Motorcycle taxi - xe om
The "xe ôm" (literally 'hugging vehicle') is a common mode
of transport for Vietnamese as well as tourists. They
are widely available and reasonably cheap - about
10,000 dong for a 10 minute trip, which should get you
anywhere within the city center. Walk the city streets,
and every couple of minutes a guy will flag your
attention and say "You !! Motorbike?" Longer trips to
outlying areas can be negotiated.
Always agree on the fare before starting your trip. As
with most things, a tourist will often be quoted an
above-market price initially, and you need to be firm.
If quoted anything over 10,000 dong for a short trip,
remind the driver that you could take an air-con taxi
for 15,000 so forget it. Occasionally drivers will
demand more than the negotiated price at the end, so
it's best to have exact change handy. Then you can pay
the agreed amount and walk away, end of discussion.
The 110-cc motorbike is the preferred mode of transport
for the Vietnamese masses, and the large cities swarm
with them. It's common to see whole families of four
cruising along on a single motorbike. In most places
where tourists go, you can easily rent your own.
Desk clerks at small hotels often run a side business
renting motorbikes to guests, or have a friend or
relative who does. Tour booths can usually do the same.
In small towns and beach resorts where traffic is light,
it's a delightful way to get around and see the sights,
and much cheaper than taxis if you make several stops or
travel any distance. Roads are usually decent, though
it's advisable not to ride too fast and always keep an
eye on the road for the occasional pothole.
Riding in the big cities, especially
Ho Chi Minh
is a very different matter, and not advisable unless you
are an experienced rider with a very cool head. Traffic
is intense and chaotic, with a long list of unwritten
rules that don't resemble traffic laws anywhere else.
"Right of way" is a nearly unknown concept. Riding in
Ho Chi Minh City is like finding yourself in the middle of a 3-D
video game where anything can come at you from any
direction, and you only have one life. Expats who brave
the traffic at all typically have an apprenticeship of a
few weeks or months riding on the back of others'
motorbikes to learn the ways of the traffic, before
attempting to ride themselves. Extreme caution is
advised for short-term visitors.
Riding long distance in the countryside can also be
harrowing depending on the route you take. Major roads
between cities tend to be narrow despite being major,
and full of tour buses hell-bent on speed, passing slow
trucks where maybe they shouldn't have tried, and
leaving not much room at the edge for motorbikes.
Two main categories of motorbike are available to rent: scooters (automatic transmission); and four-speed
motorbikes, the gears of which you shift with your left
foot. Rental agents tend to steer foreigners toward
scooters if available, on the (plausible) assumption
that they don't know how to ride motorbikes that require
shifting gears. Motorcycles of 175cc and above are only
legal to ride if you make a connection with a Vietnamese
Most places you would want to stop have parking
attendants who will issue you a numbered tag and watch
over your bike. Sometimes these parking operations are
overseen by the establishment you are visiting, and
sometimes they are free-lance operations set up in
places where a lot of people go. You will usually see
rows of bikes lined up parked. Depending on
circumstance, you might park the bike yourself, or just
put it in neutral and let the staff position it. In all
but rare cases you keep the key. Parking is sometimes
free at restaurants and cafes (look for "giu xe mien
phi"). Elsewhere, fees range from 3,000 to 10,000 dong.
Traffic police in the cities pull over lots of locals
(often for reasons that are hard to discern), but
conventional wisdom has it that they rarely bother
foreigners due to the language barrier. Obeying the
traffic laws is advisable just to be sure. Licenses (to
operate motorbikes) are required, although many people
have been known to drive without them. Helmets are also
required by law as from the December 15th, 2007, if you
don't have it already, ask your rental agent to provide
them. You should also check that your travel insurance
covers you for any accidents that occur, particularly if
you do not have a motorcycle license in your own