Guide to Buying and Selling a Motorbike in Southeast Asia

written by local expert Tom Rogers

Tom is the co-founder of Adventure in You and has been traveling the world for the last 9 years, living in 5 different continents. His advice on travel gear, adventure travel, and business have been featured in Foundr, Business Insider, CNN and more.

During my travels around Southeast Asia, I have ridden a motorbike all over Vietnam, Laos and most of Thailand. Many would agree with me that it is the best way to see these countries but really, you will just have to do it and see for yourself. I am yet to take on Cambodia by motorbike but I plan too. Why? Like I said, in my opinion it is the best way to explore a country. Southeast Asia has so much to offer and you miss bits of this on those long bus rides or quick flights you decide to take to save time. If you have time rent or buy a motorbike and explore the best way.  On a weekly basis, I get asked questions about biking around Southeast Asia so I decided to list most of them down and answer them for you. Without further ado, here is my guide to buying and selling a motorbike in Southeast Asia.

Do I Need a Drivers Licence to Buy a Motorbike?

Legally yes…but it’s also okay if you don’t. In Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, an international drivers permit from your home country, will be enough to avoid trouble with the police. A local licence is required in Vietnam, however this is very rarely enforced. I was never pulled over in Vietnam and you probably won’t be, unless you are involved in an accident or are driving like an idiot.

Read: Vietnam by Motorbike: The Best Six Weeks of My Life

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Do I Need Travel Insurance to Buy a Motorbike?

Surprisingly, no. That doesn’t mean I recommend it. We have all heard those horror stories of twenty somethings on gap years that have got into an accident and ended up owing thousands for medical help. Don’t be one of those people in the news. Instead cover your ass and spend a few hundred bucks on Travel Insurance. I never ride without it and would recommend world nomads. You can click that link and get a quote for free. If you do purchase travel insurance through that link we will get a small commission at no extra cost for you. Think of it as you saying thank you for this article and just so you know, we really appreciate it! Ok on to the next question!

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What Else Do I Need or Buy a Motorbike in Southeast Asia?

You guessed it….. Money. This is the first and last thing you need if you are buying a second hand. If you are buying brand new, you need a lot of paperwork, so most people opt for second hand. I would recommend buying a second hand motorbike, just make sure that the previous owner gives you the registration papers. The documents are slightly different in each country, so do a quick google search for this, to get the most up to date information would come in handy.

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What Type of Motorbike Should I Buy? Automatic, Semi-Automatic or Manual?

This depends heavily on where you plan to ride your motorbike and the main use for it. If you are an expat living in cities such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hanoi etc. then I would recommend buying an automatic scooter. If you are planning to ride a motorbike all over Vietnam then I would recommend buying a Honda Win manual. You look more badass and will have a lot more fun. If you are looking at Thailand and thinking of doing the Mae Hong Son loop or researching into the Thakhek loop in Laos, I would personally recommend just renting a bike in each area. Pick a motorbike based on your experience and budget.

Low experience and budget = automatic scooter, ie 125cc Honda Click

High experience and budget = manual motorbike, ie. Honda CB300F Street Bike, Suzuki V-Strom DL650 XT Adventure Tourermotorbikes vietnam

How Much Money Does it Usually Cost?

  • Buying a secondhand motorbike off a backpacker in Vietnam – around $250
  • Buying a secondhand motorbike from a shop in Vietnam – around $300
  • Buying a secondhand scooter from a shop in Thailand – around $900 for 2014 Honda Click
  • Buying a secondhand scooter from a local in Thailand – around $800 for 2014 Honda Click

Naturally, these are all just estimates based on recent experiences and that of other travelers. When buying a bike, it may help to befriend a local who speaks the language and ask them to accompany you to a nearby mechanic to check the bikes condition.

Who Should I Buy a Motorbike From? A Backpacker, Local or Shop?

You will almost always get a better price buying a motorbike bike from a backpacker in Vietnam. I would suggest doing this as you are spreading the backpacker love around. Buying from a shop will usually cost slightly more but will probably be in better condition due to the fact they usually service them before selling. If you are in Thailand I would suggest buying a motorbike from a shop or a local thai person you can trust. motorbikes asia

Can You Tell Me What to Look Out For? Anything That’s Really Important?

The most important thing, is remember to wear a helmet even when testing out the motorbike for the first time. Remember that motorbikes in Southeast Asia have been ridden thousands and thousands of kilometres so are likely to breakdown at some point. Luckily, more times than not, if you break down you can get new parts or your bike completely fixed by someone around you (within walking distance…..usually)

Things to Look Out For When Buying a Motorbike Are:

  • That the brakes work (this is pretty important)
  • Tires have tread
  • Headlight, brake lights and indicators work
  • There is no fluid leaks
  • The cables and springs are in good condition.
  • Is the bike is corrosion free. Check out the wires, etc
  • The bike has mirrors and they are not broken
  • The odometre and speedometre works (these are usually broken and if they are don’t worry too much about it. Mention it and try to get a better price)

On your test ride try to go more than 30 km/h. I have seen so many people test ride a motorbike and not take it above 30 km/h. How the hell do you know it can handle driving on a highway or is in good condition, if you don’t test it!motorbikes in southeast asia

How Do I Sell My Motorbike and Is It Easy?

Yes. It is easy. Especially in Vietnam. Selling in both Hanoi and Hoi Chi Minh is very easy. Just check into a popular hostel and list your bike on a board in the main hangout area. Trust me you will find a board. It will have 10 other bikes on it at least. You can also join local facebook groups to reach other backpackers. If you are short on time you can sell back to a shop. You will get less money for it (at least half) but they will almost always buy off you.

Want other tips on riding a motorbike in Asia? Check out our other articles

Inspired? Pin it! We love to get around by motorbike, so here is a guide on how to buy one in Southeast Asia

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