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How to navigate Vietnam by motorbike

The internet and 3g is incredible in Vietnam. Coverage is wide and there are only a few spots in Vietnam with no signal. To navigate Vietnam by motorbike is easy! Here are few ideas to set you in the right direction.

Getting a phone with a sim card
Mapping programs to navigate Vietnam
Calculating distances and hours
Choosing a route
Phone holders and USB chargers
The weather and when is best!

Getting a phone with a sim card

Providing the phone is unlocked, a sim card with unlimited internet can be bought for around 70,000vnd (3usd). At the time of buying the sim card, get a 10usd top up card and ask the assistant to activate unlimited internet which is around 80,000vnd (4usd) for a month. This gives around 5usd spare for emergency phone calls.
There will be a choice of Mobi or Viettel. Supposedly Viettel has slightly better coverage, however both are great and just take whichever is presented.

The phone shop is “the gioi di dong”, which can be found throughout Vietnam. They are yellow phone stores that are normally blasting out music. Type in “the gioi di dong + city name” into googlemaps. Most of them have employees that can speak basic English. If in HCM the Gioi Di Dong nearby the backpacker street are very familiar with setting up phones for foreigners.

A complete guide to getting a sim card in Vietnam.

Mapping programs to navigate Vietnam

Googlemaps is the obvious and most popular choice to navigate Vietnam. Due to the wide coverage of 3g in Vietnam, Googlemaps rarely loses signal and has the most accurate database of roads and locations.

Maps.me is useful in areas of no signal. The offline functionality is better than on Googlemaps which means for those remote drives, Maps.me is a good backup.  Maps.me lacks place names and mapped roads, so shouldn’t be used as the primary navigation app.

Calculating distances and hours

Miscalculating time is one of the biggest mistakes a traveller can make when looking to navigate Vietnam by motorbike. Everything googlemaps suggests needs to be doubled or tripled.
Googlemaps does not accurately account for the turns in the roads. Road speeds are slow, although it might feel fast, in the real world the speeds reached in Vietnam are slow.
200KM is a full day 8 hour drive, expecting 300-400KM in a day is impossible.

A normal backpacker will take 20-25 days to travel the distance of Vietnam when stopping to do tourist activities. The north and above Hanoi is another 1-3 weeks depending on how deep the driver goes.
10 days would be an all day straight drive with nearly no stopping.
7  days is the record we have seen at Tigit Motorbikes. A Malaysian guy on a Honda Blade, respect to him, and he had skills on a motorbike!

Two Vietnamese girls do Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi in 40 hours. Made the news ! Click bait stuff and probably impossible…..
At Tigit we use trucks to transport motorbikes between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Trucks will take 4 days whilst using rotating drivers.

The distance is large, so plan the holiday with time to spare!

Choosing a route

On the Tigit website we have routes and maps of Vietnam. Another popular source is Vietnam Coracle where Tom presents 5 suggested routes.
The website I originally followed many years ago when arriving in Vietnam is Time VS Focus.

Vietnam Back roads is a popular group where questions can be asked about road conditions and weather.

When trying navigate Vietnam above Hanoi in the Sapa and Ha Giang regions it is best to research the Hanoi tour companies. They provide vague descriptions that can be used to navigate Vietnam. They describe where the tours go and the activities they do. The reason for the vague descriptions in the Northern regions is weather and road conditions can quickly become harsh. Providing suggested routes opens up negative review potential and as such, is not worth the risk to document!
Do research, and go to the area with the expectations of an adventure holiday!

Phone holders and USB chargers

Some companies offer phone holders and USB chargers. Phone holders were removed by Tigit due to drive by snatches, and the general low quality builds leaving expensive phones to fall when the holder breaks. Tigit now uses GPS bags which can be bought for 300,000vnd.

USB chargers are bad for the motorbike. The chargers used  are usually Chinese and dangerous for both the motorbike and the phone. Attaching them voids any warranties and adds another layer of diagnostics due to mechanics automatically blaming the 3rd party add on. Instead we recommend people buy external USB power-packs for around $15 from phone stores such as The Gioi Di Dong.

The weather and when is best!

March and April are the best times to travel Vietnam by motorbike. Across the country the weather conditions are mostly stable!
– The south is always hot, but in the North, November to February can be be very cold.
– In the south to  middle, the rainy season is from July to October.
– The stormy season where the middle of Vietnam can get hit by cyclones is from September to December.

Confused ?
Vietnam has varying weather depending on the season and South or North. It is not worth planning the holiday around the seasons.
If it rains hard the waterfalls run hard and rivers become spectacular.
If it is hot in the south it is mostly cold in the north.
If a storm hits, then it is unlucky. The aftermath and drama of big storms is worth the stories that will come from the holiday!

We use Accurate weather as our forecast.

In conclusion, predicting the weather is impossible. There are no seasons, or conditions that will stop a true adventure seeker from enjoying a motorbike holiday in Vietnam. Every condition and season has its pros and cons.

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