Riding Motorbikes in Vietnam; THINK TWICE!


… Prepared by TMA Member Narre Warren: Dr Michael Long

There is plenty of evidence statistics to suggest that Vietnam is quite simply in love with the motorbike. Motorbike travel in Vietnam was popularised further with Western TV viewers with the 2008-9 Top Gear Vietnam special where the heroic Jeremy Clarkson with his friends May and Hammond sputtered their way on feeble underpowered motorcycles from Saigon to Ha Long Bay.

“Motos” are a common sight on the roads of Vietnam and far outnumber cars. The current estimate of the motorbike population in Vietnam is approximately 20 million, one for every four and a half people of their population of 90 million; (indeed they are often the family sedan with Mum, Dad and 2 kids traveling on a small 50-100cc motorbike or motor scooter.)

Motos are not just for transporting people either. Not having a car doesn’t hold the Vietnamese back at all as you can just attach 3 metre lengths of timber cross ways across your moto, attach 30 coconuts to the back, pull a motorbike trailer behind you carrying anything, or even carry a moto on the back of your moto! (the writer observed all of these on a recent trip).

Driving on the right hand side of the road is the least of your worries riding motos in Vietnam. Road rules are often regarded as optional, motos ride on footpaths in Saigon peak hour, no one gives way at roundabouts and pedestrian crossings are completely ignored. The country’s rampant love affair with motorbikes has been associated with a substantial number of collisions; the road toll in Vietnam is approximately 13,000 per year which is 2-3 times the rate per capita in Australia.

Despite their kamikaze attitude to road rules and safety, there remains a great interest in motorbikes in Vietnam. You don’t need a license to ride a moto in Vietnam, but remember the commonest cause of death in travelers overseas is not some exotic illness like malaria, but is due to the depressingly familiar occurrence of motor vehicle accidents.

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