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The Backbone of Society: Motorbike Culture in Vietnam

May 1, 2023
4 Min Read
Written by 
Motorbikes on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia thanks to its varied landscapes and cultures. This gem has now been featured in every major publication on the planet, and rightfully so. It deserves all the fame it’s gaining.

As more people learn about this stunning nation and its cuisine, culture, and natural wonders, its reputation as a tourist destination is also growing. But, there’s another thing that makes Vietnam so exciting and fascinating; its motorbikes.

A man sits on his motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Since motorbikes are the most common and widely used mode of transportation in Vietnam, they have become deeply ingrained in the country's culture. The National Traffic Safety Committee estimates that there are approximately 50 million bikes in the country, with 86% of the households owning at least one. That is one motorbike for two people. 

City dwellers and rural folks use motorcycles in very different ways. In the rural areas, the rules for riding and owning motorcycles are more relaxed because of the lack of policing. It is also not uncommon to see children as young as eight year old driving motorbikes on the road. There is a great risk of injury for these children and being involved in a motorcycle accident is one of their daily concerns.

A man balances stacked boxes on the back of his motorbike in Vietnam

Northern Vietnam's mountainous regions are where you'll find extraordinary women drivers. They whip past you on the steep mountains on their way to the fields, carrying a baby on their chest and a sharp machete slung across their backs.

A family wearing traditional clothes on a motorbike in Vietnam

As with many rules and regulations with driving in the west, we tend to overthink the safety precautions of driving motorbikes in Vietnam. That’s why more often than not, we find ourselves shaking our heads when we see locals driving without helmets. Though you will find more people wearing helmets in the city, most of the time only the driver wears one, whether they are driving their young children or the entire family.

Hustle and Bustle in the Cities

The cities in Vietnam possess an energy that is dizzying yet striking at the same time. They have the energy, the innovation, and the traffic. Among the many wonderful things that cities have to offer, such as exciting street food and sleek skyscrapers, motorbikes remain a daily delight on the streets.

Driving in the cities of Vietnam is not for the faint hearted. There is a lot of commotion, noise, heat, and craziness on the streets. In addition to the intertwining heavy congestion, the maze of tiny lanes you must navigate to enter or exit is a challenge in and of itself.

Because of the heavy traffic, motorbikes have become the most popular and fastest way to get around in cities. The traffic may seem chaotic and disorienting from afar. But despite the uncontrolled streets and lack of law abiding drivers, there is a sense of order and efficiency that creates an organized chaos.

Busy traffic in a small alley.

From the locals balancing themselves at the back of the bike with both feet crossed on one side to women driving in 6 inches heels. There is nothing more interesting than catching a glimpse of things local drivers can fit behind their bikes as they make their way through the heavy traffic.

A motorbike with a self-made kitchen on the back.

As for some locals, their bikes have become their livelihood; some sell flowers and food, others transport people and goods. It is unimaginable how locals fit the things they put on their bike and are still able to drive. On some occasions, you will find them taking a break sleeping on top of their bikes. Not only can they balance their towering goods but also themselves with eyes closed.

Vietnam has adapted through the times and will continue to do so in the future. Motorbikes have provided convenience as well as a source of income for the Vietnamese people. As with the growing population, motorbike use is also on the rise despite the government's strict regulations meant to reduce traffic and air pollution.

A woman drives a motorbike loaded with flowers.

While many may be impacted by the forthcoming regulations and changes, the motorbike culture which has provided its people with countless opportunities, will persevere.

The prevalence of motorbikes in Vietnamese society is not going away anytime soon.       


A lover of nature and adventure whose main interests revolve around oceans and mountains.

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