When I told people we were going to Vietnam I was repeatedly told – “Please do as much of it as possible on a motorbike”. Despite the Top Gear special as someone who has never ridden a motorbike, apart from as a passenger, this wasn’t necessarily that high on my list of transport methods. Of course I knew it would be fun to get a bike (or scooter) and drive around, but I didn’t jump at the chance to do the whole thing on 2 wheels.
When you arrive in Hanoi it is one of those places where you have to literally forget everything you have been taught and walk out into oncoming traffic, usually in the 2 wheeled form. Learning to cross the road is actually quite fun when you get used to it, but one thing I wasn’t so keen for was being part of the melee. This is probably due to the fact I saw 3 accidents in the first couple of days, despite being told – “It’s amazing really, they’re all so aware of everyone else on the road”.
As we waited for our coach to leave Hanoi en route to Phong Nha, we were slightly nervous when 2 motorbikes turned up to give us a lift to the bus stop. Of course we were running late and we obliged, meaning our last moments in Hanoi were spent speeding through the Old Quarter while balancing our bags, it was a lot of fun and definitely wet my appetite for some 2 wheeled adventures.
When we arrived in Phong Nha we were warned by our hostel not to try and learn how to ride while we were there. The roads aren’t always tarmacked and the nearest hospital was hours away. The guide had a few gruesome tales of accidents to try and put everyone off. Not taking the advice lightly we abstained for the first couple of days, using push bikes to get around. But the roads really were very quiet, we were in the countryside after all, and I honestly felt there couldn’t be many better places to give it a go.
So after some discussions Sam agreed to put her life in my novice hands and we hired a scooter to explore the National Park (I’d have preferred her to get her own but that was a non-starter). Yes the roads were hilly at points, there was some debris on the road and trucks and cars sped past on narrow roads leaving little room for mistake, but on the whole the roads were great fun and we had an awesome day. Our scooter wasn’t powerful at all and there was a couple of occasions where Sam had to get off to reach the summit of hills, hilarious I know. The day was a massive success and I knew I could take on the busier roads throughout the trip.
Hue is a city and the roads are full with cars, bikes and trucks, so I knew this would definitely be more of a challenge, but I still felt confident enough. We had a great day and I would definitely recommend exploring this city on 2 wheels.
Next up the journey south to Hoi An and the infamous Hai Van Pass, this is one of the most scenic and ridden roads in Vietnam. We took the ‘long way round’ and had one of the best days of our trip (more to come on this in another post)!
All in all I would say that Vietnam is a good place to learn how to ride a bike, but as with all road use, confidence is definitely the key. We all know Top Gear is horrendously scripted and if Jezza really did learn to ride in Saigon then hats off to him because that is definitely not something I would recommend! If you’re thinking about learning to ride on 2 wheels in Vietnam here is some advice I would give.
Do as the locals do
Your rules of the road do not apply here, traffic lights aren’t always abided by and bikes have the least priority on the road. The bigger the vehicle the more rights it has, so be aware and give way where possible. If the locals aren’t overtaking, don’t overtake; if the locals go through a red light to avoid being stuck between two big trucks, go through the red light; and if the locals are beeping, give them a beep back.
Wear sensible footwear
Don’t drive in flip-flops (thongs), it is a stupid idea that could easily result in you getting hurt. There will be times where the road is uneven or perhaps even turns to sand, you may have to put your foot out to balance and if that happens at any speed without proper protection you will get hurt.
Don’t be afraid to join the tooting army
The continuous sound of beeping is something you become used to fairly quickly when you’re here, but it’s not until you get on a bike that you realise why, without your horn no one would know you are there (using your mirrors doesn’t seem to be a thing). While I say this I also say don’t be a dick. Some locals beep way too much and I’ve seen many a ‘lad’ beeping far too often.
Learn without a passenger
Now I know this isn’t what I did, but it is definitely the best thing to do. Turning with the extra weight obviously impacts your balance and they may have legs sticking out further than you give credit. Aside from this having an extra person on the bike means you aren’t just endangering yourself but also someone who you care about.
Learn in a rural(ish) area
The roads are quieter and you can really take your time to get to know how to use a bike. Choose a rural location near to a big city, yes again I know I didn’t do this, but if having a crash means you are far away from a hospital then clearly this isn’t advisable. Don’t be a speed demon, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with and take your time!