Southeast Asia traffic – navigating the choas and madness

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Navigating the chaos and madness

You’ve seen the photos and videos of the incredible spectacle that is southeast Asia traffic. You know the ones portraying a gazillion scooters, cars, busses and trucks. They always seem to zip around like angry bees on a mission. If you’re lucky, you’ve even experienced it for yourself.

It’s a modern-day marvel of organised chaos. Watching what seems to be a never-ending flow of motorised energy can be mesmerising. Or a nightmare, depending on who you talk to.

It’s almost like watching the human version of schooling. They all move in unison with minimal guidance from the person next to them. They will simply flow around a stationary object or scatter away from a perceived threat. Then continue on as if nothing happened.

Yet, this phenomenon seems to happen only in Asian countries. Curious.

What is the difference you think?

Knowing we were moving to Vietnam we would often ask this question or get asked this question. We’ve had some interesting discussions but our best one by far was during training last year.

Late last year Leon and I signed up for rider training. It was an intense 3-day advanced motorcycle training course. One that catered to both newbies and experienced riders alike.

Motorcycle training complete

The great debate on why southeast Asia traffic is so chaotic

We posed the question to our group of fellow riders as we thought they would make the perfect audience. Much to our glee, it turned into quite the debate with some new and very interesting points raised.

The newbies perceived the concept as a self-inflicted death wish. While the more experienced riders offered a better theory.

A few experienced riders countered with an interesting bit of insight. They believe Asian drivers aim drive to road conditions, rather than road rules. Sure, they follow road rules to a degree but only if it doesn’t result in contact with another road user.

The newbies would argue that contact is not possible if everybody follows the road rules. Rookie mistake?

We weren’t the only ones who thought this revelation interesting either. So, did the instructor.

The experienced riders then countered with examples of their own. Telling hair raising tales of other road users not obeying road rules and causing all sorts of chaos. They believed had they not taken evasive action it may have led to dire consequences and for some it did.

Having the sense to expect the threat before it becomes physical is a motorcycle rider’s armour to a degree. The thing that keeps them the safest on the road. It’s that ability to read between the lines. The presence of mind to asses if something or someone is going to impact on their course of action.

The outcome?

The experienced riders won. One of them posed a simple question to us all. If everybody stopped following road rules today, how you would ride then?

That was the lightbulb moment for everyone. We could almost hear the gears grinding over in the experienced riders’ corner. They were all calculating how to adjust their riding style to the new conditions.

Some newbies wore looks of sheer horror and panic. The rest of us pondered this new revelation with great interest.

Either way the chaos and madness had a new clarity to it from a riding perspective. Not everybody is going to do what you expect them to do. How you react could save lives. That was the biggest piece of advice we took from the debate.

Why can’t I just hop on a scooter, everybody does it?

Sure, anyone can hop on two wheels and go but not everyone has the natural ability to survive on two wheels. Staying upright is the easy part. Not dying is the hard part.

And don’t get us started on the sheer lack of proper safety equipment we’ve seen to date. But that’s for another time.

This is a personal preference thing. We knew we were going to use scooters and motorbikes (yes there is a difference), on our trip through Vietnam. Our preference was to learn how to operate the equipment required for the task. That choice led to more positive outcomes.

We did a fair bit of research on whether a Vietnamese license would be beneficial or not. For us, it was about having peace of mind while on the road. And we found plenty of reason why it would be good to have one too. I’m looking into exploring this in another blog.

(Encouragement would be awesome – if you’re keen to read more on the subject let me know.)

To get a Vietnamese license, we had the option of conversion or testing. Converting our NZ/AU licenses to Vietnamese licenses turned out to be our best option. Sitting the test would have been a terrible idea since we can’t speak or read the language.

Also, having a proper Vietnamese license was a must for our travel insurance policy.

Then there’s this to think about

And this is where ‘grabbing a scooter ‘cos’ can become a nightmare, especially in places like southeast Asia.

How many stories are there about tourists laid out in foreign hospitals? Posts, asking for Fund Me help with medical bills, legal bills or help getting home after a trauma?

