We took big bikes into Vietnam - Legally!

Discussion in 'Vietnam - Motorcycle Trip Report Forums' started by cdrw, May 8, 2011.

  1. [David, I didn't post this in the Vietnam section as few might not look in that forum and see this new way to enter the country for free. Leave the post here for a while, then relocate it to correct forum. thx]

    We took big bikes into Vietnam - Legally!

    Not only did we enter Vietnam on a Thai licensed Suzuki 250 Djebel and a Cambo licensed Suzuki DR 650, John and I didn't have to pay for a visa to enter Vietnam!

    Now you, too, can easily visit a part of Vietnam without the normal regulations which forbid entry to all foreign licensed bikes.

    Our story with directions, hints and suggested places to stay, though there are many options for rooms/hotels.

    I'd phoned John, in Australia, and he said he and his wife would be in Cambo to
    celebrate their daughter's 2nd birthday...and that there's a new way to get bikes into Vietnam. I'd last seen seen John early last year when we rode the Cardamom mountains from Battanbang to Koh Kong. "Great", I said, "I'll join you in Sihanoukville", and on April 22nd I did the easy 580km ride from Pattaya to Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

    Entered Cambo, at Koh Kong, paid only the normal $20-US for a tourist visa, had breakfast at The Dougout then continued onto Sihanoukville. From Koh Kong it's 138km of few vehicles, on paved Hwy-48 and then onto Hwy-4 and south another 75km to Sihanoukville. Good roads, but be alert for the erratic Khmer drivers especially on Hwy-4.
    For those who have never ridden into Cambodia, you need a bike registered in your name, the bike's green book and your passport to check out of Thailand. It's easy, no fees are involved, and the procedure is discussed elsewhere on GT-Riders.

    I normally stay at the Boston Inn, near the CalTex gas station, in downtown Sihanoukville: A/C, refrig, TV (w/ UBC), doublebed, no HW for $10-US. Non 'Cheap Charlies' should consider either the Small Hotel (around the corner from the Boston Inn), with A/C, HW, TV, wifi, an excellent restaurant and attentive staff for $25 []www.smallhotel.info], or the Beach Club (located on the inland side of the 2nd street back from Ochheuteal Beach), with A/C HW, TV, wifi, safe a large pool, and attentive staff. It offers a nice breakfast buffet for $5-US/150-Bt.
    []www.beachclubcambodia.com]. The latter is highly recommended!

    The well attended birthday party over and after a few days of beer, food and verbal BS, on April 27th we rode to Vietnam. From Sihanoukville, its about 48km north on Hwy-4, to Veal Renh and the paved road which goes 105km east through Kampot, Kep and Kampong Trach to the dirt road to the Cambo/Vietnam border. In Kampong Trach there a large (black) overhead road sign...on the right of the sign it indicates the road to Prek Chek (Cambo Immigration) is ahead. Turn right on this 2-lane dirt road which is about 70-yards after the sign, then it's about 17-km to the border.
    Map of the route from Sihanoukville to Ha Tien:
    Pictures of the turn off from Hwy-4, at Veal Renh, which goes west to the border:

    At Prek Chek Immigration, check out of Cambodia. Cross into Vietnam. At the large monument you must _dismount_ your bike and _walk_ it to the Viet Immigration building. Tell the Viet immigration official that you want to go to Ha Tien, which has been established as an economic zone, and the 15-day visa is _free_, though they will likely hit you for a $5 scam tip, as they did to us.
    DO NOT mention that you want to go to Phu Quoc Island, even though it is legal. After you've obtained your visa, then _walk_ your bike to the immigration check out station which is 50-yards on the other side of the Viet Immigration building. Then, it's about an 8km ride to the outskirts of Ha Tien.
    Above pix of where you check out of Cambodia at Prek Chek, then into Vietnam
    Walking to Viet Immigration, get visa, walk to checkpoint, then ride to Ha Tien

    NOTE: Unlike Cambo & Thailand, Vietnam stringently _enforces_ wearing a helmet when riding! Also unlike Thailand, you drive on the right side of the road in both Cambodia and Vietnam. For those who have never been to Cambodia, you should know that your headlight must be _off_ during daylight hours. Farangs who frequently visit Cambo have installed a switch to in the headlight circuit, allowing it to be turned off/on; alternately you could cover your headlight with some paper & tape during daylight hours, but such would be a hassle!

