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Crossing the Border with a Motorbike in Southeast Asia

Riding a motorbike around Southeast Asia is an adventure that’s hard to beat. What many riders may not realize is that it is legal to cross borders with a motorcycle. Many people bike the length of Vietnam without crossing over into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. In doing so, they miss out on some very scenic routes.

Do you need travel insurance?

You do not have to have travel insurance legally, but there’s no denying that riding a motorbike can be dangerous. If you’re injured while biking on the road in Southeast Asia, you will be very grateful that you took out travel insurance.

What about visas?

It’s easy to obtain visas at border checkpoints when crossing from Vietnam into Cambodia or Laos. Travelers passing from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand into Vietnam have to get visas in advance.

What about an international driver’s license?

You may just be asked for your international license at a border crossing, so it’s best to keep it on you — even though it doesn’t mean much in Vietnam. You may only drive the category of vehicle for which your IDP is valid.

Registration plates

Vietnamese registered motorbikes are allowed into Cambodia and Laos. Technically, buying a motorbike from a local entails going to an authorized officer to change the name on the card. Practically speaking, names are not necessary as long as you have the card that matches the license plate and identification numbers on the bike.

A motorbike with a Laos plate is only allowed into Vietnam if you are the registered owner of the bike. There’s no guarantee that a bike with a Cambodian plate will be permitted into Vietnam.

In some cases, you may not even be asked for the blue registration card at a crossing. You need to fill in customs papers, pay for the bike and your visa. If you’re not so lucky, you can encounter an official on a bad day.

Crossing from Vietnam to Laos

There are two main recommended crossings. Another three are somewhat possible, and one is highly impractical on a motorbike.

  • Bo Y/Gnoc Hoi from Kon Tum in Vietnam to Attapeu in Laos is a well-known but remote crossing offering unique scenic appeal. Watch out for trucks if you use this crossing — fluorescents are advisable.

Rob, who used this crossing in January 2018, says, “We had no problems, and nobody asked about the motorbikes. The officials didn’t even check the blue cards. We didn’t have to pay for an ‘import form’ but paid a standard fee and a small stamping fee.”

  • The other recommended crossing, Nam Can/Nam Khan, is between Vinh in Vietnam and Phonsavan in Laos. It is open to tourists and crossing with a motorbike is no problem.
  • The Na Meo/Nam Xoi crossing is fast and convenient, but you will often be asked to pay $20 for an “import form.” You hand this paper back when you leave Laos. They often charge an inflated price for a visa too.
  • There are reports that Cau Treo/Nam Phao, quite near Vinh, Nghe An and Lax Xao in Laos, no longer takes Vietnamese-plated bikes on the Laos side.
  • Lao Bao/Dansavanh is not far from Hue City, and it seems to be passable on a bike.
  • There are conflicting reports about the Tay Trang/Pang Hok crossing. Officials have been known to try to extract large bribes or not allow motorbikes across.

Crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia

There are five different crossings between Vietnam and Cambodia.

  • The busiest crossing is Bavet/Moc Bai. This is the best choice if you want to go to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
  • The Ha Tien crossing is another popular one. It is quite safe, not located in a remote area and many vehicles — including motorbikes — pass through daily. The roads are good and the procedure will take about an hour with no hassles.
  • The Phnom Den/Tinh Bien crossing will take you from Kampot to Chau Doc with no unexpected expenses or stress.
  • The Trapping Sre Border Crossing will take you from Dong Xoai in Vietnam to Snoul in Cambodia.
  • The fifth crossing is La Thanh/O Yadao, leading from Pleiku in Vietnam to Ban Lung in Cambodia.

Crossing procedure

  • Fill in forms at Customs and Immigration.
  • Pay for a visa ($30-45).
  • Pay for the bike ($20).
  • Pay a small stamp fee. It’s unofficial but hard to avoid.

There is no law against taking a motorbike between Laos and Cambodia, but lately, this has been difficult due to corruption.

Some bikers suggest parking at crossings in concealed places so Vietnamese checkout officers don’t see your bike. Others say the officials did not appear interested in the bikes at all, even though they were in full view. Whatever you decide to do, it seems to be worth a try.