Learning to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam
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):
• Grab (the oldest and most established across the country)
• GoViet (launched in Saigon in 2018)
• Be (newest kid on the block launched in 2019)
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:
• DC Motorbikes
• Tigit Motorbikes (Saigon, Hanoi and Da Nang rentals)
• Saigon Motorcycles
• Phu Scooter
• Rentabike Vietnam (Saigon, Hanoi and Da Nang rentals)
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.
What fun! I’m almost convinced…almost. If you saw me ride a bike you would understand! But I do know a few people that would love to try – will share. Thanks for the great info!
Not a biker person at all, but you make it look like fun! How scary was it trying to weave through traffic?
I’m terrified of motorcycles. I crashed on a scooter in Greece twice (in slow motion, just scrapes). Your post makes me think that I may want to try again because you seem to understand that it is a scary thing. The freedom of exploring on your own might make it worth another try.
Oh, you must be brave. There is NO WAY I could do this!
Wow! I’m anxious just reading this haha! I don’t think I have the skills. spending five days a week in NYC has taught me to walk QUICKLY, so I don’t know that I could walk slowly across the street despite the oncoming traffic lol. Maybe one day I’ll be here to try out a motorbike for myself!
This sounds like so much fun! What an awesome way to get around in Vietnam. Motorcycles scare me haha so not for me but good on you for learning!
Wow! You inspired me. I must try riding a bike when I will visit Vietnam.
Girl, you’re brave. I’m an expert motorbike driver and I would never suggest anyone to learn how to drive in Vietnam! I super admire your spirt tho! Good on you! And excellent suggestions! I actually wrote a similar post a while ago.
As we live in Vietnam, having a motorbike is a pretty essential part of getting into daily life. So, I guess this post is mostly directed towards those who are reading our blog because either they live in Vietnam/Asia too or they are hoping to move! Nice! Where do you ride?
Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is so intimidating! Thanks for showing us how it’s done, one day I’ll have to try it out myself.
Yikes, I am a timid driver as it is. Not sure I could manage these crowded streets. Great tips though for those who are able!
I’d like to think I would be brave enough to just hop on a motorbike but who knows. Let’s just pretend I will one day ha! looks like so much fun
I enjoyed reading your article. I would just add that anyone that wishes to ride a motorbike in Vietnam should first do so at home. Master the basics in a familiar setting before riding in a setting that is like no other.
Here’s a short ride I took on the backseat of a motorbike through the streets of Saigon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1BV4rBgzyk
Stress levels just went up only by reading the post! Driving in heavily populated areas are just very stressful.
Nice! I didn’t know motorbikes where so popular in Vietnam. Motorbikes are a great way of saving gas and lowering transportation cost, even maintenance costs too.
I’m scared of walking and getting run over in Vietnam, let alone riding a bike!!! Sounds trilling though. Great post!
Haha it can be quite daunting at first! After a little time you’ll start to see the patterns in the traffic and get the hang of it though! 🙂 Thanks Darryl!
Dr .Loden Rogers
This sounds like so much fun! What an awesome way to get around in Vietnam. Motorcycles scare me haha so not for me but good on you for learning!thanks for sharing.
From your post I can see that motorbikes is one of the most common methods of transportation in Viernam.
Great post! Thanks for sharing. It looks very interesting and it would be very fun surrounding the Vietnam with motorcycles. I have to try.
It looks like you are having a great time in Vietnam!