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Driving a Motorbike in Vietnam

Motorbike Riding Tips for Vietnam from a Long-term Expat

Recently, we had a renter sign up for a bike and he received the free information guide on riding in Vietnam when someone rents from us. These were tips on filling the bike with petrol, parking, riding the bike and other important information. He has been overseas for ten years in several countries and he sent us back these thoughts of his own on how to ride in Vietnam.

Whilst we generally agree with all of these driving tips for Vietnam, please aware that these are just suggestions and not professional advice. You may find that at times they are useful and other times they are not. Therefore, use your judgement as to whether or not they are applicable to your situation. We would also like to thank all our customers who raise these points and allow us to ensure your driving experience is as smooth as possible. Our customer safety is our absolute priority.

Tip 1 – When riding in traffic in Vietnam stay more attentive than you would need to be in the US or Europe

Rent A Bike says: Firstly, be attentive EVERYWHERE. This is generally true, although speeds are slower, vehicles are so close and, therefore, reaction times having to be faster.

Tip 2 – Focus on what is in front of you. Avoid glancing backward.

Rent A Bike says: Generally, yes, people in Vietnam worry about what is in front of them and not so much, what is behind them. However, it is wise to use your ears and mirrors.

Tip 3 – Never assume anything.

Green lights do not always mean you have the right of way. Cars, motorbikes, or pedestrians will try to cross in front of you or go the “wrong way” at any time. As we mentioned in the first tip: be attentive everywhere. 

Rent A Bike says: Right on. Prepare for the worst, most stupid thing that someone could do. It is more likely to happen than you think.

Tip 4 – Never assume you have the right of way.

In general practice, the right of way goes to the vehicle or person who was there first. A vehicle coming towards you the wrong way down a one-way street has priority because they were there first. However, size equals power so some vehicles will demand right of way because of their relative size/perceived importance.

Rent A Bike says: Totally. Arguing about right of way from a hospital bed is not our idea of fun!

Tip 5 – Beware of merging traffic.

If you are on the main road, thoroughfare vehicles will merge from side roads at varying speeds but typically they will make minimal effort to merge gracefully. They may not glance at all at the prevailing traffic. They will simply keep driving and expect the prevailing traffic to move over for them regardless of traffic lanes or any “right of way”

Rent A Bike says: Hence, keep your eyes on the road ahead. Assume responsibility to avoid all that is in front of you. This is irrespective of right of way.

Tip 6 – Get used to the close proximity of other road users.

There is minimal safety space between vehicles as part of typical riding here. When you leave room between you and the driver in front of you other drivers will cut in front of you. The cultural expectation is that if you leave room someone else is welcome to overtake. (Sometimes even if you don’t leave the room they will still overtake) It is a world of opportunistic driving.

Rent A Bike says: Exactly that. It will be uncomfortable at first but something you get used to. Speeds are lower than back home and this goes some way to reducing the inherent danger.

Tip 7 – Expect the unexpected.

Cars or motorbikes will come to a complete stop or pull a U-Turn anywhere, literally. Expect this. Be very wary. Always be prepared to patiently wait.

Rent A Bike says: Keep a good stopping distance between you and the vehicle in from and when this is not possible (see No.6 above) try to drive offset to the vehicle ahead. Also, be careful as drivers can fool you by pulling over to the right just before sweeping left to make a U-Turn!!

Tip 8 – Vehicles may not have lights on.

At night it is not uncommon for cars, motorbikes, bicycles, or pedestrians to be traveling with no lights on. They could also be wearing dark clothing with absolutely no reflective material. Be careful at night.

Rent A Bike says: Absolutely, drive a little slower and it will also help you see the potholes in the road that might be harder to see in poor lighting.

Tip 9 – Drivers usually remain calm.

In general local drivers remain calm no matter what. They rarely get angry. They may honk a lot, but they are still usually very calm. To be emotional in traffic is against the cultural norm. If you get angry you are the oddity.

Rent A Bike Says: Agree, try (it can be hard) to keep your cool as being angry unconventional for the locals.

Tip 10 – Honking happens all the time.

There is little correlation between the type of honk and the importance of the situation. A very slight honk might be followed by a massive truck passing you with a centimeter of clearance. A huge honk or repeated honking right behind you could mean the driver is worried about the mud on the back of your bike. Most honking is ignored, however, on occasion both motorbike and car drivers will begin honking and literally take over the road with your safety and their safety at risk and be expecting you to move out of the way. In these cases, it is best to move out of the way.

Rent A Bike says: There are perhaps some unwritten rules to honking but they are muddled. Be wary of honking but don’t necessarily attach the same importance as you would do back home. Sometimes, it means ‘Hi, look out.’ and other times it means ‘I am not stopping!’

Further to this, we add that a vehicle coming at you with FLASHING HEADLIGHT(S) usually means “I am NOT stopping! Get out of my way!”

Tip 11 – Entering into traffic that is already moving is an interesting process in Vietnam.

The same is true if you are a pedestrian crossing a busy street with no crosswalk. The social norm here is to walk very slowly and deliberately into the oncoming traffic and the traffic will eventually have to acknowledge your existence and begin moving around you first to the front and eventually at the back too. This runs counter to the US and European driving rules but in most of southeast Asia, it is the only way you will be able to get to where you are going. In many cases, if you don’t do this you will be stuck waiting for eternity.

Rent A Bike says: It is uncomfortable but ‘pushing in’ is necessary.

Tip 12 – Prepare to be passed in a risky manner.

Passing is often done in situations that US or European drivers would consider very risky. Expect to overtake on dangerous sections and even when little safe space is available. Undertaking and overtaking are equally common. When the two vehicles appear head to head everybody slows down right away and makes room. Somehow it almost always seems to work out.

Rent A Bike says: Don’t try this but recognize that it happens and ‘Be Prepared’

Driving in Vietnam is DANGEROUS

You must keep your wits about you. It is very difficult to give a ‘one size fits all’ guide as to how to behave on the roads. So, bearing in mind a few of the things above will be a good start to keeping you a little safer.

Lots of people drive here and have little to no problem. However, you can never control your surroundings (the other driver) and defensive (cautious) driving is the best chance you have of staying safe.

Driving Lessons

Rent A bike offers driving lessons for all. Riding a motorbike can be intimidating, especially for first-time riders. You will learn about the bike and how to ride at your own pace. We take you through step by step so you don’t feel overwhelmed and will get to practice in a quiet area.

Contact us if you are interested in taking a driving lesson to help you become familiar with the bikes we rent and the local traffic conditions or if you would like to rent a motorbike in Vietnam.

Safe Travels!