Ho Chi Minh City, Videos, Vietnam

Motorbike Diaries – Vol. 17

17 Comments 10 October 2009

Rush Hour
Rush Hour

Start from the Beginning – Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1

Resistance is Futile – Assimilation

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve become one of them. I wear a jacket (which I’m boiling in), a mask, a poncho, ….I’m a Vietnamese motorbike driver. I’ve become used to being squeezed into small places and driving through them. I can drive really slow and coast while keeping my balance. I can drive through flooded streets with my feet up on my seat so that my feet won’t get wet while still balancing the bike. I can dodge slow pedestrians. I can maneuver the bike into the narrowest parking spaces in alleys. I have learned how to honk to simply let someone know I’m ‘here’. In fact, I use my mirrors less and less and my horn more and more. Seriously – how the hell did this happen? I so vividly remember my first time I took the bike out of the living room and accelerated into this crazy motorbike culture scared to death.

I’m absolutely convinced I will have to retrain my brain to look left before turning right again as I don’t even get the urge to look left any longer. I’ve learned that you don’t wait for opportunities (for a lull in traffic) when driving in Vietnam, you make opportunities.

Me and my motorbike - and one flat tire...

Me and my motorbike - and one flat tire...

Six months have gone by and now I’m able to do what I previously thought was impossible; I zone out. I actually look at stuff around me, notice new restaurants, can read street signs, and most of all I use the driving time to think. I’ve even been able to zone out the horns that are constantly honking at me. Nor am I shocked or horrified by what I see around me any longer – 4 people on a motorbike, a guy carrying a refrigerator on the back of his bike, a dog on the bike, or a boy standing on a bike seat behind the driver – yes, standing. However a boy sleeping between his parents on a motorbike in the pouring rain did catch my attention for a bit the other day. I think I was simply jealous of his ability to sleep in a impossible environment.

Last week I was so zoned out that I didn’t notice the broken glass that I ran over until it was too late – 2 flat tires…yes, 2. I pushed my bike to a corner that had a tire tube propped up on it (the Vietnamese symbol for tire fixer nearby) and 10 minutes and 75 cents later the guy had fixed the holes and I was off.

I find that I still do have a couple of ‘limits’ on what I won’t do. I won’t drive on a sidewalk; it pisses me off when other people do it while I’m trying to walk down the street, so I won’t be one of those people. I won’t go the wrong way down a one way street. (My high school driver-ed teacher would be so proud of me) I won’t carry a refrigerator, a flat screen TV or a computer on the back of my bike! However just recently I did find myself carrying a 30 lb backpack on my bike driving through flooded streets praying that I wouldn’t lose my balance. Finally, I won’t wear flip flops while driving as I’m too scared to lose one of them! I can’t tell you how many flip flops and sandals I see in the middle of the street; deposited there accidentally, never to see it’s other half again.

The most stunning thing is that I know it is my motorbike that I will miss the most out of everything in Vietnam. It is the thing that scared me the most and the thing that I loved the most about my time in Vietnam; which goes to show you – I’m completely dysfunctional. Learning to ride in Saigon was one of my goals, and even though it took me 5 months to get up the nerve to try and then 2 more weeks to actually take it out of my living room and put the key in the ignition; I conquered the fear, and for that I’m immensely thankful.
Video of my taking off on my bike after my flat tire was fixed.

Follow my motorbike journey from the beginning with the Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1 – Learning How to Drive a Motorbike in Vietnam

Get your own Vietnam Motorbike License and get out on the streets!

Your Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. Ace says:

    Saigon’s traffic scene is crazy! You deserve a round of applause for doing it like the locals.

  2. Son says:

    Finally, I saw your motorbike. What a sporty one! ^^
    You look so professional rider when you’re on Nouvo Yamaha like that. keke
    Miss you.

  3. Dave and Deb says:

    Look at you go! I love how you just drove off in front of everyone stopped there at the intersection without even a glance in their direction. You really have become a true motorcycle rider in Vietnam. Love it!

  4. Is riding with that backpack your equivalent of the guy with the fridge? I’m amazed you’ll risk it in shorts – I’d shudder at the thought of you coming off the bike with bare legs>

  5. Shawn says:

    Excellent progression on cycling. You-tube, and others, is blocked here in Turkey, so I am not able to see the video, but I will catch it in Bulgaria.

  6. admin says:

    @heather – I normally NEVER wear shorts – that was a really unusual day! The backpack certainly felt about as heavy as a fridge that day!

  7. Has anyone ever told you what a remarkable woman you are?

  8. Anil says:

    You know how I feel about motorbike and cycles – looks like you’ve got it down! One of the most fun ways to travel :)

  9. Oisin says:

    I love this, you are a very brave woman. I dont think I could do it, it all seems so chaotic.

  10. tom says:

    The rush hour picture is great, but I would be too scared to drive there.

  11. Donna Hull says:

    Heather, I wouldn’t have truly “gotten” this post until I visited Vietnam last month. OK. I was one of those tourists in the pedicab. Was that you on a motorbike coming towards me?

  12. I’ve just discovered your site. What a blast. Congratulations for giving up the old life and relocating to Vietnam. It sounds like a fantastic adventure.

  13. Rebekah says:

    Sherry- you’re a STAR! It’s funny to read this post- proof that you can do anything when you put your mind to it!

  14. Roger from Arlington, Virginia says:

    I read your Web comments on motorbiking in Saigon before I made the trip and decided to rent my own, hoping to capture the same mix of fear and exhilaration. Now that I’m a veteran of its mayhem, and am sorting the photos and video I shot while riding, I can smile at being part of that rolling, roiling mass, the densest concentration of scooters in the world. But I’ve been home a week and am still coughing from the pollution, despite the nose and mouth filter that I bought on the street for 35 cents.

    • admin says:

      Roger – I’m SO glad you dove in! That’s not an easy thing to do and you did it! It took me 5 months to finally get up the nerve to get my own bike after being tired of taking motorbike taxis all the time. Yes – the pollution is horrible…in the end I bought a carbon filter mask…but still not the best. That’s really why I only stayed a year…I felt like I might as well be smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!
      Where are you posting the photos and video – I’d love to see them and feature them!

  15. Love the how the traffic light seemed not to matter in the video. You did assimilate. Kudos.
    stay adventurous, Craig

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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