For the past few days I’ve had a horrible cold and was left bed-bound in my hotel room. Not particularly fun or productive. However today I felt much better and got to try my second go at learning to ride a scooter in Vietnam. I’ve also managed to eat lots more things.
The type of scooter I’m using is referred to as a “Xe Ga” or “Gas Bike” and it’s basically the fully automatic one where you just crank up the handle for gas when you need it. They are surprisingly heavy but very popular with women and those with children. I’m using it because it’s the easiest, not including electric bikes.
I was actually really surprised by how heavy it was. Obviously I also had my brother sitting on the back, which added weight to it. This wasn’t really a problem until I hit red lights and had to stop, put my foot down on the ground and balance the whole thing while I waited for the lights to turn green. Stopping was a lot harder than I expected, as there are so many other scooters and motorbikes and cars on the road, and everyone’s impatient and wanting to move.
Actually, the hardest part is starting the scooter. I can’t really do it. You have to hold the break down, rev up the handle and press a button, all with one hand at the same time. My hands are fairly small and I just can’t seem to do it. The first time I managed, I revved too much and nearly ran over a man sitting in a leather armchair on the side of the road. He was surprised to say the least.
Once I really got into the swing of things however it became very fun to cruise around the town, sunny weather and breeze in my hair. The scooter never goes very fast and I actually find the sea of honking cool. In England, honking is seen as a pretty big deal, you have to be really angry to honk. In Vietnam, it’s everyone’s way of saying hi to each other, or more accurately “watch out, I’m coming up behind you and I’m gonna overtake you so don’t swerve suddenly”
I’m borrowing a scooter from my family, but if you’re in the old quarter most hotels can arrange for you to rent a scooter or bike. Technically it’s illegal to ride without a license, but it’s so widely don’t I guess they don’t enforce that law. Of course, traffic cops in Vietnam are known to be a little shady and often stop people and ask for bribes. The bribes generally cost around $10 (less for natives) and it’s not as bad as going to jail I guess. I haven’t been stopped yet.