175 cc motor size restriction in Vietnam

Discussion in 'Vietnam - General Discussion Forum' started by rectravel, Aug 21, 2005.

  1. rectravel

    rectravel Ol'Timer

    Why are motorcycles in Vietnam restricted to an engine size of 175cc or less? Maybe I am wrong, but my guess is that it is mostly because of the population density along the main roads in Vietnam.

    Unlike in Laos and Cambodia, many of Vietnam's roads are lined with small houses for miles on end. A classic example is the road between Chau Doc and ferry crossing at Long Xuyen. For something like 50 kilometers, this paved road basically goes through everyone's front yard. "Everyone" built their houses on the road. Kids are running around on the road during the entirely trip, as is everything else. Restricting motorcycle size is a way to slow the traffic down.

    Yes, of course the busses and trucks are always cruising at top speed along this same road. So why the restriction on motorcycle size? It does not make good sense, but I can't think of any other reason for the restriction on motorcycle size.

    Another look at this same angle is the incredible explosion over the past 15 years of the motorcycle population in Vietnam's main cities. For example, see a new picture of the traffic in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on


    Perhaps this 175cc restriction originally started in Vietnam's big cities and simply became a national policy by default?

    On the other hand, maybe this size restriction is simply an ancient Vietnamese law that got passed down over the generations for one reason or another???

    Comments and news about this restriction are highly encouraged.

    New readers might appreciate to know that renting a 125cc Minsk motorcycle (5 dollars a day) in Saigon or Hanoi is just as easy as renting a motorcycle of any size elsewhere in South East Asia. If you can't get your big bike into Vietnam, no worry. Just rent a local Vietnamese Minsk or a Honda Daliem after you arrive in Vietnam. If you want all the girls in Saigon to look at you, rent a Lambretta from

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  3. BobS

    BobS Ol'Timer

    More likely, it is that the police cannot catch anything larger and faster.

    When I was working in Vietnam in 2002, I was told that the army and police could comandeer any bike of 400cc or larger in times of "national emergency". Of course, they determine when that is.

    I also saw some larger bikes in Hanoi, with Viet registration. I was told that the expat owners had deals with the local police to let the Viet police ride them in parades.


    "The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not and never persist in trying to set people right."
  4. harrythefinn

    harrythefinn Ol'Timer

    They have a bike bike club in HCMC, mainly police and goverment types. This somehow lets their members register big bikes. A expat mate of mine has a Harley registered in Vung Tau. Also I have heard big bikes can get in over the border ,just depends if the guys on the day want to let you in.
    Has anyone any news on the traffic laws lately in Vietnam, recently they have started fining speeding cars and bikes, confiscation if over 30km/hr over limit and huge fines. Can anyone confirm this?

  5. Digby

    Digby Member

    When I moved to Vietnam ten years ago there were all sorts of magnificent large bikes on the roads ranging from US Army Harleys dating from the 60's to sweet as 250-cc Beamers with tractor seats and Batman pipes. There were also many 350cc Jawas, 175cc Vodgecovs and a host of 250cc-1000cc Hondas and Suzukis. Sadly, the Harleys and Beamers were all bought, fixed up and shipped overseas while the ex-soviet bikes ended up on the rust heap. The rules changed in about 1995 when a 175cc size restriction was introduced. Perhaps it was due to the small bikes the cops had (the 125cc Bonus) or to fears of resulting congestion and mayhem. Perhaps even it was common sense because a large wind cooled engine has a terrible time in slow, hot traffic.

    So a two tier licening regime was introduced. A1 for normal bikes and the illusive A2 for anything larger than 175cc. Anyone who had a large bike back in 1995 was well conected and not happy about loosing their Honda play thing so a compromise was made. You could ride a large bike if you had an A2 licence but you could only get that if you were a member of one of two motorcycle clubs. Lets call the clubs the "Sons of Important People MC". These guys swung a deal whereby they promised to be on call should any parade or fun run or race etc needed a flashy motorcylce escort with lots of flags and sirens. So, these guys got to ride their bikes around and everyone was happy.

    The restrictions really came into play at the international borders. Just because you had an A2 licence did not mean sqat should you want to import a large, new bike. So, the club guys are still driving around on their pre 1995 bikes, so you see less and less of them. Sometimes tour operators manage to run a deal with the clubs and rent their bikes from them. The result is a mess of run down, beat up bikes with clents bitching about why they are on the 400cc while so and so is on the 750cc.

