I have been living in Hanoi (Vietnam) for a while, and when driving on the roads there have been some things I’ve wished I had known before attempting these crazy streets! Hopefully these tips will prove useful when you come and experience this beautiful country. Please share this post if you think others might benefit too!
1. Be very aware of what is in front of you – and don’t worry about what is behind.
The Vietnamese driving approach is 0% proactive and 100% reactive. Be on alert for sudden stops, people cutting in front of you, not checking blind-spots, and so on. Keeping looking forward is such an accepted rule that the majority of motorbikes have their mirrors removed. When I asked a local why this is so, he replied “because they are unfashionable.” Helmets seem to be optional too, which leads me to my next point…
2. Wear a helmet.
Yes this point is boring and you’ve heard this time and again. The expat-helmet-situation is better here than how it was in Bali, but I still see people daily driving around without any head protection. Vietnam has one of the highest road death tolls in the world. Do not become a statistic.
[Edit: I’m currently sitting at a hostel in Ninh Binh, Vietnam, editing this post. The sun set a number of hours ago and a group of 3 very merry Australians just took off from our homestay for a night on the piss. Three motorbikes. One with broken lights. Zero helmets].
3. When in doubt, drive slowly.
Being reactive, as previously mentioned, people driving on the roads here will naturally curve around you. If they are honking, it is not at you. This was one of the biggest mental adjustments I had to make – to not take honking personally by default, as one would back home!
Gather your thoughts, shut out the noise, relax and try again. You can literally pull over on any road – just yesterday my friend pulled over on the capital city’s high way because his mom was calling to see that the trip is going well.
Speed kills. Drive slowly as you adjust and you will be fine.
4. If you want to avoid getting lost, use a GPS phone in a sling bag to get around.
I bought a cheap sling bag and I GoogleMaps myself to any address that I’m not certain of. Being notoriously slack with a sense of direction, and easily getting overwhelmed in a new city, this has been a lifesaver for me. I don’t know how it came to me.
Motorbikes here usually do not have a little cubby to hold goods, and even if yours does, it’s common for phones to get swiped at traffic lights. Hang your phone around your neck, plug in your earphones, and listen to Google’s GPS (I call her Jane) guide you to your destination. Hell, I would plug in podcasts to listen to whilst driving anywhere. Modern day radio in Asia, I guess! Recalculating…
5. Vietnamese drive on the right hand side of the road – in theory at least.
If you are from a country like my own (South Africa), then you will be accustomed to driving on the left. I remember as the plane came in to land, I looked at the little cars down below and wondered why they were driving on the “wrong” (right) side of the road. Kirsten didn’t do enough research beforehand! 🙂 The ‘rule’ is to keep right, pass left, but again this seems pretty optional. As does one-ways. It actually makes sense to me here where the majority of road traffic is made up of scooters – there is heaps of space in each lane for many at a time.
If you are going to be driving here for a while, you will start to feel the ‘energy flow’ of the traffic here. The official rules may not be followed, but watching the traffic it seems everyone has a common understanding; is on the same wavelength.
I hope these 5 tips help you to get around Vietnam easily and safely!