When people think of Vietnam, one of the first things that come to mind is motorbikes, lots and lots of motorbikes!! It is estimated that there are around 37 million motorbikes in Vietnam compared to only 2 million cars. With a population of 90 million (keeping in mind the 90 million include children)…. That is a lot of motorbikes!! The government has a 100% import tax on imported cars putting them way out the price range for many Vietnamese. Motorbikes are cheap to run and relatively cheap to buy. We bought second-hand for 4,000,000 ₫ (£110/$200) we did have some engine problems to start where we had to shell out another million however it means we have still not spent much on our transport!! Add fuel which is about 100,000 ₫ a week (£2.70/$5) it is a cheap and easy way to get around.
That being said… driving in Vietnam is NOT for the faint hearted. Landing in HCMC back in April just trying to cross the road was a daunting process!! We have seen an accident a week since arriving, usually just a bump however we have also seen one fatality, a bike under a car and cargo strewn across the road. You defiantly need to air a side of caution and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS wear a GOOD helmet!
Now that we are working driving is essential and really puts your hazard perception to the ultimate test!! Some of the cargo people carry with them is crazy, dangerous and sometimes just weird and funny!! If you think of what you sometimes need to load into your car, then try to imagine that on a back of a scooter… sometimes it is just crazy!!
We have seen people with chairs, wardrobes and other items of furniture on the back, plasma TVs, massive mirrors or sheets of glass (which is terrifying!!) whole slaughtered pigs, items being taken to market among other things. As we are usually driving, or sitting on the back it is not always possible to get a picture… however if you look here, this photographer travelled round Vietnam capturing all the crazy loads people have on their bike.
The main problems we have found with driving are…
*The Vietnamese are CRAZY drivers… they drive so fast, they hardly ever look when turning and will pull out without even checking to see if the coast is clear! On the way home from work the other morning two men sped past me, then slammed on the brakes and did a sharp u-turn almost sending me flying right into them!!
* Cars are kings… While there not be so many cars here when you do see them they act like the own the road, they will reverse without checking behind them, get WAY to close for comfort when passing you and come really close to the back of you and beep scaring the life out of you!!
*The horn- Wow… I cannot wait to get back to a country where the horn is only used when REALLY needed. When driving in Vietnam all you hear is horns, it can be quite overwhelming at first! People will beep when overtaking you, beep if they are going fast to tell you to get out the way, beep when crossing an intersection or just beep for good measure! You actually do get used to it and we even have got on the beeping band wagon!
*Intersections and roundabouts. These scare the life out of me as there seems to be no right of way… just first come first serve, people will fly through intersections without even giving a fleeting glance to the other directions…. Just a few nights ago we were heading home from work and a guy didn’t even check the road before turning right and almost crashed right into us, he noticed just before and hit his brakes so hard he did a massive skid, but turned and sped off straight away!
*How close people get to you on the roads. For me this makes me very uncomfortable as when learning to drive in the UK you are taught about the importance of keeping your distance from the cars around you should they break suddenly. Here they will get so close that sometimes you will get a bump from someone else. This has happened 3 times now to Andy and I were someone has pulled out in front of Andy with me on the back only for the person behind to go right into my legs at the back. The good thing is we are never travelling so fast that this results in a major injury however I have a lovely bruise on my ankle and a scrape on my other leg. This week one of the other foreign teachers came into work showing us a rip in the sleeve of his shirt where someone had come so close, the break lever of his bike had caught onto his shirt and ripped it!
*Undertaking- There is no such thing here, they will overtake you by any means possible, even if that means someone overtaking you on the left while another person overtakes you on the right!
*The traffic police are quite bad here and something that you should watch out for, however this seems to be more of a problem for locals as they usually just smile or look bewildered when Andy and I drive past! The main thing to remember is to keep the right of the yellow line (a lane just for bikes), if a police man catches you on the left side (reserved for cars and lorries) you will get a fine! One of the local teachers at our school told us how she got a fine when there was a lorry parked in the bike lane and the only way she could get round the lorry was to go outside the yellow line… and she was slapped with a 350,000₫ fine. When she explained that the lorry was in the way the police told her she should have waited for it to move… despite the fact the driver was nowhere to be seen.
*Social driving- By this I mean groups of people on separate bikes diving in a line together chatting, playing on their phones and just having a laugh! We live in the student end of town so we see students going down the road just chatting away together taking up the whole lane. On a Friday and Saturday night there are always groups of people driving in a line together, so heading home consists of zig-zagging between lines of motorbikes!
As you can imagine not having a car can present many problems, especially
when you have a family! You regularly see all the family on one scooter, the most I have ever seen is 6 people on one scooter and require special Tetris like skills to slot everyone one, you will often see a family on the scooter with a toddler standing up on the bike holding onto the driver. We even saw a guy on a bike with a toddler standing up between his legs- sleeping! The wee boy kept drooping over to one side and the guy would use his knees to keep him in the middle… all with no helmets! Crazy!
If riding a 125cc scooter is a bit too scary you can get electric bikes here quite cheaply. They are silent and easy to ride and you plug them into the wall at night once you have got home, the only problem with this is they can only get about 30km on full charge and if you run out of battery then you have to peddle the rest of the way home… easier said than done when the temperature is 40 degrees as Andy and I found out on the way home from school on Saturday afternoon when we were borrowing another teachers electric bike while our scooter was in getting fixed!! I hopped on a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) while poor Andy had to cycle the entire way home!!
Finally if driving is just a big NO, you can get about using a Xe Om (pronounced zai oom) which are motorbike taxi’s, they will drive like mad men, and usually leave me holding on for dear life… but will get you to your destination in record time and for about $1-2… much cheaper than a taxi!!
Before you all think that we are crazy for even attempting to drive in Vietnam I should point out that the speed limit is only 40km/hr meaning that if someone does pull out on you, you are usually going slow enough to stop or get out-of-the-way.
Driving in Vietnam is defiantly an experience, and after driving here for a while now I feel like I have unlocked some sort of master power in driving and especially in hazard perception!!!
Not our video… as it is just WAY to dangerous to film on a bike… but this gives you an idea of what we deal with everyday!!