Vietnam is synonym for chaos, a good chaos. No matter where you are, something is always going on. The streets are busy, crowded and sometimes dirty. Cars, buses, trucks and scooters are everywhere, literally. Locals stop you in the street to offer you accommodation, transportation and, of course, drugs. Somehow, between all this madness, I found Vietnam a pretty amazing country to travel around.
One of my good friends from Colombia, called Jean Claude, came to visit me and we traveled around in a motorbike that we purchased in Hanoi. Do you want to learn how to ride a motorbike? Vietnam is the place. I strongly believe that anyone who can ride around Vietnam can drive anywhere in the world.
Not only is this country an adventurous destination, but its also a cheap one. I think that Vietnam has the best quality/price ratio in Southeast Asia. You can get really good accommodation, food, beer and clothing quality for very low prices.
Here is a small summary of our motorbike trip around Vietnam, including my daily budget, visas, prices and costs. Hope that you find it useful.
Most travelers start their journey in Hanoi (north to south) or in Ho Chi Minh City (south to north). I chose to start in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and ride towards the south.
Hanoi is a very busy city but at the same time cozy enough to make you want to stay more than expected. I stayed at the Old Quarter, where most backpackers stay too. The streets are busy all the time, specially during the evenings. You can find shops, restaurants and bars everywhere.
We bought our motorcycle in Hanoi and went riding around. It was a Honda Win 110cc with sufat engine which we named The Nave. Motorcycle prices go from USD 150-350 depending on the type of motorbike that you chose.
If you are spending a while in Vietnam, buy the motorbike. You can easily sell it either in Hanoi or in Ho Chi Mihn City. Join groups like “Vietnam Backpackers” in Facebook or vietnam.craigslist.org to buy and sell the bike from/to other backpackers. Download Maps.Me App for off-line maps of Vietnam and use them while riding.
Our first stop was at BaVi National Park. The entrance fee was VND 23.000 and made a nice day trip full of amazing landscapes.
I stayed at a shared dorm in Green Street Hotel located at the Old Quarter. The room had AC and shared toilets. Breakfast was included. This place is well located and offers good rates.
After Ba Vi we headed north towards Sapa stopping in a town called Mai Chau before getting there. This was just a mandatory stopped because it was too late to get to Sapa that day. Nonetheless, we shared a private room at Ngoh Bach Hotel which was very comfortable, with AC, TV and bathroom. There is not much to see or do in the town but the surroundings are beautiful. There are many rice fields worth visiting.
We got to Sapa during the afternoon and found a cheap private (but in great conditions) room in Stunning View Hotel. The location is good and the staff was very friendly.
Sapa is located north in Vietnam and the weather can be “chilly” during the evenings so be prepared to bring some layers. The town is beautiful and cozy and surrounded by rice fields everywhere. You can organize treks around Sapa with different operators in town.
Halong Bay (Cat Ba Island)
Probably one of the most beautiful places to visit in Vietnam. Halong Bay is conformed by big groups of limestone that make surreal landscapes. It is worth visiting.
We rode from Hanoi to Halong City and spent one evening there on a cheap hotel. Halong City looks like a new Miami. Its full of big chain hotels in front of the ocean. I believe its not worth staying here long, which is why I recommend taking the ferry the next day towards Cat Ba Island.
We paid in total for the ferry with the motorbike VND 80.000. Once we got to Cat Ba we felt that we were in paradise. This island is beautiful. It worth exploring the beaches and mountains. The vibe of Cat Ba is amazing. Everyone is more relaxed and friendly. There are many places where you can hang out with other travelers, or just by yourself. We had a great time in here.
We stayed at Cat Ba Hostel in a private room with AC and TV. The hostel is in good conditions, well located and very cheap. The staff is friendly and are willing to explain what is around the island.
Hue (the Imperial City)
Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty. This town hosts the Imperial City which used to be the place where the emperor would live. The architecture and design is impressive, its worth visiting whilst you are in Hue.
Besides the Imperial City, we also visited the Thien Mu Pagoda. This temple is located in front of the Perfume River which is why is nice to visit and later enjoy the calmness of the area.
There is also a very nice beach located 15 minutes by motorbike outside Hue. It is called Thuan Ah Beach and its definitely worth visiting while you are in here.
If you are into the night life, party at Brown Eyes Bar its “open until the last one passes out.” Its not true, Jean Claude and I stayed many days until the end and they kicked us afterwards. Nonetheless, its worth partying here. Really good staff.
We shared a double room at the Why Not Hotel, that included a free beer every night and discount on some restaurants around. The rooms are spacious, include AC, WiFi, have a private toilet and shower and TV. I recommend staying here.
After Hue came one of the prettiest and “coziest” towns: Hoi An. This is a great place to walk around, specially through the streets of the old town. The architecture has a colonial style and its very beautiful.
If you need to get a ‘tailor made’ dress, this can be your place in Vietnam. There are plenty of shops around the town that offer good prices for good quality clothing.
The river view is very peaceful and worth spending some time here. There is a Japanese bridge called Chua Cau that is worth visiting. This bridge connects the Japanese and the Chinese neighborhoods in Hoi An.
If you are into the night life, party at Tiger Tiger Bar (or the one next to it too) and after 12am go to Why Not Bar til late. The party here is good.
We shared a room at Hoa My Hotel. The room was comfortable and spacious and the price was very good.
After Hoi An, we rode towards Nha Trang. This is a beach city that has more Russians than Vietnamese people. The beach is nice but very crowded. Nonetheless, if you look around, you can find quiet spots. Its nice to stop there for a day but not much more.
Ho Chi Minh City
The Nave was perfect all the time until the chain broke on the last 80 kms getting to Ho Chi Minh City. Gladly, there was a mechanic shop 20 meters away from the place where the incident took place.
When we got to Ho Chi Minh City, we sold the motorbike and decided to explore this busy city. I was not a big fan of Ho Chi Minh to be honest. I feel that the vibe was not as good and people were not as friendly compared to the other cities.
Nonetheless, I recommend visiting Ho Chi Minh for the War Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels to learn about the War in Vietnam.
I stayed at Sunny Saigon but I would only suggest private rooms since the dorms are a bit uncomfortable (book online, its cheaper). You can listen to what the person inside the toilet is doing and beds are noisy. Breakfast is good though.
Daily Budget: Around USD 15 per day for accommodation, food and transportation (gas of motorbike in this case). Vietnam is a country that can be pretty cheap, so cheap that it can become expensive if you don’t take care of your budget. Remember that every cent adds up.
Visa: Some nationalities can get visas on arrival or a free 15 day stay. However, if that’s not your case, you will have to apply for the visa before getting there (either electronically or through an embassy). I applied for it in Beijing and, even though it was an easy process, I had to wait three extra days there because you can only collect the passport between Monday-Thursday when applying for the 30-day tourist visa in Beijing. It was USD75 for a single entry one month visa.
You can also apply online on the following link:
I hope that this information was useful. Let me know if you have any comments or questions!