Trucks and buses are God. They own the road. They can be in the middle of the road, off the road, on your side of the road or coming on to the road. Wherever they are: always give way to these big guys because they will not give way to you.
Cars rule the roads but only when trucks and buses aren’t around.
Motorbikes are crafty little minxes that do everything in their power to make you have an accident. Beware of your motorbike. Just when you thought it was safe to accelerate on an empty road, a helmet, chair or some other flying debris will hit you. If not, a pot-hole camouflaged as bitumen will upend you into the sky and straight into intensive care. Your bike will recover (just look at the clapped out vehicles in town) but you may not.
Electric bikes are fun but highly hazardous. These little buggers with their silence and speed are recipes for disaster – though I’ve never seen one in a collision. Maybe that’s because everyone avoids the silent type.
Bicycles are the equivalent of India’s untouchables. They are the lowest form of life on the road. Because, let’s face it: in a country where the horn is king, a ringy-bell doesn’t quite cut it.
Go carefully on these sad little excuses for transport and wear a helmet. And, if you want to get your own back on the big guys of the road, watch out for the 11am school kids who ride three and four abreast. They’ll show you how it’s done. They are Vietnam’s answer to passive aggression and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to drive into those cute giggling little buggers and mow them all down.
On road rage. It doesn’t exist here. Sometimes you’ll see it but not much. The tolerance of people puts us all to shame.
Crossing the road is easy. Step into the traffic. Start rotating your head 360 degrees and don’t stop. Move slowly. Never step back, never rush forward and if you just can’t muster the courage to take it on at all, grab the arm of the nearest 70-year-old Vietnamese – whether they want to come or not, stuff them – they’re living proof of people who know how to cross the road.
Special note on ‘the horn’ – the horn has a very specific purpose in Vietnam, it means: ‘stay put’. Yes, the Vietnamese love using it and I do too, now – but the horn is not a sign of anger. It simply means a maniac is behind you and as long as you hold your nerve and stay calm they won’t hit you. Swerve or get out of the way and this maniac will more than likely send you flying.
RULES OF THE ROAD in summary:
Rule Number 1: DO NOT DRIVE FAST.
Rule Number 2: DO NOT DRIVE FAST!
Rule Number 3: REMEMBER THE FIRST TWO RULES.
Special Note: Want the possibility of being skinned alive? Go shirtless on your bike. Wanna go home with skin? Cover up. Simple as that.
Warning! During the sunset rush hour, traffic is at its worst. Buses often come and go around this time and taxis are bustling back and forth to get as many trips to the beaches as possible. Few are looking out for your safety. Keep your eyes open and drive defensively, because you can assume that no one else will. Otherwise, make the trip in the brighter hours of the day when the locals do not make their mass exodus to the low-lit beaches.
Please Note: Vietnam has one of the highest road accident rates in the world. Most expats have had an accident. Some have been seriously hurt. ‘It’s just a matter of time’ says every expat when referring to themselves and motorbike accidents.
Guidance from one of the longest, long-term expats I’ve met: :
‘Assume everyone on the road is trying to kill you.’