Everything you thought you knew but didn’t know and
certainly may want to know about owning and
driving a motorbike. Words by Hoa Le.
Photos by Yves Schiepek


1. Getting a Motorbike License


To legally drive a motorbike with a capacity of over 50cc in Vietnam you need a Vietnamese license — international licenses are not valid here but can be converted into a temporary Vietnamese driver’s license. Here are the things you need to know to get a Vietnamese license:


— Submit an application package including a copy of your valid visa and passport and six photos.


— Take a medical check which tests your eyesight and general health. This takes place at the driving test site before you take the test.


— Take the driving test. You’ll need to drive around a short figure of eight and obstacle course usually involving a few speed bumps and a corner, without stalling or putting your feet down. If foreigners have a motorbike or car driving license from overseas, they are not expected to complete the written test as it is in Vietnamese. But if you do, you’ll usually be provided with a translator.


— Wait 10 to 15 days to receive your license if you pass the test.


— Fee: VND225,000


In Hanoi, visit the Centre for Automotive Training and Mechanism (83A Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem, Tel: (04) 3942 2715). In Ho Chi Minh City, contact the Office of Transportation (63 Ly Tu Trong, Q1, Tel: (08) 3822 3760). In provincial areas, you should consult local police authorities.
An international driver’s license or your home country’s driver’s license can both be converted into a temporary Vietnamese driver’s license — but in the latter case, you’ll need to get your license translated into Vietnamese before applying. Contact the offices above for further information.


One more thing... Big Bikes


For motorbike under 50cc such as a Honda Cub 49cc, you don’t need to apply for a driver’s license. Starting this month, you can apply individually for a special driver’s license for riding a motorbike with a capacity over 175cc. This was not possible before as it was required that you be a member of a recognised motorcycle club. You’ll need to do a test on a 250cc motorcycle no matter what bike capacity you’re applying for. Contact the offices above to get more information.



2. Getting Insurance


It is compulsory that you have a civil liability insurance when driving a motorbike in Vietnam. It costs VND66,000 per year for bikes of under 50cc and VND80,000 per year for bikes of under 150cc. This is to cover up to VND50 million if the driver damages property, gets injured or dies from an accident. Bao Viet, Bao Minh or Pijico are the three major companies that you can get this insurance from.


Another type of insurance you can buy to protect your bike or increase your coverage is the voluntary third party liability. This can cover up to US$20,000 (VND420 million) and you pay a fee of about four to five times higher than the compulsory fee or from 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the value of your motorbike. This insurance won’t cover you if you fall or lose some parts of the bikes. You also need to legal documents to show that you own the bike or the benefits will go to its legal owner — or sometimes no-one when ownership can’t be proven.


This insurance also only pays for full loss or full forcible theft. If your motorbike is brand new, you need to agree with the insurer that they will pay the brand new price for one year or at least six months — otherwise you may be stuck with the market value — this can be much lower.
Effective medical treatment in case of an accident requires good medical insurance. This can cover your hospital treatment, evacuation and post-hospital treatment including rehabilitation in Vietnam or other countries such as Thailand, Singapore and even Europe and North America.



While an international insurer may not over-scrutinise if you have an accident, a Vietnam-based insurance company will check the situation carefully before they decide to cover your case. They will need proof that you can drive legally in Vietnam including your driver’s license, a valid visa and passport, and whether or not you were wearing a helmet. Police records, a hospital admission form, a doctor’s declaration and accident claim forms are all taken into consideration. A locally based insurer will also want proof of no drug or alcohol usage.
For more details about insurance, consult your insurance company or contact If Consulting (insuranceinvietnam.com).



3. What to Look For When Buying a Bike


Here are a few tips for you if you’re thinking about purchasing a secondhand motorbike:


— A Honda is many people’s first option as it’s reasonably priced and reliable. You can find many Honda dealers or shops around, so it’s easy to replace parts or fix when necessary.


— Make sure the bike is an original and its parts haven’t been changed. You can take the bike to a reputable garage, shop or mechanic to have it checked. Even better, get a mechanic to take a look at the bike before you buy it.


— Make sure the bike has a registration card, a frame number, an engine number and a number plate that all match up.


— Whether you buy a brand new bike or a secondhand one, you should always make sure you have papers. No papers means no insurance claim if anything goes wrong.



4. General Laws


You’ll need to obey these rules if you want to be safe on the roads and not get pulled over:


— Drive in the lane for motorbikes when you’re in the city. When you go outside of the city, be aware that some highways are for cars only.


— Go under the speed limit. Unless marked otherwise, it’s 40km/h in the city and 50km/h outside the city for normal motorbikes.


— Always bring a valid Vietnamese driver’s license with you when riding a motorbike over 50cc.


