Vung Tau Travel Basics - From Ho Chi Minh City

Submitted by tomo on January 30, 2013 - 12:55am

Any important city on the planet exists either because it was a port on the sea or was at a strategic point on a river. Few historic cities exist in the middle of deserts or forests not near any major water sources. Saigon is a river town not a seaside town. It lies near the mouth of the mighty Mekong River, but still some distance from the ocean. But for most of history, being on a strategic trade route was more important to a city's growth than being by a nice beach. Most cities worldwide therefore aren't built around beach resorts nor was being a scenic beach a big economic draw until recent decades.

And so, from time to time, when the residents of Ho Chi Minh City want to get away to the beach the closest option for them would be Vung Tau, a small seaside town that was also a popular R&R destination for American troops stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War. It has changed a lot since then.

Getting from Saigon to Vung Tau

From downtown Saigon, one can take a water taxi/hydrofoil to central Vung Tau City in just 90 minutes or less.

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Christmas in Vietnam

Submitted by tomo on December 26, 2012 - 4:15pm

Christmas in Vietnam is stressful. Just kidding. The downtown streets of Saigon get pretty packed as young people crowd in for the various photo opportunities on Le Loi and Nguyen Hue streets. And the whole area around Diamond Plaza and Notre Dame Cathedral is packed right up until Christmas Eve at midnight. Christmas in Vietnam actually ends right after it becomes December 25th. Christmas in Vietnam means Christmas Eve!

One nice thing about celebrating Christmas in Vietnam is that there's no pressure to do Christmas shopping. Forget Black Friday or Cyber Monday. And forget Boxing Day. Buy a gift for somebody if you want. But only do so because you want to, not because you feel obligated, because you expect they will buy you a gift. Because they probably won't.

Only one in 10 Vietnamese people are Christian, although that makes it one of the more Christian Asian countries. So why do you see Christmas decorations everywhere? Why are there giang Christmas trees downtown and Christmas lights hanging all over stores (to be fair, those lights often stay up year round).

Like Halloween and other Western holidays, Christmas is celebrated more and more as Vietnam is more exposed to Western culture. But it's been celebrated in the country for a long time actually. During South Vietnam's brief existence as a Catholic nation, with a war ongoing, it was celebrated. After the war's conclusion, Vietnam, including former South Vietnam and Saigon were impoverished as a result of poor economic policies. There was not much celebration of any kind. Only until after Doi Moi (return to capitalism) did people have money to celebrate things like Christmas again. Nowadays, at least in the cities, young people party in the streets without much care. Celebrating Christmas means going to Mass for Christians and just going outside with friends for everyone else. There might be some drinking and eating (nhau) to go along but you won't find turkey or other traditional Western Christmas dishes.

So there you have it. Christmas in Vietnam comes and goes. People still go to work on the 25th and there's not much to look forward to on New Years either. The big holiday here is Tet, the Lunar New Year.

Code Retreat 2012 - Ho Chi Minh City

Submitted by tomo on December 12, 2012 - 5:08pm

On Saturday December 8th, Ho Chi Minh City along with 200 other cities around the world celebrated a global Code Retreat.

What is a code retreat?

Like a meditation retreat, a code retreat is a time set aside to step out of the daily life and routine in order to get deep into practice. It's a full work day, and everyone attending is giving up their Saturday to do what they are probably paid to do from Monday to Friday. That's dedication to the craft. Not so many people came, partly due to poor advertising.

The code retreat was open to anyone but all attendees were fellow programmers, those with some experience already but who want to improve themselves. Besides myself, there was a motley crew of foreigners - an organizer from Japan, a local software tycoon originally from Spain, a Czech developer. Otherwise, all Vietnamese, including startup developers, university faculty, students, and corporate workers.

The venue was ERC Vietnam, the Singaporean MBA school who, along with two other Singaporean schools in Vietnam, is rumored to have lost its operating license from the Ministry of Education which would force it to close. However, the school was still open as usual. A Toastmasters club was also meeting in the room across the hall. There were scheduled outings for students posted in the elevators to be held at local bars and restaurants.

The coding

There were six sessions lasting about an hour each throughout the day and each session was the same both in format and content. The format was:

15 minutes - pair up with another programmer and discuss the strategy for writing the program - choose a language, maybe a framework, discuss data structures and algorithms
15 minutes - one person "drives" the keyboard, the other "navigates" - pair programming (an extreme programming methodology) where two developers use a single laptop to collaboratively develop software
15 minutes - switch up driver and navigator, although often times only a single person was familiar with the text editor or developing environment or even language and API (some languages heavily depend on libraries and APIs to do simple tasks which are difficult to do in the core language alone)
15 minutes - retrospective and break - we wrote down our learnings on sticky notes and collected them for each other to read and at the end of the day we had a whole day retrospective

What were we writing?

