….has offered well-maintained scooters and motorcycles for the foreign community in Vietnam for many years now. As one of Hanoi’s ‘old hands’, we’ve known about Explore Indochina for a long time because they too have been around for decades also offering a quality service. Did you know that Danny helped them out with tours back in 2001?
…..was set up by some guys who’ve been here since the ‘earlies’ (i.e. before 1993). Those were the days when olive US Army Harley Davidson motorcycles still graced the streets of Saigon, and the best hotel in town was the ‘Floater’, an Australian-built floating resort on the Saigon River that had originally been intended for the Great Barrier Reef.
Back in the 'dark ol' days
A bowl of Pho noodle soup could be had for only VND3,000, while a glass of bia hoi (local draft beer) went for a meagre VND500. Children tended to be shy, but the brave ones could always be counted on crying out ‘Lien Xo’ (Soviet) when foreigners walking past. Russia’s SAM missiles were still on display in Hanoi’s public parks, and Lenin’s statue dominated the diplomatic quarter.
Aside from a few brave entrepreneurs, Hanoi’s expat population consisted solely of diplomats and students. No motorcycle rental companies or tour operators operated out of Hanoi while most of the roads outside the city were single-lane dirt roads with no guardrails. There were few cars on the streets of Hanoi, save for the occasional Russian Lada, and Hanoi’s trams had only recently stopped operating.
The only motorcycles available for rides into the countryside were all former ‘Iron Curtain’ steeds such as the Belarusian 125cc Minsk, the Czech 350cc Jawa, the Russian 175cc Vodkhod, and the East German 50cc Simpson. Because these ‘Iron Beasts’ were so temperamental, no adventure was complete without a few mechanical hiccups. The founder of Explore Indochina wrote a 100-page repair book for his bike of choice, the 125cc Minsk, and in 1998 he set up the famous ‘Minsk Club Vietnam’. Because of the extensive coverage this club received in the Lonely Planet, the only reliable source of information prior to the advent of the internet, it sparked a surge in interest in motorcycling throughout Vietnam.
The founders of Explore Indochina were the first people to ‘crack open’ northern Vietnam. Those were the days when the overnight train to Sapa comprised six wooden beds to a cabin, the ride from Lao Cai up to Sapa was on a small dirt road with no traffic, and Sapa had a total of just five hotels! Meanwhile, Ha Giang province, undoubtably the jewel of Vietnam’s must-see regions, was strictly off-limits to foreigners for many years. As part of a first-ever foreigner-approved expedition to the province, Explore Indochina was invited to join a French film crew at the Khau Vai ‘Love Market’, which is an annual festival where young Hmong hill tribe members meet and possibly find a spouse.
Both Rentabike and Explore Indochina are still the gold standard in Vietnam, operating and employing many of their original members staff. They have a legion of contacts all across the country who can find a fix for any problem, no matter how big or small. Even during the recent pandemic they have still maintained their physical and online presence and are poised to welcome foreign experts and tourists back to Vietnam.
Danny at RentABike knows a good thing when he sees it. Quality service, attention to detail, a long history, and a deep understanding of Vietnam and its people are common traits of both companies. Hanoi is now awash with many small, cheap and unprofessional companies, usually nothing more than a hole-in-the-wall office with a poorly worded website. Did you know that most of the websites are owned by just three young guys who redirect all the traffic to one core business? With their cheap and low-quality tours, they’re fighting their way to the bottom of the market. As the old saying goes: ‘If you pay peanuts, expect to get monkeys’.
RentABike is undoubtedly the best company for motorcycle and scooters, whether you plan to rent for one week or one year, while Explore Indochina is led by the most experienced guys in the business to head out into the mountains of northern Vietnam for an adventure you’ll never forget.