Hello, from Vietnam. My latest two-wheeled adventure is possibly the most challenging, and definitely the most quirky, riding experience that I’ve sought out yet. I hope to go nearly 3,000 kilometres, taking the long way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi on a bashed up 110cc rented scooter.
Why on a scooter when larger and more purpose-built motorcycles are easily available? The answer lies in the significant role that these tiny two-wheelers play in the fabric of daily life across this country.
I’ve read estimates that suggest there are over 45 million scooters on the roads in Vietnam. Step on to the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City and you realise those estimates were possibly quite conservative.
While most other parts of the world look at scooters as basic and possibly less cool modes of transport, here, they take on a persona unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before.
From food stalls to delivery services and cargo movers to young college goers, the scooter is the foundation on which daily life is built. They come in all shapes and sizes, cater to wide-use cases and are used in ways that manufacturers could possibly have never imagined. They are, in many ways, symbols of the resourcefulness and adaptability of the Vietnamese people.
Naturally, I’m curious to understand how all of this works.
Watching from a distance, the streets look chaotic. The scooters seem to go at each other from all directions with little regard to traffic signals or signboards, and you seldom see anyone making an effort to manage any of it. It’s only once you have a two-wheeler of your own that you realise that there is a rhythm to the madness. It took me a while to learn the ropes, particularly because they drive on the right side of the road. Of course, this does not mean that you won’t have traffic going in the opposite direction on the right lane too. After a few hair-raising experiences, things begin to settle down and you start discovering the flow—slowly becoming a part of a strangely coordinated street ballet.
Yes, riding a well-used, small-capacity scooter with wafer-thin tyres and a terribly tiny fuel tank does not sound like the smart or easy way to go about a cross-country adventure. But I’m going to trust in the wisdom of over 45 million Vietnamese people. If they can propel the country forward on their scooters, I’m reasonably certain I can get through a few thousand kilometres on mine. Worst case, I’ll have myself a few misadventures. That sounds like an ideal travel itinerary to me!