The easiest way to get around Hanoi is by far on a motorcycle. Note I didn’t say “safest”, just “easiest”. I haven’t taken any pictures or videos of the traffic here, because there are a million pictures and videos online (seriously, just Google “Hanoi traffic”), but you can take my word on it: The traffic here is mental. Regardless, being on a bike is usually the easiest and quickest way to get from A to B.
For my first couple of weeks, if I was going somewhere, I was on the back of a Grab Bike. Grab, like Uber, is a taxi service made up of a lot of drivers. Anyone can apply to be a driver, and I’m not too sure what the hire criteria is. But there are a lot of drivers. I started using Grab instead of Uber (or Lyft) mostly on a whim, and whilst I was using a service like this, I was using Grab.
At the beginning, I was highly impressed and loved the service. I would use the app to say where I was and where I was going. The app would tell me the fare (no surprises, no haggling) and how long it would be until my driver was with me. Once I was dropped at the other end, I could pay in cash and rate the driver. Happy days! It seemed like a great service.
Until it wasn’t.
Too many times over the past week I have given myself an hour to get to a location just thirty minutes away and been nearly late. Not because of traffic, because of idiotic drivers. On more than one occasion I have had drivers (sometimes twice in a row) cancel on me after I had already waiting more than five to ten minutes for a driver supposedly only two minutes away. Worse, some of them refuse to cancel (there must be a penalty on them if they cancel too often), forcing me to cancel which bumps me down the priority list. GAH. One day this week their shenanigans meant I waited 40 minutes for a taxi to take me home… less than 15 minutes away. I was getting super frustrated and often sent rant-texts to Dan. Keep in mind that I was waiting either in the blistering heat (41c on day) or the pouring rain. Either way, not happy.
So, see you later (until I’m out drinking) Grab! I decided to speed up my plans to rent my own bike. Now this was an easy process.
Rent-A-Bike had come highly recommended to me, so I decided to check them out. I sent an inquiry telling them about me (especially my lack of experience on a bike!) and asking for recommendations. Thu got back to me in under an hour and had two bikes that she thought would work for me (a Honda Cub or a Yamaha Mio) and said I could pop by to try them out.
Two days later, I was in their shop. And just to underline that I was doing the right thing, the Grab driver that took me there 1) drove right past where I was standing to be picked up, and pissed around the block behind me for a good five minutes while I waited in the rain, 2) said he knew where he was going but stopped to ask directions five times – ignoring the map on his phone and mine, 3) stopped by the side of a random road and told me to get off the bike… to get his raincoat, 4) didn’t bother checking the address once we were close but rather just kept pointing at buildings until I finally had him stop in front of the right building, and 5) didn’t have any change, at all, and made me ask Thu for change. YARG.
Thu, Danny, and (I believe Chris?) were all in the shop when I arrived. At first, Danny said I should probably talk to one of the others, but when I said how much of a noob I was, he got up to help me. And help me he did!
We talked about which bikes would be best for me, dependent on my skill, usage, and budget. I was well-pleased that he kept my finances in mind because money is tight tight tight at the moment.
He thought it would be best if I started with the Yamaha Mio, an automatic bike that was in my budget. It isn’t really built to carry two people, but as I doubt Dan will be comfortable riding with me for awhile, I wasn’t too worried.
Knowing that I was new, Danny (from the shop, not my husband – this might be confusing!) took me down to a quieter road. He talked me through all the controls. We went for a short drive while he explained how to drive. And then it was my turn.
I sat in front and him behind me. He had me start the bike but then he reached around me and took the handles. He got us moving and told me to take over. This was awesome, as I was most nervous about starting out. His way meant I could get a feel for the acceleration without spinning out from a dead stop. He was very calm and talked me through turning and how to deal with cars driving straight at me in my part of the street (that actually happened). I was feeling confident and comfortable after our lesson so we went back to the shop.
Danny then offered to have me try the Cub and any other bike I was considering, but I was honest and said I thought the Mio, being an automatic, was probably the best one for me. The Cub is a semi-automatic, but until I really get used to the traffic and riding in Hanoi, I think it is better if I have less to think about! Even though I declined trying the other bikes, I was told I was welcome to come back any time and give them a try, or to switch up the bike if I was so inclined.
We wrote up the paperwork, and although it made a mighty dint in my rapidly dwindling funds, I can’t say it wasn’t fair. To rent the bike is $55us a month, with one month’s deposit, if you rent for two or more months. So, two months plus a deposit. Additionally, Rent-a-Bike offers something that is nonexistent in Vietnam – insurance on the bike. For the cost of a month’s rent, I get a year’s coverage for loss, theft, and write-off. Instead of paying the cost to replace the entire bike (yikes), I only have to pay 30%. Hopefully I’ll never need it, but isn’t that what one always says about insurance?
Fees paid, I also purchased a phone holder (so I can get directions) which they installed. Thu went over the controls again and showed me how to lock the bike as well as where to fill the tank. I was given a printout about parking, police, and other exciting (read: scary) things about riding a bike in Vietnam as well as a rain poncho (having just bought one, I’m using their poncho as a spare/bike cover).
Overall, it was a great experience and I felt like they were really attentive. I also feel assured that should anything happen, they will be there for me whether I need information or assistance. If you are looking to rent in Vietnam, definitely check out Rent-a-Bike!
Raincoat on, borrowed helmet on, I walked the bike into position, hopped on, and rode home. Tonight I will be really riding out in it (my work tonight takes me into the very busy Old Quarter part of Hanoi) and I can’t say I’m not both nervous and excited. Adventure!