    The rules took their time getting to the borders and this has produced all sorts of confusion for bikers travelling the world. For a while people did manage to get in, especialy at the Cau Treo border with Lao. Sadly, all the border gaurds are up to date now and will not let in large bikes. As far as they are concerned you are importing a restricted bike. They do not understand carnets and the rules do not allow this exception. Things are further complicated because you will see westerners driving 650cc Ural side cars (especially in Hanoi) and the occasional Harley (in Saigon). The only reason they can do this is due to police ambivalence. Cops give honkies a pretty free run here, thats all. No foreigners to my knowledge have managed to join the afor mentioned motorcylce clubs.

    One last point is that in the last two years or so quite a few 250cc Bahas have been smuggled over from Lao and Cambodia. Once here fake plates are installed and you hope you never have to show the papers. Again, this is only happening to Vietnamese in the know and for the occasional westerner who enjoys police discretion. I suspect also that you might be able to "convince" the border guards that your 250cc is infact a 175cc bike, especially as now days they look pretty much the same.

    The end result is this:

    1. you can not bring a large bike into Vietnam.
    2. you might be able to bring in a 250 cc bike with Lao or Cambodian plates into Vietnam.
    3. you can pick up and drive a 650cc Ural side car or Harley in the cities but touring with one would be frought with difficulty.
    4. you can drive a Minsk or 175cc Yamaha into and out of Vietnam at all the border points no problem. (the glory run when it finally opens of course is Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu to Luang Pra Bang to Lao Bao to Hue.)

    The only positive news for the big bikes is that ASEAN has all sorts of plans for opening up the borders for trade and tourism. They now have in place all the paperwork needed to allow cars to drive accross the borders no problems. They want, you see, a Sinagorean guy to be able to drive to Hanoi in his SUV. We can only hope that they will make similar arrangements for large bikes.

    Until then, its the Minsk, Minsk and nothing but the Minsk.
  6. john

    john Ol'Timer

    Hi Digby, Thanks, this is a very imformitive posting. John
  7. Philippe

    Philippe Ol'Timer

    No big bike in VN!!
    It is because sons of rich people are doing crazy riding at night in big cities, especialy Saturday night,resulting with many accidents, injury and deaths. The problem was solved with ban on big bikes! The Saterday night riding happens in BKK and Phnom Penh, but there no problem for big bikes there.

  8. rectravel

    rectravel Ol'Timer

    For riders who want to have a look at what sort of motorcycles are standard in Vietnam these days, see the site on


    This page is put up by one of the largest distributors of motorcycles in Vietnam today.
  9. motorheinz

    motorheinz Active Member

    One last point is that in the last two years or so quite a few 250cc Bahas have been smuggled over from Lao and Cambodia. Once here fake plates are installed and you hope you never have to show the papers.

    A friend in Hanoi have now the first 3 Baja with papers and numberplate for rent. Mr. Hung from Flamingo Travel Hanoi Tel. 098 361 9985
    Also I saw in Sa Pa 1 Baja and 1 Kawasaki for rent.



  10. jimoi

    jimoi Ol'Timer

    One last point is that in the last two years or so quite a few 250cc Bahas have been smuggled over from Lao and Cambodia. Once here fake plates are installed and you hope you never have to show the papers.

    This is not entirely correct. I had a Honda 250 Degree with fake plates and papers in Vietnam for some time and did cross the border with it to Laos/Cambodia and thru Thailand on a few trips. Vietnamese officials/police will stop anyone for any reason. I was stopped several times from Hanoi to Vinh and again the next day to Hue. Showing the papers took time, and patience. I had the import documents from my trips out of the country to help and some limited language skills.

    Slapping a plate on a bike is not a free ticket to having one. Papers and now the new regulations on the Bike Passport are making this a dangerous risk. The Flamingo bikes in Hanoi for rent are also illegal and I am not sure about the risk of being stopped in a place like Ha Giang by the police/CSGT and losing the bike while my passport is in Hanoi. In time this will maybe, maybe ease but until then, stick with the Minsk. Parts are more available and easily repaired.

    Speed is not a requirement to ride in VN.

    The Baja and Kawa in Sa Pa are privately owned by the managers of Victoria Sapa, if they rent them, I'd be careful. I have looked them over closely and the condition of the Baja is passable but the Kawa is on it's last legs.


