Whether it’s your first visit to South-East Asia or you can tell your một hai ba from your Quốc lộ một A, we always forget something for the long journey. Here’s a checklist of things to take on a motorbike trip.
10 Things to Take on a Motorbike Trip
1. Rain jacket and Trousers
No matter what time of the year you’re planning to drive Vietnam, at least one part of the country will be going through it’s rainy season. Have you not seen Forrest Gump? A rain jacket is essential. The Rando is the most popular waterproof apparel amongst the outdoor working Vietnamese. Although lacking breathability, the Rando is practical for all types of bikes and is highly versatile. It’s loose fit is suitable for long journeys and wearing small backpacks underneath. The Rando, or a bootleg equivalent, is available at most markets and costs around 400,000 VND ($20).
2. Trashy Shoes
At the beginning of your trip, you’ll have to make an important decision: Which of pair footwear are you willing to sacrifice to the elements of the tropical road? We would seriously dissuade you from wearing sandals or flip-flops after hearing our friends’ tale of losing a toe to a motorbike driving in the opposite direction. Boots also saved my feet when I had my crash. You want a pair of shoes that cover the feet heel to toe. Bear in mind they’ll be smelling like sewers and caked in mud after the first week on the road.
3. Smartphone, Sim Card and 3G
Admittedly, we’re millennials and as much as I can appreciate the skill of map-reading, a smart phone is the convenient option. What’s more is that finding a SIM-card is much easier than finding prints of roadmaps in Vietnam. 3G is super cheap and a monthly package can cost as little as 50,000 VND ($2.50). You’ll find a 3G package will also provide some salvation when your hotel Wi-Fi fails to provide a stable connection. We recommend going for Mobifone or Viettel. These two companies have stores in every town and city around Vietnam. The bigger cities are more likely to have English-speaking staff who will be able to provide you with a new SIM-card and set-up your phone to the preferred 3G package. Details on 3G packages can be found here for Mobifone and Viettel.
Since 2007, it is required by law that all motorbike riders and passengers in Vietnam wear a helmet. This has resulted in the creation of a very dubious helmet industry. While helmets are readily available all over the country, the integrity of the designs can often be questionable. If you ride back at home, bring a helmet over. Otherwise, shop carefully. When buying a helmet, compare the safety aspects of each model and check to see which ones fit comfortably on your head. We strongly suggest buying a full face or a 3/4 helmet. Visors prove extremely beneficial for keeping bugs out of your eyes or the rain stinging your face.
5. Sun Protection
Even on my last trip, I foolishly claimed the speckle of Spanish blood I’d inherited from an ancestor would provide ample protection against the Vietnamese sun. After day one, I spent the rest of the trip wearing a shirt my a fellow biker kindly donated. Good sun lotion is hard to come by in Vietnam but will be available in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. You should also pack a long-sleeved collared shirt and a pair of trousers for any sunburn. Don’t forget the back of your neck!
6. Insect Repellent
This isn’t so much to do with the riding aspect of your trip but where you end up in the evening. Vietnam is prone to bouts of dengue fever and malaria. While we believe malaria tablets aren’t necessary, insect repellent is a must. Insect repellent is better brought from abroad but is available in Vietnam.
Even if you have the smallest backpack, don’t contemplate a 2,000 KM drive with it strapped to your back. At some point, the increased weight will put additional stress on your back. The answer is to strap it to your bike! Bungees are going to help you with that and proving they’re only a few 1,000 VND a piece; you can spare the change and buy a few extra. Before you begin your trip, practice tying your bag to your bike and see which way is best for tying your bag to your bike. Bungees also prove good washing lines for drying those wet clothes!
8. Breathing Mask
One thing you’ll notice on the roads of Vietnam is how everyone wears some sort of mask. You’ll also notice a number of toxic emissions coming from the exhausts of the road vehicles. There is a lot of shit floating about and whenever I ride without a mask for long periods of time, I always end up with a cough. I tend to forget to wear mine but I would advise others to consider using one.
9. Nice Shirt
You never know where your adventures will lead you to! Pack a spare shirt in case you end up at a village wedding.
At the beginning of 2017, I suffered a nasty bike accident that required emergency surgery and 10 days in a hospital. Fortunately, my insurance covered the accident and saved me from an $8,000 USD bill. What was left was a $300 USD fine for my driving offenses. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for my backpacker hospital-ward roommate who didn’t have the insurance to cover his accident and his mum flew over from the USA to bail him out. Ultimately, insurance and a driving license are your responsibilities but we strongly advise to carefully check your insurance policies and make sure you’re covered.