We were implementing Conway's Game of Life. Each pair (each session we picked new partners) wrote the game six times throughout the day, erasing the code they had written at the end of each session. The goal was not to write the game of life, but to get better at writing code by writing the same code over and over, by developing the same software over and over.

Halfway through the day some rules started to be added. First, we had to use TDD (test driven development) methodology (which some people didn't realize was feasible in JavaScript), then OOP (what if someone had chosen Scheme or some other functional language?). This was to encourage us to try new techniques and learn them from each other.

I was an outlier in that I wanted to use languages like Python, JavaScript, or even PHP instead of .Net framework languages. Instead of a massive IDE I was using Vim. In the end, in each session where it was up to me I chose Javascript. There was no need to build a new project from a template and then compile executables before running them. Just open a text file, save as html, and use Chrome as a development environment.

Later, more rules were imposed:
No if statements.
No loops (for, while, etc.).
No functions longer than a few lines (maybe 3 or 5 statements max).

We were encouraged to pick one rule and try to work within its constraints. I decided to apply all the rules!

These rules would be easy to abide by using a functional programming language but they're not impossible to follow in Python or Javascript either. But to replace loops using recursion, one thing I found was that nobody remembered how to write recursive functions and most people didn't even want to try as it was hurting their heads.

After the day was over, I took a look at underscore.js, a utility library for JavaScript which makes functional-like programming in JavaScript much easier.

Here's what I came up with.

<script src="underscore.js"></script>
// row and col are indices into 2d array 'grid', either 'today' or 'tomorrow'
function value(grid, row, col) { return (_.isUndefined(grid[row]) || _.isUndefined(grid[row][col])) ? 0 : grid[row][col]; }
function count_neighbors(grid, row, col) {
    return value(grid, row-1, col-1) + value(grid, row-1, col) + value(grid, row-1, col+1) +
           value(grid, row  , col-1) +                           value(grid, row  , col+1) +
           value(grid, row+1, col-1) + value(grid, row+1, col) + value(grid, row+1, col+1);
function next_state_if(neighbors, state) { return (neighbors == 3) ? 1 : ((neighbors == 2) ? state : 0); }
function next_state(grid, row, col) { return next_state_if(count_neighbors(grid, row, col), grid[row][col]); }
function calculate_tomorrow(today, tomorrow) {
    _.each(today, function (foo, row) {
        _.each([row], function (foo, col) { this.tomorrow[row][col] = next_state(, row, col); }, this);
    }, {today: today, tomorrow: tomorrow});
// helpers
function copy2d(ary2d) { return, function (list) { return list.slice(); }); }
function print_r(ary2d) { console.log(, function (list) { return list.join(''); }).join('\n')); }
function random_init() { return, function (list) { return, function (list) { return _.random(1); }); }); }
// demo main loop
var today = random_init();
var tomorrow = random_init();
    calculate_tomorrow(today, tomorrow);
    today = copy2d(tomorrow);
}, 400);

Viettel, Vietnam's military-owned telecom, has opened up direct Facebook integration via sms to Viettel mobile phone subscribers. This is an officially supported way for Vietnamese people to access Facebook on the go without a computer or smartphone. This is targeting Vietnamese people who mainly access the internet at internet cafes and so using this they won't need to hang around at cafes where they're charged hourly while they wait for someone to comment or like their status updates. This applies to a lot of Vietnamese folks and could lead to even faster adoption of Vietnam's #1 social network. What does that imply about any official government ban on Facebook?

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From the October 31st to November 11th I attended a Vipassana meditation course/retreat on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

On the fourth day, we got to eat: yogurt. I was so happy that day.

Five Precepts: No killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, no drinking alcohol

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In the past, when looking to hire people to work for your company, you would rely on your personal network and you still have to do that to a great extent today. But if you're trying to fill hundreds of positions then you can't only take personal recommendations.

Before the Internet, there were newspapers which made money by selling subscriptions and selling newspapers at newspaper stands, selling advertising, and selling space in their classified ads. It is still possible to put up classified ads to get employees for your restaurant, bar, massage parlor, hair salon, etc. Print classified businesses like Mua&Ban (Buy&Sell) have also gone online.

