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Vietnam: Rules of the Road

by becca on November 3, 2009


1. All parties are allowed on the road: buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, playing children, various goods drying on tarps (shrimp, fish, coconut shells, incense), food stalls, and animals (cows, chickens, ducks, dogs, etc.)

2. Any part of the road is fair game. This includes any shoulders and dirt paths that may be connected to the road.

3. Whilst overtaking vehicles or other people/things on the road, use your horn to kindly let them know that you are coming and they should either move to the outside of the road or stay put.

4. Though ideally you should drive on the right side of the road, overtaking vehicles, people, flooded roads, massive potholes or other obstacles may require you to drive on the left, often times barreling toward oncoming traffic. Don’t panic. Just refer to #3 and blare your horn until you’re back in the correct lane.

5. Generally a roundabout requires you to stay to the right, however, if there is only light traffic, going left is acceptable.

6. Do not expect traffic lights or traffic signs in general. They are few and far between.

7. And maybe most importantly, just keep going. There may be a bus coming right at you or a family trying to cross the street, but just keep a slow steady pace and everyone around you will fall into place. Think of water molecules flowing through a winding river. Same thing.

A few words on motorbikes: They are every where in Vietnam. In Saigon, there is one motorbike for every square meter. There are 40 fatalities from motorbikes accidents in Vietnam every day. They contribute to the pollution that chased us (and many others) out of Hanoi. But, motorbikes are the grease between the wheels of Vietnam’s economy. Riding through the country we’ve seen some pretty impressive stuff on the back of motorbikes. Here are some of my favs:

– whole dead cow
tiers of bags of goldfish hanging from a pole
– man holding a 1m x 2m mirror
– septic tank
– family of six with the mother breast feeding an infant
– refrigerator

In his book Bikes of Burden, Hans Kemp has captured photos of these crazy sites that my camera never seems to be ready for.

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