I held off riding a motorbike for my first few weeks in Vietnam, thinking I could get by without one. Despite a few “minor” injuries, I have zero regrets learning how to cope with Vietnamese traffic. Having the freedom to ride wherever you like completely changes the way you experience the country.
Actually riding a motorbike in Vietnam wasn’t a problem, I have a motorbike licence and I’ve been riding a scooter in Australia for years. With the chaotic traffic swirling around, I didn’t have time to worry about my brain adjusting to driving on the right-hand side of the road. That kind of just happened by itself. (Nobody seems to mind if you drive on the wrong side of the road in Vietnam anyway).
When the time came to park my motorbike in Vietnam, I realised that I had absolutely no idea what to do. Parking a motorbike in Australia, to me, seems simple. You look for an empty parking space with a crisp white outline, any space will do, and you leave your motorbike there. Easy. For many reasons, parking a motorbike in Vietnam isn’t so simple. There is a process to parking in Vietnam, and rules to be followed if you want to see your motorbike again.
These rules weren’t completely obvious at first, so to help you park like a pro here is the Pineapple Explorer guide to parking a motorbike in Vietnam.
Never leave your bike unattended
This is the first rule of parking a motorbike in Vietnam. If your motorbike is going to be leaving your direct line of sight, then you should either leave it with someone who won’t let it out of theirs, or lock it up somewhere that it can’t be easily rolled away. In a country of motorbikes, yours can disappear in seconds.
Finding somewhere to park your motorbike
Despite motorbikes being absolutely everywhere in Vietnam, there is no street parking, which means no crisp white lines on the side of the street to park between. But motorbikes are rarely parked on the side of the road in Vietnam, that’s what the sidewalk is for. Since no one walks in Vietnam – they ride their motorbike instead – sidewalks are used almost exclusively as motorbike parking. If you want to actually walk somewhere, you’ll either have to dodge your way past all the motorbikes parked on the sidewalk, or walk on the side of the street.
But you can’t just park your motorbike on any old sidewalk. It probably won’t be there when you get back. Depending on where you’re going, you’ll need to look for the right place to park your motorbike.
With a parking guy
If you’re visiting a restaurant, cafe, or a shop that has a sidewalk in front of it, you will probably be able to leave your motorbike with a parking attendant there. Parking attendant is the most numerous job in Vietnam, so one is never usually far away.
Just pull up on the sidewalk in front of your destination, and the parking guy will usually either direct you to a free space, or tell you to hop off your bike, and he will put it away for you. But don’t run off before the parking attendant hands you a parking ticket, a small piece of paper with your number plate number scribbled on the front. You’ll need this to get your bike back later.
Most cafes, restaurants and shops will pay a parking attendant to watch their customers’ bikes, so you probably won’t have to hand over any money (look for a sign that says Giữ Xe Miễn Phí – it means “Free Parking”), but some parking attendants will charge around 5,000 dong (about 20 cents) to watch your bike.
In a parking lot
If you’re heading somewhere that doesn’t have it’s own parking attendant, you will need to look for a parking lot. Look for a sign taht reads Giữ Xe – “Parking”. Usually, you will enter the parking lot past a desk or gate, and the attendant will scribble your your number plate details on a parking ticket and hand it to you. Sometimes they will also staple another matching ticket to your bike’s mirror that will be removed when you exit the lot. Some bigger parking lots in malls, offices and grocery stores will hand you a swipe card that you will return when you exit.
ALWAYS take a ticket
Your parking ticket, that little square of paper with your number plate details scribbled on it is your key to getting your bike back. Lose it, and you may have a tough time convincing the parking attendant that you actually own the motorbike you are trying to take, even if you’re holding the keys. Put your parking ticket in your wallet and keep it safe!