Vietnam Transport: Grab. Rental. Xe Om

motorcyclists on a busy Vietnam street at night

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Getting Around Hanoi

Vietnam transport: motorbikes and more motorbikes! In Hanoi, motorbikes have taken over the rules of the roads and dominated most of the transport in Vietnam. Around 80% of traffic is motorbike traffic and that is not set to change any time soon.

Motorbikes are cheaper, faster, easier to park and have access to more roads than cars. As either a resident or a tourist you have several options to choose from when considering how to use a motorbike in Hanoi to get around.

The History of Vietnam Transport

Traditionally, there was the cyclo/pedicab but now these are generally relegated to use as a tourist attraction around Hanoi’s old quarter. Then, with the introduction of motorbikes came the ‘Xe Om’ / motorbike taxi. This was simply someone with a motorbike that would heckle for your business and take you where you needed to go. Nowadays, with the introduction of technology, and ride-hailing (uber, grab bike, etc) services, the ‘xe om’, for better or worse, is not as popular because of Grab bike.

Our position

Rentabike feels that there is no better option than renting your own bike to get around the city, except when you plan to have a drink or two. So, here are a few pros and cons, between your own bike, a xe-om, and a grab bike service. This information will hopefully help you make the choice between services and the level of responsibility.

Buying or Renting a Motorbike

Having your own motorbike or rental motorbike means you take more responsibility, however, that comes a greater level of freedom.

Rent A Bike’s Position 

Naturally, we at Rent A Bike think that renting offers the perfect blend of safety and economy. However, we can understand why you might want to own your own bike. Taking a Grab / Xe Om is just too much hassle and once you have your own bike it is hard to go back. Don’t forget there are strict rules about parking your bike in Vietnam. Look at our article about parking in Vietnam to avoid any issues.

We can help you to manage all of the above aspects as the rental fee is low and we take care of maintenance and repairs. You are required to pay for punctures or anything you break but we cover all other maintenance costs. As well, we ask to see the bike regularly, so, we will spot any work that needs to be done. This keeps the bike as safe as possible for you.

Vietnam Motorcycle Rentals: Honda Master 125 - back right angle



Freedom: You can take your bike out at any time and you do not need to wait around for a driver to arrive.Cost: A motorbike could be from 200 to 2,000 USD. If you have just arrived in Vietnam and are waiting for your first paycheck as well as being asked for deposits and rent on accommodation, this can be an unaffordable extra expense.
Avoid bad service: You are not at the mercy of Grab’s recruitment and do not have to accept a rude or impolite driver or one that does not know the way.Repairs: You are responsible for all aspects of the bike so if something gets broken, you will need to get it fixed. This can also eat into your day and be very stressful if there is a communication barrier.
Running costs are cheaper: Even with the cost of fueling and maintaining the motorbike, it is cheaper to run your own vehicle. You can find that a good second-hand bike so when you come to leave the country, you can easily sell the motorbike and have a small lump sum to take with you.Maintenance: It is not too costly to look after most bikes but it is something you need to concern yourself with for both safety and economy. If you do not know anything about bikes, you may find that you are unaware that there is a problem until it is too late.
Lack of hassle: You do not need to deal with different drivers or lack of drivers. There is no reliance on the knowledge of the driver and you don’t have to worry about being overcharged or harassed.Socializing: You may want to go out for a few drinks and having your bike can hamper this. You are faced with the choice limiting what you drink, zero is the best option, or trying to find a safe place to leave your bike. The morning after will consist of you going to pick up your bike and this potentially means double Grab / Taxi fare.
Destination freedom: You can change the destination mid-journey very easily and multi-stop routes are much less hassle. You can take trips out of the city that a driver might not want to take or would be very costly by xe om or grab.Theft: This is the most serious problem that you may have to face when owning/renting a motorbike. It is almost impossible for a non-Vietnamese person to get insurance and our company is unable to do so. Buying or renting a cheaper bike is worth considering as the financial risk is lower. However, you must balance the cost against the roadworthiness of the bike. We do not feel that spending anything less than 500 to 600 USD for a semi-auto or 1,000 to 1,500 USD for an automatic is a wise idea. Hence, the risk.

