“Do you dare?” is the question I asked myself repeatedly. When I came to Vietnam for the second time, however, I finally let go of my doubts. Within the first 48 hours, I found myself on the back of a motorbike taxi, roaring through rush hour traffic. During my time in Ho Chi Minh, I have found Grab and Uber to provide fast, convenient, and affordable transportation.
How to ride
Most people from the States are probably wondering: “So, uh, when you ride a motorbike taxi, does that mean you wrap your arms around some random guy?”
Nope. This is not a “hey babe” situation.
It’s usually possible (and much more comfortable) to sit far back, with a space between you and your driver. And you won’t need to hold on to him, because most bikes have handle bars in the back that are easy to grip. After you sit, kick out the foot stands. Now, you’re ready to roll.
Many passengers in Vietnam ride without holding on to anything—but I don’t recommend this! You should ALWAYS hold on with at least one hand, so you won’t get thrown off the bike by the slightest bump. And there are lots of bumps in Vietnam.
Get around conveniently
Buses break down often and don’t run late. So, if you’re bound to be in a rush or out at night, it’s best to invest in one simple thing: a data SIM card. Trust me, the few extra bucks will be worth it.
Like the better-known Uber, Grab has a free app that allows you to input your location and destination, to book and contact a driver, and even to make payment directly from your card.
The glitch with Grab, however, is that you need to know the exact address of your location to get picked up. Uber’s app, on the other hand, can automatically locate you.
Also, all drivers keep helmets with them. If you don’t keep one with you, then this is very convenient. (Personally, though, I’d rather use my helmet because it fits better and covers the back of my head.)
Don’t trust your driver
If you’re considering riding with a xe om guy, I beg you to reconsider. Why? Because the risk is higher. Think about it—they don’t have a company to answer to for their actions or prices.
What is xe om? You can’t miss him. He’s that an independent driver who waits on the street (possibly laying on his motorbike) to say, “Madam, motorbai? to every female tourist passing by.
There are horror stories of people getting groped or worse by a xe om guy. I can see this happening especially in the middle of nowhere, or over long-distance rides. Short rides within a city are probably okay, because there are people around.
However, even short rides on a xe om are likely to be more expensive than with Grab or Uber. It’s sad, really, that they aren’t making the living they used to, thanks to the big, convenient companies. However, xe om drivers have long been notorious for overpricing their rides. Yeah, you can try to barter, but they’re not easy to negotiate with.
Once, I was at the Ben Thanh bus station, waiting to transfer. A xe om guy sat next to me and offered me a ride to my destination for “only four million!”
Let’s see, 100 dollars or 25 cents for a 15-minute ride to District 7? I’ll take the bus for 5,000 dong, thank you!
Trust your driver
Yes, first I told you not to trust your driver, now I’m telling you the opposite. Why? Well, it doesn’t matter whether you have chosen to ride a xe om, Grab, or Uber bike. Regardless, your job as the passenger requires you to TRUST the driver while he’s driving you!
If it’s your first time riding a motorbike, you may find it difficult to keep from flinching as the driver twists and turns through the traffic. Just keep a tight grip and keep your balance!
When stopped, however, he doesn’t need your help to keep balanced. Don’t put your feet down! Lifting your feet up as he starts moving again will only throw him off and could cause him to hit another bike, or for you both to fall off the bike.
Granted, the Vietnamese driving mentality makes it difficult to trust your driver.
I have to describe it this way: Each vehicle is driven as a bicycle would be. Think about it—you don’t worry about crashing a bike into other bikes, do you? You just drive along, pass the other bikes, squeeze yourself in between a group of bikes, and so on. And the Vietnamese used to ride nothing but bicycles. It makes sense.
Yes, your driver will drive on the sidewalk. Yes, he will swerve to avoid crazy drivers (thank goodness, actually). Yes, he might run a red light. Yes, left turns on the freeway are terrifying.
But that’s why you’re not driving yourself—he understands how to drive in Vietnam, you don’t. It’s a lot safer for him to drive you.
Stay safe, guys! Feel free to relate your own motorbike taxi experiences below. Thanks for reading!