24 (Generally Terrifying) Observations About Driving In Vietnam

I know I recently wrote a blog on the 13 Stages of Driving in Vietnam, but it’s only taken a few weeks more to realise that I have so much more to learn. (So, so much more.) I’m sure I will be adding to this list as I learn even more… If I survive that long.

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1. Traffic police are confusing.
They will wave you on and then a wave of large, fast cars will suddenly speed past. Follow their instructions at your own risk!

2. There are such a thing as ‘driving shoes’.
However, not in the way that we have a pair of comfortable loafers under the car seat at home. You will see women driving in the most giant, elaborate heels, but then never see them actually walking in them. It’s bizarre!

3. Stay away from the busses!
I heard a rumour that bus drivers have no responsibility if they kill anyone. I have a feeling this really is just a rumour, however, it certainly seems that way from the way they drive… Keep a safe distance.

4. The mask is a disguise.
People say the mouth mask is to protect against sun and pollution but it’s actually to hide your face when you do something super stupid on the road. That’s what I’m using it for, at least.

5. Police men don’t ask you to pay for their coffee.
Before came to Vietnam, I read pages of stuff saying that we would be pulled over and policemen would occassionally charge us a bit of money for a coffee. We still haven’t had this experience. Though, we did get a taxi driver who said he was an ‘under cover police officer’ trying to charge us. Same same but different?

6. Your driving skill will be judged.
It’s mainly determined by how long you can drive in slow traffic without your feet touching the ground.

7. People are very forgiving.
You can do some really stupid manoeuvres and no one bats an eye. Not one person has shouted at me, and they probably really should have.

8. No bike is perfect.
Or even close for at matter, everything is broken in some way! Wing mirror, petrol gage, brakes, gears, etc. No biggie – if it rolls, it works!

9. Your shoes are your third brake.
Use them!

10. People carry some crazy stuff.
These range from doggie backpacks to a truck-load of merchandise on a tiny motorbike. It is both extremely impressive and quite unnerving.

11. People say the driving here is organised chaos.
I went through a period of beginning to see the organisation, then it passed, now I’m pretty sure it’s just plain chaos, again.

12. Taxis can stop anywhere.
This must be some kind of unwritten rule that I don’t know about. Literally, they will stop anywhere, at any time, whether they have passengers or not. Horizontally, in the middle of the road, during a traffic jam, whatever!

13. Moto-taxis are everywhere.
They will accost you even when you are turning the ignition in your own bike.

14. Do not stop!
I get the feeling that Vietnamese people would rather lose a toe in an accident than stop.

15. Watch out for alleyways.
If there is a small alleyway with no vision, something will come out of it.

16. Using mirrors isn’t smart.
I used to think people were crazy for not using their mirrors, then I realised, if you look away from the road for just a second then it can all go tits up. Keep your eyes on the road!

17. You can cross any junction at any time.
As long as you do it while beeping loudly, with a cavalier look on your face. (I have not perfected the art.)

18. The traffic light count downs stops at 10.
Then a cocktail of danger is formed within the crossroads.

19. It is ritual to make all phone calls while driving.
In fact, it’s rare that you see someone speaking on the phone who is not driving at the same time.

20. You’re not that fast.
In that moment, that you’re speeding along the highway, with the wind in your hair, thinking you’re the fastest person on earth… Someone will casually zoom buy, driving with one hand.

21. Overtake or go home.
Despite the mania of the roads in Vietnam, there are a surprising amount of people who drive at limping-pace, while taking up the whole road. You have to learn to overtake fast.

22. There are beepers and not beepers. 
You fall into one of these two categories. Either you wil beep at every moving thing in your eye-line or you will try to squeeze past people without giving them a whisper of warning. I don’t know who’s worse.

23. Expats have all got the same bikes.
You’re going to have to accept that you’ll fall in love with a bike, only to realise a few days later that every other foreigner (and most locals) have the exact same one. It’ll be a Nouvo or a Honda, for sure.

24. No area is out of bounds.
It’s completely fine to drive on the pavements, through construction, under ladders, etc.

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9 thoughts on “24 (Generally Terrifying) Observations About Driving In Vietnam

  1. Yup, I have a Nuevo. It is just so damn comfortable, not like a Cub, where every bump goes straight through your kidneys.

    Wearing the crazy high heels while riding occurs because girls want people to see their beautiful shoes when they go out – the ugly slip-on plastic shoes are for around the office and office because they aren’t looking to impress anyone there.

    1. I’ve only driven a Nuevo once but it was lovely!
      I ended up with a Honda Dream though, purely because it was the only thing light enough for me to manoeuvre!
      I think I might take up the fancy shoe thing… much more practical than actually walking in them!

  2. Its spelt Nuovo. And the reason you don’t see the high healed shoes in the office is mainly because the girls you see are probably going to a bar or club!

    1. Thanks Simon, will update. I think they must be going out on the town but I’ve just never seen someone actually walking, be it a bar or club or whatever – so strange!

  3. Hi,
    I’m a native Vietnamese (and have lived here for 30 years), and I would like to let you know more about police men:
    – Most police men do not want to mess with foreigner, especially Western (diplomacy and something). They can earn more than enough from local people. Of course, it does not mean that you can break all the laws. By the way, police men do not need “coffee”. Small fines cost you about 100k; but on average, you may pay 200k (if you drive motorbike).
    – If someone tell you they are “cop” and want to charge you, do not give him anything before they take you to the police station.

    1. Hi there, thanks for commenting! I completely agree with your comment, I haven’t had any policemen try to get money out of me just because I’m a foreigner or anything like that. I just wanted to confirm that in this post to make sure other people (who have heard that rumour) didn’t assume the worst of them either.
      And thank you for the advice on the people pretending they’re a cop, I definitely will wait until they prove their identity!

  4. I completely disagree isabellesudron, I lived in HCMC for a few years and rode a bike (Honda CB 400, or a Honda Trans Alp 600) virtually every day, and once on my way back from Go Vap I was stopped in traffic when a cop and his pillion pulled up beside me, grabbed my keys, made me go to the so called Police Station and pay 8 million Dong for the return of my bike, so, I went and got a Viet friend of mine who came and tried to negotiate something fairer to no avail, when I got a bit loud they became very menacing which was about the time I tried to photograph this guys name tag and pips on his shoulders so I could report him, thats when they got REALLY menacing, seen those truncheons they carry? I was in a forest of em!!
    Anyway, I paid and got on with it, no sense getting beaten to a pulp over a few Dong.

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