I recently wrote about the best way to get a motorbike when living in Vietnam and whether hiring or buying a bike in Vietnam is better, plus the dangers to look out for on the roads here.
Most expats in Vietnam or countries like Thailand and Cambodia will get a motorbike or scooter at some point in order to get around. Cities such as Saigon and Hanoi have terrible public transport and getting into taxis all the time soon becomes a little annoying and a tad expensive.
I ended up hiring a bike for around six months then buying one whilst living in Da Nang. This suited me at the time as the rent was cheap and all repairs etc were taken care of by the rental company. What I wasn’t prepared for was the crash I had.
You’ll see loads of people on crutches and wearing neck braces in Thailand and Vietnam who have been the unfortunate victims of motorbike accidents. My good friend nearly died in Koh Tao 4 years ago when he hit the front break of his scooter instead of the back and skidded and collided with a lorry. He was very lucky to only walk away with a few minor cuts and bruises, but some people are not so fortunate.
Almost everyone drinks and drives in Vietnam. You’ll be walking or riding around at 2pm in the afternoon and as you pass local cafes you will hear ‘mot, hai, ba, yo!’ (one, two, three, cheers !) being shouted out by groups of locals. They will then jump on their bikes and ride home at breakneck speed. It gets worse at nights and on weekends, but it’s part of daily life here you just have to except if you want to live here.
Road accidents are very common in Vietnam and i regularly ride past road collisions that look pretty nasty. Talking to locals after first arriving I was told that ‘it’s just a matter of time’ before you have a crash in Vietnam. I thought of course this wouldn’t happen to me; I’m pretty careful out there and don’t drink and drive that much….
Around 6 months ago I was hit at around 11pm at a crossroads by a Vietnamese guy with his lights off. He took me out from the side and I woke up about 15 minutes later on the floor unable to move, surrounded by a large group of baying Vietnamese locals with their cell phones out. Luckily some friends were drinking nearby at a bar, heard the commotion and came over to help. When you are involved in a crash in Vietnam, no one wants to be blamed for the accident even if it is obviously their fault. Most people don’t have any insurance, and there’s a rumor going around that it’s better to actually kill someone on the roads, as the payment then is only $500, as opposed to just badly injuring them and then having to pay for their care for years. Go figure.
What panned out over the next week was a real eye opener into how the ‘system’ here works. I was rushed to hospital on the night of the crash but wouldn’t be treated until I handed over my credit card. The Vietnamese at the scene of the crash immediately called the police and my bike was confiscated. This is unusual as if it were two locals they would never normally involve the police as this complicates matters and a bribe or ‘lobby’ is nearly always asked for. I spent a few days sweating wondering what had happened to my bike and how the other guy was. I was also in pretty bad shape myself and was unable to move much. Luckily I knew quite a few locals by this point and was able to call on them for assistance with dressing wounds and getting meds from the chemist.
Then I got the call i had been dreading.
It turned out that my landlady was good friends with someone fairly high up in the local constabulary, and that she had called the police when she saw me come home covered in blood and bandaged up. She explained the situation to me. I would have to pay 3 Million dong to the police for the ‘inconvenience’ of dealing with a foreigner. The other guy wanted 30 million dong for his injuries, a broken shoulder and for the damage to his bike. I would have to attend the police station the next day to meet with everyone and sort it all out. Great.
The day at the police station was nerve wracking to say the least. I took my Vietnamese friend along to translate which was a big help. I couldn’t help thinking that if I were just a tourist here how screwed I would be. The police don’t generally speak English in Vietnam except for the word ‘money’, so you’d be at their mercy. I was shouted at for about an hour or so by 3 different officers in varying colour uniforms. I was then made to draw the accident on a large black board which was difficult as my elbow was smashed so I couldn’t hold the chalk well. Then we had to negotiate with the other party and their family.
As a foreigner here the accident will always generally considered to be your fault. You could be sitting on your bike with the engine off outside a shop waiting for someone and get hit by a drunken idiot, but more than likely you will end up having to pay him.
Due to my landlady’s connections I ended up paying 500k Dong ($20) to the other guy for his injuries. After a day of protracted negotiations some police chief eventually entered the room and uttered something in Vietnamese. Everyone then fell quiet and the guy then accepted my crumpled envelop containing a 500k bill. i paid my landlady the 3 million the police wanted and no doubt she took her cut from this also. I didn’t care to much though as i was happy for the ordeal to be over.
I never asked my friend what the mysterious officer said when he walked into the room that day, but the respect he commanded was impressive.
After hospital bills, bike repairs and police ‘fees’ I was out around 10 million ($450) quite a lot but it could have been a lot worse. My injuries still persist however and im out of the gym still which is gutting. It may sound stupid, but every Vietnamese person I tell this story to says the first thing you should do if you have a motorbike accident in Vietnam is to get back on your bike and drive away, and never involve the police.
I count myself fairly lucky. An expat I know in Da Nang killed someone in a bike crash 2 years ago and couldn’t afford the 20 million VND he was asked to pay to cover the matter. He spent 4 months in a local jail, eventually making it to court where he ended up paying more money than was originally asked of him.
Ride safe guys, and always wear a hemet!