Finding Petrol in Ha Giang
It is not always the first thing that you think of when planning a motorbike tour, but petrol is something that you need to be sure is available. Many think of Ha Giang as a remote and isolated area and assume that they will need to carry petrol with them. That is not really the case. Petrol is readily available but you need to know where to look. Here we will give you some pointers.
Where are the Petrol Stations?
Here we have listed the many locations that you can easily find online in Google Maps. You will see that there are quite a lot of filling stations available. We have not listed the roadside sellers that will sell fuel in small bottles at tea stall and in the markets. There are hundreds/thousands of these and you can usually find some fuel very close by.
We recommend that you fill up at petrol stations and not from roadside stalls, if at all possible, because the quality of the fuel is likely to be much better.
This list is by no means complete. It is only to give you an idea and show you that fuel is readily available.
The main network of roads, the outer loop (QL34 / QL4C) has large petrol stations due to the volume of traffic. However, the smaller roads ‘inside the loop’ do not. These petrol stations are often quite busy in towns or at the ‘rush hour’ early morning / evening but other than that can be quite desolate. When they are busy, it is best to be quick and efficient, to have your tank cap off and be ready to fill, pay and move quickly. it can be tricky at first but after a few times it becomes quite natural and fast.
All petrol stations here are manned and there is not self service. In the unlikely event that no one is around DO NOT start to fill. Shout out for someone to pump fuel for you.
It is a good idea to try to fill up in Petrolimex petrol stations as these are state owned and the employees are less likely to water down the petrol with ethanol as they may do in some privately owned petrol stations.
You should take clear note that that meter returns to ZERO before beginning to fill your tank. If not, you could find you are paying the amount of the previous customer on top of your own fuel.
It is better to say how much you wish to fill rather than ask for a full tank. This is because when the gauge in the pump registers full and ‘clicks’ off, then next minimum is 1,000VND but the pump will dispense less than this. It is is hard to explain but it means that you can be overcharged by a small amount every time the pump ‘clicks’. This will usually not add up to much but it is worth noting.
Everywhere you go in Vietnam, you will find people selling fuel, illegally, on the road side. This is for the convenience of drivers and because the Vietnamese are keen to earn a little cash wherever they can. It is quite simple for someone who is selling tea, cigarettes, snacks on the street to have a large can of petrol nearby that they can sell of in litres.
How do I know petrol is available for sale?
Well, of course you could ask but even if you are understood, you might not understand the answer. So, they ubiquitous tell tale sign is an old soft drink bottle filled with either a green or red liquid. This is left on the pavement to indicate that there is a seller nearby.
This is done because it is illegal to sell fuel in this way and if the police come past, the seller can simply deny that they are selling fuel as this bottle only has water in it. Also, this water has not value and will not be stolen, so it can be left out all day/night unattended.
Is this fuel safe?
Generally, speaking this fuel is ok for your bike. The seller will have just gone to the nearest petrol station and filled up a large can to bring back. However, you might worry about how this has been stored as if it is stored badly there could be water in the fuel and this will cause a problem. This is very easy to check as petrol floats so any water will accumulate in the bottom of the bottle. If you are worried about this, just leave the last small portion of the fuel in the bottle. Remember to pour gently.
Some of these sellers might try to increase profits by adding other liquids to the fuel but this is something that you cannot discover easily so it is best not to worry about it. Just buy enough fuel to get to a reliable source and be on your way.
Usually, you will just want enough fuel to get you home or to the next petrol station. It is best not to buy too much from these stalls due to the problems above.
REMEMBER: These stalls are businesses and they rely on repeat custom. Ha Giang is a small area, travelled frequently by the same people so maintaining a good reputation as a seller is quite important. Therefore, you are unlikely to be the target of any scam even though you are clearly a transient. Be friendly and jovial and you are likely to get the red carpet treatment.
What is Petrol Station in Vietnamese?
Well, no surprise here, just like we have petrol station / filling station / gas station / garage, there are several names used in Vietnamese, also.
The simplest, and most commonly used, would be:
Trạm Xăng (Cham Sung) – this literally means station petrol / Petrol Station
Cửa Hàng Xăng Dầu (Kooer Hang Sung Zo) – Cua Hang means shop, so this is shop petrol / petrol shop.
Cây Xăng (Kay Sung) – this means tree petrol / Petrol Tree
Remember: in Vietnamese adjective noun order is reversed. A green bottle is a ‘bottle green‘
You then have:
Trạm Xăng Dầu – Xang Dau means petrol, so this again means station petrol / Petrol Station.
Trạm đổ xăng – Do Xang means fill petrol, so this one is filling station.
Công Ty Xăng Dầu -Cong Ty means company, so company petrol / petrol company
You will see all of these variations on Google Maps and you can search for any of them. Often it is best to just search for ‘Xang’ as this will pull up most of the variations above as well as the English variants.
