When driving in a foreign country it is a good idea to know and obey the local laws. I have therefore put together this short guide to aid you and avoid legal troubles.
Drive on the right – Unless you don’t want to, in which case you can drive wherever you want, in whichever direction you choose
Stop at red traffic lights – You can turn right on red lights outside the city. You can also turn right on red in the city if no police officers nearby. You can also go straight on or turn left if you want to as well
No overtaking – On the main roads out of cities you may see a solid white or yellow line in the middle of the road, and sometimes a no overtaking sign too. Of course if someone is going slower than you this doesn’t count and you are, of course, free to overtake.
Incidentally one of my favourite memories from riding Vietnam’s roads is approaching a blind bend, with a no overtaking line, to find a lorry coming the other way. That lorry was being overtaken by another lorry. So far not ideal but nothing unexpected in Vietnam. What was surprising was the car overtaking that lorry using the last few millimetres of available road space!
Maximum 2 people per motorbike – Yes you may see whole families of mum, dad, brother and sister on one bike but apparently that’s not legal (see helmet law). You may also see passengers carrying everything from a bird cage (with bird) to an air conditioning unit, this is perfectly safe.
Wear a helmet on a motorbike – It is against the law to not wear a helmet when riding a motorbike in Vietnam. Unless you’re a local in which case it seems they have specially adapted titanium skulls and require no such protection
Cows, dogs, chickens etc have right of way – I’m not sure if it’s actually the law but I do know in a bike vs animal encounter you’re likely to come off just as bad, if not worse, than they are!
Horn Usage – In Vietnam the Horn is sacred. It is to be revered, loved and enjoyed. Honk to let people know you’re there; honk to let people know you’re going through a red light and honk to tell the people going through a red light that you’re going through the corresponding green; honk to say you’re overtaking and honk to tell the person overtaking you’re there, honk just because you haven’t in a while. In short learn to be one with the blaring symphony of the roads.
And yet despite all the craziness above it just seems to work. People don’t get angry and I’ve only witnessed one crash, and that was between 2 motorcyclists trying to overtake each other.
People drive slowly, in general if you’re overtaken by a bike it’s probably a foreigner, give way to each other, rarely use the horn in anger and are more than happy to stop even with right of way. It’s almost inspiring.