Are you shocked by the motorbike culture in Vietnam?

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"OMG motorbike riders in Vietnam are mad!!!!" One of my international friends told me this when he first arrived in Vietnam.

Table of Contents

Traffic in Vietnam is one of the biggest nightmares for many international travelers. In which, motorbike culture is the hero behind thousands of dramas in the streets in Vietnam. Want to know why? Let’s roll down!

1. Motorcycles in Vietnam honk loudly

When you first arrive in Vietnam especially big cities, before seeing the dense image of hundreds of motorbikes on streets, you would hear the unpleasant sounds of their horns. Something like “beep beep”, tet tet”! as a piece of welcome background music.

Some moments later, you could get lost among this mess!

As it’s so different from the country you come from, the feeling of shock could happen to you. But no worries! Even though I am a local, I got the same feeling when I first arrived in Saigon. And now I am totally ok with it. So will you.

I will right now explain to you why the Vietnamese drivers honk crazily and nonstop. Accordingly, you can have a better understanding of our driving culture and be able get used to it.

Traffic in Vietnam
Traffic in Vietnam - Source: Zing

Firstly, it cannot be denied that honking is important for driving. It helps us communicate with others to have better navigation and traffic. However, it becomes overwhelming in Vietnam. We honk a lot, any time, everywhere. This is definitely annoying and noisy.

As driving in Vietnam is like an adventure, the horn sound seems like a slap to your face, to wake you up and make you pay attention to everything around you.

In addition, under the hot weather and traffic jams, everyone seems impatient. They want to go as soon as they can. That’s why they honk a lot to send a message of hurry. 

When the red light is about to end and the yellow light does not even start yet, people already honk as a signal to ask people to move their “ass” and let them go through.

If you drive a scooter in Vietnam, try not to honk a lot as you definitely know how terrible it is.

However, don’t be too silent, make some necessary sounds to communicate with other drivers. You should know when and where to push the button of your horn properly and nicely. I am sure that you know how to do it.

2. No different lanes in rush hours

Motorbike culture in Vietnam
Vietnamese people even ride their motorbike on the pavements - Source: Zing

Traffic in Vietnam, particularly in big cities such as Ho Chi Minh city and Ha Noi, is a mess during peak hours. From 6-8am,  11-13, 16-18, they are the golden time for heavy traffic jams.

In fact, there are different lanes for different vehicles in Vietnam. But during rush hours, there’s almost no lane at all. Motorbikes take over everywhere. It even fills the areas that are supposed to be used for cars only.

Furthermore, sidewalks are also invaded by motorcycles. Basically, people utilize any way as long as they can escape from these heavy traffic jams.

3. Sometimes we can barely move

Traffic congestion in Vietnam
People are stuck in traffic congestion in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

Traffic congestion slows down our speed, sometimes it even stops us for such a long time. This happens seriously in Ho Chi Minh city.

When I was studying at CFVG, sometimes I got late for class due to traffic jams. Normally it just took me 10-15 minutes from where I work to the university. But during rush hours, I spent more than 50 minutes or sometimes even more than 1 hour. 

I have to admit that it was really a nightmare even with locals. I was stuck, sometimes could not move even a meter. Many motorcycles surrounded me. It seems no one wants to share their chance with others to move forward.

4. It’s complicated to cross the road

Driving culture in Vietnam
It's not easy to cross the road in big cities in Vietnam

Even though I am Vietnamese, to be honest, I am sometimes not confident to cross the road.

Cars, motorbikes, buses, and large lorries nonstop moving at high speed, it’s really a hassle to cross to the other side of the road. The feeling of doing so is not ok at all.

In this case, my advice is never to turn your motorbike in the middle of the road. You should wait for a traffic light stop, then it should be easier.

If you are a pedestrian, also pay attention when you traverse the street even though there’s a zebra cross. Almost all cars and motorcycles in Vietnam won’t stop for you.

5. Vietnamese people wear like a ninja on their motorbike

Driving in Vietnam
Wearing style when driving in Vietnam - Source: Nyno

In the hot season, going out of the house and being stuck in traffic congestion is obviously a nightmare. 

Especially when the temperature remains high and smogs are everywhere, protecting yourself with a mask, jacket, gloves, and a big-brim hat is necessary.

That’s why the Vietnamese, mostly women, cover their bodies like a ninja. We sometimes barely recognize a friend on the street. 😅

6. Good manners in the motorbike culture in Vietnam

Driving culture in Vietnam
Randomly reminding you to turn off your kickstand

Amidst the chaotic noise, honking, and traffic jams, it is evident that traffic in Vietnam can be quite messy and unpleasant. However, to form a complete picture, we must not solely focus on the negative aspects of Vietnamese drivers.

We also care for your safety. Whenever people notice anything that could pose a potential risk to you, they make an effort to alert you.

For example, leaving your kickstand on could lead to unfortunate accidents, and forgetting to turn off your motorcycle lights during the day is not environmentally friendly.

So one day, if you are on your scooter and suddenly somebody tries to approach you, and say “hey turn off your kickstand!” or “turn on your light”, “turn off your light”, don’t be surprised.

This practice is part of the beautiful motorbike culture in Vietnam. It saves us from other bad experiences. You can do the same with locals, I am sure they would be very happy and thank you a lot for that. 

7. Say hello back

Traffic in Vietnam
Good manners of the driving culture in Vietnam

Like the way when you are driving a car and wave your hand to send a message as a hello or a sorry to the other drivers, we also do it when using motorbikes in Vietnam. Just a good manner among stranger neighbors on the same road.

In Vietnam, even though we don’t know who you are, sometimes we say hello. It could happen when you are at the traffic light stop or even when you are driving your motorbike.

It’s better to say hello back. But if you are not comfortable with this, just take it easy. It’s just a friendly manner and not harassing or flirting, if you don’t like it, just go your way.

8. Amazed with the cargo capacity of a motorbike

Driving culture in Vietnam
A man can load and transport that much goods on his motorbike

If you used to be in Vietnam once, there’s a high possibility that you saw a motorbike carrying a lot of goods on it.

Many of my international friends were amazed by this capacity. The common reactions are “wow, really”, “ohm wow wow what the heck”, “unbelievable”, etc . They cannot believe how Vietnamese people can handle it.

Actually, it’s pretty common in my country that people try to load as many things as they can. Even though it’s not secure for themselves and for the other people on the street, it still happens every day.

Over to you

Somebody says that Vietnamese people are addicted to honking. Others mentioned that traffic in Vietnam is a disaster.

Well it’s neither right nor wrong as firstly, traffic jams just happen in big cities. If you ever come to rural areas, it’s much better. 

Furthermore, Vietnam hasn’t had a metro system everywhere yet, motorbikes still remain the main role of transportation forms. Accordingly, it’s easy to happen traffic jams, horns, noise, annoying, hassle, etc

On the other hand, there’s still a beautiful culture in motorcycle driving. We say hello and we warn you in advance to avoid potential risks. 

I hope that this article brought you to a better point of view about motorbike culture in Vietnam. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comment below.

Many articles in the Vietnamese Life series will be published soon. Stay tuned!

If you would like to stay updated with the latest content, ensure to subscribe to the AMA Vietnam blog today 🙂

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