Anyone who’s dabbled in a spot of South East Asian travel will surely agree that one of the best ways to get from A to B is by motorbike. Getting around on two wheels is speedy, cheap and convenient – motorbikes have the ability to navigate the often narrow or densely populated streets of big Asian cities, slipping through tiny backstreets with ease and giving some of the worst traffic the slip. They are simply everywhere and many a traveller has practically heard the whimsical hands of fate rubbing together as they face crossing a busy junction and the chaos of revving engines that present themselves (“Hmmm, actually I think I’ll just stay this side of the road – it’s nice here!”) For those that choose to man their own machine, strap their head into half a bowling ball and take to the road, a motorbike gives you the independence and ability to get around the town, country or anywhere else that takes your fancy. A sweet taste of freedom.


But for the locals, motorbikes are an essential element of everyday life. My mother grew up in Malaysia and recalls that even as a young teenager, she would whiz around the roads of Sitiawan on her very own scooter. I remember visiting her hometown when I was 10 years old and being happily propped up on the front of a bike as various relatives smiled and looked on indulgently. From kids to elderly ladies and gents, nearly everyone could drive a motorbike.

Photographer, Hans Kemp, arrived in Vietnam, a country that’s infamous for its scooter culture, in 1991 just before Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Watching the vibrant preparations, he was captivated by the blur of colour, sound and motion and the central role motorbikes played in the lives of the people. The girls and guys all dolled up and zipping around on the backs of bikes; the families ferrying produce and props here and there; the street vendors piling their wares into precarious pinnacles; the culture of picking up fresh ingredients from the local market instead of storing food long term in a fridge or freezer –  motorbikes were utilized by all. Sights that would leave a Western health and safety officer quaking in their high visibility jacket wouldn’t cause the people of Vietnam to blink twice as they weaved their way through the hectic streets.





Based in Ho Chi Minh city, Kemp was commissioned by a client to take on the job of recording some of these Vietnamese bikes of burden to celluloid and as he embarked on the project he came to the realization he was recording an inherent part of Asian culture. The chaotic roads threw up shot after shot as he chose some of the more daring and downright bizarre bikes of burden to speed after in order to capture that perfect high speed picture. Pictures that are simply part of the everyday scenery of Vietnam.





Can you imagine carrying weights like these at 60mph? If my progress driving Mario Kart is any indication I’d be leaning heavily into the corners, tongue between my teeth, squinting with the concentration of not spinning off the road in a haze of gravel and despair. Nerves of steel must surely be a prerequisite for these drivers. Vietnam’s bikes and bikers of burden, we salute you!


Hans Kemp’s book ‘Bikes of Burden’ can be purchased via Amazon. Pics are by Hans Kemp via

Alex Saint is a writer based in Bristol, England – a place she calls home due to its friendly, diverse atmosphere and never-ending list of fun things to do. She loves tattoos, quirky fashion, pugs and, of course, travelling.

Keep up with the Saint sisters and their adventures in Bristol, London and beyond at and @saintsonaplane or Alex herself @alexsaint13