MangoVine
Adventures in East Asia

Bikes of Vietnam

Probably one of Vietnam's most distinct characteristics is the over-abundance of motorised, two wheel transport. For the population, especially in cities like Ho Chi Minh, it's quick, convenient and cheap.

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The long, thin shape of the country also recently inspired an episode of the BBC's Top Gear, where the presenters used motorbikes to travel the length from Ho Chi Minh in the South to Ha Long in the north. The original plan to use cars was thwarted by the cost. Apparently, cars are much more expensive since they've got a 200% import tax and since they've only been around in the last half decade, there hasn't been enough time for the prices to get cheap.

In any case, the average Vietnamese salary seems way too low to afford a car even if they were cheaper, and parking would also be an issue in the cities.

The Top Gear episode seems to have inspired viewers to make the same journey - several friends expressed their interest in doing so and in conducting some research online before our trip, there were quite a few recommendations to hire a guide and take to the roads of Vietnam by motorbike.

Pedal bikes are used frequently in Vietnam, though riders seem to be younger, perhaps because they're cheaper than motorbikes. How they pedal in the heat, I don't know!

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As well as for transport, pedal bikes are sometimes transformed into mobile shops, with the addition of shelf units, glass cases and baskets to hold the products, or the products are simply tied to stands that are welded on.

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Motorbikes are a definite majority and they're seemingly used to transport almost anything. I don't know much about any of the types of bikes or manufacturers, but its easy to see they vary in design, age, power and as a result, in cost.

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They quite obviously seat single or double riders but can also be seen seating triple riders, transporting them to work, rest or play. Whole families are frequently spotted with toddlers wedged on the seat in between their parents or in this case below, "driving".

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In addition, motorbikes deliver and courier all manner of goods with a single trip hoping to transport as much as precariously possible. Huge sacks, boxes, bottles and bags are tied and balanced around the rider. Sometimes, a second rider holds upright a long and fragile looking piece of glass whilst the driver whisks their way around the traffic. Other times, a single rider moves carefully with a long horizontal piece of wood or piping.

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Goods will not always be static either. Baskets and cages hold all manner or animals from ducks, chickens, dogs and pigs (full grown) all crammed in. It's not surprising when there are accidents, and we did come across a few on the road. In this accident, a pig is still in the basket whilst the driver is nowhere to be seen. Who knows how long it was stuck there for..

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To the western visitor, the loaded bikes of Vietnam and the chaotic throng of the roads will probably always intrigue. Certainly in cases of record-breaking amounts of cargo tied to the bikes of brave (or indifferent) riders. Tourist postcards everywhere seem to feature shots of these guys.

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This entry posted in : Culture. Vietnam.

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