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Driving in Vietnam?

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Living in Vietnam, from France

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Vietnam at a Glance

Driving in Vietnam

Expats with experience in driving in Vietnam all paint a similar picture: It is a rather risky and nerve-wracking experience. However, if you have no other alternative than driving, better go prepared. Our expat guide offers comprehensive info on driving styles, traffic rules, and roadways.

Vietnam is a breathtaking country with loads to offer its visitors and inhabitants. It will probably not take you long to adjust to the balanced life of a Vietnamese resident. However, if you are planning on driving in Vietnam, you should be aware of several local driving habits, which may perhaps seem a bit erratic.

Road Safety in Vietnam

Motorcycles and bicycles are the preferred means of transportation in Vietnam, accounting for about 95% of all registered vehicles. Some expatriates might be a bit surprised or even intimidated by the seeming lack of rules in using them. Those who drive cars tend to adapt their motorcycle driving skills and interpretation of traffic rules and apply them to their car. This means that driving in Vietnam is often an incredibly chaotic affair, and accidents happen quite frequently. So frequently in fact, that Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest car accident death rates in the world, close behind India and China. It is said that the local driving style in Vietnam claims at least 30 lives per day. Most accidents are caused by car drivers and often result in lethal head injuries for cyclists or motorcyclists.

Although, in this case, it may seem that using a car in Vietnam is safer than being on the receiving end of an accident, it can also be quite frustrating. It can take vehicles ages to get through the traffic congestion in cities, which can take the speed of driving in Vietnam down to the level of wading through molasses.

Alternatives to Driving in Vietnam

Driving has seen a sharp increase in popularity in Vietnam over the past few years, with an annual growth of 8-12% of cars and motorcycles on Vietnamese roads. This has, of course, further exacerbated the high rate of mortality among those driving in Vietnam.

There are quite a few reasons why it may be more intelligent to scrap the idea of driving a car in Vietnam completely and learn how to rely on the bus schedule. Alternatively, you could learn to ride a motorbike so as to be able to maneuver around the heavily clogged streets. Either way, it cannot be stressed enough that you need to take extreme caution when driving in Vietnam, no matter the vehicle. Many expats even advise hiring a driver along with a car in order to avoid operating in the dangerous traffic yourself.

Road Infrastructure in Vietnam

The country has over 180,000 kilometers of roadways, most of which are in rather poor shape. This makes driving here even more risky than it is already made through the driving style prevalent among the locals. The state of the roads varies by region: in the north many roads are inaccessible during the rainy season, as they usually collapse or overflow. Highways are especially prevalent in southern Vietnam and traffic moves relatively swiftly. You should not have a problem getting to your destination.

The highway system has only recently begun to be used more frequently and on a regular basis. Several toll booths have been installed over the past few years, on roads such as the Ho Chi Minh City-Trung Luong Expressway. Locals tend to avoid these roads if possible. The revenue from the toll roads is used to improve the generally poor condition of Vietnamese roads.

When driving through Vietnam’s rural countryside, you should be aware that sharing the road with bicycles, farm animals, and machinery is not uncommon.


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