Rush Hour Driving in Saigon | Vietnam (Video)

Driving in Saigon is an extremely precarious experience.  Our friend of the site Phúc Mập gives us some tips about how best to navigate yourself through the madness.

Asia is well known for its chaotic traffic and Vietnam is no different.  Saigon is known for having some of the most insane roads where traffic, on the surface, seems completely lawless.  A far cry from the roads i’m used in England!

What is it like driving in Saigon

The obvious thing to point out when driving in Saigon is the traffic.  There is now over 7 million motorbikes in Saigon alone, which is a 2 million increase from a couple of years ago.  It really feels like it’s rush hour for a majority of the day.   Despite the colossal amount of traffic, compared with other countries in South East Asia drivers do seem to be more polite.  The sensory overload of excessive beeping may seem to be intrusive, but it is a way Vietnamese people warn you, before they overtake you.  Due to legislation large lorries can’t travel through Saigon during the day, but in the evening this beeping comes in handy for safety, as the big vehicles make overtaking maneuvers.

During my time living in Vietnam, I needed to wake up early to get to my English class. And even at times such as 6.30 a.m. the roads are very chaotic.  Along with the markets lining the streets in narrow alleyways, this all adds up to a stressful experience.  This is especially true as you start to drive in Saigon.

Debris often left in the road, either from rubbish or what I suffered from last year.  Mud had fallen from a lorry and was situated in the middle of the road.  There were no signs warning you, and lots of drivers including me drove through and everyone had their bikes taken out from beneath them.  Arriving to teach my English class, I was muddy and not happy!

Rainy Season

During the rainy season (April to Sept), there are frequent torrential downpours which in my experience always occurred mid afternoon.  The majority of people make sure they go slower than normal, so take precautions as roads get slippy.

No matter if its mud, chaotic traffic or rain, it’s so important to pay close attention to everything around you.  Vietnamese roads are unpredictable and anything can appear from nowhere. This could be drivers going the wrong way heading straight towards you or someone doing a u-turn in the middle of a busy street, you need to expect the unexpected always.

Riding through the rain gets treacherous, especially around Thao Dien where streets get flooded rapidly.

Riding through the rain gets treacherous, especially around Thao Dien where streets get flooded rapidly.

Drive in a straight line

Looking at Vietnamese roads for the first time, they seem daunting but once you take the brave first step of getting out on the road, you’ll soon get used to it.  In district 7 there are lots of quiet streets, which is where I first learnt.  In my first couple of months, I preferred to not have people on the back of my bike and drive slowly near the pavement.  You’ll soon gain confidence and think what was all the fuss about.

The important thing is to not take any rash turns, and if you are going to turn make sure you are aware fully of what is around you.  Also if you’re going straight and you think another driver is going to cut you up, anticipate it.  Like I said expect the unexpected.

Making turnings

In Vietnam you drive on the right, so right turnings are easy. Even at traffic lights, the red light doesn’t matter and you can just go ahead.  The problem comes when turning left, especially in busy traffic.  It sounds silly but people do it,  DO NOT edge out  in front of cars they more often that not do not wait for you.  Wait for a low density block of motorbikes and edge out slowly and they will let you pass. NOTE, you very rarely get quiet roads when driving in Saigon.

How much to spend on a bike?

You can rent your bike and there are loads of options for this (Try Tigit).  I rented from my landlord for a million ($40) a month which is a typical price.  If you don’t know anybody, join the expats in the Saigon group on facebook.  Renting is for sure the street free option and any problem with the bike the person you are renting it off will sort it for you and often bring you a different one to replace it with.

If you decide to live in Saigon for long time or are thinking about a long distance journey, it is definitely worth buying a bike.  My friends regularly bought bikes for 6 to 8 million (250$ to 400$) with varying degrees of success.  To ensure you rarely have problems with the bike, buy it brand new, this can set you back of upwards of 30 million ($1200).  I was constantly at the mechanics with mine, but then again my bike did only cost a million.  If you keep to Yamaha and Honda, as they seemed to be easier to fix at the mechanics.

Getting a license

I lived in Saigon for 2 years and never had any problems driving around without a license when driving in Saigon.  However it is best just in case something happens, as I have heard of friends having problems with the police.  They had to pay a bribe of normally 200k and then they carry on.  If you want to avoid this hassle, here is a link to be able to sort out your Vietnamese license.

The road up to Bien Hoa from Saigon for me was a nightmare.  As police seemed to be driving around looking for foreigners to extort.  There were also regular road blocks, where police would just ask drivers for money.  This is the road where you need to cover up and not advertise that you are not Vietnamese.

Filling up at the petrol station

When filling up at a station, you need to file in where ever you can get space.  There really isn’t any order.  Once you take off the petrol cap, depending on your bike and what distances you travel, but normally 50k should do you fine.

Say the following to the person working at the petrol station:

20k – Hai truc (truck but without the k)

30k – Ba truc

40k – Bon (Like bomb) truc

50k – nam truc

60k – Sau (rhymes with bow) truc


For more video of Phúc Mập be sure to check out his Facebook page and Youtube page.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>