Here are a few subtle differences we have noticed after a few weeks in Vietnam.
A very cute boy on the ferry lucky enough to have a helmet. He kept it on for the duration of the 90 minute ferry crossing.
Vietnam is country number 10 on this trip and has definitely been one of the more interesting countries to travel in. Regardless of your chosen method, there will be some form of entertainment.
First things first, you must completely lower all expectations and focus in achieving your end goal, the destination, and being prepared to just go with the flow with everything in between.
Motorbikes, and Mopeds
These fill the gaps where public transport fails and taxis cost too much. Literally every spare inch will be taken up by a bike. All streets flow like a river of scooters, with cars almost appearing like infrequent boats on the water. I challenge you to go 30 seconds without seeing a moped.
Rules of the road are the largest vehicle wins, the rest weave amongst each other in an insane manner which somehow seems to work. The moped is a family vehicle: as soon as a child can hold itself up with minimal support it is old enough to ride pillion or between the legs of the driver. You will regularly see a family of 4 on a bike or 3 adults.
Helmets are a legal requirement and I would say 95% of adults do wear them. Their child passengers rarely do. I mentioned toddlers, but obviously a newborn can ride in the armns of a pillion or the sling of a driver and they don't seem to do helmets small enough.
Helmets look more for fashion with shops selling every pattern possible for not much more than £3.50. I think our push bike helmets in the UK are more substantial, but at least these come with a gap at the back for your ponytail.
Horn use is pretty constant, whenever you want someone just to know you are there. There is often no need for you to react in anyway to their toots, as I said, it is literally just to let you know there's a moped nearby, in case you had somehow managed to forget.
Taxi bikes come in the form of xe om and are available everywhere. Should you need one, just stand still near a group of bikes for a few seconds and someone will offer. Not sure how you actually identify them or if it is just anyone with a spare 5 minutes or a helmet.
Loads we would struggle to transport in the UK are no problem here. Everything will go on the back of a bike from pigs and chickens for market, half a tree from your back garden, 3 large gas canisters, furniture, stacks of chairs, large box TVs or even your fridge freezer. I look forward to seeing a baby in a child seat tied onto the back. And then there is another whole range of bikes which have various different types of stall on the back, often complete with barbecue.
Bearing in mind they drive on the right, if it's more convenient for you to ride on the left, then that is fine. If you plan to turn left, 50-100 metres before you need to, start cutting across the traffic and finish your trip on the wrong side. Similar applies to turning left onto a main road, just pull out immediately and cut across to the correct side whenever convenient.
You rarely see a car which isn't a taxi. Occasionally you'll see some nice looking chauffeur cars and the other day we even saw a Rolls Royce. Considering the complete lack of lane discipline on Vietnamese roads, the cars are seldom dented and I doubt they would bother getting minor cosmetic damage repaired.
Buses and minibuses
A local bus might mean a bus we are used to seeing around our towns, for which generally tourists will pay the same as everyone else. The other kind of local bus is a minibus, which when it runs out of seats, will put stools out along the edge, allowing for an extra 4 or 5 people to sit. You need to work out the price for this yourself and bargain hard.
These will toot and stop at pretty much anyone waiting at the side of the road calling out the destination. A lot of the people who do board the bus look like they had no intention of going to that place until it was suggested to them two seconds before.
You can get long distance seated coaches, which again, when all seats are taken, you can put stools out in the aisle. On one bus there was even a deck chair for our guide!
These do long distance journeys and are incredibly uncomfortable. You have a lot more space, but the bed seat is rock solid and too short. These seem popular with the locals, even if they suffer with motion sickness. The roads are so bumpy in Vietnam, you will not get a good night's sleep as you will be constantly bouncing up and down off of the seat.
These tend to be a rarity as what can you not fit on the back of a moped? If necessary there's always the option of hitching a cart to the bike either by the passenger holding on to it or putting the cart bars over your head and around your waist. If you've got a bit more than that, you can use a tuk tuk truck and load that as high as you like/can.
Push bikes look like a good way of introducing Vietnamese children to the rules of the road. These are often motorised, or you can hold on to your friend's scooter through various different methods should you wish to go a little faster. Either hold hands or the moped rider if there is no passenger, can hook one foot in your bike by the wheel. Other than for children, who often ride electric bikes, they struggle to see the point in a bike when you could take a moped.
For obvious reasons, these feature last as walking is the last resort and you are last in the traffic hierarchy. Be a pedestrian at your peril. Green man on one of the rare pedestrian crossings does not mean it's safe for you to go, but more likely that half the traffic has stopped, if you're lucky, but mopeds can go on red lights. If you want to cross any other stretch of road, you just step out and keep walking slowly, hoping you'll make it to the other side. Mopeds will generally swerve at the last second, cars are pretty good at slowing, buses will not stop.
If you are going somewhere on foot, anything over 500 metres will be described as very far. If you try to walk a kilometre, they will think you're crazy, even those who are not directly offering you an alternative and just merely wish to comment.
Furthermore, pavements are for parking scooters, therefore you must take your life into your own hands and join the traffic in the road should you be crazy enough to walk anywhere.
If there is a nice stretch of clear pavement, don't expect it to remain that way if there is any traffic; you will have a moped zip up the pavement in either or both directions in order to beat the traffic.
If like us you decide Vietnamese road travel is not for you, you'll be pleased to hear all major routes are served by two low cost airlines, where tickets for a 12 hour journey by road is just £25, even if you only book a couple of days in advance; however even this is not without its entertainment.
To check in for your flight, you will have to wait your turn, which means, as a foreigner you will need to wait for either the stream of Vietnamese who push past any queue, ID in hand ready to be next, to run out, or for one of them to decide you may go. Once you manage that, they will literally be pressed up against you in a semicircle around you, ID in hand ready to be next. They won't let you back out once you have checked in. They're worse than the French for queuing, but use similar techniques to the Germans, by starting a new queue at the front.
Next, you might like to take a seat to finish any drinks before security. I put my bag on my seat to get my drink out. While doing this, a family came over and sat down next to me. As I went to pick my bag up and turn round to sit down, the man begins tapping my seat to signal for his wife to sit. I almost sat on his hand and was ready for his wife to end up on my lap but fortunately she didn't and I was allowed my seat.
Next stop, security. They queue here, behind the red line in a fairly civilised manner. There will always be one though that doesn't get the red line, steps over it only to be sent back, therefore backing into the Vietnamese following behind, which was highly amusing to us!
Finally, the Vietnamese assign seats, which is pretty fortunate as even that is incredibly difficult for them to find and sit in the correct seat, it would be absolute mayhem if it were free choice.
Now you're ready to travel Vietnamese stylee.....should you dare!