With little-to-no clear rules, it’s not surprising that the roads of Vietnam have garnered a reputation as one of the most dangerous places to drive. I’m not here to tell you that it’s safe, I have seen my share of accidents, but I have found that with some conscious effort you can make your experience on the road safer. Whether you are an expat driving around your adopted home, or a traveller motorbiking across the country, this guide to motorbike safety in Vietnam will help to keep you safe on the roads.
1️⃣ Alway wear a helmet
Despite being a legal requirement to wear a helmet in Vietnam, people sometimes forgo this basic safety precaution. Accidents can happen anywhere so it is important to always wear a helmet, whether scooting to the grocery store or motorbiking the whole length of Vietnam. I highly recommend investing in a good quality helmet that covers your ears and neck (a 3/4 helmet) or a full-face helmet that also covers your jaw.
2️⃣ Create a Medical ID
A Medical ID is essentially is a list of any health conditions you have as well as emergency contact details that can be accessed from your phone lock screen without having to input a passcode. This means that if you have a motorbike accident first responders can find out your name and important health info, or who to contact for support if you are not able to provide that information yourself.
Medical ID is one of the features that is built into the health app on iPhones (see this article for how to set it up), and a free Android equivalent can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Creating a Medical ID is not just great for motorbike safety in Vietnam, but general travel safety.
3️⃣ Wear covered clothes and shoes
While city driving attire is definitely more relaxed, for road trips I highly recommend wearing full-length pants (I always opt for yoga leggings but jeans would be better) and covered shoes, like sneakers (no sandals). I also suggest wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jacket. This will help to reduce road rash if you do take a little tumble. Wearing protective gloves is a good idea for long-distance or mountain riding. You can buy motorbiking gloves at many of the same stores that sell helmets or online at Chrunix.
4️⃣ Get travel and/or health insurance
Having travel and/or health insurance that covers you for motorbiking accidents is really important for motorbiking in Vietnam.
If you are travelling in Vietnam then you will most likely want to ensure you have travel insurance. I’ve never had to claim on any of my World Nomad policies but they have a great reputation and you can get cover for riding as a passenger on motorbikes as well as driving yourself under set circumstances (you must read the fine print before choosing a policy). Generally, 50cc motorbikes are covered without a licence and anything over needs to have a legal licence to be covered. Read more about motorbiking in Vietnam on the World Nomad website.
If you are living in Vietnam short-term then you may have travel insurance, but if you are planning to stay long-term then I highly recommend taking out health insurance. I have private health insurance through a Saigon-based insurance company called Tenzing Pacific. When picking a policy, ensure it covers out-patient surgery and emergency room – these are two of the most important for motorbike accidents. To be covered for motorbike accidents your health insurance will require you to be fully legal on the road.
5️⃣ Get a license
As mentioned above, your insurance will only cover a motorbike accident if you are licensed to legally drive the bike. In Vietnam, you do not require a licence to drive a 50cc motorbike but for anything more powerful you will need a license. As I drive a Honda Cub I don’t need a licence to legally drive, so I haven’t gone through the process myself.
6️⃣ Have mobile data and a local phone number
I don’t always recommend travellers to Vietnam get a SIM card as wifi is so abundant, but it is essential to have mobile data and a local phone number if you are doing a motorbike road trip in Vietnam. This allows you to contact emergency services (dial 115 for ambulance services) and enables you to update friends and family on your route progress, as well as giving you access to Google Maps so you don’t get lost. For more information on where to get a SIM card plus how to keep it topped up with data, check out my Vietnam travel guide.
7️⃣ Share your live location
Google Maps has a really useful built-in feature that allows you to share your live location, route and ETA with contacts. When driving in the city this is helpful for quickly alerting friends to your location if, for example, you are in an accident and waiting for their help. For motorbike road trips this is perfect for sharing your route and progress with friends and family. It enables them to see if you’ve spent a long time in a location that isn’t your end destination, so they can check in to see if you’re okay. This article shares how to share your live location in the Google Maps app.
8️⃣ Carry a power pack
Finding yourself in an accident and without any phone battery is my worst nightmare. It’s especially important when motorbiking in a foreign country because your phone likely doubles as a map and translator. I always start motorbike trips with a fully charged phone and have to top up the charge en route (using maps drains the battery quickly), so I highly recommend bringing a powerpack on your motorbike trips to avoid you from having to look for a rest stop with plugs you can use.
9️⃣ Be sensible about when you drive
If you can, try to avoid driving during peak travel times. Normally the morning rush hour is from 7-9am, and the evening rush hour from 4-7pm, with motorbikes flooding the roads, causing not only congestion but also more opportunity for accidents. I also highly recommend avoiding driving in the monsoon rain. It’s easy to damage your motorbike and the immense volume of rain during monsoon showers can cause flash-flooding and a loss of traction, making it easy to skid. Likewise, limit driving in the dark as much as possible.
🔟 Keep your motorbike well maintained
It’s important to keep your motorbike maintained with regular services and oil changes (every 100km). As well as keeping your breaks tight, you should make sure your tires have strong traction, as a weak tread can lead to skidding in the rain and on gravel corners.
Motorbike safety in Vietnam
I hope this guide has shared some tips with you on how to stay safe while driving a motorbiking in Vietnam. If you have more tips please put them in the comments so I can update the guide and share your suggestions with others.
✍️ For more information on motorbiking in Vietnam, check out my Complete Guide to Motorbiking Vietnam.