Believe it or Not: Laws of the Road

By: City Pass Guide

It’s not difficult to recognise the anarchy of Vietnam’s road system - it pretty much slaps you in the face as soon as you walk outside! What is an issue is recognising the rules in all this chaos. What regulations should we all know and follow when riding the roads? Apart from the general rule of “don’t do anything unexpected”, there are quite a few laws and formalities that, believe it or not, are applied and enforced every day.

1. Crossing the street

According to Article 32 of the Vietnamese Law on Road Traffic, pedestrians may cross the road at a traffic light, a specific road marking, or otherwise when it is “safe” to cross. You can’t walk over a median strip, and if you are a child under seven you can only cross traffic if you’re with an adult. It’s also interesting to note that if you are walking your dog you are obliged, by law, to be careful with it and to watch it closely when crossing the street. Also by law, as a pedestrian you have every right to move from one side of a street to another, albeit as last in the traffic hierarchy, but you must never ever “cling to a moving vehicle” or deliberately walk in front of one. As if you would ever want to...

2. You can stop in the middle of the road

According to Article 18 of Vietnam’s Law on Road Traffic, you can be stationary in a road for the time needed to unload or load your vehicle, or “do other things”. Lovely and vague, this law tends to be interpreted as “stop whenever you like, with little warning, and move on whenever you fancy”.

Officially, drivers are obliged to signal when stopping and to stop in an appropriate place. You cannot leave your vehicle unless you’re sure you’re not being dangerous or inconvenient, and you can’t open the door of your vehicle unless you are sure you won’t hit someone. You can’t park or stand your vehicle on a road bend, the crest of a slope, where there is no space, under a bridge, on pedestrian crossings or inside intersections… but in reality? The only real rule is to accept the consequences of whatever you choose to do.

3. No riding tandem

You can’t hang onto another vehicle. Actually I see this quite a lot - someone has run out of petrol and a friendly uncle comes along, sticks his foot on their exhaust and propels them to the nearest petrol station. Nice, right? Well yes but also illegal.

It is also illegal to ride your motorbike right next to your friend and shout to each other as you drive abreast, to ride in those bits of the road that are not for your vehicle (ahem taxi drivers who drive in the motorbike lanes), using an umbrella whilst driving, driving with no hands or standing on your vehicle whilst it moves. I guess this last one is not exclusive to motorbikes - I wouldn’t advise clinging to a car or standing on top of your truck either.

4. You can’t carry your entire extended family

We’ve all seen those impossible piles of people riding the roads on a flimsy two-wheel disaster, and as you would expect this is illegal. According to Article 30 of Vietnam’s Law on Road Traffic, only one passenger is allowed behind the driver of a motorbike, unless a second is required because they are sick, have just done something very wrong and are being escorted to the police or are under 14 years old.

5. Honk Before Overtaking

Though the roads here look like chaos, there is in fact a lot of organisation involved according to Article 12 of the Law on Road Traffic. In small, densely populated areas the expected speed is 20-30km/hr, while the limit for other roads is 40km/hr and on the highway you can let loose to a daunting 60km/hr. In reality, I am yet to see anyone driving at any kind of limit and have begun to very much enjoy the concept of driving as fast as you can in the given space. The speed limit seems unofficially set by the number and nature of the vehicles in front of you.

Road etiquette is also officially set here, and in this case is followed by most drivers with pleasure: overtaking is only to be done after the honk of a horn and a light signal. You cannot, although evidence suggests the opposite, randomly change direction and expect the entire road to react in time. You cannot make a U-turn unless a sign permits it, you can’t drive the wrong way on a road and you must signal and be very obvious if you want to reverse.

6. Traffic Fines

If you do something wrong on Vietnam’s roads, then you may find yourself landed with a nasty fine. The list below is set by the government - although many of the fines we’ve seen administered are not so official.


Getting the right taxis in Saigon by avoiding scams

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Back of the Bike Tours


Saigon’s Upcoming New Old Airport

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport has been the bugbear of many travellers over the years—from frequent flooding due to its trash laden drainage system to announcements by foreign airlines that the number of flights to and from the airport would be cut, as in the case of Etihad Airways that now only operates four flights a week instead of the previous seven.

So Near, Yet So Far

Although it’s one of the only cities in the world where its international airport is barely a half-hour ride away from the city centre, the situation at Saigon’s airport has been much talked about mainly due to its overcrowding and frequent flight delays.

Originally built for a capacity of 25 million passengers a year, the airport is currently serving 36 million passengers and although announcements were made regarding the brand-new Long Thanh international airport in Dong Nai Province almost two years ago, there haven’t been any feasibility studies conducted and no guarantees that the airport will actually be ready by 2025.

