Guide to Buying a Honda Win Motorcycle in Vietnam

2015-05-01 08.07.45       Here it is, my guide to buying a Honda Win motorcycle in Vietnam. With the popularity of this mode of travel in Vietnam, when I decided to dive in and buy one, I was surprised at how little information there was on the web. Hundreds if not thousands of people go to Vietnam every year, buy a motorbike and tour the country for varying amounts of time. It’s not hard to imagine why, it’s an experience, these bikes are everywhere, and they are affordable as hell.

Early in 2015, while I was backpacking around SE Asia, I  bought a Honda Win 115cc in the north of Laos from a fellow traveler. I had almost zero riding experience but I jumped on it, headed south and traveled the entire length of the country. I then entered Vietnam and rode it all the way north visiting several small villages, towns and cities going all the way near the Chinese border. During this time I got to stop in villages where there were no other westerners. I met some amazing locals and had some amazing experiences. Every week I got better at riding and felt more comfortable on the bike. I only crashed once, riding on a rainy day on a street of mud going less than 20 kph.  Luckily I was just a little banged up and I learned a lot from my little mishap. All in all, riding through the backroads in mountainous areas and zipping back and forth through the switchbacks were some of the best moments of my life. I put over 5,000 km on that Honda Win. I became addicted and I have ridden a number of other motorcycles since then.  Now that I’m back in the US (temporarily), I currently own a Honda Shadow and love to ride as much as weatherly possible. In my future travel plans I can’t imagine traveling any other way. So…if you’re thinking about it, take the plunge, and GO FOR IT!!!

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The Good:

  • Buying and traveling by motorcycle in SE Asia will completely and utterly transform your travel experience, mostly for the better. It slows down your pace of travel, you’ll see more and experience more. You’ll stop in towns and villages that get little or no foreign visitors, which will make you somewhat of a celebrity. In general, people in these towns and villages will be much more friendly and genuine than those in touristy cities. This will make your experience more authentic.
  • Everywhere you go you’ll have complete freedom. While others are haggling with tuk tuk drivers and taxi’s, you’ll be able to just pick up and go at the drop of a hat whether it’s around town for the day or to another city.
  • You’ll rack up major cool points with other travelers for being adventurous enough to travel by motorcycle. Plus you’ll be in a position to give rides to others, especially attractive individuals.
  • Gas is cheap. Including the small repairs you’ll have to do to the bike, in the long run you spend less than you would have traveling by buses and trains, not to mention all the tuk tuk rides.

The Bad:

Just like anything, it’s not all a bed of roses. But to me the ‘bad’ just toughens you up and is by far outweighed by the ‘good’.

  • It gets tiring. Your butt and legs will get numb very quick and even just a few hours of travel can sometimes be downright exhausting, especially when it’s also hot and humid.
  • Your bike WILL need repairs. At some point it is likely that it will refuse to start, or break down on you, leaving you stranded somewhere remote. Although money-wise most repairs are under $10, it’s a hassle and inconvenience. On the flip side, whenever I broke down some friendly local would stop to help me within 15 minutes and I was never really stranded anywhere for very long. Also, in any given city or town, you are never far from a mechanic.
  • If you’re new to riding you’ll probably burn your leg on the exhaust before you learn to avoid it.
  • Some SE Asian drivers are crazy. Even if you ride extremely safe you’ll have several close calls that will make your heart beat so hard you’ll think it’s going to jump out of your chest.

& The Ugly:

Well, if you crash, things will be pretty ugly. Be careful and wear at least some protective gear.  At the very least always wear a helmet, pants and a long sleeve shirt.

Choosing a Bike:

BUYER BEWARE! There are a lot of other travelers or locals selling total lemons. These bikes will break down on you within weeks or days of buying it. If you want to buy a bike, take it to another mechanic who has no vested interest in whether you buy it or not and ask him to look it over. If it only needs a few small repairs and you like that bike, then it’s ok to go for it. Beware any seller who doesn’t want you to take it to another mechanic or offers for ‘their mechanics’ to look over it. Here are a few things to think about when looking for a bike:

