The Infamous Scooters of Vietnam
The scooters, mopeds and motorbikes of Vietnam are interesting. Definitely an experience… Scooters are in sheer abundance on the roads of Vietnam. There’s an estimated 3.1 million in the capital city of Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon) and the streets are crammed full of the buzzing two-wheelers. The roads are a semi-organised chaos with manic overtaking, swerving, frantic last minute turns, zigzagging… ploughing through it on the back of a motorbike taxi keeps your heart in your throat, your legs stiffly tucked in to make yourself as small as possible, and a prayer on your tongue as you sometimes get so close to fellow drivers you could easily kiss them on the cheek. A little too close some may say.
Having recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, I feel like my hearing has just returned. It wasn’t from any hawkers or market sellers screaming advertisements for their goods. It wasn’t from loud pumping offensive music from bars and clubs (the majority of drinking holes were closed by 11pm/midnight). It was from the incessant beeping and horn blowing of the numerous motorists and motorcyclists on the road. The noise was so consistent it got drilled into your psyche and soon faded into a background hum that you didn’t notice until you leave the country and realise the new silence is deafening.
But the more familiar you become with the roads, the more the beeping makes sense. It is a form of communication between the road hogs to ensure the majority of accidents are turned into just ‘near misses’. So much horning occurs it is crystal clear that it is not only used for the generic “Get out of my way”. By watching the way the traffic flowed, seeing how the drivers survived out there, realising the street signs were for decorative effect and driving through the chaos myself, I figured so much more was being said through the honk of the horn:
“Get out of my way!”
“Watch out, you crazy m*therf*cker!!”
“HEY!… I’m behind you…”
“WHY ARE YOU GOING SO SLOW??! O right, you’re texting as you drive.”
“I’m overtaking, by the way.”
“HEY!… I’m still behind you.”
“Woop! I’m on a motorbike! T’is grand.”
“I’m zooming up fast behind you and am going to come within an inch and scare the living daylights outta ya. Ok? Cool.”
It is quite refreshing, albeit a tad confusing, to hear horns expressing a range of emotions and agendas, and not being used in blind anger, aggression, rude impatience or in a sleazy nature, like they’re used in Western countries.
I was on the back of many bikes before braving one alone and I felt safer being in control, especially after riding a taxi that decided to go nearly the whole journey down a busy one-way street. And my thumb never left the horn. I learnt that other “Meep Meep”’s in Vietnam can be used instead of indicating, going around blind corners at top speed, swinging out onto a main road without checking oncoming traffic, alerting useless bicycle-riding Westerners and warning local kids playing at the roadside that you’re coming but don’t want to be included in an accidental game of dodge ball. Decoding Vietnam’s horns probably takes about a week, and the tooting mobile orchestras might leave you requiring a hearing aid by the time you leave.
It doesn’t help that every motorbike seems to be stacked to the brim with all kinds of exciting and unusual things. They’re an incredible distraction when riding past as it blows the mind how they’re able to perfectly balance their cargo and navigate the traffic. Not only does it make the traffic on the road all that more lively, but can also turn into a perfect game when spending an eternity on or waiting for a bus: ‘Who can spot the most insane cargo on a two-wheeler?’.
Things which can be spied can include everything. I mean it. Absolutely everything. Whether it’s an entire five-person family with the father softly singing lullabies to a hidden baby, a gas tank the size of a small car, live pigs trussed up by their trotters, cages of chickens all in a flap… we also saw wooden cages of live bats quietly hanging upside. I have even heard of whole water buffalos being transported; alas I didn’t see one or that would have been a winner for sure.
Man, motorcyclists have it tough out there. The symphony of horns blasting in their ears, hulking trucks dangerously cutting them off every few seconds, buses of tourists gawping and pointing… all while trying to get from A to B with whatever outrageous goods they’re trying to transport. I’ve even seen a giant truck full of cages of bees with bees galore frantically streaming behind, trying to keep up with the rest of the hive whilst inadvertently colliding with every motorist unfortunate enough to be out in the open. Ouch.
The roads look chaotic and wild for the poor moped riders, but they seem to have it down pat. It’s an incredible and heart-attack-inducing sight to see while in Vietnam which will never tire your amazement.
image 1 via Sophie Saint, image 2 via npr.org , image 3 via Jess Hobbs, image 4 via Sophie Saint, image 5 via Jennifer Aitchison, image 6 via adventuresse travels, image 7 via Tanya Travels, image 8 via Never Ending Footsteps, image 9 via adventuresse travels, image 10 via Jennifer Aitchison.