Riding a motorbike or a motorcycle in Vietnam can be intimidating, especially for a novice. Traffic in Vietnam looks like chaos, because that’s exactly what it is.
I’d go as far as saying that I won’t advise traveling by motorbike in Vietnam until you have some decent experience. But anyhow, here are my tips to survive Vietnam’s traffic:
- Drive slowly: I can’t stress this enough. Travel speeds in Vietnam are very low. Motorcycles (175+cc) or motorbikes (<175cc) are limited to 60km/h and aren’t allowed to drive on motorways. Driving in the city, you won’t exceed 25km/h on average. Outside the city, you’ll mostly be traveling at 40 to 50km/h. On highways you can go wild and accelerate all the way up to… 60km/h (or sometimes 80, but don’t quote me on this…). And that’s where the fun ends…
- Turn your head: whenever switching lanes or making a turn, check your mirror AND turn your head to see whether the coast is clear. The Vietnamese don’t know the term “safety distance”, so they’re on your a$$ all the time… Better be safe than sorry.
- Drive near the middle of the lane: this one may not make sense at first, but let me explain… Vietnamese people aren’t familiar with the universal concept of “yielding”. They’ll just go right ahead and cut right in front of you. So by riding more near the middle of the lane, you’ll have a bit more room to anticipate and maneuver around them.
- Anticipate: anticipation is key. It isn’t easy when everyone on the road is out to kill you (it really does feel like that sometimes). But as you get more familiar with Vietnamese traffic, you’ll be able to predict their next moves.
- Don’t stop: I’ll rephrase: avoid sudden stopping or braking. Vietnamese traffic is all about fluidity. Vietnamese will try to do anything to avoid stopping, including jumping red lights.
- Don’t make any sudden moves: just like my previous point,avoid hard acceleration. Traffic in Vietnam is all about fluidity. If you rush, you will catch the others off-guard and accidents may happen…
- Give way to larger vehicles: the general rule is that everyone needs to yield to the largest vehicles. If you don’t, chances are you’ll end up under a bus or a truck.
- Use your horn profusely: mirrors are for the weak. Signal your presence by hitting the horn. The more you do it, the safer you’ll be. Don’t worry, you won’t piss off anyone. They are accustomed to noise in Vietnam.
- Flash your lights: use your high beam to signal that you’re crossing the road or that you’re simply passing through. Don’t hesitate to use your horn. Vietnamese drive as much by ear as they do by sight.
- Switch on your lights day and night: with so many people on the road, it’s better to stand out from the pack. I ride with both headlights and foglights on, all the time. Not to see, but to be seen.
- Be prepared for the unknown: forget everything you know about normal traffic situations, because what you’ll encounter in Vietnam is anything but normal. You can drive against the traffic but you’ll get pulled over for doing 4 km/h over the posted speed limit. You can call while driving, but you can’t wear a Bluetooth earphone. Be extra careful.
You wouldn’t believe the things the Vietnamese do in traffic. There’s a general disregard for traffic rules. And this results in many casualties every day. Riding in Vietnam can be a wonderful experience but don’t forget the risks and be alert at all times.