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The Thrilling Terror of Vietnamese Traffic (I Rode on a Motorbike!)

I went to Ho Chi Minh City for a day, and it was awesome. A motorbike tour got us around to a lot of interesting sights and local food spots in a short amount of time. But it was also a very cool cultural experience, one very, very different from traffic in the United States.

me on motorbike with vietnamese tour guide
Me with my very competent driver and tour guide, Vincent

First my uncle asked if we wanted to drive the motorbike, and I was like, absolutely not. Then, when we were in a taxi from the airport, I wasn't even sure I wanted to ride on one. For context, I've never ridden on a motorcycle, moped, or anything like this. I've driven a couple ATVs through one Caribbean jungle or another, but those were on closed tracks going in one direction.

Seeing all the motorbikes zipping through traffic, turning in front of cars, traveling on the wrong side of the road, was a lot. Miraculously (and quite comforting), I didn't witness one single crash. There were a few slammed brakes and honked horns, but it was definitely organized chaos. I don't know how it was organized, but everyone on the road seemed to, and that's all that mattered. I didn't think anything bad would happen because I trusted our drivers, but I was still a little apprehensive about falling off the back of the motorbike.

Once seated, I realized it wasn't that bad. It was really easy to hold on, and despite potholes and sharp turns, it was a smooth ride. We drove through alleys, passed cars on the highway via the shoulder, and turned left into oncoming (and not stopping) traffic. It was awesome. I even felt confident enough to hold my phone (against the guide's shoulder for stability) so I could snap this ridiculous video below of us taking a left hand turn. What a wild ride!

There are stoplights, and people do heed them. Where there aren't lights, it seemed like a free-for-all, but it's not. There was a method to the madness. People were going the "wrong way" when they were going to turn or merge into the correct lane. It's sort of like that center lane where either direction can go to turn left and save everyone else the wait. Motorbikes would also queue up and wait for a break in traffic and then turn as a group. What seemed absolutely dangerous and inefficient and scary at first might actually have been more efficient.

I will say, it was terrifying as a pedestrian, where the rule was "Don't stop." See, if you keep walking, the motorbike drivers can anticipate and go around you. If you stop because you think one will hit you, that's when they actually might. We walked as a group, in a straight line, alternating who was in the risky first spot. I described it as "real-life frogger," and it was scary but also the only way to cross the street sometimes. Overall, what a cool experience to be thrust into this new traffic system and motorbike culture that I knew nothing about. Not only was it a wild experience, but it was also a very convenient way to get around! No waiting in traffic, parking was much easier, and alleyways were no problem.

Finally, I'll close with a great joke one of our guides told. On our way back to the hotel, my motorbike got stuck at a couple of red lights. Each tour guide had the whole tour route memorized, so I wasn’t worried about it, and we returned only a couple of minutes late. But while they were waiting, one of the other guides, Cain, said, “We don’t want this to turn out like Batman where Uncle Ben doesn’t come back.” 😂 Love it.


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