Ever since I saw the horrifying after effects of my uncle’s motorcycle crash, and after my own literal run-ins with disaster on my dirt bike as a kid, I had always scoffed at motorbike riders as “future organ donors.” Little did I know that riding a motorbike, especially in Vietnam, is a lot like getting a tattoo: once you get one, you just can’t stop. (Ok, it’s not the best, one-to-one analogy, but the point is: I can’t get enough wind in my hair or ink under my skin).
I’m totally addicted to riding my beat-up Honda Win, which I dubbed Hermes; he’s my little winged companion, what the Ancient Greeks called a psychopomp or “a leader of souls” of the underworld. It sort of encapsulates the reverence I have for the trusty hunk of metal and the very real possibility that he could lead me straight into the jaws of Hades. Just listen to the baritone howl of the AH14 drowned away by Hermes’ ferocious growling:
After my fantastic breakfast at the Hanoi 3B Homestay, I soon re-familiarized myself with the AH14, my old and well-trodden path I used to take between Hai Phong and Hanoi. Mercifully, Hải Dương is only about 34 km (or around 21 miles) from Hanoi, but I didn’t get nearly enough sleep the night before, so my drive took an extra half hour as I took a few quick naps on the side of the highway.
Travelling by motorbike in Vietnam may seem like a free-for-all, a Mad-Max style of chaotic weaving and wandering from lane to lane, but if you start to pay attention, you’ll notice some rules that should be followed. Most importantly, though, are some tips I’ve gathered to keep you from becoming a pancake on Vietnam’s motorways:
- ALWAYS test your brakes, whether renting or buying a bike. Just. Do. It.
- Make sure your tires are TIP-TOP. I’m talking rubber so fresh you can smell Hevea brasiliensis (These two will help you avoid my fate, which left me sprawled in the middle of a rainy highway between Hanoi and Hai Phong.)
- Always assume people can’t see you coming, especially if they’re driving right at you on the wrong side of the highway at 22:00 in utter darkness.
- DIrect 80-90% of your attention to what’s going on right in front of you. Hell, you’d be ok wearing horse blinders. Anything behind you doesn’t exist unless it honks or screams (in which case, be a good human and help, for god’s sake)
- Don’t give in to peer pressure and jump the 3-second red light remainder (yeah, traffic lights have counters here. It’s awesome). There will be someone screaming down the perpendicular street and turn you into Tay puree.
- Flow around pedestrians like a river to their rock. Both of your lives depend on it.
- Contrary to popular belief, there ARE road rules, and the first to take notice will be the tan-clad cops, who will, in turn, take as much dong as they can for an infraction.
- Don’t get stuck behind a bus or a truck unless you want all the cons of smoking a carton of Marlboro Reds in the span of 15 seconds. Also, they’re big and will pretty much turn you into hamburger if you challenge them.
- Be the steady rock in a raging river when crossing- cars and bikes will tend to move around you if you walk confidently and steadily.
- HOWEVER….no matter what anyone says, look before you take that leap. I didn’t- once. Once. I’ve never done a flailing cartwheel that fast since I first learned how to dance like Isadora Duncan.
- Use the waving, palm-down “cool your jets, I’m walkin’ here” hand gesture that’s popular with many Vietnamese people here if you really want some extra safety. I mean, just typing that last bit made me guffaw, but seriously, people respond to it. Just don’t be jumpy. See #2 above for what happens if you’re jumpy, as well.
- Motorbikers and cellphones go hand in hand like juggling nitroglycerine on a rollercoaster. Assume their call is infinitely more interesting than your attempt to cross the road. (And this isn’t just Vietnam- just don’t use your goddamn mobile while driving)
- Sidewalks are totally optional (I prefer the road, myself- it’s usually not as crowded with parked motorbikes) and sometimes (ok, pretty often) serve as another lane for motorbikes in a real hurry. Remember that honking? Just keep your wits about you.
- Finally, try to take the long way around any building guarded by soldiers- I’ve been chased to the other side of a 6 lane motorway for walking remotely close to the wrong (see: apparently restricted government) places.
Follow these few simple rules, and you’ll be sure to enjoy watching trepedatious tourists trying to tiptoe across a crosswalk. I was that guy a few months ago, but just remember when to be the rock, and when to be the river. Plus, if you make a stop over in Hải Dương, you’ll have a nicer, far more peaceful and scenic ride like this:
More to come soon, dear readers- I certainly didn’t set the best examples in this post, but I kind of like the raw footage I’m getting from my old, beat-up, but still tickin’ LG Aristo 4G Lte Metropcs Unlocked,T-mobile, At&t , Usa & International 16GB, and a bit of raw driving certainly compliments that, huh?