Riding a motorbike in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in the spring of 2019.
This is a short, 15-minute video taken from my Suzuki Hayate motorbike while driving in the western area of HCMC Tan Phu. It shows driving along the streets and all the ways one must stay vigilant to drive safely and securely.
Vietnam is a motorbike country. Virtually everyone has one, though some still get by with a bicycle only, like Ti’s late mother. The motorbikes here are all 150 cc or less. They consume very little gas, getting about 36 km/liter of gas (85 mpg). There are a few larger motorcycles, very few. My guess is they are taxed my higher like cars (with a 100% to 300% VAT).
I’d estimate that for every 1,000 motorbikes (<150cc) there are 10 cars (half of which are taxi), 1 large motorcycle and 10 to 15 trucks.
While I said, that city driving is pretty safe. Intercity driving is downright dangerous. Number one reason is truck drivers (18 wheelers) who are reckless due to lack of sleep or drug use. The government has been trying to crack down on these abuses, but…
While initially upon arriving in HCMC in the spring of 2017, I found the traffic very chaotic. As I watched and observed over the coming days and weeks, I understood the system better and actually found the system pretty transparent. It was simple:
Don’t hit whatever you can see.
That means, it you hit anything, it’s your fault. If anyone hits you, it’s their fault.
Doesn’t get more simpler than that. And in fact, since many of you reading this are boaters, it’s similar to how the COLREGS are interpreted for ships and boats. Even when people do stupid stuff in front of you, the captain is still obligated to avoid it.
So, in that sense, the traffic in HCMC and Vietnam in general, seemed almost normal.
An example, (besides the ones you will see in this video, like drivers going against traffic or making U-turns just in front of you) in my early days, the street I was on had a line of 4+ wheel traffic in the left lane (which is normal, cars and trucks stay left). We come upon a little construction obstacle, so all motorcycle traffic is restricted to about half a lane or smaller, allowing only two motorbikes side by side. All of a sudden, a motorbike stops in the right side, because the driver is answering his cell phone!
Everyone is now funneled to a single file. No one complains, or says anything to the stopped driver, who essentially stopped in the middle of traffic.
No road rage, no nasty comments, just a few quizzical glances.
It means we must drive defensively all the time. While I have had a few close calls, I did have one accident that was caused because I was looking at Google Maps on my phone and while my head was done looking at the directions I had to go, a motorbike turned in front of me and I T-boned him.
What he did was stupid, but had I been paying attention, I would have bared left a bit and passed behind him.
Not too much damage, only a hole in my shirt and arm and on my foot and shoe, as it scrapped on the pavement. The other driver was very apologetic, as I was. He was up first and helped me and my moto up. This is very normal from what I have seen, though I must admit, I have seen very few accidents in my two years in Vietnam.
Also, the accidents I have seen have been all very minor.. that’s the main advantage of a motorbike community. The speeds are relatively low, 40 mph is going really fast. Most traffic is 15 to 30 depending upon traffic and conditions. Also, motorbikes are not too heavy, so not much mass.
During my accident, I was going about 15 mph. I broke my right handlebar mirror and that’s it.
Let me know by Liking or your comments if you like this type of video, if so, I have many more.