Skip to content

Fear and motorbiking in Vietnam

February 19, 2011

As you may know, my first foray into driving a motorcycle ended with me on the ground between the bike and a wall. For the next two months, I was content to be a passenger. I didn’t trust myself not to wreck again. But, after we rented our own bike, I got a taste of what I’m missing out on by not driving. I envied other American girls who fearlessly drove their own bikes. “One day,” I told myself, “I’m going to have to learn to drive. But, not today.”



(Thanks big brother, Israel, for the photo.)

Then Jonathan decided we should get our motorcycle licenses. I liked the idea, so I agreed not thinking about the full implication of it – actually driving a motorcycle. Plus, the process of getting the license is so lengthy, I wasn’t sure if we would even get through it.

We made multiple trips getting our passports copied and U.S. licenses translated. After paying the U.S. Embassy fifty dollars to notarize everything, I was financially committed. We spent one afternoon looking for a place to get photos taken and another being weighed, measured, and having our vision tested.



Over a month later when we turned everything in, the office ladies started laughing. I thought it was my lack of hair, but they indicated that since I was wearing a strapless dress in my pictures, I looked naked. I was afraid she would make me re-do them, but visible clothing isn’t a requirement. To help us fill out the final set of paperwork (which was in Vietnamese,) she gave us someone else’s forms – complete with photo, full name, date of birth, passport number, and country. Good thing I’m not looking for another identity.

She assigned us a test date, Sunday, 20 February 2011, and I realized I was going to have to learn to drive. Soon.

Last time we were in Phu Quoc, I learned that bikes with gears (but without a clutch) are much easier to control. I could actually make the bike creep along (what I was trying to do when I wrecked the first time.) On Monday, Jonathan and I went to an area where the streets are empty, and I drove with him sitting behind me. Our Wreck Prevention Plan was that if he ever said “release” I would drop the handles and let him take over.

Eventually, I had to drive on my own. I was terrified and held the handles so hard my hands and shoulders hurt. But, I have a good and patient teacher. He didn’t laugh at me or tell me I was silly for crying when I drove off the road a little. According to him, the only thing I needed to worry about was not hitting the Bentley parked on the sidewalk. And, he taught me to be in control of the bike – not vice versa.

Yesterday we went over to the testing area to practice the course. The figure eight is the hardest part. Both tires must stay within the lines, and they are only about two feet apart. I talked to the bike as I drove, making sure it knew who was boss, and drove until I got it right at least two out of every three times.



Sometimes I get frustrated seeing the tiny ladies here that drive with their perfect posture and stilettos. They make the bikes look weightless as they glide along. But, there was another guy there yesterday for driving practice who showed me that, regardless of how easy they make it look, the Vietnamese aren’t born drivers. They also have to learn.

My whole life, I have had a strong respect for/fear of motorbikes. I’ve seen the damage that can be done, and honestly, I’m afraid of doing things that will hurt me. This has been an exercise, not just in driving, but in dealing with my fears and finding a balance between living wisely and taking life-enhancing risks.

What do you wish you weren’t afraid of? How could overcoming fear improve your life?


Currently reading: “Lucky Child: a daughter of Cambodia reunites with the sister she left behind” by Loung Ung

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    February 19, 2011 23:01

    the thing that scared me the most when I was getting my motorcycle license was the thought of riding on the interstate. Something about being exposed to the elements at 70 miles per hour with tons of metal and machines barreling down upon me was unsettling. So, the day i bought my bike, not having a better way to get it home, I had to drive from New-Nan to PTC… I elected to just get it over with and take I-85 North. I wasn’t prepared for the wake turbulence of a passing semi or just how un-aerodynamic I am and felt like i was about to be lifted off the seat and blown off. I didn’t buy a windshield. But, I throttled up, and squeezed a little tighter with my legs… and then at some point I could hear Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” playing in my head. Exhilarating! I was told when I bought that everyone get’s scared on a bike once. I know I did (and not the time above, I almost lost it about 2 weeks into ownership). And if you walk away then you’ll never get back on. You’ve already done that so you’re good!

    • February 19, 2011 23:15

      You give me hope 🙂 Hopefully by the time I am in a place where people go 70mph and there are semis this will be old hat. Plus I’ll have my bad ass, leather, full biker gear on to protect me from road rash.

  2. Kari permalink
    February 20, 2011 03:09

    You leave us hanging… We need to hear the motorbike license test story now!! Love the blogs!

  3. Charity permalink
    February 20, 2011 19:38

    Sharks! I need to let it go… if being savagely ripped apart by sharks is the way God intends for me to meet him… how could I possibly thwart it! So I’ll be getting certified to scuba dive this year!

    I also have a healthy fear of motorbikes/cycles… I’ll ride behind you when I come… You’re a rockstar!

    PS. I enjoyed the post-crash picture. Thanks, Israel! 🙂

    • February 20, 2011 19:45

      If sharks are your fear, you must read this blog: He puts it all in perspective.

      You can get your scuba certification here pretty inexpensively. We have been talking about doing it but can wait until you visit if you want. I can get details on pricing.

      • Charity permalink
        March 6, 2011 21:30

        Sounds grand! I would love to do that with you guys! Let me know… I’m saving as we speak (I’m starving but I’m not gonna eat. 😉 no seriously though. 🙂 )

  4. February 21, 2011 06:34

    Keep it up babe! You amaze me daily, love you.

  5. anphoneh permalink
    February 23, 2011 08:57

    I came off my bike within 2 days of being on the road. I didn’t hurt myself thankfully, but damaged the bike to the point that it was off the road for a week. Then when I finally got back on, I ran it on empty and put if off the road again. While I was sorting that out, someone decided to try and steal it. I got it back from the police, but again, it’s damaged and off the road. Waiting to get it into a garage for repairs. – In the last 4weeks I’ve had it, I’ve been able to ride for 4 days. I can’t wait to get back on!

    I’ve noticed that people have a total disregard for bike riders. Just because they don’t occupy a large space, people think they can overtake, push past and cut off. It’s dangerous, but exciting!

    • February 24, 2011 10:13

      Wow… You are much tougher than I am. I think I would’ve given up by now. I hope you don’t have any more problems.

  6. December 22, 2011 00:53

    Im glad you stuck with it and made it through. when we got here i had fully intended on getting my license and that still hasn’t happened. maybe one day just for the souvenir of it who knows but luckily I’ve only had 2 incidents on my bike and both were in Hanoi before we moved down to Saigon and they didnt involve other people. rule number 1: never panic and grab the front brake.

    the coolest thing about it is when you are driving in a massive herd of bikes elbow to elbow and it hits you that you are driving a motorbike in Vietnam and how unique of an experience that is if you are american.


  1. This Sally’s ready to “drive, Sally, drive.” « Sweet dreams and flying machines
  2. Year one: a gloriously caffeinated, Southeast Asian adventure « Sweet dreams and flying machines

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 )

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: