A Rant About Living in Vietnam: The Driving

Of course, I have to preface this article by saying that I love Vietnam. I am enjoying living here and I am excited about what’s to come. Everyday I see something new, and everyday I feel a stronger connection to the country. That being said, it’s sometimes an extremely frustrating place to live. It’s difficult to stay positive when something goes wrong. In Vietnam, when it rains it pours — both literally and metaphorically. So here goes a bit of a rant. Let this be a warning to someone who is considering a move to Vietnam, but mostly let this be a therapeutic exercise for me — cause there’s a history of people losing their shit in ‘nam.

Motorcycles driving in Vietnam

It’s been called organized chaos, but I call it a lack of sense and patience. The drivers in Vietnam don’t like to stop. They’ll literally risk their lives so they don’t have to. I still don’t know if it’s safer for me to stop when I’m making a left hand turn (and risk being rear-ended or attacked for making someone have to stop), or to just plow into the stream of motorcycles without hesitation like I was playing GTA or something.

In the one month I’ve been here, I’ve spoken to three people that have seen a dead accident victim on the road (one of the people had actually seen two on separate incidents). In my 30 years in Canada, I don’t know anyone that has had to witness that. In fact, traffic related deaths are 4 times higher in Vietnam than Canada. When I talk to people who have been in Vietnam for a while, they tell me it’s because of stupidity. One story I heard involved a woman who decided she’d try and drive underneath a transport truck as it turned past the motorcycle lane — like she was in The Fast and The Furious or something. I see the stupidity everyday. I was waiting by an intersection for five minutes and I witnessed three separate people turn the total opposite direction that their signals were indicating.

When I first arrived, I asked someone for advice on how to safely drive. They gave me two great tips:

  1. It’s best to just keep right and go at your own pace. They also noted that if someone is coming at me, going the opposite direction that they should be, I should let them be closest to the curb. Driving the opposite direction on a road? That sounds like an awfully stupid thing to do — I see it everyday.
  2. You are responsible for everything in front of you. This means if someone pulls out in front of you from an alleyway and you don’t have time to stop and you crash into them, it’s your fault. When I’m about to turn onto a road my head is on a swivel. I’m looking left, I’m looking right, I’m looking over my shoulder, I want to know everything that is around me. Apparently, I’m just wasting my energy. I should, like the rest of Vietnam, just drive out into the road and not even look to see if anything is coming. The good drivers in Vietnam will blast their horns as they approach a road — they still don’t actually look to see if it’s safe, but the equivalent of yelling, “Lookout, here I come!” is better than nothing.

A large roundabout in Vietnam.
Another example of backward-ass thinking — when approaching a roundabout in Vietnam you should drive into it without hesitation. Then, when you’re in it, you give up the right of way to the other vehicles that are entering it. I don’t have too much experience with roundabouts, but that seems paint-chip-eating-stupid to me. It results in vehicles having to yield at every entrance as they go around the circle trying to get to their exit.

I have an extreme hatred for four-way stops. They’re pointless, they’re bad for your vehicle and the environment. I was glad to leave them behind in Canada (especially after I received a ticket from Officer Oink-oink for going through one on a freaking BICYCLE!). In Vietnam, they don’t put up with that nonsense. In fact, 80% of the intersections have nothing at all. I like to call them commonsense intersections. When I arrive at one, I simply use my commonsense. I can’t let lights or signs tell me what the best approach is — that’s the first step in the robot revolution. The problem is, the sense that is common in Vietnam is a diluted version of the sense that’s common in Canada. It would be like adding 20 cups of water to make Kool-Aid instead of the normal 8 cups. The Kool-Aid guy would break through the wall and be like, “Nooo!”. So, the result is an intersection that is a traffic accident waiting to happen.

I guess in order for me to stay safe here, I’m going to have to look like a nerd — slowing down, looking both ways, signalling properly. All the other drivers are going to laugh at me, but I’ll have the last laugh when I signal to drive around the corpse that just got run over by a truck… I think I just went too far. I feel better though. Rant over.