What Do I Say to Get Petrol?
This depends on where you are buying petrol. It is slightly different if you are in a regular filling station or on the roadside or in a market.
In a petrol station
You will usually either say fill her up or the amount you wish to spend.
Fill her up = đầy bình (day bing)
40,000VND = bốn mươi nghìn (bon moy ngin)
It never hurts to try to be polite so you could add ‘Give me’ to start off with. Even without the please or thank you it is considered to be more polite.
Give me = cho tôi. So, we get:
cho tôi đầy bình (cho toy day bing) = Give me a full tank.
cho tôi bốn mươi nghìn (cho toy bon moy ngin) = Give me 40,000
Note: the pumps cannot dispense less than 1 litre so do not ask for that. Petrol currently costs around 20,000vnd / litre so consider that as a minimum ask.
On the roadside
You will usually buy by the bottle or the litre. So, you need to look for a a bottle (usually a 1.5litre soft drink bottle) with dark green or red liquid inside it. Then, you look around for someone nearby who might be selling petrol. It’s usually pretty obvious and is, for example, the woman selling tea, drinks and cigarettes on the roadside.
You can use some of the same language above as well as:
anh/chị bán xăng cho em được không = Can you sell me petrol?
The person’s response should be either Yes, in which case it could be có / đúng / được or No, which would be không.
With luck the answer is Yes and so you would go on to say:
bán cho anh/chị/em một chai = sell me one bottle
bán cho anh/chị/em hai lít = sell me 2 litres
Good Driving Practice
When you are touring, it is a good idea to know your bike and to know about the fuel level. With luck you will have a petrol gauge that indicates when you are low on fuel. Hopefully, that is working correctly and doesn’t fool you. You may be on a bike that either doesn’t have a gauge or that the gauge is faulty. Your bike may even have a reserve tank switch that you can use as an indicator to let you know when you are close to empty.
Fill up every day.
On most bikes you should probably fill up once a day just to be sure you always have fuel. This also means you have enough fuel to share some if a friend runs out.
You can decide to do this either in the morning as you leave for the day, or in the evening as you get to your destination. Of course, there are likely to be more opportunities to fill up close to your accommodation rather than on the open road.
Exception: If you are driving an XR150, this thing has a huge tank holding some 13 litres or so, and it will cover at least 300km on a full tank. This is not a bike that you really need to worry about filling daily and you also need to gauge how to return the bike to the rental shop as it was probably not given to you with a full tank.
There is no need to carry fuel!
You should be reassured enough by now to know that there is fuel available in most places and it is never far away. You do not need to carry fuel with you in a small bottle like this one above or, worse still, a soda bottle. It is not a good idea to carry a flammable liquid with you on the bike in case you have an accident. It could be dangerous or even fatal.
Get to know what empty sounds like
When you are low on fuel, rattle the tank to see what kind of sound it makes. This will help you in the future to know if you are getting low on fuel. You can also look inside the tank and try to judge the level of fuel. On some bikes, like the Win copies, you can usually see the fuel level quite clearly.
Learn how to use the reserve tank switch.
On the left hand side of the bike, slightly lower than the petrol tank, there could be a switch which has 3 positions on it: top, middle and bottom.
TOP – In the top position it is set to allow fuel from the main tank to be used. If the bike stops due to lack of fuel it only means that you need to switch to RESERVE and does not mean that you are out of fuel.
MIDDLE – This is the OFF position and it will stop all flow of petrol. You can use this overnight if you have a leak or even as a little security in the hope that a thief wouldn’t notice and would ‘run out’ of fuel very quickly.
BOTTOM – in this position you are using the RESERVE tank. This is your final drops of petrol (it is about 1.5 litres so plenty to get to the next fuel stop) and when this runs out the bike is truly empty. It is now time to find fuel.
Remember: After filling, switch back to the TOP position so that you use the main tank. If you do not, you will be using main and reserve at once and will run out of fuel FOR REAL without having the convenient warning you get when using the main tank only.
Switch the fuel off overnight.
This is not such a big deal on newer bikes that are in good condition but there may be some of you who are on older bikes or even two stroke bikes running a fuel oil mix. For these bikes it is a good idea to turn off the fuel so that it doesn’t leak or that oil doesn’t clog the carburettor. As mentioned above, it can be a small security measure to take if you are leaving your bikes in a communal area, also.
Petrol, Petrol Everywhere
So, petrol is relatively easy to find all over Ha Giang province and why wouldn’t it be when 90% of the traffic is motorbikes with small fuel tanks? You are usually no more than 20km away from a gas station and there are usually several, if not many, smaller sellers of fuel along the route to those.
So, long as you pay attention and follow the tips above you are unlikely to run out and are destined for a great adventure.