring to which bike to choose, we will aid you in making a confident choice for your Vietnamese adventure.
We will cover:
- Renting vs. Buying
- The pros and cons of both
- Choosing the right bike
Renting vs. Buying
If your trip is less than one month, it’s probably better to rent a bike. You can get a well-maintained, modern machine for as little as $250/month. It’ll almost certainly be in better condition than anything you could buy for the same price, and you won’t have to worry about selling it at the other end.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to ride on the Hai Van Pass, Ma Pi Leng Pass, Ha Giang Loop, or try the incredible HCMC to Hanoi route, purchasing is a better bet as it allows you to spend more time exploring the area. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for travelers to sell their bikes for 70 – 80% of their original cost, while some even turn a profit!
It should be mentioned, though, that some people run out of time and end up giving their bike away for next to nothing or, due to poor reliability, have cost them a fortune in maintenance along the way.
A rule of thumb is, if you buy a cheap bike, expect depreciation and maintenance to cost you half of the bike’s value. For example, if you buy a decent Honda Win for $300, and spend a further $50 on maintenance in one month, you could hope to sell it for around $200. Renting the same bike for a month would cost about $250.
Renting a Motorbike
The key is to rent from a reputable vendor! Many businesses that run their bike rentals as a side-hustle don’t have a reputation to protect, so maintenance standards can be hit and miss. A cheap, poorly maintained bike can quickly ruin a holiday.
If you’re planning a one-way trip, some companies allow you to drop your bike off in a different city or send it back to them on the train. If there’s a particular destination where you would like to finish your journey, speak to different companies to see what they can offer.
Pros of Renting:
- Renting a bike is almost always easier than buying one and there’s no need to find a buyer.
- Rentals are typically negotiable, and in some cases, month-long leases can earn discounts.
- Rental bikes from reputable companies are typically used but well-maintained.
- Rental companies can give you all the latest advice about the situation on the roads. Landslides washed a road away? Police staking out a specific highway? The company should be able to help.
- In the event of an accident with another motorist, the rental company can negotiate with the other party on your behalf.
Cons of Renting:
- If you are not on a fixed schedule, a rental bike might tie you down. Even if the company is willing to extend your lease, each additional day will add to your overall bill.
- Damage costs can add up fast, so check your rental contract. Any damage could add a hefty premium to your bill.
Where to Rent?
Instead of starting your rental search alone, we have compiled a list of a few shops to check out while you figure out which bike is the best fit for your adventure. While there are plenty of shops in multiple cities, it’s very easy to rent a motorbike in HCMC and Hanoi.
- Phung Motorbike: Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, they have a massive selection of Honda Wins, dirt bikes, scooters, and semi-automatics.
- Tigit Motorbikes: One of the most well-respected names in the game. Tigit has bikes for every experience level and budget. They have offices in HCMC, Hanoi, Da Nang, and Da Lat.
- Off-Road Vietnam: Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Off-Road Vietnam has a good inventory, including the unusual retro-styled Honda CGL125.
- RentABikeVN: RentABikeVN has offices in Hanoi, Da Nang, and Saigon. They also stock one of the coolest bikes in the country, the Honda FTR230 scrambler!
Buying a Motorbike
At any given time, there are dozens of travelers trying to sell and buy bikes in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Ho Chi Minh’s District 1. Unfortunately, the vast majority of bikes that change hands in the traveler districts have been crashed at some point, or, at a minimum, led a hard life.
These bikes trek up and down the country month after month, year after year, and often in the hands of inexperienced riders. When maintenance has been done, it’s typically quick and cheap. Bent frames, knackered engines, and all sorts of slapdash roadside repair jobs are totally standard.
The typical approach to finding a good bike is to ask around in bars and guesthouses or look for bike advertisements on pinboards (there are many). However, it makes more sense to visit a reputable shop that understands what they are selling and has done some essential maintenance on the bike.
