by Sebastian Heart
South East Asia Series (Part II)
On The Road (Again)
Riding a bike in SEA is simply amazing because you get to see the great landscape which you’ll mostly miss if you travel by bus or airplane and on a bike you are in constant motion which feels really good. It’s an adventure you’ll never forget.
One of the coolest adventures you can experience in South East Asia is riding your own motorbike from the South of Vietnam to the North (Saigon – Hanoi) or vice versa. I was watching an episode of Top Gear and thought to myself: I have to do this now! After watching the episode I immediately booked a flight to Vietnam. I didn’t want to overthink it and get into analysis paralysis because overthinking leads to inaction. I am happy I did it and have zero regrets. If I had waited I would have become too scared to do it.
Buying a motorbike in SEA is better than renting one, it is cheaper, easier, and sounds cooler.
Say you want to have a bike for two months, if you’d rent one, you pay per week or per day and you have to worry everyday about the condition of the bike whenever you return it. Make your trip easy, just buy a bike! Instead of renting one.
When you buy a bike, it is yours and you don’t have to worry about paint explaining scratches, engine breakdowns, or insurance to the renter.
Be aware of the location where you are going to buy your bike. Are you going to buy from the first street bike salesmen you see at the typical backpackers hotspot, or do you have the patience to travel a little bit further for a better price. Be advised that the prices for everything are much higher in big city centres of Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Chang May, or Hanoi in SEA than on the outskirts of those cities.
When you travel to outskirt neighborhoods or to smaller neighboring towns, where less rich backpackers and tourists are. In such an outer vehilce stores you’ll have better chances of buying a higher quality vehicle and paying less money.
There are several reasons for this.
- Most of the bikes that end up in big cities have been duped by travelers who became too tired of driving around and dumped it in the backpacking center They usually had some malfunctions with their bikes which are fixed on the surface with spare parts that are much less reliable than new bike parts. This is not strange, as most bikes in SEA have been jo-joying up and down the continent and various cities for a lot of years and as such have been damaged, repaired, and resold a lot. You can imagine these aren’t the best bikes anymore.
- The salesmen in non-touristic neighborhoods are less inclined to rip you off, because they are mostly dealing with returning local customers.
- For the same reason they won’t sell poor quality bikes, because it haunts their reputation.
- You are more likely to find a quality bike outside of the city cente than close to the backpackers area, you’ll also find one that is not Chinese made, but rather Indonesian, or Korean, which are of significantly better quality.
Most travelers in South East Asia are simply unaware of the real prices and pay too much for nearly all cool stuff. Food and drinks will never be overpriced but cool things like motorbikes, hotel rooms, cool clothes, memorabilia and other items will always be overpriced by the vender.
You should expect to be ripped off because it is the custom but t also adds to the thrill of being in SEA. Because you are the rich party here, the locals expect you to lower your price down and negotiate – for them it is win win to set up prices high.
Negotiating is unavoidable. You have to do it, it is sink or swim.
So what do you do when you see a product you fancy, like a motorbike?
First, quickly check out the products of the salesman, and don’t be too thrilled when you see something you like. Ask the price, and if you don’t like it walk away. They’ll propose a lower price or ask you a question to keep you on the hook. Simply play the game with them.
But never show too much interest in the product you are buying, as this is leverage for the salesmen. Too little is better than too much as this will show the seller you are either a newcomer who knows nothing or that you desperately want the product, and that makes the salesman stick to his initial price.
The real price is usually 40% of what the salesman asks for it, so you’re good if you pay 70 or 80% of that price. But never pay the full price.
Be patient before you buy something. You cannot get your money back! It is advised to shop around a lot and ask a lot of locals, or ask people with more know how – like Western travellers, where to get the best motorbikes, best dealers etc. Information is key and leverage.
It is in your best interest that you show the seller that you know his product is not worth very much, especially with second hand bikes that have been around the block for some time. Most of these bikes have been jo-joying around South East Asia for maybe decades, so you know that is already some leverage for negotiation. Mention this to the seller and he’ll know you have leverage on making the deal.
Third, realize that a test drive means nothing in SEA, I did a test drive on my first bike and it ran as smooth as toothpaste, but after 150 kilometers on my trip to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, my bike started to fall apart like a plastic toy.
The asking price for a motorbike is somewhere around $250 to $300, but this is way too much.The real price is around 100 to 150 dollars., but you’ ll only get that if you are a tough and skilled negotiator and have time on your hands.
The only way to truly learn it is to dive right into it, learn from your mistakes, and get it right the next time. For this South East Asia is a perfect playground.
Otherwise, read The Art Of The Deal by Donald J. Trump to get some insight in negotiation tactics.
Learn From My Mistakes
I bought a bike after only checking out three bikes. And as such I had a real cooling looking but poorly functioning bike for the first part of my trip. I also paid way too much as I was too enthusiastic, had enough money, felt like a rich bastard in Vietnam, and really wanted to get to driving. I paid 220 dollars for my bike that I could have gotten for 170, had I had a little more, patience, endurance, and discipline
I hardly negotiated for my first bike (5% discount because I was from ‘Holland’). Had I prepared better I would have gotten the expected 30-40% discount. But my negotiating game wasn’t there yet.
Because of the poor preparations I had three breakdowns on on single day! From on a return trip of Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City and got rid of my bike.
When I bought my second bike I had much more patience, played the negotiating game and followed its steps.
As a result I paid a mere 150 dollars for my second bike, and it only broke down after 500 km’s.
Even though I made quite some mistakes I had a real big adventure on my way to Can Tho from Ho Chi Minh City and I wouldn’t want to have missed it.
Riding a bike in South East Asia is a great experience for any person in the age of 20-30 years and through riding together you can make some great friends on the road.