  1. If you can, buy the bike in Hanoi from a mechanic shop and sell it in Ho Chi Minh. You’ll get it cheaper in Hanoi (don’t pay more than $225) and you can sell it for the same amount or a little more in the south.
  2. Don’t pay more than $200 if you buy from another traveler. He/She probably bought it for $225, rode it hard for a couple months and is trying to sell it for more than they paid. The bike will probably have more problems if you buy from a fellow traveler.
  3. Make sure it comes with the ‘Blue Card’. This is the ownership card. It will have a Vietnamese name on it but as long as you possess it you are the owner of the vehicle.
  4. Don’t buy one that has all the engine and parts spray painted black. It may look cool but the person may have painted it to hide something such as a mechanical issue or metal corrosion.
  5. Don’t buy a bike that had the engine rebuilt. Many people try to use this as a selling point but it’s bad news.
  6. Don’t buy the first one you see. Don’t get carried away by your excitement to buy a motorbike. If you pass up on one bike, another better one will be right around the corner.
  7. Ride the bike and listen to how it sounds. Make sure it shifts smoothly up and down and especially into neutral.
  8. Make sure there is no oil or gas leaking. Look for drops on the floor.
  9. Check that the Headlight, Indicators (front and back), and Break Light are all working. Don’t worry if the speedometer doesn’t work, none of them do.
  10. Honk the horn to make sure it works. You’ll need it a lot, especially in Vietnam.
  11. There are 110 cc and 115 cc versions of this bike. Make sure you get the 115 cc. It really makes a difference. A friend of mine had a 110 cc, his luggage was lighter than mine and he had to go up most hills in 2nd gear and mine made those same hills in 3rd.
  12. Ride the bike in a straight line and let go of the handlebars. Make sure it still goes straight and doesn’t pull you in one direction or the other.
  13. Put the bike on the repair stand and spin both tires with your hands. They should spin for a couple seconds before stopping.
  14. Rev the engine in neutral and make sure no smoke comes out the exhaust.
  15. All these bikes have luggage racks. Look for a bike with the luggage rack welded on verses tied on with bungee cords. This is optional and not really a big deal, but the welded racks are just more secure.

 

Riding Tips:

If you already know how to ride and have a license in your home country, some of this may be elementary. However, if you’re experienced, you’ve still never rode in SE Asia, which is a different animal altogether, so I think this section can benefit everyone.

  • Ride like you’re invisible.
  • In Vietnam, the bigger vehicle always has right of way. Remember that you are at the bottom of the totem poll and ride accordingly.
  • On many larger highways there are separate but parallel roads for motorbikes and cars. Don’t ride on the cars’ side or you’ll get pulled over and most likely have to bribe a police officer or two. Yes I had to do this…
  • Ride like the locals. See how they negotiate their maneuvers and do the same, but be even safer about it. It’s safer to adopt a ‘when in Rome’ attitude to driving there. Your riding-habits from your home country may get you killed.
  • Shoot for riding about 200 kilometers on any given day. It’s enough to make it to another town but not so much that you’ll be too exhausted to do anything once you get there. That’s usually about 4 to 5 hours including stopping for a meal.
  • Lock your bike up when not riding. Once after spending only 5 minutes in a camera shop I came out and could tell that someone tried to roll my bike away but my chain lock on the back tire stopped it from going any further than a few feet (1 meter).
  • Use traffic signals as a guideline rather than a rule, look for how others are driving.
  • Never, Never, Never ride around in flip flops. If you have to stop suddenly and put your foot down you’re probably going to break something. I saw way to many westerners, especially near beach towns, riding around with flip flops, shorts and tank tops. If skin meets floor it’s going to stay there.
  • When you go to a mechanic for any reason, even just for an oil change, ask him to check other parts of the bike. Preventative measures are always safer and cheaper than waiting til something goes wrong.
  • Most likely the mechanics you go to won’t speak English, or any other western languages for that matter. You can communicate what you want by pointing to your own eyes then waving your hand over the bike for a check-up, or by pretending to pour something into the oil cap etc…
  • If you want to ride the bike into Cambodia or Laos, understand that whether you get through the border checkpoint will depend upon the mood of the customs agent. I got through just fine, without even paying a single fee, but I know others who were told they could not bring the bike into their country and they had to sell it at the nearest border town before crossing over. Be prepared to deal with this. Either sell the bike or try the next closest border crossing. You can even offer a bit of money to the border agent, you won’t get locked up like you would for trying that in the West.
  • Buy a rain coat
You can even sleep on your bike in a pinch
You can even sleep on your bike in a pinch

That’s about the bulk of it. If you are in Vietnam or going there, and considering buying a Honda Win, don’t overthink it, just do it. Write me if you have any questions. I can honestly say It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made while traveling. As the guy who sold me the bike said: “You’re not buying a bike, you’re buying an experience.” So my advice to all of you reading this: Ride with confidence, Be safe, and Have the time of your life!!!

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Not a Honda Win, but just an example of the beautiful places any motorcycle can take you.

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Hoi An

Hoi An

Yesterday was my 9th day in Hoi An. It is officially the city I have spent the most time in in SE Asia after almost 3 months of travel. It is a beautiful town and I met some great peeps there.

