Please read the comments at the end of this article for more up-to-date information from other riders who have experience crossing the border with a motorbike in Southeast Asia. Also if you have done this yourself, please leave a comment with your experiences to help other people. Thanks everyone.
Riding a motorbike around Southeast Asia could possibly be one of the greatest adventures you will ever do in the region! While taking a motorcycle the length of Vietnam has just about become a rite-of-passage for backpackers, the two neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia are often ignored. Whether it is because people don’t have the time, or don’t think about it, is a true shame. Perhaps it is because “motopackers” aren’t aware that crossing the border with a motorbike is legally possible. We successfully crossed international borders three times – Laos to Vietnam, Vietnam to Cambodia and then back from Cambodia into Vietnam. We’re going to give our best advice, based on first-hand experience and research, on which borders you can cross at, and what you need to do this.
Do I Need Travel Insurance?
Legally, no. Intelligently, yes. Accidents do happen every day and, unfortunately, we have had a few friends be seriously injured or worst, killed on the roads in Southeast Asia. Motorbiking is dangerous, and there is no denying that. You might think that this won’t happen to you, or that if you are injured that medical care is cheap. But not if you end up in a serious condition. Seriously consider getting travel insurance before you ride a motorbike in Southeast Asia! If you know the right company, you can even buy travel insurance while you are already on the road (in case you have already started your trip). If you want to learn more, read our page Do I Need Travel Insurance
We recommend World Nomads.
For our riding itineraries and routes we took across Southeast Asia, check out our articles below:
Note – all information below is based on owning a Vietnamese registered motorbike, unless otherwise stated.
Crossing The Border With A Motorbike Between Vietnam And Laos
You can take a Vietnamese-plated motorbike between the countries of Vietnam and Laos. As far as we know you cannot take a Lao-plated bike into Vietnam unless you are the registered owner of the motorbike. The two countries share 6 international border crossings.
- Sop Hun / Tay Trang
The Northern-most border in between Muang Khua on the Lao side, and Dien Bien Phu in the Vietnamese side, we have been told that this border crossing is either not possible, or expensive, with a motorbike. The guys who we bought our motorbikes off of in Luang Prabang tried to cross the border here and were not permitted to exit Vietnam with them. We have also heard from other riders that when they rode to this border crossing the immigration officials tried to extort a large amount of money from them.
- Na Maew (Na Meo) / Nam Xoi
This border crossing near the Lao town of Sam Neua allows for taking Vietnamese-plated bikes in between countries. When exiting Vietnam you are required to pay US$20 for an ‘import form’ which is supposedly meant to be handed back to customs when you leave Laos with your bike. They also charge a very inflated price for a Lao visa (US$45). As of January 2015, the road on the Vietnamese side is in a terrible state, with very thick mud making the journey quite hazardous. Leave yourself plenty of daylight hours if trying to make this crossing.
- Nam Can / Nam Khan
In between the large towns of Phonsavan in Laos and Vinh in Vietnam, the Nam Can border crossing is open to international tourists. We met two guys in January 2015 who took their Vietnamese motorbikes from Laos back into Vietnam at this crossing with no problems.
- Nam Phao / Cau Treo
A convenient crossing point near Vinh and Lak Xao in Laos, we have also heard stories of people successfully crossing at this border. We have not met anyone who has done this personally though.
- Dansavanh / Lao Bao
This border crossing is not too far from the city of Hue in Vietnam. We have no credible information on the possibility of crossing the border with a motorbike at Lao Bao, although we have heard stories that it is possible. Personally we would not hesitate in attempting this border crossing ourselves.
- Bo Y / Ngoc Hoi
This border crossing is between the major towns of Attapeu in Laos and Kon Tum in Vietnam. It is a remote crossing, with the road on the Laos side being a beautiful mountain pass. Watch out for logging trucks on this road. We crossed from Laos into Vietnam at Bo Y with no problems. The border officials in Laos and Vietnam did not ask for any bribes, fees or extra money to cross. No one asked for the import permits that came with our bikes.
Crossing The Border With A Motorbike Between Vietnam And Cambodia
You can take a Vietnamese-plated motorbike into Cambodia and back. We have heard of people taking Cambodian-plated motorbikes into Vietnam, but have no credible sources on this. The two countries share 5 international road border crossings. They are as follows:
- Bavet / Moc Bai
This is the main border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia, and buses regularly ply the route. It is the most convenient crossing to go from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, and can be done in one big day. It is definitely possible to take a Vietnamese-plated motorbike across the border at this international gate, although you may be asked for fees or bribes.
