Vietnam obviously has become a quite popular touristic destination in the recent years – and deservedly so.
Huge parts of the country are covered with dense forests and mountains offering a nice nature experience, some cities invite with a lively and authentic charme mixed with modern influences (like chic café’s or supermarkets), and the people are mostly very nice.
We ourselves were quite surprised by Vietnam. On our way from Central Vietnam (Hué) north to Hanoi, we mainly enjoined the beautiful karst mountains in the interior of the country as well as the karst islands of Ha-Long Bay, the cities of Hué and Hanoi themselves, and some coastal stretches with picturesque villages amid rice paddies. And, after we got used to the distinct Vietnamese blunt curiosity and directness, we also enjoyed many nice encounters. We received a lot of attention and kindness.
Almost exclusively at the more touristic places, however, we were sometimes a bit annoyed by the widespread habit to charge multiple higher prices than usual because being foreigners. Asking the price in advance is always a good idea in Vietnam.
While Hanoi supposedly was free of motorized traffic till 1990, Vietnam’s rapid economic growth changed this fact dramatically. These days some cities’ streets are bursting with scooters and mopeds (interestingly there are also some electrobikes among them, mainly ridden by young people). As with the smartphone, it seems like every single Vietnamese is in the possession of a scooter. It is used for all means of transportation and heavily overloaded bikes are a familiar picture.
And even among tourists, backpackers in particular, Vietnam is THE country to ride a moped, thanks to the generous driver license policy and the cheap motorbikes (for about 250$ you can either rent one for a month or buy an old one, repairs along the road aren’t expensive either). Consequently, we came across quite numerous of those prototype backpacker-bikers in Vietnam: old crappy Honda-machine of the same type with a backpack strapped to the rear-rack, driven by a fellow with beard, cool sun-glasses, sun-burned skin and worn clothes.
With the many motorbikes, the special traffic rules (or rather the lack of it) in Southeast Asia became most evident in Vietnam:
The most important rule: don’t pay attention to what happens behind you. Just stare straight ahead, even when turning into a main street.
Second rule: Since everybody is only paying attention to what happens in front of them, make them hear that you’re there, that is honk incessantly. Only in the very last moment, when your continuous honking went unheard and the other one is bigger than you, consider to make use of the break.
Third rule: don’t take driving directions too serious. If the traffic doesn’t permit you to cross the road immediately, just use the opposite lane first.
Consequently, as cyclists we attentively had to watch our surroundings and expect everything: oncoming traffic, people from the right as well as from the left about to crash into us if we wouldn’t give room etc. And all that with ringing ears. However, especially on byroads, we still felt save and most people drove considerate.
Last but not least the numbers how we spent our nights in Vietnam: it is quickly summarized because we only spent the first night wild camping and were fortunately able to find suitable guesthouses (Nha Nghi) or hostels for all remaining nights (about 10$ the double room). We were fortunate because most of the time it was simply too hot for camping.