Motorbike enthusiast, Faizal Zulkarnian, has been making monthly trips to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Hue, Vietnam, for business purposes since April 2016. By the time he set foot there for the seventh time, his urge as a rider couldn’t be controlled anymore.
“The traffic condition is bad! Getting to meetings on time by car is a major problem. My main motivation to ride was to save on travelling time. I also realised that if I immersed myself in the riding culture there, I could get myself an experience of a lifetime
," says Faizal.
But it wasn’t easy for him to just jump on a bike and ride. The first time the 31-year-old entrepreneur stepped foot in Vietnam
, he was taken aback by the massive number of motorcycles weaving through traffic. This is a place where motorcycles outnumber the population.
It is a very different world from Singapore and even Malaysia.
It was only on his latest visit there in November, did he pick up enough courage to give the Vietnamese riding culture a go. He managed to borrow motorbikes from his business partner - an SYM Attila Victoria in HCMC and Piaggio Vespa Primavera in Hue.
Faizal’s experience in riding a Gilera VXR 200 back in Singapore helped him to quickly adapt to the motorbikes he was riding on. “The only challenge was adapting to the traffic conditions and knowing how to anticipate vehicles coming from different directions at the same time
,” he says.
What amazed Faizal most was the uncanny telepathy that all the riders there seem to have
. Despite the apparent chaos, he did not see a single accident during his time there. “Everyone horns to inform others of the blind spots. Yet, I did not witness any shouting or fingers being pointed. The riders seem to communicate with one another without any words being spoken. It’s amazing.”
One of the biggest challenges in adapting to Vietnamese roads is the left-hand drive system
that they use. “I have to remind myself to keep to the right, and not left like in Singapore so that faster vehicles can overtake me. There were a few times when I forgot and ended up in the left lane meant for cars. I got horned on, yet, unlike in Singapore, the drivers don’t give you a nasty stare. Life goes on for these people,” says Faizal. “In HCMC, it is a must to plan at least an hour into your commute just so that you can arrive on time. A short 4 km ride can take you an hour during the peak hours”.
“The most complicated part of riding on their roads is navigating a four-way intersection
. Cars and motorbikes would be moving in different directions at the same time. You just have to trust your own skills and trust that other riders will give way as you cut across three lanes with three different traffic flows. There is no time for hesitation. Motorists around you cannot anticipate where you are going so they weave around you. This is even scarier!” He feared for his life in the beginning. Then he got used to it and even deftly rode on pavements to cut the traffic jam just like the locals. Riding in Hue was a little easier, given that it is a quieter city.
If you are heading to Vietnam, here’s what Faizal has to say about riding on their roads. “You will save time and money. It is convenient compared to using Uber and Grab cars. But you have to trust other riders’ skills in avoiding you. So there is always that safety issue. You also need to get accustomed to the local road sense quickly. Learn to anticipate the actions of other vehicles. They could be coming from any direction. You must be on the alert the whole time. The most important point is to trust yourself and make quick decisions. Only hesitations can cause accidents there”.
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