Motorbikes are as much a part of Vietnam as rice. They are everywhere and serve a far greater purpose than mere transportation. Motorbikes in Vietnam are like a magic carpet as well as a peek into the owner’s personality. They are treasured like the prized possession they are and often reside in the owner’s living room for a deserved rest. But they earn their keep just as their four-wheeled brethren. With some very ingenious ropemanship a motorbike can carry as much cargo as a small pickup truck, such as computer equipment, building materials, or a huge load of fish or vegetables heading for the market. The bike is a two-wheeled family car easily carrying a family of three, four, or even five causally sharing a meal and chatting as they weave seemingly effortlessly through frenetic rush hour traffic. Young women in high heels and short skirts deftly maneuver through the swarm of traffic with just one hand while texting with the other.
About one of every three of Vietnam’s 86 million population has a motorbike, one of every two in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. All the more amazing when one considers that about one third of the population is too young to have a license!
The roads in the big cities are unbelievably clogged with the cycles resulting in the occasional but colossal gridlock. According to the World Health Organization eighty percent of the world’s traffic accidents take place in SE Asia and those accidents kill 33 people every hour. Traffic lights are generally nonexistent, not working, or ignored. Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable. Sidewalks are motorbike parking lots so pedestrians are forced out into street to compete with all of the other cycles, as well as, buses, trucks, and cars. To cross a thoroughfare the hapless walker must summon up all their courage, simply step off the curb and start across, eyes straight head. If one does not falter traffic will simply flow around.
But, to the uninitiated the synchronized ebb and flow of the moto traffic is a sight to behold. The traffic flows around all obstacles, whether a bus or pedestrians, like water flowing around rocks in a stream. It is truly mesmerizing and a spectator sport that can be watched for hours. There must be “rules of the road” and motorbike etiquette that are unknowable to the non-Asian.