My first four days in town were rather stressful. First of all, Frankie (my motorbike) died. I had to have the carburetor replaced. I decided that since I will spend the next few months on that bike, It’d be better to just fix everything and be done with it. I ended up dropping $150 on getting her running like new. I also bought a much better helmet and designed a leather jacket from to protect me on the road, another $250. Add to that a couple linen shirts and a pair of pants I couldn’t resist having tailored, and I had dropped more money in a few days than I usually would in two weeks of travel. A lot of it was necessary, but still, it stressed me out.

Honda Win

After those first few days, I was contemplating moving on but decided that I had better stay in Hoi An and have a few stress free days enjoying the city. I needed a few days not waiting for news from a mechanic or having buyer’s remorse. I went to My Son with a couple English friends and explored the Champ kingdom ruins with them. The site wasn’t very crowded and I really liked checking out the Hindu temple ruins.

 

My Son

My last few days in Hoi An were great. A few days ago, two of my travel friends and I went to the beach. We walked to a secluded section to escape the crowds and spent the day being kids again. We played in the water, jumping over waves. I suggested we make a sandcastle, and we spent over an hour in intense concentration making it the best sandcastle ever. After we had finished, people kept stopping to photograph our masterpiece. We had childlike grins on our faces the whole time. We drank beers and had some deep conversations about politics, spirituality, and the current state of the world.

Hoi An beach

The following day, I went with the same crew to Marble Mountain some 15 km away.  We climbed up the steep steps up the mountain side and were blown away by how beautiful the mountain was. The mountain is filled with caves and temples. We had a great vibe walking around up there. We went off-trail to find the perfect view of the surrounding area. There was a shrine in a huge cave, the ceiling of it some 50m high. We took goofy photos. At one point, I had them take a picture of me doing a handstand. While upside down, little did I know that a crowd of about 20 middle schoolers had amassed to watch me. When I came down, several of them asked to take photos with me, and I was a celebrity for a few minutes. We wandered around on the mountain for about 4 hours before we finally descended, all tired and pleased with another afternoon well spent. That night we went out on the town and took advantage of a 100,000 dong, all-you-can-drink special. The kicker is that we only had an hour left of the special. We chugged drink after drink until the very last minute, wobbling away from that bar to another. At the final bar, we took turns youtubing our favorite dance music, at one point ending up on top of the bar dancing Michael Jackson’s Thriller. At about 3 am we meandered back to our hostel, singing and enjoying having old town Hoi An all to ourselves…mostly.

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Our final day there, we three went to a village known for making pottery. We got to try our hands at it, all the while thinking of the sexy pottery scene from the movie Ghost. We walked through the narrow alleys of the village, had iced coffee and called it a day. Another afternoon well spent with great company.

A big shout out to amazing people I spent time with in Hoi An. You guys showed me how time and again, the people you meet on the road and the time you share with them are a huge part of what travelling is all about. Cheers my friends!

 

 

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Driving into Vang Vieng I found the landscape breathtaking. The countryside is dotted with luscious green hills. High cliffs tower like skyscrapers. The mountains get so high that at one point we stopped and found ourselves in a cloud. We got out for a bit and I breathed in the refreshing mist. It’s a bit surreal being in a cloud. The last time I felt like that was when skydiving.

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Arriving in Vang Vieng I took up lodging at the Phoudingdaeng Organic Farm about 3km north of town. This has been one of my favorite guesthouses ever.  There are goats, pigs, chickens and crops such as mulberries, pineapples, and eggplants. Because of this, the guesthouse’s restaurant has amazingly fresh food. The goat cheese they put on their omelets is to die for. The staff are delightful.  Every morning I would order breakfast and the woman would give me a discounts on my order. The guesthouse is also by the river with an amazing view of the high karst cliffs on the other side. The only downside to this place is that it is a bit far from town. One night I hitchhiked back and the next I walked which took about 50 minutes.

Tubing Vang Vieng

Tubing Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng itself is like a spring break party. People come to tube the river and get plastered. I partook to an extent. Tubing is a must do, but I recommend starting by noon. My friends and I started at 3 and we were a bit rushed to get from bar to bar along the river. The next day we went to the Blue Lagoon. It was a bit crowded and the journey overpriced but it was still refreshing. The other days I just hung out with friends by the river or at a restaurant that played episodes of Friends.

Honda Win

The highlight of my stay was buying a Honda motorcycle off my American friend. He was looking to sell it before going back to the states and I really wanted to escape the confines of traveling by bus. This will definitely change my pace of travel. It seems I’ll only be able to go about 200 km per day. I’m not sure what my new mode of transportation will bring but I expect it will be fun. Yesterday I drove from Vang Vieng to Viantiene. I felt so free. Although, my ass hurt a lot and I had to make a few stops to remedy this. Viantiene is great so far! Until next time…