It’s a fact, the best way to fully explore and experience anywhere new is on two-wheels. When you ride a motorcycle, you’re part of the adventure, not a mere spectator. But what if you can’t ride? What could be the end of the story is now the beginning. Thanks to back of the bike tours, it’s now possible to become part of a Vietnam adventure.
This simple answer to two-wheeled mobility opens up a whole world of hands-free adventures for non-riders. Thanks to their high degree of flexibility and unrivaled maneuverability, back of the bike tours are unmatched.
The ability to delve deep into a region’s history and culture via back of the bike tours is tailor-made for countries like Vietnam.
Long shut off to all but the most ardent of travelers, Vietnam is becoming more and more popular. Its previous self-imposed isolation is, without doubt, adding to the country’s mystique and subsequent attraction.
Despite its recent increase in visitors, Vietnam still boasts the type of unspoiled countryside and culture that is rapidly diminishing elsewhere in Asia.
If there is a country more suited to back of the bike motorcycle adventures, I’m yet to discover it!
Pillion Tour Pioneers
Back of the bike motorcycle tours aren’t a new concept. In 1933, Herbert Tichy rode pillion on Max Reisch’s 250cc Puch from Germany to India with only a pushbike saddle to call home.
You’ll be relieved to hear that although today’s experience is far more comfortable and safe, it still manages to convey the same amount of adventurous spirit.
Back of the bike tours may sound like an exciting idea, but what makes them so popular, and what’s the reality of a two-wheel adventure?
When you visit any new country, especially somewhere as exotic as Vietnam, the chances are you’ll want to explore both ends of the cultural spectrum.
In places like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the usual tourist excursions such as coaches and walking tours only scratch the cultural surface. Buses can get bogged down in nose to nose traffic, and if it’s hot and humid, the novelty of a walking tour may be short-lived.
Both these cities, located at either end of the country and the myriad of fantastic locations in between including Da Nang, Hoi An, and Da Lat, all have two things in common. The first is gridlock, which in turn leads on to the second, motorcycles.
The Best Way to Get from A to B
It’s no exaggeration to say that every man, woman, and child in Vietnam is in some way reliant on two-wheeled motorized transport. This phenomenon is by and large due to running costs. You can add to this the fact that two-wheels is the only way to get from A to B within a reasonable timeframe.
There are over 55 million motorcycles registered in Vietnam, one for every two people. Motorcycle taxis are on every street corner, and back of the bike city tours are numerous. One of the more popular back of bike tours offers food and bar crawls as a pillion passenger on vintage Vespas.
No other type of tourist transport gets you right into the beating heart of Vietnam’s chaotic city streets like a back of the bike tour. Weaving through the back streets on a Vespa wins on a more practical level too. The seats are a little wider than most small capacity scooters, and those tiny wheels are great for quick directional changes.
Venture further afield than the burbs, and it becomes a whole other different story. The tiny wheels and underpowered two-stroke engine of a Vespa becomes a liability, as Jeremy Clarkson discovered during filming of the Top Gear Vietnam Special. Read our “Top Gear Vietnam Special Adventure” article for all the details.
As for touring the mountains, valleys, jungles, and trails of hidden Vietnam with a passenger on the back of a Vespa, forget it.
To truly enjoy a back of the bike motorcycle tour of Vietnam not surprisingly, you need a motorcycle. Due to licensing laws and horrendous import duty though, the Vietnam motorcycle scene is dominated by bikes of 175cc or less. This fact makes the choice of tour-suitable bikes limited.
Right Tool for the Job
First off, before a motorcycle is even in the running for this two-wheeled job, it has to be physically large enough to accommodate two people. Also, the engine needs to produce sufficient, predictable bottom-end torque to make a back of the bike tour a pleasure rather than a pain.
Thankfully, within the last couple of years, Royal Enfield has officially been importing motorcycles into Vietnam. One of which is the dual-sport Himalayan adventure bike. This motorcycle is exactly the right tool for the job.
The Himalayan is a reliable, unshakeable workhorse. These traits are particularly useful when considering the bike as a platform for anyone new to the idea of back of the bike tours.
But why is the choice of motorcycle so important? If you’re used to riding a bike, you will know all about what makes one more capable than another. On the flip side, for those unfamiliar with two wheels, feeling safe and secure as a pillion passenger is paramount.
It’s a given that for an authentic first-hand experience of the Vietnam countryside, a back of the bike tour is the ultimate adventure. However, for many, the reality can be a little daunting.
Be Part of the Adventure
Think about it for a moment. Imagine you’ve spent your whole traveling life in a metal box, separated from the world by a screen of glass. All of a sudden, the barriers are removed, and you’re part of the adventure, not just an observer
No longer in an isolated four-wheel fish tank, you can feel the wind in your face. The intensity of the sights, sounds, and tastes of the world around you are enough to give you sensory overload.