Nowadays, instead of Dice or or other job websites that are popular in the US, in Vietnam we have three major employment websites:,, Vietnamworks (Navigos) is the premier and most costly of them all, but the other two get a fair number of CVs posted if you're looking.

Hiring Process

Once you've placed your ad and received some resumes/CVs or searched and found some by yourself, you'll start calling them up and scheduling them to come meet you for an interview. You can have them come to your office or meet them in a cafe. If the candidate isn't so fluent in English, then bring a Vietnamese person to help communicate.

Some problems you may face

They won't show up to the interview or they will show up late.

They will list skills they don't have.

Even if the candidate says they are fluent in English they may not really be comfortable speaking English with you at an interview. Unfortunately this means they don't have great English and if you can only communicate in English with them then this could be a problem unless you plan to only communicate via chat or email. Having a Vietnamese person on hand really cuts down on confusion. Being able to speak English well can easily double a person's salary.

Interviewing software developers

Since I'm usually cost conducting interviews with programmers I like to sit in front of a laptop with the interviewee and have him write some code while I watch. It should be in in language that he is comfortable with and if he's a good programmer he should be comfortable and at least 1 language.

Otherwise the programmer will spend a lot of time having to lookup function definitions online. I also like to use interactive programming environments and so using javascript inside Chrome developer tools is readily available and hopefully familiar to the programmer if not Firefox's Firebug.


Most cafes are not ideal for conducting an interview because they're too noisy for too loud or to smokey or otherwise just not very professional. A cafe that suits you for drinking coffee or working alone may not be right for meeting others professionally. But try to find a few cafes which have some rooms sectioned off, are non-smoking, and don't have music or movies playing.

Ho Chi Minh City Slums

Submitted by tomo on October 30, 2012 - 10:17pm

According to an outdated BBC report there is a slum district in Ho Chi Minh City and I live in it. The slum (khu nha o chuot in Vietnamese) is the area around Thi Nghe - Nhieu Loc Canal. The houses here are built along canals where the roads aren't built right next to the canal, giving the houses an opportunity to encroach upon the water.

Before coming to Vietnam I'd visited most of the other Southeast Asian countries and in any of the major cities there were districts that were considered slums. For example, in Manila there is the infamous Tondo.

The surprising thing is that in Ho Chi Minh City there's nowhere that I would especially consider a slum region. The city has some richer and poorer neighborhoods but most of the city is fairly uniformly poor and underdeveloped yet safe and economically thriving. There is no Cabrini Green (Chicago) projects or massively dense and lawless Kowloon (Hong Kong).

Some regional stats:

Access to water in urbanized areas of...
1. Indonesia: 89%
2. Philippines: 93%
3. Vietnam: 99%

Access to sanitation in urbanized areas of...
1. Indonesia: 67%
2. Philippines: 80%
3. Vietnam: 94%

One way to define a slum is a neighborhood where the buildings and land have no clear title of ownership so the people who live on that land and "own" those structures cannot legally defend their property nor is there any way for them to sell or mortgage their property, get loans from a bank to make improvements, or to get some basic services. A problem for people who live in the slums along the canal near my house is that they don't know if or when they will get evicted and then where they could go for the same rent they're paying now or to buy a house for what they would receive in compensation for the low value of their house. They surely couldn't afford anything else not far outside of the city. What they need as replacement is legal affordable housing and most likely that needs to be provided by the government. Often when the government clears neighborhoods, they will build an apartment block somewhere and give the people who lived in the cleared neighborhood an opportunity to live in the new apartment building at a somewhat affordable price.

A broader definition of a slum is where there is a lack of connection to public infrastructure like plumbing for sanitation and receiving clean water for cooking and bathing, electricity, trash collection, telecommunications, and legal status. By that definition I'm not sure there are any large slums in the city. But many of Saigon's canals have become "slumways".

But across the narrow alley from the shanties of these slums are houses with significant investment in them. Building up a home to multiple storeys signals at least some confidence in the sustainable value of their property. The row of shanty houses they face not only don't have the money to build, it's far too risky when the local police could come and tear it all down at any moment. But this shows you can live a meter away from a slum yet still be quite well off and not worried about the property value of your house being affected by the fact that you're right next to a slum.

Should slums be cleared?

From another culture's point of view, slums are unsightly, represent poverty, and should not exist. But hiding poverty isn't the same as reducing it. Plus there's no way to hide all the poverty in Vietnam, considering how poor it is and will be for the foreseeable future. But there are real negative side effects to these slums, such as pollution. One solution might be to decriminalize these homes and tax them minimally, enough to provide communal resources to ensure the homes are built safely and aren't dumping waste into the canals. In fact the people living in these homes should be made responsible for and rewarded for keeping their canals clean.

