I’m sitting here, comfy and dry with a beer in my hand. It’s the perfect end to a long day of epic motorcycling through the central highlands of Vietnam. My hostel for the night is a little stone building tucked away on a quiet side street of Da Lat, Vietnam…well away from the main thoroughfare that hosts all of the large resort hotels and party hostels.
My new French friends, Korantin and Romain, are sitting outside, slowly working their way through a pack of Marlboro Lights, trying to recover from the enormous family-style dinner we just ate. The biggest decision left for the day is which bar to hit first.
It’s a Monday, but everyone here is on some sort of motorcycle voyage through Vietnam. Nobody has work in the morning.
On riding days, we wake up when the sun rises and ride until the rain starts. Then we get a hotel room, a hot shower, some noodle soup, and a beer.
As a female of traveling alone in SE Asia, I was initially pretty worried about safety…I carried pepper spray around wherever I went. But as I wound my way down Highway 1 from Hanoi towards Ho Chi Minh City, I quickly realized that the people in Vietnam are among the kindest and most generous I’ve ever met.
The other travelers I’ve met on the incredible ride through lush forests, treacherous-but-beautiful mountains, and impossibly pristine coastline all share similar stories of how folks here spring into action to help with bike breakdowns, flat tires, and leaky gas tanks and expect nothing but a smile and a handshake in return.
In the last few weeks, I rode my unbelievably unreliable 100cc Honda Win from the North of Vietnam down to Nha Trang, a beach hub for Russian tourists in the South. As lovely as my beautiful red bike (I called her Red Betty) was, she couldn’t manage to keep a chain on her gear so I traded her in for a smooth-riding 110cc Black Honda Win that purrs like a cat every time I accelerate.
When I showed up in Hanoi, I was ready to dominate all other bikes on the road. I had no idea how to use a manual motorcycle but for some reason, I was fully confident that I’d be able to figure it out in the middle of one of the busiest rush hours in the world and be totally fine.
Within minutes of leaving the practice space, I lost the three charming British boys I found to ride with. I pulled over to the side of the road to reevaluate my decision-making and maybe find some WiFi to book a flight home.
I’m alive to tell the tale, but ladies, don’t be stupid. If you don’t know how to ride a motorcycle and you’re thinking of getting into it, teach yourself the basics. Watch a YouTube tutorial. Use your common sense…and share some with me if you have any to spare!
To be fair, the views along AH1 in this country are totally worth the effort.
But BE SAFE! Don’t do what I did. Get yourself fully kitted out in whatever city you chose to start in. Motorcycle safety gear should be a huge priority for you, as well as some solid adventurer’s travel insurance.
I spent the first two days riding in black flip-flops…don’t do that.
The best motorcycle boots you can find will be in shops around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Usually the specs on the helmets, jackets, and padding in these places are closer to US and EU standards than the marketplaces and auto repair shops along the way.
While I still feel like I’m cheating on Red Betty, my new bike has gotten me through two days of some crazy mountain driving in the pouring rain with zero problems save for a slight brush-past with a pair of drunk Vietnamese construction workers.
So here I am, a city girl from the States, tearing up some asphalt (well…as much as you can on a tiny motorcycle) down the eastern coast of Vietnam.
Now, for those of you who plan on venturing over to Vietnam and buying a used motorbike here, let me give you some free advice:
1. Don’t wear cute clothes or get a manicure. The constant whipping of the wind, rain, and pollution from passing trucks will ruin anything ladylike about your appearance.
2. Try to bring a helmet from wherever you call home. Finding helmets here is pretty much a shot in the dark in terms of quality.
3. Get massages everywhere. They’re cheap and make riding even more worth it.
4. Keep your eyes on the road. The views here are to die for…please don’t actually die for them.
Riding here is pretty straightforward – there’s just one main highway that hugs the coastline from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh. The streets are well paved, well traveled, and there’s always an auto repair shop or a knowledgeable Vietnamese friend nearby to help with problems.
You will have breakdowns (lots of them)…but they’ll be in some of the most scenic places in the world. Take a look and happy riding!
About the Author
Over the past 10 years, Laura Knight has been a motorcycle rider. She has built up an incredible passion for travelling by motorbike and always wishes to contribute to motorcyclist and traveler communities. This is the reason why she created MotorManner.com where her passion is turned into useful and interesting information to the motorcyclists and travel lovers.