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Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.

The craziness of Vietnamese scooter driving

Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

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AsiaTravelVietnam
The scooter that I hired for two days in Nha Trang
The scooter that I hired for two days in Nha Trang - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Introduction

I want­ed to write about my ex­pe­ri­ences rid­ing a scoot­er and to make some tips for oth­ers con­sid­er­ing hir­ing scoot­ers in Viet­nam. First­ly, I have to say that rid­ing in Viet­nam isn’t for the faint of heart. It is def­i­nite­ly more chal­leng­ing than what I have ex­pe­ri­enced in oth­er South East coun­tries, pre­dom­i­nate­ly Thai­land. These are some of the dif­fer­ences which I not­ed.

One thing to know is that you need to be aware of ap­proach­ing ve­hi­cles and pedes­tri­ans in all di­rec­tions, con­stant­ly. As the rules of the road are some­what “flex­i­ble”, to say the least, don’t be sur­prised if a an­oth­er scoot­er cuts straight in front of you. You al­so need to be as­sertive and to not be afraid of cut­ting. One thing that Viet­namese don’t ex­pect is if you give way to them due to their ex­treme close­ness, it just cre­ates con­fu­sion where nei­ther per­son is sure who should con­tin­ue.

Right Hand Travel

A column of scooter traffic in Saigon
A col­umn of scoot­er traf­fic in Saigon - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence is that the Viet­namese drive on the right-hand side. Pos­si­bly a hang over from French oc­cu­pa­tion, I don’t know. I did a quick google to get some stats about right ver­sus left, and it seems that about 65% of coun­tries drive on the right, and 35% on the left. So it seems that I have been in the mi­nor­i­ty all this time! But re­gard­less just this ba­sic change had a big im­pact on my tech­nique, but didn’t take as long to get used to as I thought. The learn­ing curve for me may have been eased due to all those years play­ing Amer­i­can com­put­er games *cough GTA cough*. The big­gest mis­take I made be­cause of this dif­fer­ence was on a round­about. I al­ways ride with my head­phones in to re­ceive di­rec­tions via Google Maps, so when ap­proach­ing a round­about I got an in­struc­tion; “take the first ex­it of the round­about”. In­stinc­tive­ly I as­sumed that the first ex­it was the one rel­a­tive to my­self in a clock­wise di­rec­tion, as op­posed to the first ex­it which I passed from the di­rec­tion of my trav­el. Luck­i­ly it was a easy mis­take to cor­rect as I could just do an­oth­er lap around the round­about.

Avoiding Obstacles (Read: Pedestrians)

Pedestrians v scooters
Pedes­tri­ans v scoot­ers - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Ok, so this one is a fair­ly rude awak­en­ing for the unini­ti­at­ed trav­ellers of Viet­nam. When trav­el­ling in Thai­land, cars will stop for you if you are walk­ing across the road in front of them. How­ev­er in Viet­nam the cars and scoot­ers don’t stop, they swerve. Some­times they will slow down if there is no where for them to swerve, but gen­er­al­ly they will avoid stop­ping or even break­ing if they can. The driv­ers will gauge how fast you are walk­ing to de­cide which di­rec­tion they should swerve to dodge you. There­fore, it is very im­por­tant that you walk at a con­stant speed. If you are walk­ing in front of a scoot­er, just keep walk­ing and with con­fi­dence. If you slow down or speed up sud­den­ly then it af­fects the driv­er’s se­lect­ed trav­el path and could po­ten­tial­ly put you in per­il. The best tip that I can give is just to watch the Viet­namese do it. Once you have seen the way they move, then next time ghost walk next to them, so you can see the way that traf­fic re­acts to your pres­ence. Once you get used to cross­ing roads in this way it be­comes quite an amaz­ing thing, the way you can just walk across quite busy roads and the traf­fic just flows around you. How­ev­er it goes with­out say­ing that it is quite in­tim­i­dat­ing at first. You should al­so cross at pedes­tri­an cross­ings if you can, how­ev­er the same rules ap­ply and cars won’t stop at pedes­tri­an cross­ings if they see you.

I men­tion this as once you are be­hind the han­dle bars of a scoot­er, you need to act like a Viet­namese. If some­one walks in front of you, you should be­have how a Viet­namese be­haves as oth­er­wise you will cre­ate con­fu­sion on the road, which I be­lieve is one of the most dan­ger­ous things that you can do. For ex­am­ple, if some­one steps out in front of you and you sud­den­ly stop to give way for them, then the car be­hind you may not ex­pect that. So, if some­one does step out in front of you, you can swerve so that you will pass them by be­hind them prefer­ably, or slow down if their is no one be­hind you and it is chal­leng­ing to swerve.

Traffic from All Directions

An old scooter found on the streets of HCMC
An old scoot­er found on the streets of HCMC - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

In Viet­nam traf­fic can cut in front of you from all di­rec­tions, so you need to be aware of what is around you at all times. Check you mir­rors and over your shoul­der pe­ri­od­i­cal­ly so you know the land­scape of ve­hi­cles be­hind you and can pre­dict if there is po­ten­tial for some­one to pass you. In­ter­sec­tions can be a bit fid­dly, so slow down when ap­proach­ing to let you re­act more eas­i­ly. A lot of in­ter­sec­tions don’t have lights and there­fore it is not un­com­mon for a scoot­er to drive right in front of you. Very of­ten two di­rec­tions of traf­fic will merge in the cen­tre of the in­ter­sec­tion, re­sult­ing in scoot­ers weav­ing through each oth­er in op­pos­ing di­rec­tions at very close prox­im­i­ty. In this case you need to gauge trav­el speed to see who will pass in front of who first, if you will pass first then be as­sertive yet don’t be­have er­rat­i­cal­ly, if they will pass first at the cur­rent speeds then let them go first. This as­pect of Viet­namese driv­ing I found to be the most chal­leng­ing of all.