    Ride Safe
  11. motorheinz

    motorheinz Active Member

    Jimoi how you know the bikes a illegal from Falmingo Travel its mot true. They import the biles official from Phnom Penh. When you rent the bikes from Mr. hung he give you all the right paper ( copy ) for the control by police. Near Cao bang they stop me because we are to fast. Vietpolice use radar pistols. They check the papers we pay a little money and everything was ok, and now you....
  12. jimoi

    jimoi Ol'Timer

    Pretty much all the 250's popping up in Vietnam are coming illegal from one source in Phnom Penh and he has a connection with making papers of sorts from the customs and registration department outside of HCM city. Taxes on a Honda 250 XR would be 600% of the value of the bike according to the laws on importation. New motorbikes have a lower import rate and if you place a USD 1000 on a Baja, what Vietnamese would/could pay this?

    Look, I love bigger bikes and have ridden considerably in VN, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. No one wants this silly law reversed more than me. My girlfriend's uncle is a high man in Customs for the central gov't and his take on big bikes is while there are some under the A2 paperwork, none have been legally imported for over 5 years with exception to some NGO's using them or those in the diplomatic corps that can go around the exemption. I'd say if you looked closely at the numbers on the frame and engine, they weren't original and most likely the A2 paper had an incorrect date of manufacture.

    What does make me a little nervous is that the more these bikes do come in and get papers of sorts is that the ride with no helmet, too fast speed, lack of safety backpacker crowd I have seen in Lao, Cambodia will end up in an accident. Here's where those papers are really going to bite them in the ass, especially the owner of the bike on the paper and the rental agent.

    Better legal in some aspects. Better to ride a 250 for sure here but as Digby put it in his post, "Until then, its the Minsk, Minsk and nothing but the Minsk".

    When I bought my 250 in Hanoi, I was told by reliable people that as a white guy on a bike like that, I'd have little trouble crossing the border but if I ever got into an accident that involved the police, kiss the bike and a good bit of money goodbye.

    I have also been zapped by the radar guns along 15 down to Khe Sanh doing well over 100 km on a perfect road, it cost about 100.000 dong and a lot of my smokes.

    I'll see Mr. Hung when I come back to Hanoi and have a look, as I say, I love bigger bikes in Vietnam and if they are legit, will post so...

    Ride Safe
  13. matt14

    matt14 Member

    Big bikes are available to buy from certain people all the time.My Viet mate has a bike shop that sells most of the big bikes in Saigon and his friend, my mech sells a lot to. Heaps of Shadow VLX 600`s and Steed 400`s mostly owned by Viet guys.

    I have a Honda NC23 CBR 400, single seat conversion with full Repsol paint job, and an almost new Honda Shadow American classic edition. Both up for sale to make room for a project bike, half way done and a Honda VTX 1800. The problem is selection. What you can get is whats around at the time

    Big bikes cost a lot more than they are worth real money outside of Vietnam, but thats just the way it is. 300% import tax on new book price wether or not its new or 30 yr old.

    If you want to ride a big bike pay the money, or sit moaning and bitching like the teachers runnig around on beat up Honda bonus`s and minsks!!

    I have been riding big bike there for 3 years, Full licence member of the motorbike club etc but never been stopped by the police. To much hassle for them they leave you alone as long as your not making an arse of yourself. The only time I have been pulled is when I have been out on the scooter with the missus.

    The only reason I bother with the hassle of a licence is arse covering in an accident.

    Anyone interested in either of the bikes drop me a line
  14. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Why not post the name & address of the shop that "sells most of the big bikes in Saigon" here for us all to know & send business their way.

    Keep The Power On
  15. matt14

    matt14 Member

    Guys name is Khanh, and he is in the side street over from the new New World hotel. If anyone is interested give me a shout and I can take you down to see him. The other Guy is Kiet the mechanic, his workshop is through Pham Ngo Lau down by the river in district 4 dont know the road only know how to get there!! But he is an unbelieveable mechanic, had my CBR striped toi nuts and bolts without a manual in sight! Does fantastic paint and bodywork as well.
  16. brat

    brat Ol'Timer

    How is the situation for getting big bikes in, any changes/relaxation?

    Would this pass for a 175?

    "growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional!"
  17. Cook

    Cook New Member

    Been awhile since I came this way.

    Yo - the old Chestnut of large CC bikes in Vietnam. Just bought a Beemer R100R which travelled up from Spore - was used for awhile in Saigon until the owner got busy elsewhere and was stored up there for 3 years. We brought it back down here to give it a bunch of parts and TLC. Gist is - the previous owner - how did he get it in? Some contacts, permanent address (someone elses) and 150 US in the right direction at the border. Simple really if you're local as in South East Asian. Perhaps not so easy for mee and thee. He then commuted on it up there for 6 months.

