Motorcycles are by far the best way to see Vietnam, but its not for the faint of heart. For one thing, the general philosophy of Vietnamese drivers seems to be the faster the better, regardless of the traffic, roadway conditions, or the fact that they’re pulling up to a red light. I rented a motorcycle in vietnam and toured the Mekong delta for two weeks during the Tet New Year. It was insane: I saw on average 5-10 fatal accidents per day (the police chalk out fatalities on the street for insurance purposes). The only solution is to drive aggressively and with 100% of your attention on the road.
Navigation is another enormous challenge. There don’t seem to be any real road maps, at least not of South Vietnam. The few I managed to find were produced by local tourist departments and showed only a few major roadways and towns (often miss-named and miss-placed). When I showed these maps to locals while asking for directions, it appeared they’d never seen a map before. Complicating matters further, I don’t speak Vietnamese, and most of the people I met along the road didn’t speak English or French. If you plan on driving, be sure to buy a good map before you go to Vietnam.
Ok, so if you’re brave and aggressive enough to hold your own on the road and you find a good map, then all you need to do is rent your bike. I picked mine up in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Many travelers buy second hand bikes, but this is not the best way to go about getting a motorcycle in Vietnam: old bikes break down constantly, and fixing them can be expensive (i.e. you get charged the tourist price).
Most rental outfits in HCMC are reluctant to rent you the bike for more than a week at a time, especially if you plan to take it out of the city, but they will accommodate. Most likely, they’ll require a deposit and ask to hold your passport. I talked them into accepting a copy of my passport and a 500 USD deposit. I made sure to sign the rental contract in front of the (reluctant) owner of my hostel (as a witness in case the guy tried to keep the cash).
I walked away with a solid little motorcycle and had an incredibly stunning, though at times highly stressful, road trip through South Vietnam. Two weeks later I returned the bike and got my deposit back in full – no hassle. So remember these tips – be aggressive and highly alert on the road, avoid travelling during the Tet New Year, bring a good map, and have lots of cash ready for the deposit. If you follow this advice, you’ll have no problem renting and touring with a motorcycle in Vietnam.