Airport VNImage source: saigonnews.vn

A Necessary Expansion

In the meantime, Vietnam’s government has tasked the Transport Ministry to execute a proposal set forth by French consulting firm ADPi, a subsidiary of Aeroports de Paris Group. The firm, responsible for the airports in Beijing, Seoul and Dubai, has proposed a plan to expand the present airport by building a new 20-hectare terminal that will be able to serve an additional 20 million passengers a year by the year 2025.

This new terminal will be built to the south of the current airport facilities, and the expansion will also include new structures to support a cargo terminal and maintenance facilities to the north of the airport where the much-talked about golf course is currently located.

This expansion is expected to cost VND30 trillion (USD1.3 billion), excluding costs that will be required for site clearances.

Saigon is expected to receive 60-70 million passengers a year by the year 2025. However, as things currently stand, a little patience will be required from travellers flying in or out of the city.

Banner Image source: daihocsi


Vietnamese Road Signs

By: City Pass Guide

Getting Lost in Saigon

Finding your way around HCMC is challenging for anyone who drives. Unfortunately, I have not yet installed a GPS in my car. Coming from France, which probably has the best signage system in the world, I never needed it there, or elsewhere for that matter.

Photo by: Anthony Tong Lee

Too often in HCMC, I found myself looking around for any signs to point me to a direction. Often left without solutions, I end up asking a local. Now, would he be able to understand my broken Vietnamese? Most likely not. Can I trust his directions? Probably not. Finding your way while driving in an unknown territory is and remains a dilemma

I often found myself dreaming about the business potentials that exist for directional signage in HCMC. They must be huge, as so much has to be done. In the mix of crazy traffic and insane number of intersections, streets and hems, it is not possible for unfamiliar individuals to know where to go. And if you do not believe me, try going from Conic 5B in Binh Chanh to Duong so 9, Phuong 9 in Go Vap and see for yourself!

Vietnamese Road Signs

In most countries I know, road signage is there to indicate where we can and cannot go. In Vietnam, it may serve this purpose, from time to time, but it also serves to confuse us or to justify the fines we pay.

Photo by: garycycles8

Too often I get pulled over while driving in HCMC. Not because I did not wear my seatbelt, or because I did not turn my lights on, but simply for the reason that I could not read the “signs”. And this has come at a hefty price. In France, in most cases I would hire a lawyer and challenge the police because the road signage is non-existent, inefficient, misleading or misplaced. Here in Vietnam, I pay the fine.

I spotted signage that said you could not go left, right or straight. Where then? I saw green traffic lights that tell you to turn left, when you cannot turn left. I discovered speed signage hidden behind trees and leaves. To be objective, let's recognise my own responsibility too, as I did not pass the Vietnamese driving license test, which may have given me a clearer view of how such signage systems work!


Are You Insane Enough to Drive in Saigon?

By: City Pass Guide

Driving in Saigon requires a high level of skill, yes, but even more than that it requires daring. Bravery. Heck, insanity! Driving a motorbike on the dusty, dense, wild streets of this city is an activity that I would never recommend anyone unless they were stark raving mad, because to join chaos you’ve got to be chaotic. There’s a pulse to the rush of the roads here, and the key to survival is to beat along with it. So what is that beat and how do you play it? Are you insane enough to drive in Saigon? Well that all depends on whether you meet these 12 criteria…

driving in Saigon / HCMC


Never drive at a consistent speed

Even if you happen to find the rare patches of un-mottled tarmac that spatter a few roads in this city, you will never drive smoothly in Saigon. This is partly because the roads are like a pimpled teenager, but actually the drivers themselves are far more to blame for that famous stop-start of Saigon traffic!

I don’t know why, but I have never found a driver here who was capable of going in one direction at a fairly constant speed. And because of that, the roads are more like arteries than channels for vehicles. The buzzing mopeds pulse down them like liquid in veins, ebbing and flowing together in a never ending circus of not really knowing what’s going on. At the end of the day it is never point and shoot here - you’ve got to know the beat.


Don’t waste your cash on insurance

Insurance is silly, because...well to be honest I don’t know why and the reality is that no one does, but still everyone I’ve ever spoken to who drives here has told me I’m an idiot for even thinking about insurance. Perhaps the best justification is the wonderfully simple one of “they are insane”, which is why they’re driving here in the first place.


Drive very fast down every alleyway

If there is an alleyway then drive down it. If possible remove your helmet first, and when entering the narrow space ignore all instincts of self-preservation and step hard on that accelerator.


Always chat to someone on the other side of the road while driving

Do not drive with friends without previously establishing a topic of conversation for the drive, and setting yourselves up so that you take up the entire road and have to shout and hoot to be heard. Then drive like a frog, leaping forward with sudden bursts of speed before slowing to wait for your chums, and sway drunkenly so that no-one really knows where you’re going. If possible do this at night, with at least 3 people per motorbike, and pick the busiest possible roads.


Do not wait for traffic lights

Do whatever it takes to avoid waiting for that green light, and if you have to sit and wait make sure you speed off at least four seconds before it finally turns green again. That’s what the countdown is for, right? If you find yourself behind a huge chunk of waiting traffic, simply turn the left hand lane into a proxy-right lane and skip to the front of the queue.


