We weren't experienced riders and we were a little apprehensive but we took a deep breath and hired a scooter in Vietnam - here's what happened.
Ok, we aren't twenty-something backpackers and we have had enough scrapes, bruises and experience to know that we aren't bulletproof... but I really wanted to ride a scooter in Vietnam. One of the frustrating things I sometimes feel when I'm travelling is a sense of being restricted to the centre of town or the sometimes inconvenient and time-consuming public transport so I was determined to hire a scooter and enjoy some freedom. We read a heap of blogs and YouTube clips that described the ease of riding a scooter in Vietnam. But these were mostly by younger modern backpacker influencer type travellers (were we as confident and sure of ourselves at that age?) but we didn't really relate to them. We talked to our peers who had visited Vietnam and most wouldn't remotely consider doing it - even some who were experienced motorcycle riders in Australia said that they wouldn't ride a scooter in a Vietnamese city. I was still determined to have a crack but Jody was more reluctant.
On the third morning of a recent visit to DaLat I decided to see how difficult it was to hire a scooter. Jody was still very nervous about it and secretly hoped that the hiring process would be too difficult and I'd give up. Much to her surprise I arrived back in our room 10 minutes later with keys to our very own scooter which was parked out the front of our guesthouse. Now it was getting way to real for her. After a bit of reassuring she finally agreed to 'just try it out for a short ride around the block'.
After a short tutorial from the guesthouse staff member, we turned our first corner into traffic - It had been a long time since I felt such exhilaration. My palms were sweaty, my stomach was jumping with excitement - I just couldn't take a big silly grin off my face. Jody, on the other hand, was terrified! After we had ridden for about 30 minutes we were both a little more calm and Jody's terror had already turned into joy. We were free... and it felt wonderful.
It looks chaotic and scary from the footpath but actually once we were in the traffic there was actually a flow and a system of informal rules. The speed is rarely very fast, other riders avoided us, merging is smooth (much less aggressive than here in Australia). It wasn't actually as difficult as we had expected. We were always cautious, very defensive and made no sudden unexpected movements.
How much riding experience do you need
You will have to make your own decision about how much experience you need. At that time I wasn't an experienced rider - I knew how to ride a motorbike from when I was a teenager on my grandfathers farm but hadn't really ridden since (about 30 years ago!). The bikes are automatic, light and really easy to ride - sort of like a pushbike that you don't need to pedal. Sometimes I forgot to turn on my indicator - no one seemed to mind, they just went around. I probably wouldn't recommend it if you have never been on a motorbike before but you don't need to be very experienced.
“We like to take our time when we are travelling - find a regular coffee shop, regular place for a beer in the afternoon, etc - we look for places out of the tourist areas (you don't have to go far) and we find that we are better able to connect with locals. We have found that even though language differences can sometimes be awkward even small authentic interactions make our time more fulfilling..”
DaLat is a beautiful city only a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City. It's a great place with an authentic vibe. It's a popular place for Vietnamese newlyweds to honeymoon but it sees way less international tourists compared to Hanoi and Hoi An. Public transport isn't so convenient in DaLat and having a scooter made it easy for us to visit places that were out of the centre and cruise around just exploring. We visited a cool yoga centre and participated in one of their sessions, visited a super quirky park with newlyweds posing in front of heart shaped flower displays. There are some beautiful old colonial homes and also some newly built homes in the older colonial style. It was awesome just to ride around exploring. Please give us a call or email if you would like some more recommendations in DaLat - we love talking about travel.
Motorcycle licences are a bit tricky in Vietnam and technically foreigners aren't allowed to ride without a local licence which are very difficult to obtain. We were never stopped by police but other bloggers have said that a small cash contribution would get you moving again if you are stopped. Check that your travel insurance covers motorcycles - our insurance clearly stated that we were covered as long as we had an Australian licence. I also have an international drivers licence too but nobody has ever asked to see it. So we probably weren't covered while we were in DaLat - everyone needs to make their own risk decisions.
How to hire a scooter
We have subsequently hired scooters a few times in Vietnam and each process has been a bit different. Ask the owner or staff in your guesthouse - they will arrange it for you. At the time we were in DaLat, I didn't have an Australian motorcycle licence so we couldn't hire one through the guesthouse but the staff member arranged a 'less formal' scooter for less than $10 per day - no paperwork, nothing signed, nothing paid till the end. Yes, our insurance would not have been any use but we figured that the most likely thing was maybe a few scrapes - and repairs are super cheap. The scooters were second hand and have quite a few scrapes on them anyway so any scrapes we made were not likely to be noticed. I now have an Australian riders licence and on subsequent trips I have arranged more formal (slightly) rental - nobody has ever asked to see my riders licence.
It seems that sometimes as we get older we become less sure of what we can do and more cautious in new situations. I think it should be the opposite - we have life experiences that often make us more able to better deal with uncertain and new situations. So I would encourage you to take a calculated risk and push your boundaries. You'll be rewarded with awesome feelings of achievement, excitement and fulfilment.
As always, give us a call or visit us at thecustompath.com. - we love talking to travellers.