Road Placement

Scooters are a very important part of the local economy
Scoot­ers are a very im­por­tant part of the lo­cal econ­o­my - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Gen­er­al­ly, I found it eas­i­est and safest to stay on the right­most edge of the road, but to leave some al­lowance (at least the width of a scoot­er) for cars to pull out and for scoot­ers to drive in the wrong di­rec­tion be­tween you and the gut­ter. In Viet­nam of­ten the foot­paths are com­plete­ly cov­ered with stuff; parked scoot­ers, signs, con­struc­tion work, etc. There­fore it is ex­treme­ly com­mon for pedes­tri­ans to step in to the shoul­der of the road with­out even check­ing. There­fore, you shouldn’t drive right in the gut­ter of the road, es­pe­cial­ly in built up ar­eas. Ad­di­tion­al­ly when driv­ing on high­ways there are of­ten bar­ri­er walls sep­a­rat­ing di­rec­tions of trav­el, there­fore of­ten you will find that cars and scoot­ers, and even once a bus for me, will drive in the wrong di­rec­tion in the shoul­der of the road. So, if you wish to drive in the shoul­der of a fast-mov­ing high­way, al­ways be aware of traf­fic go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. If a scoot­er is driv­ing the wrong way, gen­er­al­ly they will stick to the right most edge, so let them pass on your right.

Once at night a scoot­er was driv­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion in the shoul­der of the road with­out his lights on. I was driv­ing near to the shoul­der, so he gave me a big sur­prise when I even­tu­al­ly saw him.

Liberal Horn Use

Man sleeps on scooter!
Man sleeps on scoot­er! - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

In Aus­tralia us­ing a horn is kind of rude. You on­ly use it re­al­ly when some­one is do­ing the wrong thing on the road. How­ev­er, road rules are a lot more flex­i­ble in SE Asia, es­pe­cial­ly in Viet­nam where seem­ing­ly com­plete­ly un­reg­u­lat­ed. So, driv­ers use horns pre­dom­i­nate­ly for the aware­ness of oth­er driv­ers. If you are go­ing to cut through a nar­row gap, then sound your horn to let the per­son in front know. Or if you are go­ing around a cor­ner and your line of sight is bro­ken, then sound your horn to make sure there is no car go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion that you can’t see. This is es­pe­cial­ly im­por­tant on windy coun­try roads, as cars will of­ten cut cor­ners in to your lane to avoid slow­ing down, even if the line of sight is com­plete­ly bro­ken due to the shoul­der of a hill. Es­pe­cial­ly watch out for this at night, a good tip to use in this re­gard is to watch for re­flec­tions on met­al guard rails to spot head­lights of on­com­ing traf­fic be­fore tak­ing the cor­ner.

Turning Left

One of the most in­tim­i­dat­ing as­pect of driv­ing in Viet­nam is turn­ing left across a busy road. In Aus­tralia when turn­ing across a busy road, the op­pos­ing traf­fic al­ways has right of way; you need to wait un­til the traf­fic is cleared be­fore you can go. How­ev­er, this isn’t nor­mal­ly a prob­lem as the busiest in­ter­sec­tions have lights for you to cross. Not so in Viet­nam. Of­ten you will be faced with three lanes of non-stop traf­fic which you will need to turn left through. The so­lu­tion to this prob­lem sounds re­al­ly dumb when writ­ten down, yet in prac­tice it most­ly seems to work. Ba­si­cal­ly what you do is just go, but slow­ly. You drive in front of the traf­fic, but at a slow speed so that traf­fic can flow around you. It ba­si­cal­ly has the same rules as walk­ing across a high­way; you slow­ly move through the traf­fic at a pred­i­ca­ble speed and the op­pos­ing driv­ers will swerve or slow down for you. I would high­ly sug­gest to wait at your first in­ter­sec­tion where you have to do this and to watch a Viet­namese per­son do it first, then copy their ac­tions. Some­times it is eas­i­er to cut through the traf­fic at an an­gle close to 45 de­grees, this way you can turn away from traf­fic if you need to. If you are cut­ting through the traf­fic at an an­gle of 90 de­grees, then your on­ly op­tion to avoid traf­fic is to slow down, as it is an im­pos­si­bil­i­ty for you to turn around in that short a pe­ri­od of time and space, where if you are driv­ing through the traf­fic at an an­gle close to 45 de­grees then you can turn in to the traf­fic to give way if some­one isn’t slow­ing down. I saw a lot of Viet­namese do this through busy lines of traf­fic and it seems to work ok, though ad­mit­ted­ly sounds com­plete­ly ab­surd.

Parting Words

Driv­ing in Viet­nam can be quite a chal­lenge, yet if you watch the way they move then you can pick it up as well. My main tip if you are in a new sit­u­a­tion where you are not sure how to re­act, then let a Viet­namese go first and mim­ic their ac­tions. If you aren’t al­ready a con­fi­dent scoot­er driv­er, then I would sug­gest that Viet­nam isn’t a good prac­tice ground.

Thanks for read­ing! Email or leave a com­ment if you have any ques­tions. I post on In­sta­gram of­ten if you want to stay up to date with my trav­els in re­al time. Link in the foot­er.

Tags

AsiaTravelVietnam

About

Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.