    In Ha Tien, we located the only western owned bar, The Oasis, which is located near the waterfront. The night market is held on the same street. No food served at the Oasis, but many Viet restaurants are nearby. It was at the Oasis where we were suggested places to exchange $-US for Viet Dong, as the rate does vary at different places. Note: $5-US equals about 1-million Dong, so 100,000-Dong
    is about 50-cents US or 15-Baht. No parking is allowed on the street other than in marked parking areas. For accommodations a local suggested we stay at the Nha Nghi Phao Dai hotel, which is atop the hill near where the bridge crosses over the bay. Cost was 600,000-Dong (300-Bt), with A/C, HW. TV (Viet), large bed and a secure bike parking section. The hotel keeps your passport until checkout. From the hotel we could see the area, on the far side of the bay bridge, where the car ferry docks..
    Oasis Bar
    Hilltop Hotel

    Checking out the next morning we crossed over the bay bridge and about 100-yards after the bridge ends, there is a dirt road (on the left) which leads back to the car ferry which goes to Phu Quoc. The ferry is new, having been launched in January 2011, and is capable of seating over 300 passengers and carrying trucks and buses, as well as bikes. At the landing, you purchase your tickets: 165,000-Dong per passenger plus 80,000-Dong for a moto or motorcycle. Equivalent to 12.50-US or 375-Baht. They will briefly inspect visa and return your
    passport. There was no concern that we were on bikes bigger than a moto! The ferry departs at 9-AM, so try to arrive about 45-minutes prior to departure. Take some snacks as food is not available on the ferry. It's a 2 1/2-hour trip to Cape Da Chong, a new landing at Phu Quoc. Cape Da Chong is further north than the landings for the two other passenger boats, which originate from Ha Tien and Rach Gia.
    Below pix of ticket booth, boat, bikes and Phu Quoc MAP:

    From Cape Da Chong, they are building a 2-lane each way divided highway which goes to north then south to the island's main city, Duong Dong. As of our visit in April 2011, the road is only partially paved, with many graded dirt and muddy sections. The map (photo) shows a road going south from Cape Da Chong. This is an abandoned road which can be navigated by dirt bikes, but it is not suitable for road bikes. Duong Dong has paved roads. It attracts most of the tourists, including a few westerners and backpacking visitors. We opted to avoid the riff-raff and stayed at An Thoi at the south end of the island. We were the only westerners in An Thoi. The road south from Duong Dong, on the west side of the island, is a wide graded dirt road all the way to An Thoi. Just south of Duong Dong is the Long Beach area, which has many hotels, some very up$cale, and south of that are pristine beaches void of any people. The island has many beautiful beaches, some deserted and some have resorts.
    This represents the worst section of the dual carriageway yet not a problem for even road bikes
    This is the wide graded road on the west side of the island, south of Duong Dong. Easy traveling!
    No, the roads do not have sharp 90-degree bends at curves!
    Beach south of the Long Beach hotels...nice and nobody using them for many kms.

    We stayed at Huynh Tram (Kymdan sign), in An Thoi, for 600,000-Dong (300-Bt), which has A/C, TV, no HW and the staff provided secure bike parking for us in another building. At the end of the road is a fishing boat dock.
    While there are a few massage parlors, however we usually amused ourselves here. We're easily amused.

    Sights: There's not much to do on the island, which is less than 45km long and 20km wide! You can go swimming, there's diving available and at adjacent islands, drink beer, tour the area streets/shops, chat with the curious locals, or see the few landmarks. We found two western bars/restaurants in Duong Dong. The Buddy ice cream parlor, where we had decent breakfasts ($5/150-Bt), and The Dog Bar which was closed each time we stopped by. Other than breakfast, we had meals and snacks available at the various Vietnamese street markets.

    Just north of An Thai, on the westside, there's a momument and just north of it on the opposite side of the road is the Coconut Prison, where an estimated 40,000 North Viet soldiers were held and tortured under the auspices of the US Army. You can tour the compound and see the displays in the buildings for free.
    North of the Prison is the Tranh Stream Waterfall. It was devoid of water when we were there, but the area is definitely worth a stop and a few photos. Other than that, there's the various harbors, the island's two lighthouses, and beer...
    Below is entrance to the Prison Camp and some pix of the camp:
    More pleasant sights can be found at the waterfall, though the first pix shows the waterless fall as it is now the dry season:

    Also on the west side, north of An Thoi, the docks for the passenger boats from Ha Tien and Rach Gia can be seen:
    "Superdong"? no comment.

    We departing Phu Quoc on April 30th, at Cape Da Chong. Ferry prices for the return trip to Ha Tien are the same as the voyage from Ha Tien to the island. We found that the 2pm car ferry was late. It arrived at 4:30pm, meaning it was nightfall before we arrived at Ha Tien. That was the start of our troubles! We spent the next few hours looking, as well as with some locals helping us, to find a place to stay the night. Every hotel and guesthouse in the town was full!! We couldn't find a room at any price and wondered what the consequences would be if the police found us sleeping on the street!
    At wits end, we encountered a Viet local and explained our predicament. She said her bar has an extra bedroom, but he must gain clearance from the police before a foreigner can stay in a non-registered hotel or guesthouse, or they and the owner would be in big trouble! She went to the police returning with a form which we each filled out then returned to the cops with the completed forms and our passports. She returned with our passports and permission for us to stay the night. The police charged her a modest 2.50-US to process each of the forms.
    Without her asking for any money, the following morning we generously reimbursed her for her kindness.
    That morning we also realized why Ha Tien had so many visitors last night...today was May 1st and May Day is a major holiday in a Communist country.
    We loaded our bikes and headed west, checking out at Vietnam Immigration, acquiring a new visa at Cambodia Immigration, and rode back to Sihanoukville.

