On this specific page, we will provide practical road rules you should know about a safe motorbike adventure in Vietnam.
As you probably know, no foreign motorbike driving license is fully legal in Vietnam, except international driving licenses from countries that signed the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic. It is too difficult (no Vietnam license for people who travel on tourist visas) or too complicated (lots of notary documents and takes 7-10 days for people who travel on business visas and have a work permit) to obtain a Vietnamese motorbike driving license.
Fortunately, the good news is IDP (international driving permit, 1968 Convention) is now valid in Vietnam from August 1st, 2016 with the 46/2016/ND-CP decree. However, this decree only covers countries that abide by the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic on IDPs. Many countries like Australia, UK, the USA, and Canada are not signatories to the 1968 Convention but abide by the 1949 Geneva Convention. Therefore, citizens of those countries are NOT able to drive in Vietnam with their IDPs. If you have a 1968 IDP, you can purchase an insurance policy easily for Vietnam. Please also bring your home country driving license with motorbike endorsement.
You Can Still Ride In Vietnam With Our Practical Road Rules
Even Vietnam doesn’t recognize any foreign license (except 1968 IDPs) but take it easy you will be ok. We don’t require a license to join our tours or hire our bikes. More details are at this link.
Therefore, ride smart and ride safe is the only way to have an enjoyable motorbike tour in Vietnam. Offroad Vietnam suggests a few practical road rules below that really work and these come from our customers after years in business. New tips will be updated immediately when available so check back this Practical Road Rules page often for updates. Have fun!
FYI, Vietnamese traffic is scary and it’s one of the most dangerous places on earth for riding motorbikes. About 27 people die from road accidents every day on average and most are motorbike riders!
Practical Road Rules – Rule #1
Larger vehicles have right of way. Avoid anything bigger than you and slow down if you see trucks. The bigger you are, the more respect you get. This is the first of practical road rules and like anywhere on this planet.
Traffic is like a river, you have to flow with it. Riders will find a way to move forward.
Always wear a helmet that is requested in Vietnamese public traffic law. It’s a proven fact: helmets significantly reduce the number and severity of head injuries. So always wear an approved motorcycle helmet and make sure your passenger does the same. We also recommend that you wear eye protection, sturdy boots or shoes, gloves, and other protective gear like knee and elbow pads or riding jacket and pants.
Make yourself easy to see on-road. Some drivers do not see motorcycles because they are not looking for them. To make yourself more visible, wear bright reflective clothing, position yourself so other drivers can see you, signal before turning or changing lanes, and use your horn when it will help others notice you. In Vietnam, people don’t care about the noise of horns.
Ride within your limits. The speed limit in Vietnam is very low (50 – 70km/h). Don’t break the speed limit, a speeding ticket is expensive. On our tours, the average speed is about 40km/h. Pushing the limits is another major cause of motorcycle accidents both on-road and off. Never ride beyond your personal abilities or faster than conditions warrant. Remember that alcohol, drugs, fatigue, and inattention can significantly reduce your ability to make good judgment and ride safely. This is one of the most important practical road rules for riding in Vietnam and over 50% of riders die due to speeding.
Animals are everywhere in the country or mountain roads. Dogs and chickens are the most then come water buffaloes, cows, pigs, and horses, etc. If you kill a dog or a chicken don’t stop, cry and feel sorry, it’s not your fault. Slow down when you spot these animals and don’t hit water buffaloes, cows, pigs, and horses, simply they are too big!
Space between you and other riders (local people, our guide, etc.) should be far enough in order to have no surprise. In cities or crowded roads, the traffic is usually slow. On wide-open roads or in the mountains, we suggest 10-20m. Don’t ever ride alongside your guide because he has lots of work to do.
Be alert for off-road hazards. The terrain can present a variety of challenges when you ride off-road. Continually ‘‘read’’ the terrain for unexpected turns, drop-offs, rocks, ruts, and other hazards. Always keep your speed low enough to allow time to see and react to hazards. If you are not familiar with the terrain, ride cautiously. Hidden rocks, holes, or ravines could spell disaster.
Be careful with oil from trucks and buses at curves on the mountain roads, extremely slippery and we have had some small accidents related to this matter.
If the police stop you (this rarely happens, only when you hit somebody or somebody hits you or if you break the rules), just keep talking in any language you know (but not Vietnamese or English) or whatever you want and they’ll soon give up and let you go in less than five minutes. However, recently they use smartphones with dictionary and translator apps and asked you to speak to their phones!!! Therefore the best way is to follow the rules.
In case you got hit or hit somebody and there is no major damage or injury, the first thing is to call us so we can settle it quickly. Worse, if the police come, they normally allow 24 hours for all parties to settle the accident before they take legal actions. If it’s a bad accident then, unfortunately, they will take your passport and keep you in Vietnam until an agreement is made. A local tour guide is very useful in this case and he did save lots of money and time for some of our customers!
If the road is wet, use both brakes at the same time with more back brake as if you apply more front brake it slips or skids. Most of our bikes have front disc brakes and on 250cc dirt bikes, you have front and back disc brakes.
Do not drink and ride. Alcohol and riding don’t mix. Even one drink can reduce your ability to respond to changing conditions, and your reaction time gets worse with every additional drink. So don’t drink and ride, and don’t let your friends or pillion passenger drink and ride either.
If you are doing a self-guided motorbike trip, below are some additional tips.
Buy a good road book (Vietnam Atlas) and do the timing and routing before you start a ride. If you get lost, ask more than two people as they may use different mileage units or even direction. Call us if you can’t find a solution.
Last but not least, you can follow this map to get out of Hanoi. The blue line takes you to North-West and South-West and the green to North-East Vietnam. You basically ride along the river to avoid the crazy roads with many traffic lights in the inner city.
To see how the traffic in a big city like Hanoi can be and the much quieter roads we take customers out of Hanoi on guided motorbike tours, please watch the below video. Note that without a guide, it’s hard to find the tracks in this video. For more videos of motorbike tours, you can visit our YouTube channel.
From August 1st, you will pay a lot more if you break rules.
Pleasant riding, and thank you for choosing Offroad Vietnam for your motorbike tour in Vietnam!
More Links For Planning A Safe Motorcycle Adventure In Vietnam
If you still have more questions about Practical Road Rules, please contact us for more details.