— Wear a helmet at all times, including when travelling as a passenger. Violation will result in a fine of up to VND200,000.


— Make sure the motorbike has simple components such as wing mirrors and working front and rear lights.


— There is presently a crackdown on signaling. So get into the habit. Indicate not just when turning, but when changing lanes, too.




5. Owning a Motorbike


— Make sure you take your motorbike for scheduled maintenance and servicing. Good bike rental places provide you with monthly servicing.


— If you need to change parts, go to reputable garages or your bike’s dealership. There are chances that you will get inferior copies when you buy on the black market or in small shops.


— Always make sure the tyres are pumped to the correct pressure because it makes the bike safer and easier to ride. The standard pressure is 30 psi (about 2.1 kg/cm2). The front tyre often needs a bit less air than the rear one.


— Always adjust the brakes to the right level and regularly lubricate them.


— Change your engine oil regularly. Make sure you use good oil (see the next column). Inferior quality oil can affect performance and damage the engine.



6. Oil & Lubricants


— Use products from reputable companies because good quality oil protects the inside of your engine. Module, Castrol or Shell Gold are among the better oils out there.


— Depending on the quality of the oil, how often you ride the bike and the conditions you ride in, engine oil should be changed accordingly. In perfect conditions, it can be changed after 3,000km. But if you’re riding through rivers or during rainy season, change it more frequently.


— Check the level of the oil by using the dip-stick. It should always be full.


— When you have your oil changed at a garage, make sure it’s new and the bottle hasn’t been opened yet. If you don’t have a choice, make sure the colour of the oil is OK. The new oil should be the colour of honey or light Lipton tea. Black is not good and needs to be changed.




7. What to do in an Accident


Here are a few tips from the doctors at FV Hospital:


— For abrasions, bleeding. While a severe abrasion should be seen and cleaned by a physician, you can do some things to promote healing. First, because abrasions can easily become infected, you should clean the area thoroughly and remove any dirt and debris. Ideally, you want to irrigate the area with a nontoxic surfactant such as 0.9 sodium chloride or Shur-Clens with a bit of pressure (use a syringe if possible). The area must be completely clean. If necessary, use a clean gauze to gently scrub the area. Do not scrub vigorously, as this can cause more tissue damage. Check your tetanus immunisation as well.


— For sprains. Begin RICE (an acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation) immediately. Delaying this could mean more pain and swelling, and a longer recovery period. So start these self-care steps the minute you’ve sustained an injury


Rest. Cut back on normal daily activities and avoid putting weight on the injured body part.


Ice. Use an ice pack on the injured area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, anywhere from four to eight times per day. Don’t use the ice pack for longer than 20 minutes, and wrap it in a T-shirt or thin towel so you don’t burn your skin.


Compression. To reduce pain and swelling, wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage or another doctor-recommended compression brace or device — not too tightly, though. And ask your doctor for how long and how many times each day.


Elevation. Use pillows or blankets to raise the injured limb above the level of the heart to minimise swelling.


— Moderate to Severe Head Injury


a) Call emergency right away. FV Hospital’s emergency number in Ho Chi Minh City is (08) 5411 3500 and the French Hospital’s number in Hanoi is (04) 3574 1111.


b) Check the person’s airways, breathing and circulation. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).


c) If the person’s breathing and heart rate are normal but the person is unconscious, treat them as if they have a spinal injury. Stabilise the head and neck by placing your hands on both sides of the person’s head. Keep the head in line with the spine and prevent movement. Wait for medical help.


d) Stop any bleeding by firmly pressing a clean cloth on the wound. If the injury is serious, be careful not to move the person’s head. If blood soaks through the cloth, do not remove it. Place another cloth over the first one.


e) If you suspect a skull fracture, do not apply direct pressure to the bleeding site, and do not remove any debris from the wound. Cover the wound with sterile gauze dressing.


f) If the person is vomiting, to prevent choking, roll the person’s head, neck and body as one unit onto his or her side. This still protects the spine, which you must always assume is injured in the case of a head injury. Children often vomit after a head injury. This may not be a problem, but call a doctor for further guidance.


g) Apply ice packs to swollen areas. A more serious head injury that involves bleeding or brain damage must be treated in a hospital.


— For Broken Bones

a) If the skin is injured, it should be treated immediately to prevent infection. Don’t breathe on the wound or probe it. If possible, lightly rinse the wound to remove visible dirt or other contamination, but do not vigorously scrub or flush the wound. Cover with sterile dressings.


b) If needed, immobilise the broken bone with a splint or sling. Possible splints include a rolled-up newspaper or strips of wood. Immobilise the area both above and below the injured bone.


c) Apply ice packs to the injured leg or arm to reduce pain and swelling.

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