    There is a big bike club in Saigon - you need to register and be accepted as a member - then you can ride whatever you like. If you live in Saigon and don't know this - get out of the bars and start looking - you're keeping the wrong kind of company. Long and short of it: "With a little flair and accumen riding a large bore bike in Vietnam is not really the problem it's set out to be".

    OK - if you're Joe Schmuck with a straggly 3 week old beard and smell like a goatskin - rocking up at the Border on a 1000 CC something will grant you the statutory: "PU"
  18. matt14

    matt14 Member

    Everyone seems a little obsessed with the bike club!! The bike club is in almost any major city in Vietnam not solely Saigon. It is a part of the goverments `Sports Comittee`.

    I am a member in Vung Tau, purely so I dont get hassled from them. If you join where you live expect to get called regularly to go on bike trips. Theses usually involve riding from one ` Beer Om` (girl bar) to another. Although yearly there is a ride up to Hanoi and other charity events. But they expect you to wear the uniform and have the flags, bells and whistles on your bike. Sitting in traffic dressed like a clown with the bike overheating isnt my idea of a fun day out!!
    My viet friend/mechanic is always disappearing somewhere with them, that seems to suit him fine but for sure its not for me!!

    It isnt a must to be in the bike club to ride big bikes I am the only one out of all the people that I know that is actually a member. In truth it doesnt matter if you are a member of the bike club or Miss Phoungs flower arranging class. Much the same goes for the licence, I have mine and all my friends ride without licences, if your stopped which is rare unless you are making an arse of yourself its usually a couple of bucks for coffee money.

    The Goverments Law now is up to 300,000 Dong is coffee money which is accepted over that is a bribe.
  19. brat

    brat Ol'Timer

    Thanks Cook and Matt, I am bringing the bike from Australia, through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia into Vietnam, it's more of a worry getting into Vietnam with the bike as much as riding it there? Have you got a webpage or email address of these "clubs"?

    "growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional!"
  20. matt14

    matt14 Member

    No web page that I know off you would need to be a resident to join anyway. I got my membership when I got my licence but really not needed. If your bringing a bike in touring there is no need at all.
  21. brat

    brat Ol'Timer

    A mate of mine owns a hotel somewhere in Cambodia, we'll try the Vietnam border there and if the worst happens leave the bike with my mate and hire a bike in Vietnam for that leg!

    "growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional!"
  22. brat

    brat Ol'Timer

    Any changes in crossing rules etc, loks like we'll be there December 2006, woohoo, 3 months!

    "growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional!"
  23. rectravel

    rectravel Ol'Timer

    Hi brat. Thanks for the laugh. Unfortunately, no, the Vietnamese border guards won't be fooled, and not even for cash. Your bike is way too big for Vietnam.

    One way or another, please don't forget to upload details here about your experience in Cambodia and Vietnam.

    Enjoy your ride.
  24. Digby

    Digby Member

    An Indonesian guy just got his BMW1100 into Vietnam. See http://www.rideforpeace.info/ We asked him how he did it and he said be had a letter from the Vietnamese Prime Minister which was organised by the Indonesian President. So, no worries! Anyway, the gossip here is that the size restrictions might be eased next year due to WTO membership/negotiations and back room pressure from Harley Davidson. Also, seems like they are letting Minsks into and out of Vietnam no problems again without the need for a "bike passport" or special permission from customs that Jimoi was able to organise before.
  25. brat

    brat Ol'Timer

    Hi Rectravel, I'll definitely be posting, hopefully catch up with a few board members on the way!

    Yep, not only does it look a bit big but thanks to the race kit it sounds like a Mack truck, my girlfriends mum has a Ducati MultiStrada, her step dad a BMW 1200 GS, she can tell when they get to our place, but our bike she mistakes for a truck! :eek:)

    "growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional!"
  26. skip

    skip Member

    we met the ride for peace guy (in Laos).Yeah he did get in but the paperwork took 2 yrs..almost a full time job working through the ranks...this guy had more than a few friends in high places too...so dont get your hopes up.By the way never give up hope either...he is one of the very few people to get into China without an escort or guide....things are looking up...maybe we could aim for a GT RIDERs meet in Beijing in the near future??????????
    Skip and Rache

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