Driving in Vietnam – Tips from an Experienced Local Rider

Driving in Vietnam – Tips from an Experienced Local Rider
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Vietnam is literally a motorbike country with more than 45 millions motorbikes in total. In order to be able to live and work in Vietnam, motorbike driving skill is required. While driving in Vietnam is fairly easy for us locals. Since we practically drive everywhere everyday it’s an uncoscious effort, but for foreigners who are more used to cars, buses and subways, riding in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, can be very intimidating.

Tigit Motorbikes has reliable motorbikes for rent in the city, and long distance travel rental motorbikes. Having a stable motorbike with working brakes is a good start to driving safety! A good way to get going is through the safety of a guided motorcycle tour.

Tips on riding a motorbike in Vietnam

I’ve been riding since I was 12, and I can say that I’m a fairly good driver. I’m going to share a few tips that I think are going to be helpful for foreigners who want to ride in Vietnam.

1. Be predictable on the streets when driving in Vietnam

Remember this is the chaotic traffic of Vietnam, pretty much everything is unpredictable. So it does help a lot if each and everyone try to be predictable on their own. Foreigner or not, when you’re on the street, you’re expected by other drivers to be predictable in every moves.

Statistically, experienced drivers crash the most during their first time driving in Vietnam, because they are used to driving in different conditions, and because they think driving a motorbike is the harder part and not the traffic. It actually is the other way around in Vietnam. Beginner drivers tend to be very cautious and that is a good thing here.

Driving is the easy part. Anticipating the traffic is harder. Keep in mind that you will always be driving with at least 5 other motorbikes around you on the streets. There’s no way you can pay attention to all those bikes at one, to be able to react if something happens. What you should do are:

  • let other drivers know that you’re about to turn/ pull over/cross the street/etc.. so they have time to react.
  • Use your horn and blinkers. It’s normal in Vietnam
  • No sudden movements, be predictable!
  • Always drive in a straight line

New drivers will find it very stressful driving like this, but it will get easier a little bit. As a local I still find it stressful driving more than 30mins on a crowded street.

2. Always expect motorbikes to come from every direction

Be extra careful when you’re driving on a road that has many alleys leading out. Roads might look empty but someone could suddenly come out very fast from an alley, children or dogs can sometimes recklessly run into the street. As a petrolhead I understand the urge to twist your acceleration real hard when you’ve got a chance, but keep in mind that it’s when you need to be extra focus and ready to react.

3. Prepare for braking

On a crowded street, be prepared for emergency braking. Keep one finger on the front brake and rest your right foot on the back brake just in case.

3. Properly change gears if you’re not riding an automatic

I’m not really sure if I should talk about this one. It’s like “you need to close your eyes when you sleep”. But really, there ARE people that drive a semi without changing gears, and then advise others to do like that. Don’t just put on gear 3 or 4 and then drive everywhere. Lowering gears not only gives the bike more power to climb uphill, but also makes the bike more responsive, and you might need it to get out of some sudden situations. Driving without changing gears is bad driving and bad for the motorbike.

Check out Jon’s videos on how to drive semi-autos, and manuals in Vietnam!

4. Prepare for turning left and U-turning

Inexperienced drivers are told to keep to the right, that is because most of the time they drive slowly, and lanes to the left are for faster drivers. But there must be times that you wanted to U turn or turn left, but ended up on the right lane, in the middle of a very busy street and can’t really get to the other side. The solution is simple: try to move to the left before you reach the junction, do it with your blinker on and your horn, slowly and carefully. Cars and trucks and other bikes will try to move around your right side. It takes some time to practice and you do have to know the streets to be able do this actually.

5. Look over your shoulders when you’re about to turn

People don’t pay much attention to blinkers. So crossing the street using blinkers and mirrors doesn’t always work. I personally just try to go slowly, look over my shoulder and work my way to the other side gradually.
If in doubt, sit behind a taxi or other slow moving vehicle and follow their lead!

6. Pay attention to flashing headlights from cars and trucks

When you’re about to cross to the other side and the cars/trucks are going in the opposite direction, right in front of you flash their headlights, it means they want to get passed first and won’t slow down. Better wait for them to go about their business first.

7. Keep your distance

Keep your distance to the car/motorbike in front of you. It depends on how fast you are going to determine how much a distance you need to keep, but I think one tenth of your traveling speed is a safe number.

8. The more luggage you carry, the worse handling you get

I have seen solo traveler traveling with a tiny teeny backpack, yet some other carry around 75liters. No judge on the luggage side, but the less you put on the bike, the easier handling you will get.

Also if you put bags on top of bags too high up, or too far back from the seat, it makes it very hard to balance the bike.

Read more at info and tips on how to put bags on a bike


Thanks for reading. Drive safe!

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