So are there slums or not?

All the definiting and criteria are confusing. Saying there is or isn't a slum is mostly semantic. You might say all of Vietnam was a slum by most Western standards. Whether there are slums or not in Ho Chi Minh City, anywhere you look in Vietnam you're going to find poor people living with poor infrastructure where the government can basically take land at will.

But if you came here for slum tourism then maybe you should take a bus to Phnom Penh instead and visit the Steung Meanchey garbage dump, a.k.a. Smoky Mountain.

Saigon Street Food - A Virtual Culinary Tour

Submitted by tomo on October 30, 2012 - 9:15pm

Let's set some ground rules: Street food must be eaten on the sidewalk without the option of eating indoors, as many "proper" restaurants also have outdoor seating, even though such "al fresco" appropriations of the street are actually illegal and subject to periodic police inspections where illegally placed plastic chairs and tables are confiscated. For Vietnamese small business owners who don't even rent space inside any buildings, their whole business depends on police not cracking down on them. Perhaps a better solution would be a non-corrupt (haha) registration and hygiene inspection process for street food vendors, then the government could get some tax income, the business owners would have some stability, and the consumers would get some level of food safety. But for now, let's get back to reality.

1. Banh Xeo - often translated as Vietnamese pancakes or Vietnamese crepes. Like pancakes or crepes, a batter is poured into a circular pan to crispen a thin round layer of this "cake" which has toppings like shrimp and pork, bean sprouts, and sometimes mushrooms (but not so much in the street). Banh Xeo Mien Trung is a smaller version. You can try this on Phan Ke Binh Street (near DeciBel) and Ung Van Khiem Street near D2 in Binh Thanh District.

2. Banh Mi Thit - the Vietnamese submarine sandwich / roll. Next to pho, this is probably the most famous Vietnamese dish outside of Vietnam. A French bread roll spread with pate (both foods from the French colonial era) stuffed with some kind of meat, julienned carrots and pickled daikon, cilantro - and some fresh and extremely spicy chili peppers if you don't remember to ask them "khong ot". Vo Van Tan near Cach Mang Thang 8 in District 3 has a popular shop to get some takeaway banh mi thit. Also try Banh Mi Heo Quay, pork with delicious -crispy- fat and skin attached, available on Ngo Tat To Street in Binh Thanh District.

3. Mi Hoanh Thanh - Chinese Won Ton Ramen Noodle Cart. Also seemingly referred to as "van than" in the North Vietnamese dialect. "Mi" refers to ramen noodles and if you think ramen means cheap instant noodles then you need to get schooled. Often these will be served in fancy wooden noodle carts which you can also sit at. The noodles should be fresh, not instant industrially dried noodles. Hoanh Thanh are won ton noodle dumplings. Also try Mi Xa Xiu - "char siu" in Chinese or cha-shu in Japanese. Try it at the corner of Xo Viet Nghe Tinh right after the Thi Nghe Bridge.

4. Banh Khot - Banh Khot is similar to Banh Xeo but thicker with a much smaller diameter. Too similar for me to distinguish is another dish called Banh Canh, not to be confused with the similarly pronounced Banh Canh noodle dish. Like Banh Xeo, after the batter and toppings are fired in their clay vessels they are wrapped by your hands in lettuce or mustard greens and rice paper, topped with fresh herbs, and then dipped in fish sauce.

5. Hu Tiu (Nam Vang), Hu Tiu Go - Hu Tiu (or Hu Tieu) is a kind of noodle. Hu Tiu Nam Vang refers to a version of this noodle dish, which can be eaten in soup or "dry", which should be Khmer - Nam Vang is an old Vietnamese word for Phnom Penh. Hu Tiu Go isn't a flavor of Hu Tiu. Rather it refers to the way it is sold. Go means to knock, and a seller of Hu Tiu Go will push his cart down the street while knocking on wood to let people know he's coming.

6. Banh Trang Tron - A favorite after school snack of Vietnamese girls. A trail mix of rice paper, herbs, chili chopped up and mixed with dried beef or quail eggs and served in a plastic bag with two small sticks to be used like chopsticks.

7. Com Tam - broken rice, a traditional South Vietnamese breakfast as opposed to pho in the North. Using the broken grains of rice served with BBQ pork (suon), sunny-side up egg (op-la), (bi), (cha), and with fish sauce (nuoc mam) dripped over to taste.