- Phnom Den / Tinh Bien
This border crossing is close to the Vietnamese town of Chau Doc, and can be a convenient place to get to Kampot, or vice versa. We took our Vietnamese-plated bikes into Cambodia at this border crossing in July, 2014 and had no problems doing so. We were not asked for any additional fees.
- Prek Chak / Xa Xia
Otherwise known as the “Ha Tien” crossing, this coastal border between Vietnam and Cambodia is open to international tourists. We have met people who took their motorbikes across the border at this checkpoint and had no problems.
- Le Thanh / O Yadao
The northern-most border crossing links Ban Lung in Cambodia with Pleiku in Vietnam. There are stories online of people having no problems crossing the border with a Vietnamese-plated motorbike at this checkpoint, but the information is dated.
- Trapaing Sre Border Crossing
This border crossing is close to the town of Snoul in Cambodia and Dong Xoai in Vietnam. This is the one we used to cross the border with our bikes back into Vietnam in October 2014 and had no problems at all.
Crossing The Border With A Motorbike Between Laos And Cambodia
While there are no laws that state taking a bike between Cambodia and Laos is illegal, lately this has been difficult for international tourists due to corruption. There is only one international border crossing between the two countries.
- Veun Kham / Dom Kralor
Due to this being the only legal border crossing between Laos and Cambodia, it is the most popular option. However when we went to do this in June 2014 we were told by locals and expats that a scam was happening at the border. Apparently the officials let you leave Laos or Cambodia with your bike, but deny you when you try to cross into the next country. They then ask for an extortionate fee to give you ‘permission’ to cross. If you don’t agree to this, a tout then appears and offers to buy your bike for peanuts. As you are stuck in no-man’s land, you are left with little choice but to sell your bike. Due to these stories we decided to skip this border crossing and head into Vietnam instead.
Special Note: We met a local man on Don Det, in the 4000 Islands, who made an interesting proposition to us. He offered to ferry us and our bikes across the Mekong River into Cambodia and park them at his friend’s farm, before taking us back to Laos. We then could cross the border from Laos into Cambodia on foot and hitchhike up to the property to collect our bikes. As tempted as we were, we decided against this. We DO NOT recommend illegally crossing borders between any countries. But if you end up doing this, please let us know how you go!
Crossing The Border Into Thailand With A Motorbike
Yes, it is possible to take a Cambodian or Vietnamese registered bike into Thailand – but it is not easy.
First you will need all the correct registration papers, and bike insurance. Officially you need the bike to be completely registered in your name, although there are ways around this. If you do manage to take a motorbike into Thailand, you are often given a form stating that you have 30 days to exit, and you have to nominate which border you will exit at.
Our friend Seb found a ‘Power Of Attorney’ form online and had the previous owners of his bike and a Cambodian man co-sign them. Seb crossed the border first, leaving his friend with the bikes. Seb purchased the mandatory motorbike insurance and showed enough authorities the forms that they eventually let his friend cross the border. This took 3 hours.
This comes from Olli and Wooki, two Germans who crossed from Laos into Thailand:
Yesterday we crossed from Laos to Thailand over the Friendship Bridge No. 4 between Huay Xay and Chiang Khong. All it cost us was one USD for some Photocopies, got 30 days in Thailand for free. First, they wanted us to pay for the police car escorting us while crossing the bridge, but when we told them we dont want to pay we didn’t have to.
Finishing the paperwork took about one hour. On the papers it says that we have to bring the Bikes out of the country again, so it seems that we cant leave without them.
Extra Tips For Crossing The Border
Cambodian and Lao visa-on-arrivals are available at almost all the border crossings. Vietnamese visas must be obtained ahead of time. However we recommend getting your visa before arriving at the checkpoints. This way there is one less thing for the authorities to hold over your head in case they decide to be difficult.
Another tip we got told is to park your bike ‘out of sight’ when you check out of one country, and hide it when you check into the next country. Then once your passport is stamped, jump on the motorbike and ride like hell before the authorities can stop you. Again, we don’t recommend this (but it may work).
Vietnamese-registered motorbikes are the easiest for moving between countries, and we recommend buying one if you can. Make sure it comes with the blue registration form and keep it on you at all times.
Another thing to carry with you is an International Driving Permit, although this means nothing in Vietnam. You may be asked for this at a border crossing though, so it doesn’t hurt to have one on you.
When you are dealing with the customs officials, do not mention your motorbike at all, unless they ask. They might just be turning a blind eye to it, but by you bringing it up may make them consider asking for money for it.