Renting a motorbike in Vietnam is almost too easy, but is it dangerous? In a word, yes. We hate to rain on your parade, but Vietnam’s roads claim an average of one life every hour. If you’re thinking of renting a motorbike here, you really need to be aware of the risks involved.
There’s no doubt that a bike is the easiest way to get around here, and that Vietnam is an even more stunning country when witnessed from the back of a motorbike. It’s also incredibly cheap, with rentals going for as little as 5 USD a day, while very few rental agents demand that you own a Vietnamese driving licence. These bikes are often low in quality though, and the rental agent will usually take no responsibility for it once you’re on it.
Still thinking about it? In that case - here are a number of things you really must understand if you rent a motorbike in Vietnam:
• Your life is NOT in your hands
You can drive as carefully as you like. You might even be an experienced rider in your own country, but the roads of Vietnam can be chaos. We’ve seen far too many accidents in our time, and here’s something that chills us: The injured or killed rider is often not at fault. In many cases, a rogue car, truck or bike has done the damage. This writer still bears the scars from the time another rider careered into the side of him at a traffic light. It takes years of local experience to gain the foresight to avoid a lot of accidents, but even then it might not be quite enough.
• Beware of cars and trucks
This ties in with the above point, but it’ll do no harm to remind ourselves again. Mass car-driving is a relatively new phenomenon in Vietnam, that’s why you rarely see old cars on the roads here. Add on to this that the licensing process leaves a lot to be desired, while a lot of drivers haven’t even passed their test! While you’re in less danger from out of control cars in the inner city (although that’s not always the case), on the open road they are a hazard to you.
Truck drivers are an even bigger danger. The life of a Vietnamese trucker is a tough one, working long hours for bad pay -- They often have to work shifts of 24 hours and longer just to make ends meet. It’s been reported that due to these demands, they often take narcotics to keep them going through their grizzly work shifts. Throw in millions of motorcyclists, a great deal of impatience, and fast moving traffic - it’s an accident waiting to happen. If a truck hits you while you’re on a bike... well, if you come away seriously injured, you can consider yourself lucky.
• Insurance issues
If you don’t have a license to ride a motorbike in Vietnam, it stands to reason that there’s a fair chance your health or travel insurance won’t cover the cost of your treatment when an accident occurs, or the cost of repatriation should the worst happen. Be sure to check, in full, the details of your cover if you’re insisting on renting a bike. Vietnam has got some good hospitals, but they come at a high price. We’ve seen far too many unsuccessful Go Fund Me campaigns for life saving treatments that travelers couldn't afford.
• Licence crackdown
Vietnamese traffic police are beginning to crack down on foreign riders, since so few carry a license. Before taking to the roads, make sure that you have an international driving permit. In the past, traffic police were happy to take a small bribe to let you go, but the times are changing. You might lose the bike, or you might have to pay hundreds of dollars just to get it back.
What’s the alternative?
So much of Vietnam is better seen from a bike than a bus, but just because you shouldn’t ride one yourself doesn’t mean you have to avoid them altogether.
• Book a responsible motorbike tour
There are lots of reputable tour companies who are happy to take you almost anywhere on a big, reliable motorbike with an equally reliable, experienced rider and tour guide. This way you don’t have to worry about breakdowns, accidents, or even navigation.
• In the city? Use a ride-hailing App
Uber came and went in 2017 and 2018, but in its place are ride hailing apps like Grab and GoViet, where for a fixed price, car and bike drivers will take you where you want to go at little cost.