Two weeks ago, we left Vietnam. Those thirty days were great fun, as well as an educational experience. Having travelled from the South to the North, on the coast and in the mountains, we have seen a fair bit of the country (including 3300km of roads), met great locals and enthusiastic tourists, and it all ended up costing just a small amount of money! Great experiences teach great lessons, so let us share the five best ones.
Although we personally witnessed only a few accidents, they are common and often fatal. During the national holiday of the 1st and 2nd of September, 70 people died and 160 got injured. So read the following lines as a precaution.
Lesson one: Riding with animals
Roads in Vietnam are actually very good, certainly better than in Cambodia. I would compare them to Belgium or the Czech Republic. However, a component of traffic one should not forget are animals: dogs, goats and cattle. Dogs like to play on the roads and their puppies are not very cautious. So when you see them, warn by a loud honk. In the unfortunate event of collision, you’ll probably be better off than the poor canine. I’ve heard stories of small puppies…
Goats and cattle are more unpredictable and also heavy enough to stop you and your motorcycle right on the spot. So just slow down and pass them carefully.
Lesson two: Riding with humans
Humans on the road are even more dangerous than animals. Not only do they ride motorcycles, some are allowed to chauffeur >10 ton vehicles, without a pinch of judgement. Motorcycles are more common, so let’s start with them. A field of human vision is about 170 degrees. For traffic, you need more, and that’s why mirrors are provided on motorized vehicles. However, too many riders adjust them so as to see their own face or the beautiful blue sky. A minority, removes the mirrors altogether, to cut the air resistance, I presume. So before you overtake, again, use the horn. Fortunately, hearing works from all sides. When it rains, everyone covers the rear view mirrors with their raincoats, so you have to resort to the horn strategy anyway.
Lorries and buses are more dangerous, since your bike will shatter and body can splatter upon a collision therewith. Always worry for the traffic coming from ahead of you. A guy behind you won’t run you over, but when a driver coming the other way decides to overtake a slow vehicle, they will not stop until they have succeeded. A motorcycle is seen as no obstacle, so get out of their way!
Lesson three: Indicators are for losers
Before taking a turn, you have learnt to stick your arm out on the bicycle, or use an indicator whilst driving. Do not count on the orange blinking light whilst in Vietnam. Sometimes they are unintentionally left on, even when the rider goes in a straight line. Sometimes, they do not work or are not used, but when a rider decides to turn right, he will turn right. A right turn is oftentimes preceded by a left swivel. Before taking a left turn, which means traversing the road, riders mostly go left and stop. Pay attention to people coming from a side road. If they decide to join your lane, they will go. YOLO. The general advice is give a small honk as a warning.
Lesson four: Dress like a gentleman
Warm temperatures and a lot of sun would make you think otherwise, but hours spent on the road absent of shadows can burn your fair skin. That’s why I’ve chosen my white shirt. UV Factor >100 will spare you of spreading greasy cream and the colour reflects a lot of incoming light, so you stay cool.
Lesson five: Eat properly
Riding a motorcycle on vietnamese roads, in the rain or blazing heat, one gets exhausted and hungry. So after a shower to wash the dirt away, the time will come to endulge in a flavourful dinner. The world proper, is misleading in this context, being synonymous to “clean”. If you go to a local restaurant, and order a „Bia (beer) and a “Cum Ga” for dinner, you are meant to make a lot of mess in the process of consumption. Eating etiquette includes chumping and slurping and cheering your co-diners with a loud “Yo” everytime you sip from the glass From three beers on it is “bottoms up” (chuck your drink), and if you overfill your glass, just let it flow and drip. It means you are rich!