Grab a minsk and hit the road. These bikes can be purchased for as little as a few hundred US dollars and you'll often not have too many troubles selling the bike off to another traveller when the time comes to leave Vietnam. The bikes are only semi-reliable, but just about any local with a screwdriver should be able to fix it up should you have minor ailments. If you don't want to listen to us, listen to your Mum -- invest in a helmet -- easily purchased in both Hanoi and Saigon.
Vietnam is one of the few countries in the world where motorbike is still used so widely. Riding one is fun, but you must take into account the fact that people do not always follow the rules on the road. In principle, you need a driver license to ride a motorbike but traffic police hardly stop tourists for license check.
If you are not brave enough to ride one yourself, sitting on the back of someone else is also an experience that most tourists should try. Since late 2007, it is required that all motor-users need a helmet. Any qualified motor taxi driver should have an extra for you.
“Xe-om” or motor-taxi is a cheap way to get from one place to another within the city. Do not forget to reach an agreement on the price before you put the helmet on.
If you are brave enough, a motorbike adventure to mountainous area may be a great way to experience Vietnam. For more information, read our feature story on exploring Vietnam by motorcycle.
Most tourists on their trip in Vietnam often choose taxi as a safe option for transportation. High quality services, English-speaking driver make for great convenience, but of course the catch is that it comes with a price tag which can be a little over the top sometimes. So if one travels solo or with just one partner, why not try the locally-grown special transportation service - “xe om”?
A zoom in “xe om”
For those who have not yet heard the term before, “xe om” (pronounced “say ohm”), is an informal word that Vietnamese use to refer to “motor-taxi”. There is no doubt that motorcycle is the main means of transportation in Vietnam, and “xe om” is the cheaper and more interesting way for tourists to get around when travelling to “the country of motorcycles”.
In every street in Vietnam, one can easily find this service with the driver hanging a sign reads “XE OM” in front of the motorcycle. Or to make it even easier, just appear lost and the over-friendly driver will reach out to offer his service soon enough. Normally, the same driver will wait at the same corner every day, and he is willing to take one wherever he wishes to go in (and out of) the city with a very reasonable price.
Figuratively speaking, “xe om” means “hug the driver” in Vietnamese, but surely one does not have to actually commit the act (anyway, if that’s what you want, it is probably fine). One simply needs to board behind the back of the driver, put the helmet on and get ready to be a part of the organized chaos that is Vietnamese traffic!
“Xe om” can be seen all over Vietnam, from the North to the South, from mountainous to metropolis areas. Joining the busy flow of vehicles in the street or taking a deep breath of the fresh highland air from the back of a motorcycle will both be an extremely thrilling experience to remember.
Your guidebook when using “xe om”
As a traveler coming from a foreign country, however, it is not always easy for one to get the best deal with “xe om” drivers. At least he will need to reach the level of novice in the art of bargaining. Ask the price clearly to reach an agreement before sitting down on the pillion. Generally, the price depends on the distance, the quality of the road, or even the weather. VND10000-15000 per kilometer is reasonable. All “xe om” are fully equipped for passengers so there is no need for one to bring your own helmet.
Nevertheless, there is one small warning for using “xe om” service at the airport, train station and bus terminal, where there will be a more-than-one-cares-for number of “xe om” drivers waiting for travelers. Remember the route and bargain with a passion!
Beside the inexpensive price, another reason why “xe om” is so popular in Vietnam is that “xe om” becomes extremely handy when it comes to traffic in the rush hours. With their superb driving skills, “xe om” drivers can easily take one out of the traffic jam, as opposed to being stuck for some infuriating two hours in the cab or on the bus.
Fun facts about “xe om”
“Xe om” drivers are regarded as live maps. They know almost every single corner, every short cut of the city where they live. Never afraid of getting lost when riding with them! Travellers can even ask “xe om” drivers the way when stranded and having no idea where they are.
The better one can speak Vietnamese, the better price he can negotiate. Often “xe om” driver find it interesting to listen to foreigners speaking their mother tongue, and they will be happy to give some discount for the effort.
People can ask their travel agent for help finding a trust-worthy “xe om” driver, booking a full day with him and he will take his customers to many amazing local places.
Currently, some “xe om” drivers have come together and formed their own union/small business, and designed their own tour exclusively for foreigners with acceptable prices. Travelers can choose their suitable package via the Internet. The tour can last for a few hours, a few days, or even a whole month!
HEY XE OM!
Motorbike for Rent
When coming to Vietnam - land of motorbikes, many visitors would love to experience the thrilling feeling of riding on the “iron horse” and explore all the corners of the country by themselves. Dreaming of becoming a hero on the road with your own motorbike? Vietnam is definitely your dreamland!
Where and how can I find a motorbike?
Motorbike renting service is very common in Vietnam, since it is extremely handy for not only foreigners wanting to try new things but also locals who rely on motorbike as their main means of transportation. Do not have enough money to buy a motorbike yet? Need a special one to escape the city for only a few days? Renting motorbike - fast and convenient with a reasonable price - is an ideal solution.
The first thing one will have to deal with is to find a motorbike that is good enough for his own purpose and capacity. Determining factors include short vacation or long holiday, the quality of the road, plain or mountainous terrain, and certainly the most essential concern- your driving skill. There is a wide range of motorbikes to choose from, from automatic to semi-automatic ones with popular brands like Wave, Dream, or even backpackers’ favorite Simson and Minsk. Understanding thoroughly his own needs, one can avoid getting confused when given hundreds of motorbikes at the rental store and save a lot of time on selecting the appropriate one.
In response to people’s high demand, renting shops can easily be found in big cities as well as at tourism destinations. Most travel agents and hotels provide this service for travellers so one can contact the receptionists to have detail information and assistance. People can also rent motorbike in specialized shops which are densely situated in the so-called “foreign streets”- the streets where tourists and foreigners staying in each city (the Old Quarter in Hanoi, District 1 area in Ho Chi Minh City, Hung Vuong Boulevard in Hue, for instance).