Never EVER qualify for a driving license

Now this is a big no-no. If you are serious about being insane enough to fit in with the majority of drivers on these roads you will not, under any circumstances, invest in a driving license. Those horrible certificates add a level of legitimacy to your situation that no self-respecting lunatic would ever aspire to, and neither shall you.

Most foreigners who come to live in Vietnam either have an invalid license or just don’t have one at all, and to then get one is often considered a waste of time. Not sure what I think since I ride a bicycle (yes, perhaps the most insane choice of them all), but it seems to work for many. Just make sure you can at least turn the thing on before you rev your motor and join the fray.


If it’s clean, fully functional and relatively normal looking, then don’t touch it

Have you ever just stood next to a road in Saigon and tried to count the number of logical looking vehicles that fly past? Ok, so clearly there are some... and the richer you are the more likely you are to be driving something nice, but a lot of the vehicles on Saigon’s roads just make no sense. There is an absolutely fantastic array of miscellaneous moving things peppering this city, from large motorized wheelbarrows to blackened, skeleton-like beasts that might once have been mopeds.

Though this is not really a criteria for joining the Saigon traffic world, if you lack in other requirements and want to make up for it, then driving a bike that looks like something from the dark ages is an excellent way to do so. Ten points if it sounds like a wheezing duck, another five if it has no clear colour and a nice, sparkly 50 if it drops bits as you drive.


Always pile four people onto your motorbike, and then add a baby

Have you ever tried to find out how many people you could fit into your car? Neither have I, which is why I would recommend this excellent exercise of trying to find out how many people you can fit on your motorbike. If you haven’t done one then you might as well do the other, and just like in number six you get extra crazy points for every extra limb you can manage to stuff on.


When drunk, drive anyway

There will be no late night taxi drives, no no...why pay that man to drive you home, when you could be a solo super bee flying home on wings of tequila? Better yet, fly home in a pack. Get your friends together, pile other miscellaneous humans on the back of all available motorbikes, and set off on a night-time thrill ride which may or may not end up in the hospital. Everyone else does it...


Never wear closed shoes and helmets are silly

This extends to clothing too - on no account should you ever wear anything that even vaguely protects your body when driving a moped. Flip-flops are the best motorists’ footwear, and those cheap tacky helmets made of the same packaging your fish came in are ideal for your head. The only appropriate consideration to make when choosing your attire for riding a moped is how much darker will I become if I wear this under the sun, so definitely get yourself a pair of those disgusting salmon coloured socks that everyone covers their feet with. But boots? Pushing it.


Do not be tempted to use your indicator

No indicating please, and in fact no logic at all. There is never any reason to make sense on Saigon’s roads, simply because no one else ever makes sense so the safest policy to have is to assimilate into complete irrationality. Indicating is only permittable if you do it at the absolute last minute, and combine it with a dangerous swerve, rapid acceleration and if possible an illegal run of a red light.


Invest in a large fluffy dog

If you own a large fluffy dog make sure you take it with you everywhere you drive, and if you don’t own one then a particularly still cat will do, or a box of confounded chickens. The idea is that you place this carefully selected animal in the area beside your feet, or drape them over the handlebars, and allow them to loll out their tongues, staring nonchalantly at anyone who drives past and is understandably amused.


So there you have it! Twelve criteria by which you can judge how you will get around in this city. Will you join the rhythmic network of Saigon’s streets? Will you attempt to drive in this city? Are you insane enough to be successful?


How to get a driving license in Vietnam

By: City Pass Guide

If you do not hold a driver’s license of any kind, you have to pass both theory and driving tests. The theory test is in Vietnamese and you are not allowed to have an interpreter or translator.

To register for this case, you must:

  • Be a Vietnamese residents or a foreigner who is allowed to reside, work or study in Vietnam.
  • Be at least 18 years of age.

Documents required:

  • A completed application form to register at the driving examination.
  • A photocopy of your permanent residence card or valid passport.
  • Health certificate provided by jurisdictional health department.

After taking the examination you will be granted your driver’s license within 10v workings days.

If you hold an international or national driver’s license, you can obtain a similar Vietnamese driver’s license by satisfying the following requirements:

  • You have to reside in Vietnam and have at least a three month Vietnam visa.

Documents required:

  • A complete application form to change the driver’s license
  • A notarized translation of your driver’s license
  • A photocopy of your driver’s license
  • A photocopy of your passport (the page with your picture, personal details and other valid information)
  • A photocopy of a valid visa or permanent residence card.

Deadline for changing driver’s license is five working days after receiving the following documents:

  • A notarized translation of your driver’s license
  • A photocopy of your driver’s license
  • A photocopy of your passport (the page with your picture, personal details and other valid information)
  • A photocopy of a valid visa or permanent residence card.

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