Two Wheels And Rice Fields: The Ultimate Guide Travelling To Motorbiking Vietnam is a guide written by Anthony and Elise over at Positive World Travel. They have a great site and we have been regular readers for a long time. When I saw that they had documented their adventure through Vietnam I thought I'd take a look. We'll be arriving in Vietnam in a month or two so I wouldn't mind a few tips and tricks.
The book contains 120 pages of helpful information. The formatting isn't crowded so you can expect to skim through it in a few hours. After that you'll want to hold onto it to refer to when you need specific advice.
There are sections dealing with pre-trip preparation, selecting a motorcycle, selecting riding gear, motorcycle maintenance, personal security, suggested stops and selling a motorcycle in Vietnam. It's a good, broad introduction to the country and the nuts and bolts of travelling a foreign country by motorcycle. There's a lot of information here and, while a few more personal anecdotes would have been fun, it's presented in a format thats both easy to read and easy to jump into to find specific information.
What kind of motorcycle do I want?
The section on selecting a motorcycle contains an excellent guide to the types of motorcycles you're likely to come across in Vietnam. Each make and model has a brief description of its pros and cons as well as a photograph. It's an excellent jumping off point for familiarizing yourself with potential bikes even before you've left home. The motorcycles you'll find zipping around south east Asia are entirely different from those in Australia, Europe or north America. A quick intro to the more common ones is very useful.
There's also a handy guide for things to check when buying a motorcycle. Most people, myself included, have not bought and sold a lot of motorcycles so any guidance is welcome. Generally they've presented this list with a good description of what to do in plain English. For example, there is a very nice description of how to test a motorcycle's suspension that even I understood. There were a few items however, like checking the battery, where I could have used a little more detail.
I'd recommend printing out the buying guide at home then taking it with you when looking at bikes. Where the guide is a little light on detail do some googling ahead of time and jot down some notes on how to check stuff. There's nothing wrong with showing up with a written checklist.
What are the roads like?
The safety, health & security tips are well worth reading, particularly if you haven't ridden a motorcycle in south east Asia before. Aclimatizing to local road conditions can be a difficult process. This intro will hopefully help you start making the mental adjustment before you've even arrived in Vietnam.
Do I need to be able to speak Vietnamese?
In the resources section they provide a very handy language guide. Its far too long to simply memorise all of the phrases they provide (although memorizing a few key words would be a good idea). Consider printing it out along with the buying guide and taking a hard copy with you.
Some of the phrases they have provided are a bit wordy. "Please Give Me A Pair Of Chopsticks?" is a little much. Just say "chopsticks." Similarly, substitute "pay" or "bill" (said with some money in your hand to reinforce the point) for "May I Have The Bill Please?". Once you've printed the language guide, get out a pen, do some googling and cut the phrases down to one or two key words. Speaking in full sentences is less important than being understood. Embrace your inner caveman. "Want water. Want chicken. Chicken good."
The resources section is jammed with coupons for discounts from accommodation and motorcycle related tour companies. If you use any one of them you should easily recoup the cost of purchasing Two Wheels and Rice Fields and then some. Be aware that they all seem to expire in December 2012. Hopefully there is a plan to update them as 2012 progresses.
Vietnam, here I come!
Overall Two Wheels and Rice Fields is an excellent primer for anyone planning a motorcycle trip in Vietnam. It covers all the bases and will give you a good idea of what's involved. I'd suggest buying it at least a few weeks before the beginning of your trip. Give yourself some time to read through it a few times and to plot a rough route using the list of suggested stops.
At the time I wrote this review the guide is on sale for 17 bucks. For a guide to the trip of a lifetime that's pretty damn good. You can pick up a copy by clicking here.
* The links above are affiliate links meaning that if you buy the guide we'll get a small commission. This post is however my honest opinion. It's not perfect but it is a very useful guide book.