These are the reasons why, the moment someone gets on the back of a bike, it has to feel right.
This feeling of security isn’t accidental, and as previously mentioned, the choice of bike is paramount. The Royal Enfield Himalayan, for example, has plenty of suspension travel and an excellent roomy, dual height seat.
Couple this with a solid chassis and an engine that produces all its power at low revs, and it’s easy to see why it’s ideal for two-up motorcycle tours.
Furthermore, the wide bars and 21’’ front wheel give the rider impressive steering input. The chassis also plays an important part. It’s specially designed to feel stable on the road but also sturdy enough for an off-road bashing. This combination all adds to the Himalayan’s surefootedness, which in turn feels more reassuring to the pillion.
Only as Good as the Rider
No matter how good a motorcycle is, it can only ever be as good as its rider. When it comes to providing back of the bike tours, the choice of rider is a crucial factor.
For a pillion to feel safe and secure, the rider must be knowledgeable. Not only understanding the bike and how it rides but also be familiar with the terrain. In Vietnam, they will also have to pass an advanced theoretical and practical riding course, specific tourism-related exams, and be state-certified.
State-certification is highly important. It’s a legal requirement and without it, you are leaving yourself open to disaster in the event of anything unexpected happening. It’s an unfortunate fact, the quantity of unlicensed back of the bike tours are outnumbered only by the number of tourists who neglect to check their credentials.
Don’t be tempted to go with the cheapest tour even if it looks ok. Do your best to make sure the bikes are legally registered and the riders properly licensed and insured. This may not be an easy task, but ask to see their documentation and say you need to take photos on your phone incase you get stopped by the police.
If they are fully legal, this will be no big deal, if not, you may find the tour is mysteriously fully booked. It may sound over the top, but it can’t be stressed enough, remember, you’re putting your life in their hands.
If you’re fortunate, being stopped by the police during an unlicensed tour may result in the rider sweet-talking his way to a fine. An on-the-spot fine, which incidentally, you will be expected to pay.
Worst-case scenario, if you crash and your rider is without legal paperwork, your travel insurance is void. In which case, depending on your policy, you may have to pay for some or all of the damage or medical treatment.
Find a Legit Tour
The importance of finding a legit motorcycle tour company in Vietnam that specializes in back of the bike tours can’t be stressed enough. They may not be easy to find, though, as the stringent red tape, and expensive specialist insurance they require to operate is prohibitive. One company that has gone the extra mile to cross the t’s and dot the i’s is Da Nang based Onyabike Adventures.
They are quite literally, the only company to be 100 percent legal for large capacity adventure motorcycle tours in all Vietnam. This simple fact makes them both the best and most reliable in the country. Adventure riding bike nut and ex-pat Aussie owner Jeff Burke has gone to great lengths to make sure this is the case.
Onyabike Adventures boasts a fleet of specially-equipped Royal Enfield Himalayans along with knowledgeable local and fully licenced riders/guides. So with all the necessary paperwork he needs to legally operate, Jeff stresses that he’s got all the bases well and truly covered.
‘You can plot your route, know the terrain, and estimate the traveling times, but we don’t call them adventure tours for nothing. The unexpected can and does happen. At least by having the right back-up safety gear and paperwork in place, there’s nothing we can’t handle,’ he says confidently.
What Can You Expect on a Back of Bike Tour?
So far, we’ve looked at why back of the bike tours are the best way to travel around Vietnam. We’ve also considered other essential elements such as choice of motorcycle and the importance of getting a qualified professional rider.
All that’s left is to examine the nuts and bolts of an Onyabike Adventures tour. So let’s find out what a back of the bike rider can expect, and know more about the fabulous areas they cover.
The fact that you haven’t ever been on the back of a bike before is less important than you may realize. With the right motorcycle and rider plus some simple instructions, and a reputable tour company all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Before you get anywhere near a bike, though, first, you’ll need a comprehensive orientation briefing. The briefing will acquaint you with the correct way to mount the bike. Plus, you’ll get some basic instructions explaining how you can communicate with the rider.
Safety Gear in With the Deal
Next comes the supplied motorcycle safety gear. This kit includes a waterproof jacket and trousers and a DoT or EU approved motorcycle crash helmet. Tours run from one to 14-plus days. Meals, snacks, soft drinks, and accommodation are all included in the initial price while on the road.
You will be picked up and returned to your hotel or airport, and there’s a 15-ltr dry bag for essentials. For ease of travel, you can strap this to the motorcycle’s luggage rack. It’s also possible to make arrangements to send larger luggage items ahead. What’s more, if the fun comes to a premature halt, mechanics and back up bikes are always on standby.
Add-ons include hotel upgrades, additional (optional) safety gear, and a support van for larger groups or those who want to join the tour without riding.
So that’s all the logistics taken care of but what about the actual back of bike tours? Geographically speaking, as Vietnam is long and narrow, Onyabike Adventures divide the country into three sections; south, central, and north. Each section has its unique appeal, points of interest, terrain, and riding challenges.
