That being said, riding a motorbike in Vietnam can also be quite fun! When we started living and working in Hoi An, we were given a motorbike as part of our payment. We were suddenly free to ride to An Bang beach, make day trips to Da Nang, and come and go as we pleased.
What is so crazy about it?
Needless to say, the roads in Vietnam are dangerous. If your introduction to Vietnam is via Hanoi or Saigon, you may find yourself utterly perplexed wanting to get from one side of a street to the other by foot. There are so many motorbikes zipping around that you have to walk slowly but surely, allowing the riders to dodge around you. If you stand around waiting for them to stop for pedestrians to cross, you’ll be waiting for a long time.
The Vietnamese will carry an entire house (plus their three children and dog) on the back of their bikes if they can. I’m always amazed at how they don’t tip over.
Traffic law is practically a problem. It’s not that scary once you get the hang of it, but you might want to get a feel for how it works before setting off on your own.
Rules of the Road
#1. There are no rules
Everything you know about official road rules is out the window. It’s not uncommon so see someone flying down a one-way street going the wrong way.
Helmets are mandatory, although the only real reason you will get stopped for not having one is so that traffic enforcement can get a pay-day.
Most of the helmets for rent are made out of very cheap plastic with a thin layer of foam on the inside. Try to get your hands on an actual motorcycle helmet if you plan on doing much driving. It is my strong belief that you’re more likely to end up with a piece of plastic lodged in your skull than any sort of ‘protection’ from these helmets.
You’ll also notice many locals not buckling their chin straps. What is the point of that? For your own sake people, do up your helmets!
#3. Traffic lights
Although they do have traffic lights in Vietnam, they tend to be more precautionary than mandatory. If you stop, someone might ram you from behind. If you go, someone might ram you from the side. Generally you need to slow down, look both ways, and proceed with caution – no matter the color of the light. The key here is to go with the flow.
#4. Giving way
If you need to turn or change ‘lanes’, don’t expect someone to kindly slow down and give you way. It may happen that you have five other motorbikes on your right-hand side and you need to turn right, so what do you do? Your timing skills will be put to the test, but you basically need to just look over your shoulder and go for it – timing it just right to avoid t-boning them, slipping in front or behind in one swift motion.
You can get on your bike while blackout drunk in Vietnam and realistically nobody is going to do anything about it, especially in more rural areas. Never do something you wouldn’t do in your own country, you know better. On that note, the drinking and driving rate in Vietnam is very high so be aware that other drivers are a threat and keep your eyes peeled.
The average speed limit is around 25-60km/h, try to stay within it. There will often be pot holes, animals to avoid, oil spills from trucks, dirt roads and debris on the road, so you need to be in control at all times. Use your common sense, know your limits, and don’t end up another statistic for the sake of an adrenaline rush.
From my experience driving in Hoi An, there are often designated parking ‘lots’. The Vietnamese running the lots will charge you significantly more for parking than a local, but there is nothing you can do about it. Arguing and bargaining will get you nowhere; they have the upper hand here. If you ignore them and park in an undesignated area, you may get towed – I did, and can you imagine the hassle of wandering the Vietnamese streets trying to find their impound lot?
I’m sure you can deduce from the photos that there is no limit to your passenger count so the smaller you are, the better. Your load is not limited to people either; chickens, pigs, buffalo, you name it – if you can get it one your motorbike, it’s a fair game. Obviously packing on several people to one motorbike is not as comfortable (or safe) as the Vietnamese make it out to be, so try to limit yourself to two people.
Getting on a Motorbike
Most people don’t want to commit to buying a motorbike for a short visit, so renting is a great option. In Hoi An there are people renting motorbikes on every street, so shop around to find a good deal. Usually it will cost around $5 a day (without gas).
If you’re worry of navigating the streets alone, but want to get out of the city, you can do an off-road motorcycle tour through rural Vietnam. Most travel agents run tours for all levels of riders and you can choose from a variety of tailor-made tours lasting from half a day to a week. You get to ride through villages and see the real Vietnam you may not experience otherwise, with the comfort of having a guide.
In my opinion, having your own wheels is one of the best ways to discover somewhere new and get off the beaten tourist path. If you’re eager to explore the country by motorbike, go for it! Just don’t ignore your common sense because the road rules are more lenient – safety should always be a top priority.
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