The absence of white van person

Van? Who needs a van?

White van man or woman is an exceedingly rare species in Vietnam. Who needs a Transit van when you can bungee all you need to carry onto the back of your motorbike?

Entire families get around on a moped, not to mention all manner of goods and even livestock. The main reason for the proliferation of ‘motobikes’ is the cost of car ownership. Vietnam is one of the most expensive place in the world to buy a new car. Buyers not only fork out the purchase price but are compelled to fork out up to 110% purchase tax as well. This looks likely to fall in coming years, though, especially for cars with smaller, cleaner engines.

Heavily laden motorbike in Hanoi, Vietnam

Balance is all

For this reason the roads are thronged with two wheelers apart from taxis, police cars and the occasional private cars of the well-heeled and well connected. In a way it is just as well the vast majority of the population is priced off the road on four wheels. If all the mopeds were cars there would be total gridlock in cities like Hanoi. But it will surely happen in time in the same way that bicycles were replaced by Honda Waves, Vespas and Minsk motorbikes.

I met an Indian couple from Mumbai recently and even they complained about the crazy traffic here.

Anything, it appears, is possible on two wheels; even pillion passengers breast feeding babies. I am no longer surprised by anything being transported by moped.

What does irk to Western eyes though is mother or father driving with a helmet while their kids don’t have any safety gear. Yes, there are exceptions but, as ever, they prove the rule.

That said, I am constantly amazed I don’t see more accidents on a daily basis. Live here any length of time and you realise what is going on. There is an unwritten rule book. Based on body language, eye contact and constantly judging speed and distance, the unofficial rules of the road for the best part avoid total carnage on the highway. They are not ideal, and there are undoubtedly some horrific accidents from time to time, but the unofficial rules seem to work for most people most of the time.

Whether you are on two wheels or two feet, the unstartling rule of thumb is keep out of the way of cars, buses and trucks while negotiating the road. Go with the flow and stay focussed. Let your attention wander and that is when things can very wrong, very quickly.

For pedestrians crossing the road the same applies. Motorbikes can be regarded as a river that will flow around you so long as you keep a steady pace and don’t do anything unexpected like coming to a complete stop. Hesitate and the vector/collision avoidance equations of the oncoming traffic go belly up.

If you are a bit chicken simply wait for a local to appear on the scene and cross the road along with them. After eight months living here I still occasionally do that when my nerve evaporates at rush hour.


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