Posted by: sharemore1 | October 20, 2010

Motorbikes: The New Water Buffalo

Check out the Q&A section in the banner above.  This is where you can ask questions or suggest topics you’d like to hear about my life in Viet Nam.

Motorbikes are as important to Vietnamese city dwellers as the water buffalo is to their country cousins.  These “bikes of burden” are what makes the city run.

Parking Lot

Full credit for coming up with that term and creating a delightful photo book goes to Dutch photographer Hans Kemp (  I’ve been following his example and capturing my own images of Hanoi on the move.

There are still a few women who carry their wares on two baskets balanced on their shoulders.  School children, older people and some merchants pedal their  bicycles or push them through traffic if they are heavily laden.  Buses are packed, especially with young people.  And every time we come to Vietnam there are more automobiles on the road.  But most people get around on motorbikes, which make up about 95 percent of motorized vehicles.

Dishes on a Bicycle

The motorbikes weave in and out of the cars, around trucks and buses and narrowly miss passengers crossing the streets, forming the warp and woof of Hanoi traffic.  During rush hour, they bump up over the curb and ride on the sidewalks if they can get through the other bikes parked there.

Wearing helmets has been vigorously enforced since late 2007, saving about 1,500 lives a year.  Rather than risk losing their bikes, most people comply.  Even the motorbike taxi drivers hanging out on street corners carry an extra helmet for their passengers.  The penalty for using cell phones does not seem to be so severe and it’s not uncommon to see people talking while driving.

Delivery Truck and Driver on Phone

Motorbikes are the family station wagon, carrying up to five people.

Family of Five

Helmets are not required for children, so while kids in the U.S. are strapped in sturdy car seats, babies in Viet Nam ride unprotected from an early age.  Instead of helmets, babies are often covered with white veils, so they look like miniature brides as they’re whisked through city.  Every now and then you

Child with a Helmet

see a child with a helmet.

1,000 Eggs

Bikes are the local delivery trucks, hauling construction materials, hundreds of eggs, all manner of live and butchered animals, produce, kegs of beer, mirrors–almost everything that is bought, sold and used in the city.  They are moving vans, carrying large pieces of furniture.  You want a new bookcase?  Buy one in a furniture shop near our apartment and the owner will help strap it on your bike.

Bookcase on a Motorbike

Streetside Repair

There are  entrepreneurs who have bottles of gas on hand for emergency fill ups, tire-patching materials and a basic set of tools for quick repairs on the side of the road.

Owners seem to value their bikes and take good care of them, much as they might have looked after a buffalo on the farm.  There’s a shop in our alley where people bring their motor bikes in for a thorough wash.  When they hop on and ride off, the bikes look shiny and new again.

Local Motorbike Wash


  1. Love this! Great pics. And to think Jan didn’t want to claim the moped ride in Vietnam prize. Looks exciting to me.

  2. What a vivid description of the city’s transportation. I love the photographs. Now I am curious about lots of stuff like what age do kids need to be to licensed to drive? Seems like the motorbikes provide an efficient way to get around the city.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: