Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its chaotic streets filled with a symphony of motorbikes. For tourists visiting Hanoi, riding a motorbike can be an exciting way to travel like a local. However, the traffic conditions in Hanoi can be intimidating for novice riders. This guide will walk you through the steps of successfully renting, driving, and returning a motorbike in Hanoi as a beginner.
Overview of motorbike culture in Hanoi
- Motorbikes are the main form of transportation in Vietnam, especially in busy cities like Hanoi. Motorbikes outnumber cars 4 to 1 in Hanoi.
- Locals rely on motorbikes to commute, transport goods, and travel with families.
- Motorbikes fill every inch of roadway, often overflowing onto sidewalks. Traffic flows like a river, weaving seamlessly together.
- Driving habits are different than in the West – more relaxed and improvisational.
- For visitors, motorbikes provide convenience, mobility, and thrill.
Pros of renting a motorbike as a tourist
- Freedom to explore the city and surrounds independently.
- Gain an authentic local experience.
- Conveniently zip through congested traffic.
- Exhilarating feeling of riding in a new environment.
- Stop easily anywhere that piques your interest.
- Inexpensive way to travel compared to taxis.
- Meet locals who give tips on sights.
Cons and risks of renting a motorbike
- High risk of accident if unfamiliar with traffic flow.
- Chance of theft if bike is left unattended.
- Physical danger from potholes, debris, animals, vehicles.
- Fines for traffic violations.
- Getting lost while navigating the chaotic streets.
- Exposure to extreme noise and air pollution.
- Potential scams from unethical rental companies.
Finding Reputable Rental Shops
The first step is finding a quality rental shop with well-maintained bikes. Here’s what to look for:
Location – popular backpacker districts
Target rental shops located near your hotel in districts frequented by backpackers, like:
- Old Quarter
- Hoan Kiem
- Tay Ho
- Ba Dinh
These central districts have the highest concentrations of rental shops catering to tourists. Avoid renting from shops on the outskirts of town which may have lower standards.
Research online reviews
- Search travel forums like Tripadvisor for recent customer reviews.
- Look for consistent positive feedback on pricing, quality, and service.
- Check companies’ Facebook pages for photos of their fleet.
- Avoid shops with many complaints of breakdowns, hidden fees, or scamming.
Ask fellow travelers for recommendations
- Chat with other tourists at your hostel or hotel to hear first-hand rental experiences.
- Ask for suggestions on honest shops with fair pricing and good bikes.
- Get warnings on places to avoid due to bad service or safety issues.
Inspect shop’s fleet – look for quality bikes
Before choosing a shop, do a visual inspection of their rental bikes for:
- Modern designs – avoid old, rusted bikes.
- Proper tire inflation – test firmness by bouncing tires.
- Mirrors, lights, brakes – test that all work properly.
- Oil leaks – inspect ground for stains.
- Overall condition – choose the shiniest, newest-looking bikes.
Good shops will keep their fleet meticulously maintained. Pass on places with poorly cared for bikes.
>>> Additional information: How old do I need to be to rent a motorbike in Vietnam?
Choosing the Right Motorbike
Hanoi’s rental shops offer a wide range of motorbike models. Selecting the right size and style bike for your needs and skill level is key for a safe, enjoyable rental experience.
Engine size – automatic vs manual
- Automatic: Ideal for beginners. No shifting needed, just accelerate and brake. Models with under 150cc engines provide enough power while remaining easily controllable.
- Manual: Require manually shifting gears. Only advisable for riders highly experienced with stick shifts. Higher chance of stalling out in busy traffic.
Type – scooter vs motorbike
- Scooters: Lightweight, automatic transmission. Low center of gravity provides stability. Smaller engines require less power to handle. Great choice for new riders.
- Motorbikes: Manual transmission. More powerful engines, can reach higher speeds. Require balancing skills and experience shifting gears. Recommended for skilled riders only.
Condition – check tires, controls, lights
- Inspect tire treads – should have sufficient grip remaining.
- Handlebars and controls should be straight, undamaged, working smoothly.
- All lights functional – brake, headlight, blinkers.
- Test horn and brakes respond immediately.
Avoid bikes needing obvious repairs.
Accessories – helmets, locks, petrol
- Request 2 helmets – one for rider and passenger. Check for cracks, good padding.
- Ensure bike has working headlights and brake lights for night driving.
- Request bike has locks – vital for securing parked bike.
- Check bike has full petrol tank before leaving rental.
Inspecting the Motorbike Before Renting
Thoroughly inspect a potential rental bike yourself before signing any paperwork or handing over payment. Here’s what to check:
Check tires, brakes, mirrors, lights
Do a close visual examination of:
- Tires – ensure adequate tread depth and pressure.
- Brake pads – look for signs of over-wearing.
- Mirrors – positioned properly, no cracks in glass.
- Lights – test headlight, brake light, blinkers function.
Test drive around the block
Take the motorbike for quick test drive in the area:
- Listen for unusual engine sounds.
- Make sure brakes respond quickly.
- Get a feel for handling and power.
Don’t rent if you notice any issues driving.
Take photos to record condition
- Photograph bike from multiple angles before taking rental.
- Capture any existing scratches, dents, or flaws.
- Photos protect against unfair damage claims when returning.
Look for leaks, rust, damage
Check under bike and areas like wheel wells for:
- Oil or petrol leaks – can indicate issues.
- Rust – should be minimal on good rentals.
- Cracks, bends, or accident damage.
Avoid renting any bikes needing obvious repairs.
Negotiating the Rental Terms
You’ll need to negotiate the rental terms – don’t hesitate to shop around for the best deal locally.
Rental rate – compare shops for best deal
- Expect to pay around $5-10 USD per day for shorter rentals under a week.
- Weekly and monthly rates offer per day discounts – around $3-7 USD per day.
- Compare rates between nearby shops to get the best value.
Deposit amount and payment method
- Most shops require a cash deposit, often $100-200 USD which is refundable.
- Some may allow you to leave your passport instead of deposit.
- Only pay deposit by credit card if absolutely necessary. Cash is ideal.
Fuel options – full tank or pay per liter
- Prepaying for a full tank of fuel can be cheaper than refilling yourself.
- Alternatively, you can return bike with same fuel level and pay per liter used.
- Agree on method before renting to avoid misunderstandings after.
Length of rental – day rate vs longer term
- Standard day rates apply for rentals under 7 days.
- Weekly and monthly discounts are usually available for longer rentals.
- Lock in the days you’ll need the bike for to get correct rate.
Restrictions – mileage, location, passengers
- Standard daily rates often include unlimited mileage.
- Some shops restrict riding to certain districts or usage hours.
- Most allow 1 passenger, but check that it’s permitted.
- Ask about restrictions to avoid additional fees.
Items to Carry for Safety
When renting a motorbike in Hanoi, always prioritize safety by carrying:
Helmet – good quality, proper fit
- Wear the provided helmet at all times when riding.
- Make sure helmet fits snugly and comfortably.
- Only use if inner padding is intact, strap works properly.
- Check for DOT or Snell safety certification stickers inside.
Rain gear – poncho, face mask
- Bring along rain poncho to slip on over clothes if riding in rain.
- Wear face mask to protect from water, pollution, and insects.
- Store rain gear under bike seat for easy access if showers come.
Sun protection – hat, lotion, glasses
- Pack sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat to prevent burning.
- Reapply sunscreen when stopped, especially when riding long distances.
- Protective clothing can also prevent sun exposure on skin.
Filter mask – for pollution
- Simple surgical masks can help filter exhaust fumes.
- Activated carbon filter masks provide greater pollution protection.
- Consistently wearing a quality filter mask reduces health risks.
Phone, charger, offline map
- Carry your charged phone to use GPS and make emergency calls.
- Bring a phone charger to recharge when needed.
- Have an offline map on your phone in case you lose data service.
Rules of the Road
Though driving habits may seem chaotic, there are road rules in Vietnam. Learning the basic etiquette will help you drive safely and avoid accidents.
Drive on the right side
- Always stay far right except when passing.
- Pull left only to pass slower traffic or make a turn.
Yield to traffic from the left
- Look left when approaching intersections.
- Let any oncoming traffic from the left go first.
Obey traffic lights and signs
- Traffic lights must be obeyed, though locals often run reds. Stop at red lights!
- Follow posted speed limits and other road sign instructions.
Use horns and bells judiciously
- Use your horn and bell when passing or alerting others.
- Avoid honking excessively. Locals are accustomed to the noise.
Give right-of-way to bigger vehicles
- Always let buses, large trucks and cars through first.
- Don’t attempt to squeeze by or cut off bigger vehicles.
Defensive Driving Tips
Riding carefully and defensively is key to avoiding the chaos on Hanoi’s roads as a beginner:
Drive slowly and stay alert
- Ride slower than you normally would until adjusting to traffic flow.
- Scan all around you for potential hazards.
- Anticipate what cars, bikes, and pedestrians might do.
Keep a safe distance from other vehicles
- Allow ample distance between your bike and others.
- This gives you space to react and brake gradually.
- Avoid tailgating vehicles in front of you.
Signal turns early
- Use hand signals in advance when turning left or right.
- Signal a couple blocks before your actual turn.
- Be predictable and let traffic around you react.
Avoid sudden braking or acceleration
- Accelerate gradually from stops to avoid skidding.
- Brake early and slowly well before stops.
- Sudden speed changes can cause accidents.
Expect the unexpected
- People, vehicles, animals can appear suddenly.
- Potholes, debris, and obstacles may enter your path without warning.
- Drive prepared to react instantly to surprises.
Parking and Security
Parking on the street is common in Hanoi, but take precautions to minimize theft:
Use paid parking when available
- Many shops, hotels, and attractions offer paid motorbike parking.
- Though not always guarded, paid lots deter opportunistic thieves.
Lock up out of sight if street parking
- When parking on streets, tuck bike out of sight like down alleyways.
- Make your bike harder to spot to thieves scanning for targets.
Use helmets as locks and deterrents
- Loop your arm through the helmet strap and secure it to the bike.
- A locked-on helmet signals the bike is protected and being monitored.
Add extra locks or chains if available
- Use any provided bike locks or chains for more security.
- Attach to fixed objects like posts when possible to make stealing difficult.
Don’t leave valuables in bags on bike
- Always take wallets, electronics, and money with you.
- Don’t tempt thieves by leaving belongings visibly stored on the bike.
What to Do in Case of Accidents or Breakdowns
No matter how careful you try to drive, mishaps can happen when riding in a new country. Here’s how to respond if yours does:
Explore: A Guide to Motorbike Rental, Laws, Road Safety for Tourists in Hanoi, Vietnam
Move bike off the road if possible
- If in an accident and bike is still operable, move it to the curb or shoulder.
- This prevents causing a further hazard in the roadway.
Alert police if necessary for insurance
- Notify police promptly if there are injuries or major damage.
- Get a police report for insurance claims.
Call rental shop for assistance
- Most shops provide emergency repair assistance for breakdowns.
- Have your rental paperwork with details handy to call the shop.
Use helmet locks to secure bike
- Lock helmets to bike using straps to prevent theft if immobilized.
- Wait with bike until help arrives if in isolated area. Don’t leave unattended.
Get contact info and photos if other vehicles involved
- Exchange driver details if collision involves other vehicles.
- Take photos documenting damage to all vehicles.
- This provides proof of circumstances later.
Returning the Motorbike
Finish your rental period by returning the bike properly to avoid any disputes:
Arrive on time at agreed return location
- Return the bike at the date, time, and location stipulated in your rental agreement.
- Call ahead if running late to avoid additional charges.
Refill tank if you did not prepay for fuel
- Check your contract to confirm if you must refill tank before returning.
- Refuel yourself if fuel was not included in your rental fee.
Check bike over and note any new damages
- Do a walk-around, inspecting for new dents, scratches, or issues.
- Point out any damage not previously recorded to the rental staff.
Return keys and helmets to shop staff
- Make sure keys and any provided helmets are returned.
- Get staff acknowledgment that all items were returned.
Keep rental receipt as proof of return
- Request a receipt upon return stating bike was returned on time, undamaged.
- Keep this receipt to dispute any improper charges later on.
To conclude, follow this key guidance for a smooth motorbike rental experience as a beginner in Hanoi’s chaotic traffic:
Take it slow until you get comfortable
- Don’t rush into riding until you adjust to road conditions. Start conservatively.
Practice defensive driving
- Anticipate hazards and always leave plenty of braking room around you.
Ask locals for tips and hotspots
- Chat with hotel staff or friendly locals to get their Hanoi motorbiking know-how.
Enjoy the freedom but stay cautious
- Soak in the sights from your bike, but don’t throw caution to the wind.
Obey all traffic laws to avoid fines
- Strictly follow the rules of the road to avoid legal woes.
Renting and riding a motorbike yourself allows you to deeply immerse in Vietnamese culture. By arming yourself with this advice, you can confidently explore Hanoi on two wheels like a pro!
Renting a motorbike can be one of the most freeing and exciting ways to explore Hanoi. By following the guidance in this beginner’s guide, you can find a quality bike, gear up with safety essentials, learn to drive defensively, and protect yourself from scams.
While Hanoi’s streets can be intimidating at first, taking it slowly and keeping alert allows you to steadily gain confidence. Soon you’ll be zipping through traffic like a local pro. With the proper preparation, a motorbike rental lets you immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture while enjoying wind-in-your-hair adventure. Just use common sense, obey traffic laws, and balance thrills with caution. Hanoi on two wheels awaits!
>>> Suggestion: Essential Motorbike Rental Requirements in Vietnam: A Comprehensive Guide
Frequently asked questions
What documents do I need to rent a motorbike in Hanoi?
Most shops will require your passport and a cash deposit. An International Driving Permit (IDP) or Vietnamese license is recommended but not always required. Your home country license alone may also suffice depending on the rental company.
How can I find my way around Hanoi on a motorbike?
Use Google Maps or downloaded maps like Maps.me that work offline. Ask your hotel to mark attractions on a map. Stop frequently to re-orient yourself and don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions. Having a sense of direction is very helpful.
What should I do if I have an accident on a rental motorbike?
Move out of traffic, administer first aid if needed, alert police to file an accident report, contact the rental company, exchange information with the other driver, take photos, and seek medical attention if you have injuries. Notify your travel insurance provider.
Is it safe for women to ride a motorbike alone in Hanoi?
Generally yes. Exercise the same safety precautions as you would at home. Stick to well-lit areas at night, don’t engage with street harassment, and trust your instincts if a situation feels unsafe. Stay alert and confident.
Some companies allow adding a second permitted driver for an extra fee. Others restrict usage to only the renter. Ask when booking if you need someone else to share driving duties. Both parties may need valid licenses and ID.
Should I purchase extra insurance when renting?
Most major rental companies include basic insurance with standard rentals. Ensure this covers your liability in case of accidents or damage. Consider added coverage if you want more comprehensive protection for your deposit amount.
What should I look for when buying gas for a rental motorbike?
Only fill up from reputable gas stations. Use the type of petrol recommended in the bike’s manual or by the rental company. Many bikes take unleaded gas, either E5 or E10 varieties. Avoid street sellers with jerry cans.
How can I reduce my pollution exposure when riding?
Wear an N95 or activated carbon filter mask, use eye protection, properly fit your helmet, cover exposed skin, limit time riding in heavy traffic, take breaks from pollution in green spaces or buildings. Limit routes on congested streets.
Hope this gives you more tips on having a safe, enjoyable motorbike rental experience in Hanoi! Let me know if you need any other motorcycle-related advice.