A short guide on how to drive, and most of all how to survive to the crazy and wild Vietnam traffic.
If you have never ridden a scooter before, this could be the right place to learn, and doing it quickly could be a matter of survival. Whilst for tourists a motorbike is just the easiest and funniest way to move around, for Vietnamese people it means everything: being a car a luxury item that only a few can afford, a scooter is by far the best chance to travel autonomously. In order to drive in Vietnam the prerequisites are: 1. international driving licence; 2. very quick reflexes.
We have been living in Da Nang for over a year now, we feel at ease in this organised chaos, let’s try then to describe how to drive in Vietnam.
RULES, OFFICIAL AND UNOFFICIAL, TO HOW TO DRIVE IN VIETNAM
There are some non-written street rules which may seem nonsense to us, but every Vietnamese person knows them:
– right of way goes to the bigger, that’s it; no matter if you are already in the roundabout, if somebody bigger and/or faster is approaching, you better slow down or even stop in the middle of the roundabout itself;
– don’t ever watch behind, well you should watch out when you change direction, but be aware that the others probably won’t do it; so who’s behind must and will find a way to avoid you, hopefully.
(We don’t want to scare you, but we’d like to remind you to always get a travel insurance before leaving home!
Even if you already left and you don’t have an insurance, you are still in time to cover yourself, get your quote here.)
– at first, you will be thinking that horns are used randomly and with no reason, but apparently there’s a specific hidden language: you use it when you are leaving your imaginary trajectory, that is at every turn, every roundabout, every overtaking… So yeah basically always. At least this is what we understood so far, we’ll update you if we discover new meanings.
– when you’re inserting in a road, stopping by is not an option (I’m not sure if stop signals exist), actually it could be dangerous because the one behind will not stop and may bump into you! The secret lies in just continuing on the new street, even driving wrong way if you need, and then eventually find space to change lane!
– you will suffer a flat tyre, fact. But don’t worry, along every street you will find stalls of mechanics here and there, some expert some improvised, who are just there to rescue drivers in need. They normally showcase gas in glass bottles, truly on-the-road style.
– parkings are another good query. Shopping malls, big markets, or any busy public location, will have some kind of “official” guard who will “watch” your bike for a very small fee (2k or 3k VND, like 0.10 cents). Bars, restaurants, hotels, banks normally provide free parking for their customers. Whereas in places like in front of beaches or tourist attractions, local people will provide you a parking and then of course ask money for it. Our advice is to agree for a few thousands, 10k max in exceptional cases. It’s not worth to argue for these amounts even if they are abusive, but there will always be someone who tries to overcharge you. Just look elsewhere and move a few hundred metres.
This is some basic advice to approach the driving world in Vietnam. We absolutely recommend to try scooter or motorbikes, they are way more practical and you’ll experience a part of Vietnamese daily lifestyle. At first the roads will be illogical and absurd to you, but slowly you will start to enjoy the fluid chaos reigning over the streets, and eventually you will get used to the sound of the horns… Maybe.
Riding along palm-trees with the wind on your face, the sea or a river on one side, some rice fields or local villages on the other, truly will give you a sense of freedom and peace!
WHERE TO STAY IN VIETNAM:
- The Hanoian Hotel, Hanoi: excellent staff, modern rooms, central location in the Old Quarter;
- Diamond Sea Hotel Da Nang: awesome sights from the seaview rooms with balcony, plus an amazing rooftop swimming pool;
- You can pre-book all your stays in Vietnam with free cancellation here.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
- It’s possible to book train and bus tickets in advance to travel in Southeast Asia with reliable agency amt.12go.asia, who’ll send your tickets straight to your e-mail address.
HOW TO GET A VISA TO VIETNAM:
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.