Some might describe it as organised chaos .The first time road user in Vietnam will however experience it as downright chaos of the worst kind ,giving way to a whole array of emotions simultaneously.
These emotions might include the following :
Fear of eminent death ,panic,distress, resulting into total disbelieve once reaching the other side of the road with all body parts still intact . Motorbikes remain the most popular means of transportation in Vietnam, which has a population of around 92 million people and 45 million registered motorbikes, according to the Ministry of Transport.
If you are new to Vietnam, it might appear to you that driving on the correct side of the road is optional. Stopping at a red light is optional. Staying in your lane is optional. Giving way is optional.Stop to look for oncoming traffic when turning into a main road is optional. Indicating is very optional. And you would be right.
The only discernible rule is honking. That’s right: Honking. Using the horn is the way you let people know you’re there or that you’re coming.When people honk in Vietnam, it’s not done out of impatience or anger as it usually means in the West. It means, “Hello! How are you?” And “watch out! I’m coming your way”.
Contrary to everything i mentioned above,I do believe Vietnamese roads would be the safest place in the world if you were both deaf and blind.Imagine a stream of water running down a path as soon as it meets a protruding rock it meanders gently around the obstacle.
In reality this is how it works :
Traffic flows very slow due to the heavy congestion.Vietnamese road users are extremely tolerant and almost always give way .As they travel down the road they will anticipate the pace of the crossing pedestrian or vehicle and will either pass behind or in front. During all my travels to Vietnam i have rarely if ever experienced road rage.
How to cross the road
- Do not think that sidewalks are for pedestrians .No , that is where you park your motorbike.
- Walk up to the road find a small gap between you and oncoming vehicles ,then without hesitation cross the road at a steady pace.
- Do not stop or hesitate midway ,you will confuse the living daylight out of them and possibly cause a accident.
- Be wary as big trucks and buses might not be playing by the same rules.
- Do not stand and wait for traffic to stop so that you can cross,unless sight seeing for you, includes admiring passing traffic the whole day.
Riding a motorbike in Vietnam
Well it all started for me when two of my sons and myself decided to cycle from Hanoi to Saigon .After two weeks of pedaling up mountains ,down mountains endless rice paddy’s in the sweltering midday son sitting on small kiddies plastic chairs having something to drink next to the road.It came to me ,i have to do this on a motorbike.
Since then i have done the trip from Hanoi to Saigon numerous times and spend considerable time exploring the North up to Sapa and right up to the Chinese border.I have to date done thousands of kilometers to all the corners of Vietnam. My mode of transport during these adventures varied from a cheap Chinese bicycle to seriously re conditioned 110cc Honda Wins .These bikes are usually bought in Hanoi or Saigon by travelers and then sold at the end destination.I have also done some trips on more classy rental bikes like 150cc Honda’s.
When riding a motorbike in Vietnam most of the above rules apply and once you bought into the the philosophy of tolerance and flow you are to embark on a adventure of a lifetime .
What to do when riding a motorbike in Vietnam
- Rent or buy a motorbike or scooter that you are comfortable with(manual or automatic).Make sure the gear changes are smooth and that the breaks,indicators head light and rear lights work .Side mirrors is a must. When buying make sure you get the blue card and the details must match the bike.
- A fitted USB port comes in handy and a mounting for your GPS or cellphone.
- Find a quite spot and ride around until you are comfortable with the gear changes ,breaking and handling of the bike .
- Keep to the right of the road and be very aware when nearing a intersection that you might have to give way to traffic entering from side roads.
- Never drive competitively like we do in the west ,always give way ,slow down and go around slow traffic or obstacles without any emotional value.
- Prepare yourself for eardrum popping hooters used by big trucks and buses as , there are no decibel legislation with regards to loudness of hooters.
- High speed is never a option as the winding roads ,dogs ,water buffalo and the like makes traveling more than 60 km per hour impossible.
- Breakdowns is never a problem as there are without joking a motorbike repair place just about every hundred meters to be found next to the road.
- When traveling north to south or the other way around,avoid Highway one as much as possible .Highway one replaced the Ho Chi Mihn trail ,as the faster option to move goods and will be jam packed with trucks and buses .Take the Ho Chi Mihn trail wherever possible to experience the true beauty the Vietnam landscape has to offer.
When in Rome
When in Rome…… if one can adopt this approach when using Vietnamese roads you will experience the vibrancy Vietnam has to offer and your commuting and use of Vietnamese roads will become a enjoyable and fun part of your adventure.