If you are a confident motorcyclist, Hoi An is the perfect base for some astonishingly good rides and the greatest thing about it is it’s really hard to get lost. There are some fantastic routes that you can easily cover in a day, from meandering along rivers fringed with coconut palms through to the magical Hai Van Pass, Monkey Mountain, Son Tra, the Ho Chi Minh Trail… The list is endless!
One thing to remember is that it is illegal for you to ride a motorbike in Vietnam without a Vietnamese licence. If you do decide to ride, it’s very easy and cheap to hire a bike in town, which costs between 80,000 and 100,000 VND a day. Do shop around for the best bike you can get, as with all bike hire in tourist towns the bikes tend to take a bit of a battering. Check the tires, brakes and lights before you hand over your cash and always get a helmet that fits, even if it’s pink with kitten transfers, as in contrast to the license law, the helmet law is taken very seriously here. You will get pulled over and fined for not wearing one.
Also check that your helmet has a hologram sticker especially if you are heading for Da Nang where there are roadside police checks. If your helmet is without one, it will be smashed at the side of the road and you will have to buy a new one at whatever price the police feel you will willingly handover — fine for locals is 50,000 VND. If you are serious about your safety, there is a very good helmet shop on Ly Thuong Kiet Street, about 100 metres from the Hai Ba Trung traffic light intersection, where you can pick up a full face Andes helmet for $20. It’s a small price to pay, especially if you intend to do some serious riding during your trip.
Another thing that will get you a fine is riding half naked. Not only is it dangerous should you come off, but it’s also very offensive to the Vietnamese, so please cover up.
For riding around town and the surrounding countryside, an automatic bike is perfect. If you intend to take to the mountains, you will need a geared bike as the passes are very steep. Automatics are easier to come by, but you will find geared bikes if you ask around — these are not only cheaper, but usually in better condition.
Always fill up at a petrol station. The one on Cua Dai Road is famous for overcharging tourists so avoid it if you can. The most trustworthy station is near the public bus station on Le Huong Phong. From town, follow Hai Bai Trung to the Ly Thuong Kiet intersection and turn left (it’s about four minutes from Ba Trieu). They will also put air in your tires for 5,000 VND. Unless you are in trouble, do not fill up at a roadside pump (these may use illegal fuel). If you do, just buy a litre and top up at the next petrol station as there have been reports of a number of vehicles exploding, including a bus that filled up on illegal fuel recently.
If something goes wrong when you are on the bike, it’s up to you to get it fixed. Fortunately wherever you break down there will be a Honda mechanic within eyesight and nearly all patch ups cost 50,000 VND, unless you need new parts. Try to get the phone number of the person you hired your bike from so if things go seriously wrong they can come out and assist.
Do remember that the town is closed to motorised transport everyday from 08:30-11:00, then again from 14:00-16:30 and 18:30-21:00. You will find a big wheely plant and a grumpy guard blocking all closed roads at these times. If you leave your bike parked in the restricted streets, it will be impounded by the police and you will have to pay a fine to get it back.
Hoi An is a great place to ride a motorbike. I learned here on a tiny Honda Chaly and considering 18 months later all my friends still tell me how proud/amazed they are I got to my destination, it goes to show how easy the riding is here compared to say Hanoi where I wouldn’t even contemplate a xe om. If you are not very confident, avoid the roads before 11:00 and between 16:30 and 18:00, especially at weekends when there is rather a lot of drink driving and an awful lot of accidents. If you are worried, hire a push bike — 20,000 VND for a day or two — and get used to the flow of the traffic first.
If you are looking to do a motorbike tour, Hoi An’s street corners are packed with Easy Riders touting their business. Some claim to be part of the original Dalat team but you may want to take that information with a pinch of salt. If you are worried about booking the wrong one, go to the Go Travel booking office where they only recommend tours they have used and approved.
Other options are the Australian-run Hoi An Motorbike Adventures based in town, who set their prices a little higher, but provide a complete package at fixed prices and Western standards as well as the opportunity to take to the remote mountains on a Russian Minsk. Then there is Thomas Vietnam Holidays, a German-owned, little-known company that offers tours on 250cc vintage police bikes — a couple even have flashing lights. Sadly the website is in German, but both the owner and guides speak very good English and respond very quickly to email. All of the above options cover everything from one- to seven-day-plus bike tours, including one-way transfers to your next destination. The beauty of Hoi An is you can see some of the most mind-blowing and diverse scenery in a single day, so you can do the bike thing without the Clint Eastwood swagger from being saddle bound for days at a time.
Hoi An Motorbike Adventures
54 Phan Chau Trinh St
T: (0510) 391 1930
Every street corner in town OR
Go Travel Vietnam
61 Phan Chau Trinh St
T: (84) 0510 3929115
Thomas Vietnam Holidays
72 Nguyen Phuc Tan
T: (0510) 916 732
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 13th December, 2014.