It’s been a while since Zach and I taught in Vietnam, and we still miss it. When I tell people that I used to live and work in Vietnam, we tend to get some of the same questions:

  1. Is it safe to eat the street food? We found it easier to tell if street food will get you sick than at a restaurant, because you can see into their kitchen. When in doubt, just go elsewhere.
  2. Are bánh mì and phở just as good as they are in the US? This is a hard one. The seasoning and flavors of both are amazing in Vietnam, but the quality of meat is often better in the U.S.
  3. Why is my Vietnamese coffee so good? Cà phê sua đá (Vietnamese iced coffee) is so good because they pour in delicious, though maybe not-so-healthy, sweetened condensed milk.

But we found when we first arrived (and had to cross the street for the first time) that all of the questions that we had about life in Vietnam were secondary in comparison to the greatest conundrum that Saigon presents all of her expat teachers: Should you get yourself a motorbike?

Take a look at the video I put together about this topic. All of the clips were taken by me sitting on the back of the motorbike while Zach safely drove us around Ho Chi Minh City. We also put in a few shots of the apartment building we lived in and the outside of our school for nostalgic reasons.

So, back to the question: Should you get a motorbike while teaching in Vietnam?

If you can ride a bicycle and drive a car, then absolutely! Motorbiking is the easiest and best way to get around Vietnam, and it gives you the freedom of movement that you just aren’t afforded by only using taxis.

However… it can be dangerous. Here are a few things to take note of before you hop on your scooter and start zooming around Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi:

  • The key to riding a motorbike in Vietnam is to understand the flow of traffic and the way that people signal what they’re about to do, which is quite a bit different than what US drivers are used to. Taking some time to observe traffic as a pedestrian and as a passenger in a taxi can go a long way to helping you understand how Vietnamese traffic works.
  • Contrary to what most people think, motorbiking gets more dangerous once you leave the cities, when you find yourself driving on highways close to trucks or large cars that aren’t able to see you. More trucks + fewer motorbikes = more big fish than little fish.
  • Helmets in Vietnam are required wearing, but the quality of the helmets sold tends to be shotty. Invest in a new motorcycle-style helmet, ideally with a wrap-around chin protector.
  • Finally, if the video makes you feel like you’ll never be driving a motorbike in Vietnam anytime soon, don’t worry. We took three or four months to warm up to the idea. Taxis and buses are cheap and reliable, so you’ll never be short on options.

– Stephanie Groshell

Twitter: @SGroshell

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