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Around The Sun: 3 - Rules Of The Road In Asia

Steve Harrison takes us on another hair-raising journey into the psyche of Vietnamese drivers and motorcycle riders.

Just remember, the aim when negotiating Eastern roads is to increase your heart rate. Thatís good exercise!


There are so many motorcycles flying backwards and forwards on the streets of Vietnam that occasional touches are inevitable. Asians have a different perspective of personal space so brushing against and touching are not near misses. Even if a motorbike is coming at you on the wrong side of the road and clips your mirrors as he dashes past it is not a near miss - and by the way thatís another good reason to get those pesky mirrors pointed inwards, at you, and not out to see traffic behind you.

Mirrors can and often do touch. Foot stands also. Tyres can butt into each other, but none of these are considered near misses.

For a near miss to occur both parties must fall off and then be able under their own steam to get back up again.

Whilst weíre on this subject a lot of incidents happen at night. Strangely enough a lot of Vietnamese people believe that driving without your lights on uses less petrol and the object is after all to get there quickly and use as little petrol as possible. I do not know many streets or roads that are illuminated at night.

It is not unusual to be driving along late at night and have an encounter with an unseen vehicle that seemingly springs to life out the inky blackness of the countryside and then disappears just as magically. One night driving home, just north of my home in Hoi An a guy clipped my mirror at high speed as he came out of a side street, oblivious to any other road user. He was on the wrong side of the road after making the turn way too fast and I recall clearly seeing the whites of his, and his passengerís, alarmed eyes.

Mix all Iíve said with the tendency of Vietnamese males to drink copious amounts of alcohol and you have the potential for road carnage.

Of course after near misses we think of hits. Suffice it to say that in the event of a hit, if your white it is your fault. If your not itís all about those ancestors again, so itís back to the temple.


Sooner or later everyone wants to turn off to the right or to the left. Changing direction is an art form.

Here for instance is the procedure Vietnamese-style for turning right. Remember, in Vietnam most folk drive on the right hand side of the road. (Notice, I say most). To turn right it is essential to move into the centre of the road. You must then accelerate, overtaking as many vehicles as possible before reaching the road into which you wish to turn. Remember, it is mandatory that you should not look in your rear view mirror. To do so might upset Buddha. At the turn-off you are required to cut in front of traffic you have just overtaken, causing other drivers to brake hard as you make your manoeuvre as would a racing motorcyclist. Bystanders, particularly females, will admire your skill. You may even find yourself desired as a possible mate.

Follow a similar procedure when turning left. It is vital to get into the middle of the road, to overtake, to shock or force other drivers to slow down, or even lose control. Remember never to glance round to see what effect you are having on other drivers or riders.
When overtaking be sure to glance in your rear view mirrors. These should be positioned so that you can only see your own reflection. It is important to look cool while riding or driving.

Now, regardless of whether anyone is about to overtake you, swing out hard into the oncoming traffic, then swing back again, just failing to be collected by that oncoming bus. Keep on swinging back and forth, leaning the bike hard over from side to side. With practise a good overtaker gets within his skin-width of on-coming vehicles.

The aim when riding or driving is to achieve a faster heart rate. Thatís good exercise.

The most important thing is never to use indicators or heed oncoming traffic. That would obviously display a distrust of the gods you worship.


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