Over 10 years ago Top Gear broadcast their travels across Vietnam and the amazing beauty and thrill of doing this by motorbike. Watching their journey along with millions around the world a dream formed in me to experience this myself one day. Like most, though, I never actually imaged I would achieve that dream.
First impressions of Vietnamese traffic are fear and confusion. You see tourists standing for several minutes at the roadside, hoping that a break in the constant stream of two wheeled vehicles will occur to let them cross. A symphony of horns join with the whine of hundreds of 50cc mopeds as riders criss-cross through junctions ignoring red lights, one way signs and any other impediment to their intended direction of travel.
It doesn’t help when you learn that road crashes in Vietnam are responsible for nearly 1 death per hour, with over 8,200 deaths in 2018. For comparison in Great Britain in 2018 there were only 1,782 fatalities, despite faster roads and only a third less population.
It is funny though how quickly you adjust to local conditions. After only a couple of days of dodging beeping bikes and the sirens of buses and trucks (they have siren like warnings when indicators are on to help avoid collisions with the swarms of motorcyclists that scramble around them) I began to feel at home on the streets of Hanoi.
Appreciating the fact that traffic laws in Vietnam are like the Pirate’s Code I felt confident enough that I considered again living the Top Gear dream.
I spent some time researching various companies and finally settled on Style Motorbikes. I liked the fact that they had shops across the country so if you got into difficulty en route assistance would be a little bit closer, as well as the fact they have a 24 hour WhatsApp helpline. Thanks to Vietnam’s awesome mobile phone coverage this meant assistance was always a phone call away. They also had some brilliant reviews which reassured me.
Unlike the Top Gear guys who had an entire support crew of 30+ people I would be on my own and this connection to a helpline that could offer assistance in Vietnamese and English was really appreciated.
I went to the Style Bikes shop in Hanoi intending to just look around and without even taking my name I was being given the opportunity to test drive my bike of choice. A beautiful red Honda CB 150.
It had been a few years since I last rode a bike and it showed when I stalled twice going round the block! Never one to be put off by minor set backs though I felt happy with the bike itself and before I could stop and properly think about the risk I was taking I found myself putting down a deposit for the next day.
The staff were incredibly helpful, providing a map and guidance on which routes to take, where to sleep and where to avoid. In particular I was warned about the police I may meet on the trip, as there is a small issue when renting a bike in Vietnam, especially for those from the UK and other European countries…Continue reading