At long last, H e l l o Internet! It has been six months since I made the move to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam from Seoul, South Korea and what a crazy six months of ups and downs it has been! I will write a blog post on those ups and downs at some point but for now…
I’ve been adjusting to the insane traffic in Vietnam and feel qualified enough to make a mini guide to riding a motorbike on the crazy streets of Ho Chi Minh City!
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, it became quickly apparent that I would need to join the throngs of motorcyclists if I wanted to assimilate to the local way of life and enjoy the city to its fullest potential. As a relative newbie when it came to riding a motorbike, I did feel slightly terrified watching the city’s rush hour traffic and not being able to comprehend how anyone – local or expat – could survive riding through it. Now that I am a daily rush-hour rider I can safely say that there is a method to the madness of riding a motorbike in Vietnam.
— Firstly, understand that people treat the roads like a game of Tetris. Drivers like to fill any available slot on the road making lanes tightly packed in. I’m still not sure if this is due to impatience or just the will to keep traffic moving, but if you aren’t making full use of any spaces in front of you, another driver will almost always cut in, often at heart-stoppingly close distances.
— Watch out for the scorching hot exhaust pipe on yours and other people’s motorbikes. As traffic is so densely packed it is easy for your leg to get burnt by a passing motorbike or indeed when getting off your own bike the wrong way, as I experienced. These burns are affectionately called ‘Saigon kisses’ – a lovely name for something that can leave a nasty scar!
— Approach a roundabout in Vietnam like you would the famous scramble pedestrian crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo. So long as you have the sense to break before bumping into anyone, and you stay on course with your direction, you will make it through quite easily. I try to minimize the amount of weaving about and instead focus on the exit I want to take and stay in that direction, breaking whenever someone doesn’t give way.
— Embrace the quid pro quo. You might have to swerve out of the way of someone driving the wrong way down the street and yes, others will cut you up and drive across you out of nowhere but there is no reason to get angry over this as chances are you are going to do these things to another driver five minutes later. Everyone accepts the roads the way they are here and with that comes a shocking lack of road rage! Enjoy the culture of ‘anything goes’!