8. Xoi - Sticky rice. Can be served with separated chicken as easily as with ripe mango or other sweets. A favorite of mine is Xoi Khuc.

9. Bot Chien - What look like mochi cubes are thrown in a wok and fried with an egg or two into an omelette with fried cubes of... what exactly? Photo attached.

10. Banh Cuon - Kind of like a giant round noodle. Banh in Vietnamese can mean many things although it's often translated to cake. It can also mean bread and sometimes the noodle in a noodle dish. Banh Cuon is some kind of batter steamed in a giant circle until it's hard and noodley then topped with something like ground beef (or seafood or chicke and mushrooms if you want to get fancy). Then you add some "cha", herbs, and bean sprouts and pour on the nuoc mam and put it all into your mouth.

11. Bo La Lot - This one almost killed me. Street food is all fun and games until you are vomiting out both ends of your body for 24 hours. This dish of mystery beef wrapped in "lot" leaves and then cooked over coals, then wrapped in rice paper or greens and topped with thinly sliced papaya or unripe bananas and other leaves, can be quite tasty. But take it from me: avoid buying it from the sidewalk sellers on Ton Duc Thang Street right at the beginning of Le Thanh Ton Street.


Nuoc Mia - The quintessential street drink. Sugar cane juice made by running sticks of sugar cane through a press. When I first started drinking this it was availale for 2000 VND/glass but now it's no less than 4000 VND, which still comes out to less than 20 cents.

Sinh To - fruit smoothies. Strawberry, tomato, avacado, custard apple, banana, mango, etc. Go to the Hang Xanh Roundabout (aka The Circle of Death) after midnight if you're bored and thirsty.

Trai Dua - This is not even street food, it's jungle food. In the Mekong Delta, in provinces like Ben Tre, this magical fruit literally grows on trees. Coconuts can be drunk anywhere as long as you have a way to crack them open.

Tra Chanh - This is a street drink but it's not a Saigon street drink. Next time I will write about drinking this lemon tea on the streets of Hanoi.

Vietnamese people love gambling. If there's anything Vietnamese people are famous for it's (in order):

1. Nail salons
2. Pho
3. Gambling
4. Maybe a long off 4th would be: Billiards

The surprising thing is that there aren't really that many nail salons in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government, probably rightfully so, have decided that Vietnamese people should not be allowed to gamble. But unlike America, where casinos are banned from existing in most cities and states (which is why Las Vegas, a place in the middle of the desert, initially attracts people from across the country), there are actually a lot of casinos legally operating in Ho Chi Minh City - in all, 43 gambling establishments concentrated in Hanoi and Saigon. But local Vietnamese are not allowed to step foot in them except to work inside them. Viet Kieu who have foreign passports can come though. Casinos are inside many of the big 5-star (down to 3-star) hotels like Caravelle, Majestic, New World Hotel, Equatorial Hotel in District 5, Movenpick Hotel in Phu Nhuan, etc. Saigon's casinos are all fairly small and nothing like Vegas (or even Macau). They are usually empty when I randomly check them out - purely for research purposes. They may be completely electronic, including all card games.

As I was saying, Vietnamese people love to gamble. Poor people don't need to beg for money in Vietnam because they can instead sell lottery tickets which everyone buys. Vietnamese people don't consider buying lottery tickets gambling. You can see card games, what they do consider gambling, in action at Tet. For the few days of Tet, every house in Vietnam turns into a casino. Kids are taught how to gamble (but not necessarily how to gamble well) and they gamble away the "lucky money" they receive from parents and other elders. For those few days, people are allowed to concentrate in small alleys and play card games for money and the police don't care.

The rest of the year, Vietnamese who want to bet on cards have another choice: make a run for the border town of Bavet (remember to enable 3G on your Cambodian MetFone account) in Cambodia's Svay Rieng province, just across from Moc Bai, which itself is just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. You can take a Saigon city bus from downtown Ben Thanh Market to Moc Bai and then walk across the border. What you'll be greeted with is a single drag with almost nothing but shabby casino buildings with names like Le Macau. In this area, your phone's Vietnamese sim card will probably still work, people will be fluent in both Khmer and Vietnamese, and stores will accept Vietnamese dong as well as riel or dollars.

Inside a Bavet casino you'll find the standard casino card games like blackjack (or Vietnamese "xi dach" / "xi lac"), poker, baccarat, and slot machines. At the casinos for rich gamblers the food and drinks will be free. You'll also find cock fighting (da ga) inside the casinos! Vietnamese people also love betting on sports and there are also a number of online Vietnamese sites where they can transfer money and bet on football matches. Strangely, these websites are very popular yet aren't blocked by the ISPs...