Xe Om – Hanoi motorbike taxi

Xe (vehicle) Om (hug) so ‘vehicle hug’ was the natural progression to the Cyclo, when the motorbike began to populate the streets of Hanoi. The same revolution that has taken place with Grab taking over the streets took place back in the Nineties. Anyone with a motorbike and some free time could offer to take you where you wished to go for an agreed price. These drivers still exist and you will see them hanging out of street corners, heckling for business.

xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers waiting for fares in Hanoi's Old Quarter
xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers waiting for fares in Hanoi's Old Quarter
Personal service: If you get to know your local driver or band of drivers, some drivers will be protective and loyal, like a good friend. A relationship will develop.Unregulated: this means you cannot know how reliable they are. Also, if there is an issue, they are local and you are likely to encounter them on a daily basis. Most importantly, it may be difficult to find any company or governing body. Complaints to the local police are likely to go unheard.
Scheduled: A driver can get to know your schedule and be waiting for you when you leave for work or return. This can save the waiting time.Cost: You may find you get charged a little more than the average. Even after once you know the true cost you may not be able to convince the driver to give you this price. Your choice could be to choose a different driver on a different corner. Then, the issue of seeing them on a daily basis could be a problem. All way too much stress in our opinion.
Local: A driver that is local to you will know the streets and traffic conditions at all times of the day. Familiarity: The other side of the coin is that a driver may know where you go, what you do and who you meet. This might not be information that you wish to have freely dispersed amongst the community that you live in.
Familiar face: Someone that is known and lives in the community could be less likely to be a threat and the fear of backlash from the community for doing the wrong thing can be great. This means to get to know your driver and their relatives that live nearby. 


Ride-hailing services

Grab, and several other services similar to it, are on-demand, app-based ride-hailing services. They will show the location of a driver and via an app on your phone and allow you to hail a ride.

Grab Bike driver in traffic
Grab Bike driver in traffic
Price transparency: The cost of the ride is fixed before both parties agree to the ride.Surge Pricing: prices will increase, sometimes astronomically, at peak traffic times. This is perhaps the better time to choose a traditional xe om over a grab.
Easy payment: You can choose to pay in cash or from a debit card linked to your account. You may also qualify for discounts even when using multiple varied drivers as your account is with Grab, not the individual driver.Reliance on google maps: Drivers that are new to town or have limited knowledge of the streets and traffic conditions can find themselves taking longer more complicated routes. This can result in longer wait times for you and also longer journey times.
GPS routing: Excellent for the tourist or new expat. There are fewer language barriers as the driver knows the pick-up and drop off locations and, can choose to use Google for directions. This also means that the ride is logged and tracked, which is a safety feature.Cancellations: There is a penalty system for customers and drivers that consistently agree to a ride and then cancel. This can create a situation where you are unable to book a new driver. The original driver may call you and request you cancel so that they are not penalized, however, you also do not wish to be penalized so refuse.
Availability: Working as a Grab driver is extremely easy and most locals can sign up to do this. It is popular with students as a way to earn extra income. This means it is usually easy to spot a Grab driver, with their branded helmets and jacket and if not, one is never very far away.Complaints: It is often commented that Grab has a complaints system but it does not work very efficiently and if there is an issue it will be swept aside. Therefore, the claims of drivers being vetted and accountable are unlikely.
 The decline of traditional ‘xe oms’: This may or may not be a bad thing depending on your point of view. However, it remains a fact that some xe om drivers, who are less familiar with technology will lose out. Furthermore, as they do so and large corporations gradually monopolize the market there may be less of a fallback option for customers. This has happened with the cyclo in a sense and anyone who may be nervous to use a ‘xe om’ can no longer fall back on the cyclo. A taxi is the only, more expensive, option.


There are stark differences between all of the choices above. You are likely to have occasion to use more than one or all of them depending on the situation. You may be long term renting in Hanoi and then visiting another city. Did you know that we offer 5 days of a free holiday rental to all of our long term customers when they visit one of our other shops? Hanoi, Danang, Ho Chi Minh City.

So, think about your circumstances. Then, weigh up the pros and cons to make the right decision for you.

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