Learning to ride a motorbike is one of the best travel skills I’ve gained since moving to Vietnam. Nothing compares to the freedom of being able to scoot around without relying on public transport. As well as allowing me to explore Saigon with a depth I hadn’t realised I was missing, it’s enabled me to explore destinations across Vietnam and Asia without tours. This guide is here to help you learn how to ride a motorbike in Vietnam.
To be fully transparent, learning to ride a motorbike in Vietnam was a scary prospect for me. It took 6 months of living in Saigon before I attempted it. Heck, it was weeks before I was even felt confident getting on the back of a motorbike taxi. Yet through these 4 simple steps, I learned to ride a motorbike in Vietnam and built up the confidence to go on a solo road trip across Vietnam.
1️⃣ Master being a pedestrian
Kinda logical right? If you can’t cross the road, you definitely shouldn’t be driving on it. Vietnam is a nation of unruly motorbikes which makes learning how to cross the road safely an essential first step. If you’re still struggling with the basics, this guide will keep you right.
2️⃣ Take motorbike taxis
Time to get on the back of a motorbike and in the thick of it. Being on a passenger help to familiarise yourself with road hazards and how the traffic flows in Vietnam. Motorbike taxis are called “xe ôm” and while you can sometimes see old-school xe ôm drivers lounging at junctions, I’ve always opted to use ride-hailing apps. As a foreigner, it’s easier to communicate through the apps and better for personal safety.
Three big companies are providing this service (similar to Uber or Lyft):
The apps all work similarly, providing a set fare based on pick-up and drop-off destinations. As with Uber, the apps share the drivers’ details with you, including contact details and license plates to ensure you get on the correct bike. Grab is a great choice for non-Vietnamese speakers as there is an English version of the app and there is language translation incorporated into its messaging service to enable you to communicate easier with drivers.
3️⃣ Rent a motorbike and learn to ride it
Now you are familiar with how the traffic flows and spotting hazards, you are ready to learn how to ride a motorbike for yourself. I recommend not rushing to get on a motorbike until you feel confident you can join the traffic.
To start, you will need to get your hands on a motorbike. If possible, it’s best for a friend to take you to a quiet street to practice on their motorbike before renting your own. If this isn’t possible then you can have a rental bike delivered to your accommodation. If you live in a busy area that is not safe for you to practice around, see if the rental agent will deliver the bike to a quieter area where you can practice and get comfortable before driving it home.
Where to rent a motorbike in Saigon
I recommend starting by renting an automatic motorbike. You can find lots of local motorbike rental agents and even find motorbike rentals through expat Facebook pages. Here are some reputable and highly used companies you can arrange a long-term motorbike rental from in Saigon:
Learn how to operate a motorbike
Honestly, this is what I was most worried about when my rental bike arrived for the first time. Most automatic motorbikes operate the same way, but whoever you rent from should show you how to operate the bike, access the gas tank etc.
• Put the key in the ignition and turn it.
• To start the engine you will need to hold the breaks, push the “start button” (it’ll be on the right-hand side) and gently rev the right handle.
• Let your feet hover above the ground as you accelerate slowly until you are confident with your balance.
Personal motorbike lessons in Saigon
Still not convinced you can learn to drive a motorbike by yourself? DC Motorbikes have a sister company, called Ride With Me Saigon, which provides 1-on-1 motorbike lessons in Saigon that might help you to gain confidence and offer full support.
4️⃣ Practice with a passenger on the back
Finally, you will want to master balancing with a passenger on the back of your motorbike. It takes some practice to adjust to the extra weight, and you’ll also have to figure out how much more acceleration and breaking you’ll need with the additional weight. Try balancing with someone a similar size, before driving with someone bigger than you.
Learning to ride a motorbike in Vietnam is daunting at the outset. Working slowly through these steps will help you get onto the Vietnamese roads with confidence. If you’re feeling ready, check out my complete guide to motorbiking in Vietnam for tips and routes for planning an epic Vietnamese motorbike trip.