|Residents and tourists alike should do their utmost to follow the rules. Photo courtesy of Alex Reeves
Alex Reeves - @afreeves23
My first article of the new year starts as most of them do, with a hark back to my earliest memories of life in Việt Nam, particularly being absolutely petrified at the prospect of driving around Hà Nội. I arrived with some motor experience under my belt, the majority of which in the increasingly popular four-wheeled option, a car.
Expatriates, gap-year travellers, holidaymakers and locals will have all read with varying degrees of laughter or horror, the concerns of new arrivals - scared at the mere idea of crossing a road. As funny as that might be in the benefit of hindsight, even the most road-hardened biker in town will agree that we must all take as much responsibility for the safety of both ourselves and others everytime we get behind the wheel.
Since those nervous early days I have transitioned through the convenience of a scooter, the reliability of a Honda Dream and into the oily realms of manual motorcycle ownership. Within which is a whole subculture of motorheads, welding their way through and showcasing their mechanical magic to fellow enthusiasts. However, that’s a story for another day.
The point at the heart of this piece is that the current scenario for foreigners entering Việt Nam with a deep desire to sample the natural beauty of this stunning country, is tricky. Licences from abroad and even IDP’s (International Drivers Permits) are not technically enough to ensure one is driving legally. This creates problems relating to the law, safety and insurance.
Drivers are able to convert licences from home to the equivalent here but this can be a prolonged process, often not suitable for a visiting tourist regardless of their experience on the road. Those of us here longer will go through the process of completing a digital, theoretical assessment and a practical one, where we showcase our competency to licensed examiners.
All good, right? You want to drive, you complete the requisite test and away you go! Other than the digital and theoretical examination is entirely in Vietnamese, with no current way to access support or translation during the process. With an increasing number of migrants entering Việt Nam, the vast majority of which with a genuine desire to follow the rules and respect the safety and laws of the nation, this is tricky.
Our readers, being an English language publication will be under no illusions as to the difficulty in learning one another's language, the tonal aspect of Vietnamese and the similarity of some words providing a particular challenge to most.
Việt Nam has been strong in legislating to create a safer, open and evolving environment in recent years, ensuring tighter regulations around those allowed to stay in Việt Nam for longer durations of time. Good governance has improved a number of situations and I have no doubt that in time, this is an area which will be addressed.
Until then, for non-licensed drivers, there will always be a choice to make. Local driving schools are beginning to appear, offering tailored courses to foreigners seeking to learn the language of the road. Until something more streamlined appears, this seems to be the best option and I urge those considering their options to take it. Driving in Việt Nam is not an experience anyone should have to miss out on.
Best wishes to a safe and happy new year, by foot or engine.