I am currently living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I previously lived in South East Asia before (6 years ago) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I totally understand the appeal of riding a motorbike. It has definitely become a part of the ‘south east asia experience”. Everyone you meet who has ridden one usually tells you they have ridden one. And along with that they have probably told you about their ‘war wounds’. For me it was my ‘thai tattoo’, in other words the scar I received from my leg touching a hot muffler on the side of another motorbike, as I got off mine. It seared through my skin. At the time, painful as all hell. But afterwards, I was now a part of some exclusive club. Well that club is not so exclusive anymore, with the amount of tourists coming into South East Asia and hurting themselves on motorbikes.
But I digress…
Before moving to Vietnam, I was excited to buy a motorbike again. I was already looking at Honda Cubs. Seafoam green or purple were my choice colours. I remembered really loving my little Fino scooter in Chiang Mai. My favourite memory being driving it from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao; I really wish I did more of those trips when I was young and carefree.
My other memories of that scooter? My first time driving it to work, on my own, I was turning around a bend just 30 seconds from my work, and I slid on some sand and my bike went sideways, and so did I. Me on the pavement, with my bike between my legs (on top of one of them) and thankfully my co-worker in the truck behind me stopped before running me over.
Another memory? I had my bike parked somewhere while I was out for food. I came back and someone had put the underneath kickstand up on it for some reason. In order to make it go back up you have to push the bike forward. As I moved the bike forward and the kickstand came up, it hit my big toe in just the right spot to take my toenail with it, but leaving it hanging off the side just stuck on enough that I didn’t want to remove it myself. I won’t even get into the blood that poured onto the road.
Or how about the time I rode my motorbike to Chiang Dao, that beautiful memory, and when I went off the road to a parking lot of rocks, my bike basically dropped on my feet.
Everyone I know has stories of hurting themselves, one way or another, on a motorbike. Instead of this deterring people from using them, I feel as though they’ve turned it into a rite of passage for travellers.
Maybe I am old now, or just not “cool”, but I really just don’t see the appeal anymore. We arrived in HCM and seeing the crazy traffic, and spending more and more time here, I realized it wasn’t really that “cool” anymore. Perhaps I have a ‘been there, done that’ attitude about it, since I already did it 6 years ago in a less crazy place.
But being ‘scared’ aside, there are more reasons I really don’t feel it necessary to ride a motorbike just cause I live in Vietnam…
For one, everything I could possibly need is literally within walking distance. My work? Around the corner from my apartment. Groceries? Right outside my apartment building. Restaurants? A ton everywhere. Want to get a pedicure? I can think of 5 places off the top of my head within walking distance to my apartment.
And to be honest, I love walking. I prefer to walk. And I think having a motorbike would allow me to get lazier. Instead of walking to meet up with friends, I may ride my motorbike just to ‘save time’. I know many people who do this, ride their motorbike to work when it’s about the same distance that we live, and not entirely necessary but it “saves time”. But I enjoy everything that I see during my walks too. If you follow me on instagram, you know my stories are literally full of stray puppy posts. I walk just to see my favourites. If I didn’t walk places, I would miss out on so much. Instead of zooming by on my motorbike, I get to take it all in; the good and bad.
Even in the flooding that has been happening due to high tide, as of late, I prefer to walk. Watching bikes stall out in the middle of the massive puddles of water, or people having to walk their motorbikes through the water and toppling over when a car goes by and makes a wave. Just not my idea of a good time. I trudge along in my rain boots and am just fine.
Plans in another district? Appointments at the eye doctor in D7? Guess what, there are plenty of cabs, or my preference is grabbing an Uber (which is now a Grab, cause Uber is not longer used here). It costs me like $5-7 to get to and from the airport… which I mean, I wouldn’t be taking my motorbike to anyways, if I had one. And when I look at my receipts from Grab/Uber since I moved here, aside from airport travels where I wouldn’t be riding my own motorbike if I had one, I can honestly say it wouldn’t even add up to the cost of buying a bike or renting one monthly.
Now I know that this is subjective. Other people have more of a social life than I do. They go do all the things, all over the city. Or they work further from home. But many people I know, the things they do within the city, involve drinking. And personally, I don’t really drink, but also I truly believe that if you are drinking, you shouldn’t be driving anyways. Regardless if you “won’t get caught” for it here. That has never been the reason I don’t agree with it, it’s not just the laws, it’s the danger to other people that you become. Drinking and driving never has been and never will be cool.
And really, a huge reason I don’t own a motorbike is the environment. Like I said before, I live close to everything I need, where I am able to walk. There are already taxis and Grab bikes and cars out there polluting the air. Why add to the pollution when I don’t need to? I am not saying everyone has this luxury, some people in the city live too far from work not to have their own transport. Some people go out more than I do, like I said above. But if I do have the luxury of not needing one, and I claim to be trying to be more sustainable in my life, why get one just so I can say “I ride a motorbike”?
I get the appeal. And I know not everyone out there riding out around S.E. Asia is doing it to be “cool”. Or maybe it’s not their only reason for doing it. But I am pretty content in my life being uncool, and walking around the city; ordering a Grab when necessary.
So please, for the love of all things green and beautiful, stop asking me why I don’t have a motorbike. And stop telling me, or other people too, that I need one when living here. I don’t. And neither do you, if you don’t want one.