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TRAVEL Hints and Tips Post your TIPS to travellers - all the interesting little tidbits you learned on the road about packing, where to get stuff, and how to cope with problems. Please make sure the subject describes the tip clearly!
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  • 2 Post By Kailasgurung

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Old 21 Jan 2015
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Post Guide to Buying & Driving a Minsk in Vietnam

I decided to write a post with some tips about buying and driving a Minsk motorcycle down Vietnam. I read many helpful blog posts before I did it and I think it is time for me to help anyone else who is looking to do this and need some tips. It is a guide really for people looking to go from Hanoi to HCMC but should be helpful to anyone doing it the other way around.

The first thing I would like to point out is that I suspect if you have an accident while riding a motorcycle in Vietnam your insurance may refuse to cover you as you technically are driving illegally in Vietnam without a Vietnamese driving license. It is at your own risk if you decide to drive down Vietnam but if you are careful then everything should be fine.

Vietnamese Driving Licence & Police
A lot of people seem to ask about whether you need a Vietnamese driving license or not. I was never asked once or met anyone who was asked to show a driving license. Police do not take much interest in tourists, many of them do not speak english and therefore don't bother. The only trouble you might have is being stopped for speeding and may have to pay a fine.

Me and some friends were stopped by police at 2am while towing a motorbike (illegal in Vietnam unsurprisingly) two of the other bikes headlights didn't work either (also illegal) but when the police saw we were tourists they just let us go.

Is a Minsk the right bike for you?
A little warning about Minsk motorbikes. They are notoriously unreliable and all of them are 25+ years old. If you are not mechanically minded you may be better off going with a Honda Win. Many motorbike repair places will refuse to even work on a Minsk especially further south. Having said that some of the best experiences I had was from breaking down.

General Buying Advise
The most important thing is that when you buy a Minsk or any bike is that you get the registration card for it and that you check that the serial number on it matches both the serial number on the engine and on the chassis. If the serial number doesn't match on the engine it isn't a deal breaker.

Some mechanics if they need to put a new engine on a Minsk they will sand down the serial number stamp on the engine and then re stamp it. You can tell if this has been done because the serial number is on a slightly raised bit of metal. If it has been re stamped then the raised metal will be considerably lower when compared to one that hasn't been re-stamped.

If you plan on selling the bike to a tourist at the end of the trip then having non matching serial numbers doesn't really matter but if you try to sell it to a motorcycle shop you may have more trouble ( Saigon Minsk will not buy bikes with serials that don't match or have been re-stamped).

Where to Buy a Minsk
It is far easier to buy a Minsk in the North of Vietnam than in the South so if you want to travel by Minsk you may have an easier time travelling from north to south.

There are main two places (that I know of but I'm sure there are more) in Hanoi downtown tourist district that sell Minsk's.

Cuong's Motorbike rental shop - 46 Gia Ngu Street, Hanoi
This one is the best known Minsk shop in Hanoi by far. I believe they supplied the Minsk that Richard Hammond from Top Gear rode on there Vietnam Special episode. It was sitting outside the shop when I was there.
You will pay a little more for a Minsk here but they do actually service the bike before selling it. They cost around $450 but it depends on the condition of the bike. You get some random tools with the bike but not particularly useful ones but you do get a bike lock.

Hanoi Motorcycles Rental & Sales - 5H Luong Ngoc Quyen street Hanoi
This shop is just of Ma May street and is easy to find it is close to the Downtown Hanoi Backpackers hostel.
We bought 4 Minsk's from here some were great and never had a problem others never stopped having problems.
I am pretty sure they didn't service any of the bikes. when we looked at the air filter on one it had disintegrated. It is a little cheaper and they give you some spare parts (you will need them!) but if you buy from here make sure they service it or take it somewhere else and get it serviced before you leave. From memory I believe they cost around $350 for a standard Minsk and $400 for a sports Minsk. If you need repairs on a bike at any point look for places that say "Xe May" these are motorbike repair places.

Parking in Hanoi
There are many bike parking areas in Hanoi. You drive in take a ticket and park the bike. when you want to take the bike out you give the person at the entrance the ticket and pay. A good place to park if you are in Downtown Hanoi is at the end of Hang Chinh street underneath the flyover.

What other things to buy

If you are doing this trip in the winter then it can get pretty cold in the North especially if you are planning to head up to Sapa. You will need warm clothing. I recommend heading to Le Duan street where the train station is. There are a lot of shops selling military clothing and you can pick up a warm jacket any other things for cheap. If you don't have a decent waterproof then it is also worth buying a plastic poncho incase of rain. They are designed for scooter riders but keep you semi dry in the rain.

Spare parts & Helmet
There are a few places to get decent helmets. We headed to Hue street (Pho Hue) and bought helmets and spare parts there. Although in hindsight it may have been better getting Minsk spares from one of the shops selling Minsk's

I would recommend getting these spares at a minimum
spare brake/clutch cable (they are the same)
puncture repair kit
spare inner tube
electrical tape
2 stroke oil
For more information on parts to take and how to repair Minsk's download and print Digby's repair manual

The Route

There are two main routes the first and in my opinion the least desirable is Highway 1A. It runs down the east side from Hanoi to HCMC and is the main route for all the lorries and coaches. All the highways in Vietnam are single lane and motorcyclists generally ride on the road shoulder which they share with pedestrians, cyclists and the occasional pile of sand. If you are in a hurry then Highway 1A is probably your best bet.

The other route is the Ho Chi Minh Highway. It winds down the west side through mountainous terrain and is much quieter than Highway 1A. If you have time I would definitely do this route over 1A. You will want to leave the HCM Highway at quite a few points to visit places on the coast but it minimises the amount of driving you have to do on 1A.

Useful information about places you might end up

Mai Chau:
There is a good Minsk mechanic who has a workshop at the bottom of town on the left as you head out of Mai Chau southward on QL15.

Thai Hoa:
Unfortunately these instructions are pretty vague but there is a Minsk mechanic here. Look for a large bridge crossing a river in the main town. if you head east over the bridge directly after the bride there is a T junction, take a left until you come to a corner around to the right and on the right of the corner there is a small mechanics shed.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park:
Part of the HCM Highway goes through Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park. You aren't actually allowed to drive through here but it is possible. There is nothing in the national park so make sure you have enough fuel. There is a guarded barrier at the entrance to the park but as there is a hotel somewhere beyond the barrier they may just open it for you. You will pass one more guard post which will most likely try to get you to stop but there are no barriers so you don't have to. The roads through the park and on down to Khe Sanh are completely empty and the best roads I have driven in Vietnam. If you don't fancy trying your luck with the barrier you can join the road near Son Trach and drive to Khe Sanh from there as the best part of that leg is after Son Trach anyway.

Khe Sanh:
If you sent you passport off for a visa extension and only have a photocopy of your passport don't stay here as hotels here won't accept passport photocopies.

Dong Ha:
There is a brilliant Minsk mechanic here called Tien. He has some really nice custom Minsk choppers and really knows his stuff he did a great job of replacing my Minsk's rear sprocket and bearing. I dont remember his address you can find him on Facebook if you search for "Tien Moto Quang Tri". Or ask at DMZ tour on Hung Vuong street about Tien and they will know.

High Van Pass:
This is a must on your trip down. There is a tunnel straight under the hill/mountain but I don't think motorbikes are allowed and anyway you wouldn't want to. Make sure you get there while its still light or you will miss the great views down to Da Nang.

Da Nang:
I heard rumours from a few Vietnamese people that the police in Da Nang are pretty hot on tourists driving motorbikes but I had no trouble but may be something to be aware of.

Selling the bike in HCMC
It is relatively easy selling the bikes once you reach HCMC but leave 5 or 6 days maybe more to sell the bike. Just make a for sale sign and park it outside a cafe and wait. It can take a while but there are plenty of people looking and you may even make a profit. If you need to sell fast then as long as both serials on the bike match Saigon Minsk will most likely buy it for a pretty low price.

That is pretty much all the information I can think of. I hope it helps someone out in some way.

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Old 29 Jan 2015
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Hi Kai,
Great write up thanks for your time..

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Old 31 Jul 2015
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Awesome writeup.

I did a run from Hanoi to Laos to Cambodia, with a friend on two Minsks.

Best motorcycle trip of my life!

Bring a spare chain! We had a chain break in the middle of the cambodian jungle and we had to leave the bike there.

Simple easy bike to work on and relatively troublefree :-)

Buy a honda if you don't have the spirit of true adventure in you

Northern Vietnam and Sapa is well worth the trouble. Astonishing scenery!

Happy riding!
Peter Kongsbak
South East Asia, USA, Central and South America and Scandinavia.
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Old 31 Jul 2015
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Oh btw, we used used-engine oil instead of two-stroke oil on different occations . Ran very very well so certainly the Minsk is not picky
Peter Kongsbak
South East Asia, USA, Central and South America and Scandinavia.
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Old 8 Nov 2016
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Crossing borders

Hello guys, thanks for your good advices!

I want to travel from hanoi to the south of vietnam, and then go to cambodia and then laos, thailand. I'll buy a bike in hanoi.

So Peter, you didnt have any problems while crossing borders from Vietnam to cambodia and from cambodia to Laos ?

Thanks in advance for your help
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guide, minsk, motorbike, vietnam

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