Having your own vehicle means greater flexibility — not worrying about getting up early to catch the plane, no waiting in long queues at the bus station, no overcrowded train carriages, just the freedom to move wherever, whenever.
Yet before renting a car and starting to drive in Vietnam, you may be wondering about the road and traffic conditions in the country. After all, Southeast Asia has a reputation for chaotic streets and confusing unwritten traffic rules.
If you’ve already taken care of your plane tickets and Vietnam visa, this article will give you useful information to plan your Vietnamese journey on wheels.
Traffic in Vietnam
Road traffic in Vietnam is indeed likely to be more intense and chaotic than what you’re used to.
Traffic accidents occur frequently and fatal injuries are a daily occurrence in the country. As many as 30 people die on Vietnamese roads each day, so drivers and pedestrians alike are advised to take extra care and precaution.
It’s not rare to see bikes and motorcycles (which make up a great portion of the Vietnamese traffic) drive illegally against the flow of traffic, and drivers often skip red lights. In general, you should assume that traffic rules are followed with more flexibility here than you’re used to.
Road Conditions in Vietnam
As a rule of thumb, you can expect major highways to be paved and well looked after while in remote areas, non-surfaced roads can be the norm. Typhoons and seasonal flooding can create issues like potholes and mud.
If you’re planning to drive during the wet season outside the main cities and towns, you may want to consider renting a 4WD vehicle.
Sidewalks can be uneven and congested so pedestrians should exercise great care, especially at night. Since traffic lights can be rare when compared with those in Europe and North America, foreigners find it hard to feel safe crossing the street. Vietnamese drivers (and especially, scooter drivers) rarely slow down but have learned to avoid pedestrians at the last moment. If you feel unsure, try to follow the lead of local pedestrians or even ask for help crossing.
Road Rules in Vietnam
Vietnamese drive on the right-hand side of the road but it’s not unusual to cross to the left to pass or turn. Speed limits are increasingly being enforced by police especially in urban areas, where you shouldn’t exceed 50 km/h.
Honking is part of the local driving culture and the unwritten Vietnam traffic rules and is often done to warn pedestrians and bicycles of one’s approach.
Helmets are mandatory when riding a motorbike. Officially, motorbikes can carry a maximum of 2 people but you’ll see up to 5 passengers and even luggage.
You are also required by the Vietnamese traffic law to wear a seatbelt at all times while traveling by car — even in the backseat.
As in most countries around the world, the legal age to drive in Vietnam is 18. However, teenagers can start riding motorbikes under 50 cc when they turn 16.
Emergency Services in Vietnam
Should you find yourself in an emergency and in urgent need of help, you can use the international emergency numbers: dial 113 for police, 114 for the fire brigades, and 115 for an ambulance.
Hiring a Car or Motorbike in Vietnam
In order to drive in Vietnam lawfully, foreigners will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and insurance for the vehicle.
Hiring a car in urban areas is extremely difficult while cars with drivers are available all over the country and are reasonably affordable, depending on the number of people sharing the price.
Hiring fees per day vary from $ 80 to $ 135. 4WD options are more expensive but a necessary expense in certain areas.
You can hire a motorbike anywhere in town including travel agencies, cafes, and hotels. Prices go from $ 5 per day for a moped to more than $ 20 for trail and road bikes.