I just read about a kid who had a bad motorbike accident here in Vietnam and his family's trying to raise money on a crowdfunding site to pay for his medical bills.
I'm sorry that this kid had a bad accident, BUT NOT enough to reward his irresponsible stupidity. Anyone who rides a motorbike in Vietnam without proper licensing AND insurance is just asking for trouble.
Anyone who rides a motorbike anywhere outside his/her own country without emergency evacuation insurance is just plain stupid.
Sure, we all think "it won't happen to me" until it does.
DO NOT come to Vietnam or anywhere to ride a motorbike without:
1) Previous motorcycle riding experience (as the operator)
2) Proper medical evacuation insurance (I highly recommend Global Rescue)
3) Valid medical insurance that covers you HERE
4) A valid driver's license AND International Driving Permit
5) A good, solid, full face helmet with DOT or ECE rating
6) Common fucking sense
The last one was added after I read about a guy who crashed while taking a selfie WHILE RIDING FAST.
"What a maroon!"--Bugs Bunny
Re the International Driving Permit (IDP)... Vietnam recognizes ONLY IDPs issued by signers of a 1968 agreement. The IDP from most countries (including the US, the UK, and Australia) is recognized under an 1949 agreement. Vietnam does NOT recognize these.
That said, get one and carry it with you along with your home country driver's license WITH MOTORCYCLE ENDORSEMENT. If you get hurt in an accident, there's a strong chance your insurance will cover your injuries.
If you are injured in an accident and DO NOT have a valid motorcycle license, there's an excellent chance your insurance will NOT cover your medical bills. I've read on social media where people say they just told the insurance company they were walking and got hit by a motorbike, BUT that's fraud and a really, really bad idea.
Re the helmet... the laws of physics are the same in Vietnam as in your home country, though you couldn't tell it by looking at the backpackers I see weekly riding with the standard Vietnamese helmets. As I've written here before, 99+% of the helmets worn by native Vietnamese are designed only to keep the police from stopping and citing them. The idea that it should protect your brain carrier is completely lost. If you ride at home, you probably have a good helmet. Bring it. If you ride at home without a helmet or with a POS helmet, you deserve whatever happens to you—including having to re-learn the alphabet. Or worse.
Part 2 will cover how to find and rent—or purchase—a good, solid, and safe motorbike in Vietnam.
Until then, be smart and stay safe.