Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam
Motorbikes are as synonymous to Vietnam life as pho is to Vietnamese cuisine and every traveler knows it. A motorbike trip, usually from Ho Chi Minh City in the south to Hanoi in the north, or vice versa, has pretty much become a right of passage for Vietnam backpackers. A quick glance at the country’s map will tell you why: it is very long and narrow, with intriguing and interesting towns and landmarks the whole way up. You cannot possibly see them all while exploring the country on a bus. Not to mention that, on a bus, you only stop when the bus driver decides to stop, meaning that countless view worthy sites will simply fly by you as you gaze out the window… if you’re fortunate enough to get a window seat.
In a country like Vietnam, you need the flexibility of going in any direction you want, whenever you want, without having to buy a new ticket every day. If I stumble upon something I’m really enjoying, I don’t want to have to leave just because I had bought a bus ticket that’s ushering me out the next morning.
After dabbling with scooters in Thailand and quickly getting comfortable, I decided that I was ready to step my game up to a country wide adventure. Not to mention that, when you factor in the bus tickets, the motorbikes I’d be renting for day trips to explore my new area, and the fact that I’ll be reselling the bike at the end, I’m expecting to come out even, if not on top. If it sounds like I’m trying to justify this trip, it’s because I know my parents will be reading this and freaking out a little… I promise I always wore a helmet.
After a little bit of research it was clear that a Honda Win was the way to go. It is fully manual, which I haven’t done on a bike before, but it gives you the power, control and versatility to handle all the terrain that you’re bound to encounter. It’s also one of the most common bikes on these roads, which means that when it has issues, and they all will, it’s the easiest to get parts for and the one that mechanics are most familiar with. There’s a lot of blogs that will help you understand what to look for when buying one so I’m not going to rewrite the bible but here is a good example.
The one decision I still had to make was whether to purchase off of a backpacker or a dealer, and had heard supporting statements for both. A motorbike from a backpacker is tried and tested. It already made the trek once, which is a testimonial that it can likely do it again. You’ll get a good sense of how well it was taken care of by its owner while hearing about its history such as what they went through, how frequently the oil was changed, and especially by how attached they seem to be to it. Dealers, on the other hand, will likely give it a good check up, but I did test drive some shoddy bikes from them. It’s a business and they need to sell everything so don’t assume you’re getting a mint piece.
I decided that the personal experience of buying from another backpacker and the proven track record of a voyage similar to mine was the way to go. I found some sellers on craigslist but at the time I still had some time to go before I hit the road so I decided to hold off on buying. When I was ready to go, I wasn’t getting any more responses so, after a few more fruitless attempts, I did check out some dealers. Their bikes were no better than what I had originally test driven from backpackers, some were worst. Their decent ones were going for $300, which is the upper limit of what you should ever pay for a Win. I decided to keep that as a last resort.
A few days later, I stumbled upon a couple selling one of the best looking Wins I had seen so far for only $220. Helmet, luggage straps, lock and luggage rack all included! Looks ain’t everything though, so I took her out for a spin around the streets, and she handled very nicely! He told me he never went more than 400km without an oil change, that he recently replaced the front wheel and that, as far as he knows, nothing else needs changing. I still had a few days to go until Arjun, my buddy that I was going to drive north to Hanoi with, was due to arrive, which meant I’d have to take care of parking it safely in the city, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. She was mine!
A few days later, Arjun messaged me, telling me that he had to delay his trip for 5 days. At that point I had already been in Ho Chi Minh City for over two weeks, and I was itching to hit the road. The thought of staying there for 5 more days was not appealing, especially since Deepak and Katie, the two friends that were there with me at the time, were leaving the next day for Can Tho, in the Mekong Delta. Then it occurred to me: Deepak and Katie had their bus tickets, but I had a bike! I could go anywhere. I decided to trek down with them and explore the Mekong Delta once more but this time, on my own, without the constraints of a tour!