Cultivating Peace on the Roads of Vietnam

Three years ago this month, I arrived to live in Vietnam. Today, three years later, I can say that I am still delighted to live in this country, regardless of the craziness and informality that this culture breathes within. To celebrate my third Vietnaversary (yes, I made that word up!), I would like to share three phrases I’ve heard through other expats. These phrase gave me “ah-ha” moments that helped me overcome my road rage in this country. They turned my motorcycle rides into pleasant adventures.

“There is no ego when driving in Vietnam.”

If you have ever been on a motorcycle in any Vietnamese city, you may be amazed (watch this video, and you’ll understand) and probably infuriated by the amount of bikes that cut your path and make you break suddenly. Chances are you may also have had three mini heart attacks when bike riders shoot out of corners into the main road, and don’t care to check if there is anyone coming. Truth is, no matter how angry you get when this happens, this anger will take you nowhere. Vietnamese don’t cut your path to insult you, or get back at you for something you did, they are simply going along their merry way and suddenly remember that they need to turn right. So that is what they do, they turn right. Regardless of the fact that 5 other people might be in their way. If you pay attention, all other Vietnamese will stop, let them pass, and then continue their route. It’s only the expats or the tourists that take this as a personal offence and choose to react with an insult or an evil stare. So, if you are living in Vietnam or visiting, when you hop on a bike, leave your ego at home, and enjoy the journey.

 “They are not honking at you, they are just saying hello.”

If you are like me, and come from a country where honking is strictly used for saying “get out of the way!”, “watch it!” or “move it!”, then chances are you feel insulted when people honk or beep at you. However, the horn in Vietnam (like in many other Asian countries) is used to say “Hello! I am coming!”. Many Vietnamese scooters don’t have mirrors, and if they do, they are rarely used to check on who might be coming up behind you. Instead, the mirrors are used to pop pimples and rearranging hair before selfie time. So because mirrors either don’t exist, or are rarely used, the horn is the best way to let others know that you are coming and prevent an accident. Thus, next time you hear someone honking at you, simply take it as a friendly “Hello!” and if you feel like it, smile, honk, and wave back.

“Vietnamese go from the bicycle, to the motorbike, to the car, and they still drive all of them as if it were a bicycle.”

Lady-On-Motorbike

After the war, the Vietnamese economy was closed until the 80’s. This meant cars were very scarce, only a few people with acquisitive power had motorbikes, but the gross of the population used bicycles or walked to get around. It was only about 5 to 10 years ago that cars started to massively flood Vietnam. Therefore, most of the drivers that we see nowadays on the road have very few years of experience driving a car. They are all extra careful, they try not to go too fast and they use up all five gears without surpassing the speed of 40Km’s per hour, ’cause why would you have five gears if you can’t use them all!?

Instead of thinking all of this when we are in the back of that taxi, we go crazy, grow impatient, pull our hair and suffer because the engine is getting loose. No body has taken the time to explain how gear shifting works and most of the drivers have never been exposed to driving in European or Western highways with strict rules and high speed limits. So, instead of criticizing the driver who is doing his best to understand this new piece of machinery and take you safely to your destination, sit back, cultivate patience, and enjoy your bicycle ride in the back of a comfortable car.