    The three days we spent on Phu Quoc was more than enough time to ride every road, visit every community, see the sights, and have locals gawk at the two westerners riding bikes larger and more powerful than a moto. Back in
    Sihanoukville, some local barangs we know were astonished that we were able to take foreign registered big bikes to Ha Tien and onto the Island. We may have been trailblazers...or maybe not?

    So, this is an easy and inexpensive way to visit a small part Vietnam. We were never questioned about having larger bikes. Everyone we encountered was pleasant and curious; English speaking Viets engaged us in conversation. Some wanted photos of themselves with us, standing by the bikes. It was a pleasant yet brief visit with another culture. Google will help you find info on Phu Quoc.

    Just don't go there anytime near May 1st....!!!
  2. Outstanding trip report!
  3. Great stuff Jay. You've opened another way into Vietnam.
    Well done & thanks for the report.
  4. Well done Jay, great little report.

    Couple of things: I'm working in 'Nam and the exchange rate is $1 = 20,000 Dong ($1 = 30 Baht). A couple of your calcs are a little confusing.

    May 1st. is a holiday but April 30th. is the big one here. It is Liberation Day; i.e. the day the VC liberated Saigon.

    Keep 'em coming.
  5. Yep, messed up on the exchange rate! I meant to post $50 (not $5) which equals 1-million Dong...and further incorrectly indicated 100,000-Dong is 50-cents, rather than $5.00. Too many damn zeros in their currency...worse than the Lao Kip!

    Thanks for the info that April 30th is the big day.

    Hope all is well with you and the misses and that your son is learning English and now probably Vietnamese...to add to his existing knowledge of Thai.
  6. I'm guessing they're coracles Ron.
  7. I believe they are just containers......for trash! :)
  8. Great report!

    Hard to tell from the pics, were those bikes Thai or Cambo registered?
  9. Jay - First off fantastic post!!! Great discovery and congrats on uncovering that tasty tidbit of information. Can you eleborate a bit on why exactly they are letting you in? Is it the fact that your destination is Ha Tien (that is now a economic zone) and they forego the regualtions to foster access to the economic zone? is it possible to travel farther afar outside the "economic zone"?

    Looks like you had a great time at Phu Quoc island. They even have a fermented fish sauce factory there on the island to visit if you're needed something else to do.

    Again thanks for sharing the info and hope to meet up with you this year.
  10. Great story, I love discoveries making our World (around Thailand) larger. It's not yet «*Asian Highway*» dream but still and additional border crossing. Thank you for posting the information.
  11. ***Economic zone...I'm under the (un)informed understanding that Vietnam desires to create Phu Quoc Island as a major new tourist area...rather than Ha Tien, though the latter would surely benefit, as a destination and the jump-off point to the island. I'm guessing that the Viet's relaxed the entry and vehicle policies, for Ha Tien and the island just to encourage all potential visitors. The Phu Quoc airport receives flights from other areas in Vietnam and could be expanded to handle Int'l flights and the island's roads are being enlarged and paved. Countries such as Cambo are just next door, and it's a just one day drive from BKK to Ha Tien!

    When we obtained our Vietnam (free) 15-day visas at Immigration, we _avoided_ mentioning to the officials that the island was our destination, as we didn't know if Phu Quoc was part of the economic zone. We simply had the primary goal of seeing if we could take our bikes onto the island! A number of the Ha Tien locals told us we couldn't, and I now believe they didn't know because the economic program is so new, few have yet to be informed. Yet, at the car ferry, no one questioned that we had larger bikes.

    We didn't ride east of Ha Tien. We returned a day earlier than planned (I think John was missing his wife & daughter)..but we'd initially planned to attempt a day ride and explore Rach Gia and possibly further east. We knew it would NOT be possible to spent the night anywhere outside of Ha Tien. We'd been told that our 15-day visas and foreign plated motorcycles would alert any hotel that we weren't legal and the police would surely get involved. I'd love to ride east of Ha Tien, for a day ride and should the police stop you for having foreign plates, just plead ignorance that there's no travel allowed outside of Ha Tien and hope they'd just let you ride back to Ha Tien. And, it they didn't and there were repercussions, either way you'd surely have a story to post ! :)

    Fish sauce: prior to the trip, I'd read that the island is noted for their excellent fish sauce, so I brought back a few bottles...to give to Thai friends and get their opinions. I suspicion they won't like it...probably just because it isn't Thai....!
  12. bump for o'ren
  13. Thanks David, gotcha ! :)
    Thanks cdrw for posting this here too and for the additional info, very useful indeed !
  14. UPDATE...

    As of last month....November 2012:
    Vietnam has cancelled the Economic Zone and free 15-day visa status for HaTien and Phu Quoc.
    Currently you need a regular Vietnam visa and there is no indication that either bikes or cars are allowed entry.
    Who knows? This may be just a temporary measure?? Stay tuned....
  15. Nice trip!
    I 've been to Phu Quoc once, but I drove my car.
    Next year, love to be there by my motorcycle.

    Cdrw, may you pls provide some more info of required documents and steps for getting the bike thru Cam-Viet border?
  16. Those tubs are actually boats the locals use for fishing. One man per boat and they can stand in them and keep their balance in the waves quite well.

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