My least favorite part of this road-trip is tying my case the motorbike. It’s always an awkward affair that seems to involve an unseemly amount of sweat and difficulty. A few times various men have helped, but it’s always the women who manage to tie it on expertly so it doesn’t move at all. They sit around laughing at me for a while, then one (usually the smallest) will come over and perform elastic cable magic that puts my efforts to shame.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

Of course, the locals here in Vietnam are well-practiced in tying the impossible to their motorbikes. They’ve been stretching the possibilities of two-wheel travel for years now, carrying everything from cattle to corn, and armchairs to bathtubs! If it can be reasonably carried by one person or two, or maybe even three, then it can be carried on a motorbike. That seems to be the general rule here.

The other day I saw a man on a motorbike towing a trailer with a water buffalo in it! Today I watched several men comically trying to attach an absolutely enormous book-case to the back of a really old motorbike that looked like it would have a hard time moving with anything more than the rider.

They failed (no woman to help them see!) and decided instead to sit on the bookcase and have a smoke. When they saw me they insisted I have a cigarette. I told them I don’t smoke but this didn’t stop them enthusiastically lighting one up for me anyway.

Every so often I’ll see a police roadblock. Officers in ill-fitting uniforms will stand around stopping traffic and performing various checks, though I’m not clear what they’re checking as thus far they have simply waved me by. I suspect the possibility of getting into some long drawn out confusing conversation is more than they’re willing to do, but I don’t want to speak too soon.

It used to be that nobody here wore helmets, despite the fact they have long been a legal requirement. (See Jeremy Clarkson’s Motorworld report from Vietnam in the early 90’s.) However, these days everybody wears a helmet. In fact, they often wear helmets when they’re not even on their motorbikes. I assume this is because their motorbike is not far away, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they just wear them for general safety around Vietnamese roads.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I wonder then if Vietnam’s crazy roads could ever become anything like the relatively quiet and orderly roads we’re used to in the west? That seems a long way from reality when you are swarmed by several motorbikes paying no attention to the fact that their light is red. Or when you are confronted by buses and trucks hurtling down the wrong side of the road, their headlights flashing and horns blaring in a maniacal symphony of insanity.

Certainly, I doubt that the car will replace the moped until Vietnam is a far more wealthy country. And if one day four wheels did manage to win the roads from their two-wheeled cousins, I think this country would lose something.

The sheer audacity of what you see carried on motorbikes on Vietnam’s roads is undoubtedly part of its national character. Changing that would be like making the traditional English Breakfast a vegan dish!

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 6
Read my tips about touring Vietnam on a motorbike