So you think you’d like to motorbike Vietnam? Well, you’ve come to the right place. As in: I TOTALLY recommend it.
First off, if you’re not an expert, or if you haven’t navigated asian traffic before (think: Bangkok, New Delhi or Hanoi) you might want to hire a guide for your first time out on a bike.
It makes things easier, the guides show you their way of driving, you can stick close in sticky situations (of which there will be many). They also know tons of places to stop for tea and a bit of a stretch during your journey when you think your nerves are shot. But believe me, its all worth it when you get to the beautiful sunrise over the mountains like the photo below.
We took Frontier V.M.T, who were awesome guides. Definitely recommend them for the shorter 2 day Hanoi>Pu Luong journey, and I expect the longer ones would be great with them, too. They put together a custom ride for us, which is something you could request if they don’t offer what you think you’d like. Otherwise, you can peruse TripAdvisor for other journeys that you might want to take. You get to see gorgeous mountains, incredible small villages, and rice paddies galore, not to mention feel like a total badass pretty much every day all day for ever after.
Northern Vietnam in November is a bit of a crapshoot for weather, but even with the rain we got on our first day, we loved it. The weather was between 86 and 60 (Fahrenheit), so I suggest bringing a range of stuff, so layers are key. But, you’ll be on a bike on highways and can get upto 60 kph, so bring a windbreaker (or a rain jacket that does both).
For a quick overnight, I brought the following:
Day 1: Driving (to Pu Luong from Hanoi was about 8-10 hours on a bike, so wear comfy but protective gear!)
1x pair black jeans (**If you wear all black you look like a badass, in my opinion)
1x zip fleece/performance hoodie, midweight
1x nanopuff Northface zip jacket
1x quick-dry undies
1x sports bra* (for the ladies)
1x pair socks
1x pair rigid sneakers or hiking boots–> Bring something you can get muddy. Depending on the weather and your itinerary, you’ll probably need it. Also, I brought my Nike trainers but I would suggest something without a flexible sole – flex soles tire out your feet, since you’ll be changing gears and breaking with them pretty much constantly. Don’t be like me. Be better.
A snuggly long sleeve shirt
A pair of thick, clean socks
1x pair leggings
The temps overnight can get down pretty cold. Depending on the accomodations at your homestay, you may get a nice large thick blanket, or you might just get whatever the family has on hand, which is where the scarf comes in handy. Re-use your fleece or nanopuff if it gets too chilly, and the hat and thick socks make you super comfortable. Put on a beanie if your feet get cold (its a thing, look it up!)
chapstick (windburn hurts, yo!)
first aid kit with iodine, gauze, tape
and an external battery charger since your phone will be dead from all the gorgeous photography and video you’ll be taking.
Feel free to bring a real camera too, and a water bottle (its probably a safe idea to bring one with a filter, unless you buy water along the way). Stick it all in a dry bag or a backpack. Dry bags can be bungeed onto your moto, backpacks should too, because it hurts your shoulders to drive with a backpack all day.
If you don’t have padding, and you’re not an experienced driver, ask your guide for armor. We had knee pads, elbow pads and wrist pads. While we didn’t all need them, those of us who did really benefitted from having them.
1x Birkenstocks or slip on/off shoes to wear around the homestay — This is great for middle of the night bathroom runs where you don’t want to lace up your boots or sneakers
1x Tank top for warmer days/if you stop to hike like we did
Day 2: More driving
Same outfit as before, if you don’t mind not having clean clothes. Otherwise bring an extra pair of quick dry underwear, new bra (for the ladies) a new pair of socks and a new t-shirt – believe me, you’ll love getting into fresh clothes the next morning, but its easy enough to re-wear your likely muddy pants and shoes from the day before.
Also, while the guides stop a lot for photo ops, bring a few easy to access snacks: I brought a bottle of water, cashews, brownies and an apple and kept us all moderately full whenever we had a stopping point in between stopping for egg and noodle soup for breakfast, fried noodle for lunch and rice and veggies for dinner.
Also bring SMALL amounts of cash: 10,000 + 20,000 dong notes are key here for roadside tea, coffee, and the beer at the homestay.
Otherwise, its easy enough to focus on the road and traffic, and forget look up.
So, stop for photos, meet locals, wave a lot, ogle the water buffalo, honk at the puppies and children and old ladies biking in front of you (its a safety thing, more honking = they realize you’re behind them) and have fun!