In the south of the country, Ho Chi Minh City forms the urban hub. You don’t have to travel far though before becoming immersed in the breath-taking countryside.
The fertile soil and slightly cooler climate give this region a tropical vibe. Meanwhile, the Mekong River and its famous Delta provide a network of narrow tracks and trails. These snake throughout the waterways, making it tailor-made for any back of the bike tour adventure.
The famous Ho Chi Minh Trail carved out of the jungle as a supply line for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war, starts in the city before heading north.
The trail climbs almost 1500-meters and passes through the stunning mountain top town of Da Lat, better known as the City of Eternal Spring.
Buddhist Temples and Hidden Waterfalls
This part of Lam Dong Province is breath-taking and is covered in pine forests, lakes, and fields carpeted in flowers. Add to this the numerous ornate Buddhist temples and secret waterfalls. It’s true to say that this unforgettable back of the bike tour takes in some of the most picturesque parts of Vietnam.
The coastal city of Nha Trang marks the upper edge of the South Vietnam area. Thanks to its 6-km of pristine beach, it is known as the Riviera of the South China Sea.
The city is one of the popular stop-off points of the Onyabike 14 day North to South Classic Tour. Here, after an exhilarating ride from Quy Nhon, riders and pillions get to chill out on the beach or check out the buzzing nightlife.
Central Vietnam has just about everything an adventure rider could hope for. It has enough fantastic scenery to keep anyone on a back of the bike tour shooting video footage all day long.
On the coastal region lie the cities of Da Nang Hoi An and Hue. The real jewel in the crown though is west where the jungle runs all the way to Cambodia’ s border. The pristine jungle in this part of the country has never come into contact with a chainsaw. Its hill tribes have a peaceful existence, living close to nature in stilt-house villages.
The best way to access and appreciate these unspoiled trails and mountain roads is on two wheels.
A Deserted Ribbon of Perfection
Onyabike Adventures run several tour options in Central Vietnam, but the area that most visitors have heard of is the Hai Van Pass. Once again, this is something we can thank the Top Gear Vietnam Special for making us aware of.
It was here that the once motorbike-hating Jeremy Clarkson experienced an epiphany. The Top Gear presenter hailing the famous mountain road ‘a deserted ribbon of perfection.’
Clarkson admitted on camera that the Hai Van Pass was not only one of the best roads he’d ever traveled along but also that he was glad to be experiencing it on two-wheels. Praise indeed!
The 21-km ride climbs 500-mts over a spur in the Annamite mountain range that in ancient times, acted as a natural boundary between feuding clans. The mountain range goes right down to the coast, where the last remaining peak disappears into the sea to become Son Tra Island. Watch Onyabike Adventures full guide tour to the Hai Van Pass meant for riders and pillion passengers.
Due to the proximity of the mountains to the coast, sea mists often continue up the range to shroud the Hai Van Pass in cloud. This act of nature only adds to its ethereal feel. The Onyabike Adventures North to South Classic Tour takes in this area. It is even popular enough to have a dedicated specific one-day tour, which also includes the picturesque Lang Co Lagoon and Monkey Mountain.
As the name suggests, this area is home to the rare Langur Monkeys. While your skilled rider negotiates the sweeping bends, back of the bike passengers can make sure they don’t miss out on any photo opportunities.
If South Vietnam is historic and Central Vietnam scenic, then North Vietnam manages to combine all elements while adding its unique offerings to the mix. Here you will find the immense capital city of Hanoi, experience incredible rides along Ha Giang Mountain roads and visit the famous stepped rice paddies of Lao Cai.
Onyabike Adventures covers all bases with a North to South Classic and two Multi-Day Tours that dig deep into the stunning northern countryside. These include the Hanoi to Da Nang-Phong Nha Caves Adventure, which heads straight for the mountains of the White Thai Tribe before winding through stepped paddy fields and bamboo forests.
Stopping on the way to explore the hidden caves of the Phong Nha National Park, the ride carries on to follow the famous Victory Road. It then heads towards the Laos border before traveling south to the Imperial Citadel in Hue.
If you like the mountains high, your roads to twist, and the countryside unspoiled, then the Sapa and Ha Giang tour is your adventure-packed dream. This tour explores the far North of Vietnam, and takes you right up to the Chinese border.
Here, you will find the highest mountain, tallest waterfall, roller-coaster mountain roads, and enough ancient temples and hidden caves to fill ten tours.
These are the less-traveled roads and mountain trails of hidden Vietnam.
Some areas are still off the tourist radar, and without doubt the best way to appreciate the stunning wild countryside is from the back of a bike.
Regardless of where you travel in Vietnam, the key element is adventure. A back of the bike tour guarantees you a place at its very heart. It offers you an unparalleled opportunity to become part of the experience rather than a mere observer.