True some are unfortunate and true accidents, but most seem to be the result of poor decisions.

Our aim is not to become one of those statistics if we can help it. That’s why we’ve done all the extras, not as guarantee it won’t happen to us, but to give us a better shot at surviving if it does.

Our advice, don’t lose your sensibility because you’re on holiday. The consequences could last a lifetime and not only for you.

South East Asia Traffic Ho Chi Minh City

Maybe a scooter might not be my best option. How else do I get around?

While we aren’t opposed to taxis, we tend to try and avoid them as much as possible. We’ve read and experienced far too many instances of scams so try to keep them at arm’s length.

Taxis are always the most expensive option too. Not so great for most travelling through southeast Asia as we’re usually on a budget.

The likes of tuk-tuks and rickshaws are novel ways to travel short distances. They can be a bit of fun but again we tend not to use them for long haul or everyday travel. Cambodia would be our one exception here though. The tuk-tuks are a great way to travel, even for some long distances but not all the time.

Our all-time favourite is walking. Sounds boring I know. What most would consider it cumbersome, we see as a different method of exploring.

We find the cool looking alleys by walking down a new street, or the amazing little food stall because we got lost. Here in Vietnam especially since Google maps isn’t a hundred percent accurate lol.

Oh, and the dreaded P-T, public transport. We only have experience with this in Cambodia and Vietnam but we try to avoid it in general. Some may consider it a good option, but we’ll fess up to not having enough patience for that one.

Okay, spit it out!

There are times where our intended destination is a little too far out for foot patrol. Or our adventure has kept us out till the wee hours of the morning, those are the times we Grab it.

Grab is South East Asia’s version of Uber. In fact, Uber recently sold its South East Asia division to Grab. And that makes Grab the only share-ride provider in Vietnam.

Grab ride Da Nang

Why Grab?

Apart from the fact that it’s the only share ride provider here, it’s an affordable option to boot. Let’s face it, southeast Asia is cheap, that’s why we’re all here. It’s a destination where you get more bang for your buck. One of the best features for us is the option to by pay cash instead of credit cards. Those who travel regularly will understand the constant frustration of cards not being accepted in perceived ‘dodgy’ areas or countries. Ugh, just thinking about it give me a headache lol.

Affordability

Grab has a few ride and price options available. Starting with the bike riders all the way through to cars and seven-seaters.

The latter is a great option if you want to head to an attraction or event and you have a group of say 4+. A cheap bus ticket may seem like a better option until you work out the cost between a few of you. If you split it between four to seven people, Grab could be a cheaper option. Not to mention, the no waiting on a bus when you’re hot and tired either.

Visibility

Also, unlike a bus, you can track your driver and see exactly where they are. The app allows you to see where the vehicle is at all times. For the solo travellers out there, this could be useful too. Tracking your movements during the ride means you can see where you are going. If that doesn’t go to plan, then there is the emergency feature of the app or reaching out to someone you trust.

I wish I could elaborate more on that option but we’ve not had the need to use it. If anybody out there can give us a bit more info on it, it would great thanks!

They have discounts!

Another awesome thing about Grab is that we receive new discount codes all the time. The trick here is to actually pay attention to the notifications and emails you get from them. Sure, there is a bit of advertising and yes, it’s in Vietnamese, but easy to translate. Google is kind of your friend?  Ha-ha.

Those little gems will either get you further or save you a bit more dosh. Don’t see that happening with tuk-tuks and rickshaws.

Grab ride Ho Chi Minh City

How do I Grab it?

If you want a quick guide on registering and using Grab see our quick guide, Registering and using Grab Share Ride. If you’re new and want to earn yourself a first ride discount there is one catch. You have to click on the link before you register online or you will miss out.

We’ve also created a vlog on Grab.

Well, that’s out delightful insight into southeast Asia traffic. Again, if you would like to add this, please feel free to leave a comment.

If this is your first visit to our blog, please check out our other, uhm, masterpieces ha-ha!

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post..