When I was in Ho Chi Minh City I had the crazy idea of buying a motorbike and exploring Vietnam on my own, going from city to city using my motorbike.
Logic won me over in the end. Plus, I read online that if you are involved in an accident and you have no valid Vietnamese driver’s license then you are at fault automatically. That doesn’t appeal to me.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City was crazy and I wouldn’t drive there. But when I got to Da Lat I gave it some thought. I haven’t driven since 2008 so maybe it was time to drive again.. but on two weeks instead of four.
The cost of renting an automatic motorbike is 100,000 Dong or $4.80. Not bad at all.
So, on my second day in Da Lat I did it.. I rented a motorbike.
The traffic in Da Lat isn’t as much or as crazy as in Ho Chi Minh City, but in Da Lat they drive faster as a result. Still, I hit the road with nothing but the wind in my hair.. and an empty gas tank. Apparently it’s standard practice to give the renter of the motorbike with just enough gas to get to the next gas station.
I had a good map of the city, but I inevitably ALWAYS went the wrong way when trying to get places. Luckily, in Vietnam, you can just kind of stop on the side of the road and do whatever you want. So I’d look at the shop signs to see the street I was on and try to figure out how I got there and how to get where I want to go.
Of course, navigation is difficult when all the streets are in a completely different language. But at least they use Latin characters so it was easier than it could have been.
I ended up driving for a couple hours, visiting the former royal palace, a lake on outskirts of town, and within the city itself.
In some ways it was liberating. It was nice going wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. But the style of driving is very different and I didn’t feel very comfortable driving. I enjoyed exploring Bogota by bicycle when there, but a motorbike is not the best way to explore within a city.
I guess in any place you need to pay attention to the road while driving, but that’s especially true in Vietnam. People stop in the middle of the road, left turns are controlled chaos, the size of the vehicle determines priority, not rules or other forms of organization. So you need to constantly be on guard and alert. Looking at a building off in the distance that looks beautiful could cost you your life.
I would say the speed most people seem to go is about 40km/hr or 25mph. It’s not fast, but fast enough to do serious harm when on a motorbike. At times I got up to 60km/hr when there was no traffic. But not often.
In the end, It was a fun and interesting experience. I don’t think I’ll repeat it in other parts of Vietnam or Southeast Asia. But you never know..