The downside to having a mini-Vegas right across the border of the country's largest and richest city:

Many Vietnamese gamblers are not very successful at it. They borrow money to go to casinos in Cambodia and then lose. When they lose, they either try to borrow more money (loan sharks right there in Bavet are willing to lend losers money) or they find some other way to access money. When they lose all that money then they have to deal with the mafia elements common to any numbers racket. They will be held for ransom. If they have daughters, people will be sent into Vietnam to kidnap the bettor's daughter who will then be sold into prostitution to pay off her father's debt. If they win, they can use their winnings to pay for the favors of the daughter of another past gambler. You can also buy drugs (mostly ecstacy) to ply your short-time lover with.

I guess this is what Hanoi's morality police want to discourage by banning casinos from serving Vietnamese people.

When you first arrive in Vietnam as an American you are blown away by the number of motorbikes on the roads. In the average US city you might see one scooter a day in good weather. In Vietnam you can see hundreds of them lined up behind a red light.

So living in Vietnam, where automobiles are prohibitively expensive (but still within reach for the country's bourgeoisie) you can either go with the flow and ride a motorbike or you can be forever inconvenienced by having to bum rides, walk, or take taxis.

Learning to ride a motorbike is actually quite easy if you can ride a bicycle.

First, you should learn how to ride a bicycle - in Vietnamese traffic. By riding in traffic you will learn how traffic works. When you are a pedestrian you are always walking outside of the flow of traffic or across it. As a cyclist, you'll learn how to weave in and out of the flow, how to recognize when someone in front of you is about to turn (they will slightly cock their head to the side more often than they'll use a turn signal), and how cars treat everyone else like second class citizens.

Second, you need a bike to practice on and a place to practice. You may think that riding an automatic scooter (xe tay ga) is easier than a manual (xe so) especially if you compare it to manual transmission shifting on a car. But changing gears on a manual bike is as simple as clicking your heels, and a manual motorbike will be slimmer and lighter than an automatic, thus easier to handle.

So find, or make, a friend who can take you to someplace to try riding. If you live in Saigon, you can find empty roads out in the suburban districts (Tan Phu, District 6, District 12, etc.) as well as in suburban expat areas like Phu My Hung and An Phu. If you wait until night, the financial district of Saigon around Nguyen Cong Tru Street is fairly empty.

Third, sit on the bike. Your right hand controls a hand brake as well as the gas. On an automatic you may have a second hand brake on the left. On a manual, you will actually have to use your feet. Your left foot changes gears - press your toes down to go to a higher gear and press your heel back to go back down. You can go from Neutral to 1st and on up to 4th gear, and you can also go directly from 4th to Neutral. If you don't want to mess with the gears at first just stick it in 2nd or 3rd gear and learn to ride. You will lose power but still be able to ride.

1. You do need a driver's license to ride a motorbike with an engine larger than 50 cc. This applies to most common bikes aside from Honda Cubs.
2. You do need to wear a helmet, even if you swear the helmets don't give you any protection in case of an accident.
3. Stay in the rightmost lane as every other lane is reserved for cars despite nearly all vehicles and people being on bikes. Car drivers make the rules.
4. Right of way isn't the same as in other countries. Don't expect anyone to yield to you.
5. Despite the lack of any signage, there is a speed limit which depends on the type of vehicle and type of road.
6. Despite what you see constantly, it is illegal to run a red light, to drive in the "wrong" lane, and go the wrong way against traffic on a street.

Tips on handling traffic cops:
1. Have a license. This makes it harder for the officer to extort a lot of money from you.
2. Have a fake second wallet with a small amount of money. Vietnamese cops will take as much as they can from you so don't show them millions of dong. But even if you only have 50k VND they will take it.
3. Avoid eye contact when passing them at traffic stops.
4. In the past, foreigners would get away from being ticketed or fined by speaking English and not being able to communicate with the police but now the police will either be able to speak rudimentary English or will call in someone who can.
5. At night, be careful of two things: drunk drivers and cops. Drunk driving is common in Vietnam and restaurant workers will help stand up a drunk patron so that they can drive home. And night time is when traffic police can set up traps and make a lot of money without doing much work (it's easier to catch people for minor traffic violations in common spots than to chase after drunk drivers, for example).

Finally, remember to carry a raincoat on your bike especially during the rainy season.

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