Pros of Buying:
- You can go anywhere, anytime, for however long you want. Heard about an unmissable side trip? Or a fascinating local festival? You can take all the time in the world to enjoy it.
- Maybe I’m a bit sentimental, but there’s something special about having a steed to call your own. It becomes a true travel partner!
- Minor damage will only have a small (if any) effect on resale value.
Cons of Renting:
- Buy a second-hand bike, and the fact is, it will break down. The only question is, how often? Choose a good bike, and you’ll probably get away with minor repairs. Choose a bad one, and it can cost you a small fortune to fix and blow your travel schedule into next week.
- Buying and selling a bike takes time, research, and negotiation. Factor in at least a couple of days at each end of the trip.
- If the bike’s documents aren’t in order, it’s your problem to deal with!
Where to Purchase?
With dozens of shops selling bikes, picking the right one can be a difficult choice, so here are 3 reputable selections for you to check out while you decide which motorcycle is the best fit for you.
- Stevie’s Garage: A little out of the way, about 6 km from Ho Chi Minh’s District 1, Stevie’s Garage is a large second-hand motorbike dealer. Make sure you make an appointment first!
- Phung Motorbike: Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, they don’t just do rentals and most of their fleet consists of Honda Wins, dirt bikes, scooters, and semi-automatics are also up for sale.
- Happy Zip Motorbikes: Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, they have a large selection of the most popular traveler bikes.
If you want to cast your net a little wider, try Craigslist Vietnam or join a Facebook group. Of course, these are home to private sellers, but it’s helpful to get an idea of the market outside of the backpacker bars. Expats also advertise their bikes here, so you might be able to pick up something that has received a little more care and attention.
Finally, there are the backpacker areas, in particular, Pham Ngu Lao Street in Ho Chi Minh, and Ngo Huyen Street in Hanoi, where you can ask around and look for advertisements. Whichever way you slice it, no second-hand bike is going to be perfect, but owning your own bike and riding it across Vietnam is more about the adventure than anything.
As long as you know what you’re looking for and have time to make a good choice, you’ll have a blast!
Selling your Bike
In essence, just reverse every step listed above. Shops that sell bikes also need fresh inventory as new travelers are looking for their own motorbike to start their next adventure. The best thing to do is to start advertising about a week before you arrive at your destination.
I once managed to sell a bike within five hours of arriving in Hanoi just by having buyers from Craigslist lined up in advance. The more time on your side, the better your chances of getting a good price.
Before handing over any money, it is important you, or a professional, inspect your vehicle. Taking the motorbike out for a test drive, making sure everything from the brakes to the horn is effective, and having a mechanic look it over will ensure your trip goes smoothly.
To make your life a bit easier, we have created an Essential Vietnam Motorbike Trip Packing List to prepare for your journey!
Choosing a Bike
Just like a car, motorbikes give you the option of how much control you have over shifting the gears.
There are three types of transmission: automatic, semi-automatic, and manual. Automatics will do all the work for you. They decide when to shift and there’s no clutch, you just have to twist the throttle and go. Manuals are the opposite. You have to operate a clutch, balance the throttle, and select the gears yourself.
Semi-automatics are a halfway house. You’re in complete control of selecting when to change gear, but the clutch is automatic, so you just hit the gear lever to shift, and then the bike will do the rest.
There are hundreds of different bikes on the roads here, but certain models have been popular among travelers for years. Cheap copies of well-known bikes are everywhere in Vietnam, with the most common being fake Hondas. They look very similar and may even have phony branding stickers on them, but they are as close to the real deal as the Rolexes you find for $20 on the markets.
Looking for a genuine bike may prevent you from ending up with a lemon, but it all depends on your budget and your itinerary.
Note: Rentals listed below are per day. G = Genuine | CC = Chinese Copy | VC = Vietnamese Copy
An automatic motorbike is the easiest way to get on the roads as long as you’re not planning to ride in the mountains or on rugged terrain. They are simple, impossible to stall, and will let you focus on the ride. The downside is sluggish performance in the hills and a limited load-carrying capacity.
