Firstly – forget everything your used to with regards to road safety and driving practices.
I’m sure there are laws in place here but I’ve yet to see what they are or how they are policed. The good news is, that for the most of the time, they drive on the right side of the road. This doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter an oncoming bike, car or even cow, but the general masses seem to follow this rule.
It could be worth noting, from what I have ascertained with my very poor Vietnamese, you do not need a driving license here. As long as your wearing a helmet then your good to go.
Honking your horn – this seems to be a must in Vietnam. Wherever you are on the road: whether it be a city, beach town or mountain top, you will hear a bike or car horn. I’ve stressed before that this is most definitely not an act of road rage but merely an indication that someone is near to you or that they are about to join the traffic. Don’t be fooled in thinking that they will wait for the right time to join the flow of bikes, a horn is usually followed by a bike pulling out in front of you within a millisecond. Just be prepared.
Having a child on a bike is the way of life here. It’s not frowned upon, if anything it’s just as common as solo riders. If you get the chance to pass a school when kicking out you’ll witness complete madness. One, two, even five small kids piled on to a single moped. Some on the shoulders of the parents, some holding on like a family of monkeys grooming each other. This looks incredibly dangerous from an English driving perspective but it’s quickly put into context when your overtaken by a bike trying to transport a piano.
When we arrived in Vietnam I decided to take the bike out for a spin on my own first. After a few minutes you will get the feel for how the locals drive and its surprisingly easy to follow suit. All of the acts that would normally evoke the highest levels of road rage dissipate as you mingle amongst the hundreds of bikes that are waiting to set off at a stop light. After a quick tour you should be comfortable enough to load up the family and set off.
My daughter, for whatever reason, loves being on the moped. Within a few days her new hand gesture was one hand turning in the air as if she were revving the bike herself. As she is only one and we were not to comfortable with her perched at the front, we opted for my partner wearing a baby carrier with our daughter sitting between the both of us. We have taken a few very slow rides around the quiet streets with just myself and her perched on my lap. Whilst my daughter may be a cautious girl I wouldn’t like her curiosity to get the better of her and for her to stunt man it off of the bike.
How to handle junctions and roundabouts:
If your the religious type then praying will be your first port of call. For those less spiritual, a few techniques that I’ve picked up may help.
Roundabouts are best tackled with an American football approach. Imagine your the quarterback with the ball running for the end zone. All you need is to find yourself a good blocker, a car works well. Creep up alongside the car prior to the circling madness and let the mechanical beast protect you from any potential hits from the side. Alternatively, when your lacking a good car for a blocker, the school of fish tactic can work well. Nestle yourself well inside the tight pack of bikes (fish) and hope that the outer, slower fish will be eaten. This works very well but you need to be ready on the brakes as the close proximity of all the fish requires some agile movement. The only downside is, like with a school of fish, the tendency to follow the rest kicks in and straying from your original path may occur. On the positive side there’s a good chance that you may be invited to a fellow riders place for dinner as they are an exceptionally friendly bunch of people.
Junctions are a completely different kettle of fish, if you’ll pardon the pun. There are a few signs that I still have no clue as to what they are trying to indicate. The best solution is to give a wide berth to joining roads coming at you from the right. Bikes will accelerate into your lane with the noise of the horn having not even reached your ear drums. The most difficult type of junction is a cross junction. In the UK the priority is given to the larger road and its usually sign posted accordingly. Here it’s a lot more difficult to determine which is the major road and truth be told, I don’t think it would make any difference. Approach slowly, glance both ways, check for pedestrians, cars, bikes and cattle. When the coast is clear, pull the throttle and Eddie the eagle it through as quickly as possible. The locals are quite good at recognizing a foreign driver among their crowd and will usually show some signs of pity and allow you to go.
Finally, when you are approaching a major junction without having to cross the road do not take it for granted that you only need to glance to the left before joining the traffic. Countless times we have pulled out to be stopped abruptly by a local trying to set a new trend and switching the side on which to drive on.
Spending a month driving around Vietnam with our beautiful daughter has been so much fun. For those who do have reservations I strongly suggest having a test ride first to get a good feel for the way they drive. It’s been an incredible way to see parts of the country and an activity all by itself. I would recommend to everyone to give it a go when your here or in similar countries.