Rough Guide: The Costs of Owning and Riding a Bike in Vietnam

I was hanging out on a beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia with a cool girl from Canada, Sam. She was the one who told me crazy stories about her experiences riding through Vietnam. She was the one who infected me. ‘I’m gonna buy a bike and ride through Vietnam. What could go wrong, right?’ I have never ridden a motorbike, but I was assured time and time again, it’s as easy as riding, well, a bike. Long and accidental story short, I bought a used Honda Win, christened Seargent Pepper, for $275 and the adventure of a lifetime began.

I should have done a write up of this topic a long time ago, but hopefully the informations I have will be relevant for the coming years. Prices might inflate as enterprising repair stations realise how many backpackers choose the bike life… everything written is of March, 2016.

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Sgt. Pepper, the most noble of steeds
Now, Sam also advised me to keep a detailed log of repairs, oil changes, road travelled in a logbook. When the time comes it will greatly help with the resale value. So I did, and now you will know how much owning a bike actually costs in Vietnam!

A full tank of gas costs 50.000 VND / $2.2 / 630HUF and gets you around 260 kilometres.

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Hand crafted notes from Vietnam
I started driving from Sihanoukville in Cambodia, made my way to Kampot, took a little pleasure cruise up Bokor Mountains (I can wholeheartedly recommend this, super new super smooth roads, no traffic, you can really learn how to handle a bike).

Now, as with any used bikes, there will be a lot of problems, especially when you buy the bike. Mine were loose clutch cables (that explained why my engine died on me all the time from neutral), busted spark plug (leading to a hilarious and fear-of-death-filled tuk tuk towing), oil leakage and a very weak kickstand. I had these fixed and oil changed for 100.000 VND / $4.5 / 1300HUF. This was the first and certainly not last time I’ve been to a rửa xe (service station) and the prices never ceased to amaze me.

IMG_5837For five whole days after that I didn’t have any problems, granted I was just biking around Kampot, getting used to the flow of traffic and enjoying the sunny days. Drove across the border without any problems, and got down to Rạch Giá, the largest city on the eastern coast, and Cần Thơ afterwards.

And then came the drive from hell. What should’ve been an uneventful 170 km ride, happened to be disaster after disaster. After 8km from Cần Thơ my bike died down. No indication, no warning. A helpful local pushed me to the nearest shop, where they replaced the cylinder heads for THREE. WHOLE. HOURS. But they got it working, for the low price of 150.000VND / $6.6 / 1900HUF. For 60 more kilometres. Then it died down again. A very nice bank accountant helped me to an experienced repair guy, who replaced some cogwheel or another, for the same price (150.000VND / $6.6 / 1900HUF). Then the shift lever broke, I could only ride in neutral or first gear. A new one cost 100.000VND / $4.5 / 1300HUF – you can see the pricing system is fairly uniform. Aaand I finally got to Ho Chi Minh City, a mere 10 hours after I left. At this point I was strongly contemplating selling Pepper and leaving all this craziness behind. Good thing I didn’t!

After some crazy days in Saigon I left to find some peace and quiet in the Cat Tien National Park. Two days of relaxation, nature, and cashew nuts… and some more work done to fix the leaking oil and change oil, (140.000VND / $6.1 / 1600HUF). My host knew a guy, of course. Onwards I went to reach Đà Lạt, a lovely and popular town in the southern regions. It’s also the preferred romantic getaway city for Vietnamese lovers, I’ve been told. Being a major hub, I’ve finally had the chance to find a bigger repair shop and get my problematic cylinder looked at – and get a rain cover for my seat… I was heading into colder climates after all, best to be prepared. This turned out to be one of the costliest repairs (770.000VND / $34 / 9200HUF), but I could finally use and abuse all the horsepowers the best Chinese engineering could output.

All this UNLIMITED POWER got into my head and I had my first and biggest crash not long after I’ve left Đà Lạt for Nha Trang. Winding down a glorious serpentine through a mountain range, I lost sight of the road in favour of the view and noticed the bend five seconds too late. Cut to me being trapped under my bike in a ditch on the side of the road, front console all over the place, me feeling myself for any broken parts. Luckily, none. Some very helpful locals stopped immediately and helped the bike of me and me on my feet. An especially helpful lady even pushed me down to the nearest town and helped me get my bike and myself looked at the local clinic. Incredibly nice people, I was very awestruck. The mechanic did a quick lookup on the bike, found nothing majorally wrong and only charged a small fee of 70.000VND / $3 / 850HUF.

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A bit worse for wear… but still working! Chinese engineering at it’s best.
Alright, this will not stop me, I choose not to obey the signs! I limped down to Nha Trang and had a good night sleep, but not before one or three ‘I’ve survived!!!’ drinks. I’ve met a fellow traveller back in Đà Lạt, Martijn, whom I’ve convinced to join up for the ride and we left Nha Trang together northbound towards Quy Nhơn. Awesome dude, great company! We rode, we got drenched and we arrived in nearly pitch black to one of the best hostels during my travels, Life’s a Beach, just in time for a lovely communal dinner by the seaside, and well earned drinks of course. The next day we got a grand tour of the city by Truong, an awesome dude working the front desk at the hostel. He, no surprises, knew the best mechanic in town, who got tasked with installing a new console and front lights, fixing the brakes and clutch. Quite a lot of work, which costed me 950.000VND / $41 / 11000HUF. But if you keep your eye on the road, you can probably avoid paying this much… as a bonus you also get to keep your life! Thank you, you’ve just heard our PSA! We also hooked with Joel from Canada, and now we were three.

Before my unexpected seizure, after which I didn’t feel that driving a motorbike in Vietnam is the smart thing to do, I’ve only had a very small chain refitting for 50.000VND / $2 / 600HUF. So the time came, I posted a classified in a hostel in Hội An, had Pepper cleaned up and sadly sold her for $250.

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The prettiest she’s ever been
And that was the end of my motorbiking adventures in Vietnam. I plan to return one day to finish the journey… I still have half the country left open to me. Especially the north, the area and rice fields of Sapa. But that’s another story. Not why you came here. You came for a cold number.

And that number is: 2.730.000VND / $119 / 32100HUF. This is how much I’ve spent, including buying and selling the bike. Even though I knew it wasn’t gonna be high, I was still shocked when the final number popped up. It’s especially low if you factor in the money and time saved by not taking public transport. There’s an unquantifiable element as well: the experience of the road and the people you’d otherwise not have met in small villages, friends you made (especially Joel and Martijn), stories you’d create. To me this is what made this trip an unforgettable experience and this is why I’ll always dream of going back to the roads of Vietnam.

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