- (G) Suzuki Hayate 125cc | Rental: $10 | Buy: $350-$500
One of the best automatic options and probably the best value. Solid Suzuki reliability, fun handling, and good build quality make this a great automatic choice.
- (G) Yamaha Nouvo 115cc | Rental: $6 | Buy: $150-$450
Despite being a genuine Yamaha, the Nouvo has a reputation for poor quality. Mainly due to the Yamaha name, they’re still popular with backpackers, but the reality doesn’t match the image. The older models, in particular, are likely to chew through spare parts and fuel.
- (G) Honda Airblade 110cc | Rental: $10 | Buy: $1000+
Realistically, no one is going to buy a $1000+ scooter for their trip to Vietnam, but for just $10 per day for rental, you’ll get some of the best wheels on the market.
If you’re heading into the hills, or you enjoy being more engaged with the bike, check out a semi-automatic. Changing your own gears may be extra work, but this additional interaction will make for a more rewarding and enjoyable ride. The downside is that many semi-automatics still have limited power in the hills.
Riding solo isn’t a problem, but if you’re carrying a passenger, you’ll be in for a very slow journey. And, without a clutch, any rough terrain will be challenging or even impossible.
- (CC) Honda Blade/Wave/Future 110cc-125cc | Rental: $6+ | Buy: $150-$250
All three models are similar enough to be considered one product, with the only real difference being the bodywork. Cheap to buy and cheap to repair, these bikes have transported thousands of travelers across Vietnam. They do a decent job, but you’re not going to be getting much riding pleasure out of them as you wobble, shake and rattle your way down the road!
Unfortunately, their gutless engines can’t cope with carrying a passenger up any hills.
- (G) Honda Blade/Wave/Future 110cc-125cc | Rental: $10+ | Buy: $380-$600
These bikes are famously well-made and produce a surprising amount of power from their small engines. Well worth the extra money over the fakes, make sure to watch out for old, worn out, or cheaply-maintained examples. Even Hondas will suffer if neglected!
For complete control over the bike and maximum riding involvement, select a manual motorbike. Furthermore, choosing a manual gives you the option to choose larger engine sizes and off-road style machines. The downside is that they take longer to learn how to ride and require more concentration to operate in traffic.
- (G) Honda XR 150cc | Rent: $20 | Buy: $1700
Possibly the perfect bike for Vietnam, this light but roomy dual-sport design can handle highways, rough terrain, mud, and virtually anything else you might want to throw at it. Replacement parts are hard to find, but if it’s well-maintained, you shouldn’t ever need them.
- (CC) Honda Win 100-125cc. Rental: $9 | Buy: $100-$350
The quintessential traveler bike, the Honda Win has become a legend in the Vietnam backpacker community, despite the fact they are terrible bikes! Dangerously shoddy build quality, infinite maintenance issues, and low power for the engine size do not make up for the funky looks and legendary status.
The genuine Honda Wins were originally sold for around $2000 and have now become collectors’ items, meanwhile, a brand-new Chinese copy can be bought today for $550.
- (VC) Honda Win [Detech Espero Win] 100-140cc | Rental: $10 | Buy: $200-$400
Slightly better quality than the Chinese Wins, these Vietnamese copies are sold new for $620-$700.
- (G) Minsk 125cc | Rental: Unavailable | Buy: $300-$400
Aboard this Soviet beast, you will, without a doubt, be the coolest looking traveler in town. And in that town you shall stay, repairing your hip steed while everyone else rides off into the sunset. The Minsk is notoriously unreliable, and replacement parts are a nightmare to find.
Rent or Purchase with Confidence
At first, getting a bike in Vietnam can seem like a minefield, particularly if you’re on a budget. But, with a bit of legwork and the right information, it’s absolutely possible to get yourself a bike that will open the doors to the whole country. It’s time to plan the next trip and get on the road!
If you’ve never ridden a motorbike in another country, be sure to check out our guide on How to Drive Safely in Vietnam.