To Ride or Not to Ride
Motorbikes are riding within inches of each other, the loud whirring sound of the motor and fumes fill the air as everyone’s idling at the stop light, the crazy woman driving a 10 ft tall lime tree with the man sitting in the back holding it up (that was us), etc.
Looking at the driving conditions in Vietnam, it’s easy to say, “I’m not doing that.”
Then you settle in and realize that everybody does it.
It sure beats being stuffed in a giant bus that is taking passengers that is over the capacity it’s supposed to have. I have paid as much as everyone else for a seat on the floor between the aisles. There, my motion sickness gets real.
Pros of Driving a Motorbike
- It’s the most convenient way to get around in the city. It’s also much faster. Motorbike riders can get up between cars and zoom off while cars gets between a sea of bikes.
- Fun and free feeling of driving in fresh air. Everything feels real when you ride through the streets at night, feeling the sea breeze. Or if you go through villages that could best be experienced on a motorbike. There’s a freedom of being able to control where you go and go anywhere you want to.
- Feeling cool. Being able to ride alongside family and friends is pretty fun. Whenever we go out, we would take at least 5 motorbikes and head on to the beach. One the way home, we don’t even worry about soaking up the bike seats.
- Experience the authentic way of navigating Vietnam.
Cons of Driving a Motorbike
- The chance of getting caught by the traffic police. In certain destinations like Nha Trang and Hoi An, traffic police generally let tourists alone. However, cities like Sapa and Saigon, there is low tolerance of drivers with no licence.
- The chance of getting in a motorbike accident. Accidents happen day to day. It’s a result of drivers going so close to each other. Most of the accidents I’ve seen are small ones, where motorbikes run into each other at slow speeds. Most people just apologize and go on with their day.
Renting a Motorbike
One of the greatest things about motorbiking is that you’ll get to rent a bike for under $5. Most places will try to take your passport, but I have gotten by with giving them my US driver’s licence. If you book your bike through your hotel, they will rent your bike without needing ID. Generally, I’ve found that hotels will charge more for a bike than a motorbike rental shop.
Don’t forget to haggle for your motorbike. Since motorbikes that aren’t rented out would just be sitting their anyway, you can use that to your advantage in haggling with the owner. We’ve rented motorbikes for as little as $2-3! Though don’t be surprised if they hand you a bike that is all out of gas. When that happens, just go to a local shop and grab a $1 bottle of gasoline to refill as you go along.
If you do choose to ride in Vietnam, here are some useful tips that has helped me during our trip there:
If you’re scared of driving, then there are excellent moto taxi driver services that allows you to ride at the back of an experienced driver. Use the apps Grab or Uber to ensure you know exactly how much you pay before you get on the motorbike or car. Grab is a Southeast Asian “Uber” that includes motorbike taxis. In my experience, Grab is generally cheaper.
If you’re scared, drive slow. Other experienced drivers will go around you, nobody wants to get in an accident. On the other hand, don’t drive too close to other bikes, as they can change their direction at any moment.
Don’t be afraid of using your horn. Yes, actually, you should beep every 30 seconds, every time you turn a corner, every time you pass another driver, every time you feel like it’s been quiet too long. It’s not rude, it’s just letting other people know that you’re there.
There will be times where it makes sense to go down a one way road. Do it, everyone does. But if you see a traffic police, turn around and hope you don’t get caught. We’ve seen people get their bikes get taken away, and it’s not fun.
If you get caught by a traffic police without licence, you will get fined. It’s not personal, as they do it for everyone. Though get this, if you don’t have the ridiculously high amount of money they’re asking for, they will settle with whatever you have in your wallet. So just don’t carry a lot on you, yeah?
Have I missed anything? How is motorbiking in other countries compared to Vietnam? Did you have a different experience?
Do check out my other posts about Vietnam here!
- Vietnam: Hiking and Swimming in Ba Ho (Three Pools), Nha Trang
- Vietnam: Making Traditional Bánh Tét During Lunar New Year
- A Blogging Post to Get the Ball Rolling