When searching “Vietnam Traffic” on Google, you’ll notice that foreigners or travelers mostly dictate the rules. So, here is a piece written by a local motorcycle enthusiast with 17 years of experience navigating Saigon’s jam-packed streets. For first time visitors, this is your bible for all things traffic-related.
Your first impression of the city traffic is probably “WHOA.”
Take a deep breath and soak it all in… this is normal. As you can see the roads are teeming with motorbikes and the riding habits of scooter drivers seem… totally unpredictable. But believe it or not, Vietnam does have traffic rules that mostly everyone abides by and you too will learn the value of knowing these unspoken rules.
– Everything moves on the right side. Stick to walking on the right of the sidewalk and you’ll be safe for the most part. You still have to watch out for the guy who is illegally driving on the pavement behind of you, though.
– Always wear a helmet when you are traveling on motorcycle/scooter. This is compulsory in Vietnam so if you don’t want to get in trouble with the law, just put one on even when it doesn’t seem that sturdy.
– No more than 2 people on a bike. But truth be told, you’ll see more than three people parading around on one vehicle. If you are lucky you might see some bikes taking up to 5 passengers. This is called family-style. Welcome to Vietnam!
Motorcycle Matrix- How To Cross
Now comes the fun part…, most Westerners or even some non-Southeast Asians are freaked out by the idea of crossing such heavy traffic, but hey! When there’s a will, there’s a way! The tips below are here to assist and once you have done it, you’ll see it’s not as hard as it looks.
-If you are not the adventurous type, then just stop here for the Street Crossing 101. The easiest option is to simply tag along with a local! Seriously, we’re all masters here. Also, if you see a man or woman in a green uniform, you can always ask them for help since they’ve been trained to assist tourists.
– Still reading? Seems like you’ve chosen the fun route. Now that’s the spirit! The first thing you have to know is the “unspoken rule” of Vietnamese traffic. We all look straight and pay attention only to the people or vehicles moving directly in front of us. Who needs rear mirrors? You will be safe as long as people see you. Just raise your hand in the air (like you just don’t care?) and go for it! Do not move suddenly or fall back because it will disrupt attempts to anticipate your moves by both motorists and pedestrians alike. Also, do not let those noisy horns freak you out. People are not angry. This action is just a difference in traffic culture as horns are alerting people of incoming traffic.
“Just raise your hand in the air (like you just don’t care?) and go for it!”
– Move slowly while fanning the air quickly beside you as if you were petting a dog, so people can see and go around you. When you feel it’s safe enough, you can rush to the nearest pavement.
– An important tip is that you should mostly watch out for cars and buses. Bikes can easily swerve around you, but those bus drivers are ruthless!
Other Modes of Transportation
Ho Chi Minh City is the economic center and also the largest city in Vietnam in terms of size, population and number of vehicles! With more than 600,000 cars, 8.5 million motorcycles, and a sizeable fleet of buses, taxis, and motorbike taxis (Xe Ôm), there’ll be no problem looking for a way to travel around town.
Our recommendation is to get an Uber or a Grabtaxi/Grabcar due to their reputation and transparency since you get to see the actual route and the fee before you hop in the car. If there are no cars available, then flag down a taxi and make sure you get a good one: Mai Linh (Green) and VinaSun(White) are your safest best as they are big companies, thus decreasing your chance of being scammed.
If you are planning to do as the Romans do, then opt for the motorbikes. There are a number of rental companies in the city center (District 1), but this is not recommended since it is technically illegal for non-residents to drive. Your joyride can be easily discontinued at any time by the traffic police (the guys in yellow). However, motorbike taxis (Xe Ôm) come in handy for this event and can be found on nearly every street corner. Just make sure you negotiate the price first.
There is also a growing trend of adventure motorcycle tours from Saigon to The Cu Chi Tunnels and The Mekong Delta that can be easily found on Tripadvisor. Check out the Onetrip guys who rev around on motorcycles. They have stellar reviews on Tripadvisor – 296 of their 299 reviews are 5*. You can check out their website here to see if there are any tours you fancy, and click here for their TripAdvisor page to see why we recommend them!
I am aware that riding or sitting on a motorcycle as a passenger is a new thing for a lot of travelers. Don’t worry, here’s some advice for the amateur rider.
–You have to trust your driver. Traffic is really intimidating but if you make a sudden movement out of fear, you might find your driver wrestling for control of the vehicle. Motorbikes are very sensitive vehicles. But on the other hand, Vietnamese are quite skillful drivers. An Australian gentleman once told me that, “Vietnamese are born on motorcycles just like Mongolians are born on horses.” Honestly, there’s some truth to that statement as you’ll see newborn babies being carried around on the back of a scooter.
– Find that rear handlebar and don’t let go. It’s fine to hold onto the handlebar but be mindful and don’t grip too hard because that makes it harder for the driver to control the bike. Another good way to balance is to put your hands on your outstretched knees.
– Give your driver some personal space. Many times, the seat is spacious enough to give you some distance. Don’t press up on your driver.
So what are you waiting for? Go out and cross those roads! Try raising your hand up and let us know if it worked for you!