Photo of the Week — Driver’s Ed, Vietnamese Style

Student booklet for studying for Vietnamese Driving License

I remember the first time I ever visited Ho Chi Minh City. I was walking with a local friend when she very nonchalantly crossed the street, inadvertently leaving me paralyzed on the other side, an image of the 1980’s videogame, Frogger, flashing through my mind.

For those of you from the Twitter / Facebook / Xbox generation, here’s an Old School history lesson: Frogger was one of the all time classic arcade games where you had to move your frog past cars, trucks and various other life-threatening hazards,  inevitably leaving the frog as a green splat on the screen.

Frogger Video Game

Good times, 80's, good times

Flash forward to Ho Chi Minh City, circa now. With over 6 million inhabitants and almost 4 million motorbikes, it’s not hard to feel like a very small frog crossing a very big street.

Waiting to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Frogger. With real people.

So, tired of walking like a loser or getting ripped off by local mototaxi drivers (called xe om, literally “hugging bike / vehicle”, because when you get on, you’re always the passenger, sitting behind the driver. You don’t actually hug him. Well, at least I don’t… but I have seen foreigners unaccustomed to traveling on scooters copping the occasional hug…) I was off to Driver’s Ed, Vietnamese style.

I don’t even know where to begin…

First of all, in every picture, the FedEx truck incurred a violation. Maybe the Ministry of Transport lost a package once?

Picture in driving license booklet Vietnam

Bad FedEx Truck, Bad!

Next, as a test writer, I know a thing or two about constructing tests. This one almost seemed designed to trip people up. Why would they want to do that?

Vietnamese driving license booklet with options out of order

1, 3 or 2?

After 15 computerized questions in 10 minutes, it was on to the actual driving part of the test. Here’s what the course looked like:

Who am I? Evil Kenevil?

Having a few nervous housewives hyperventilate before me didn’t help. That, plus navigating the tight figure 8 in front of about 100 onlookers…

Driving test in Vietnam

Figure Eight of Death

But now, I’m proud to say that I’m fully street legal. I am no longer the frog waiting to cross the street. Now I’m the mean motorbike looking to squash me some hapless froggies…

Frog splat t-shirt

Free t-shirt with every motorbike license!

For the full text to this story, see my latest article, “The “Forever” License – Becoming Street Legal in Vietnam” in this month’s issue of Vietnam Pathfinder.

What about you? What have you conquered recently?

Photo credits: Waiting to cross the street, Frog Road Kill t-shirt

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10 thoughts on “Photo of the Week — Driver’s Ed, Vietnamese Style

  1. Helen

    Ha! Ha! Jimmy, we just buy ours . . . no test required if you have a valid license from your country of origin . . . if not, who knows???

    1. James Post author

      I wish it were that easy! In Vietnam, you can transfer a car driving license, no problem. But for a motorbike, you’d need a motorbike license from your home country. Anyway, glad it’s over!

    1. James Post author

      Cool vid. When you have buses and taxis trying to navigate very small roads, it can lead to some huge snarls!

      I would’ve been devastated had I failed the driving test! It was a mess of long waits and high-pressure scenarios. I felt really bad for some of the women, though. But practice makes perfect and I found a Figure 8 near my house where I could give it a few gos!

  2. Mike Montross

    Moving to Texas from California was a bit heart stomping at times. Especially when we encountered one of our first construction signs that read, “Various lanes closed on various days at various times.” So what does that mean? Anything can happen in front of you…at any time, so just “BE PREPARED – THINGS CHANGE IN TEXAS AT A MOMENTS NOTICE!” We can write a book on our experience getting our Texas drivers license too.

  3. Aaron


    Great Blog.

    I am studying in Vietnam later this year for 4 months. I have a student visa.

    I am keen to get my motorbike license in Vietnam but do not have my Australian license. If I organised it now I’d still be on my learners permit which would not be valid.

    One other small detail, I don’t speak Vietnamese.

    Any suggestions?

    1. James Post author

      Hey Aaron. That’s a tough one. You’re probably better off just driving without a license to tell you the truth. Lots do it especially if only here for a short amount of time. You should be able to rent a bike no problem. Just don’t get stopped by the traffic police! Where in VN will you be studying?

  4. silip

    I drove a motorbike from Cambodia through Laos down to Saigon secretly apprehending the big city… but what a feeling it was arriving in town and crossing it at rush hour along thousands of motorbikes. Went surprisingly well just following the flow, juicing that clutch…my girlfriend only got moderately scared she said. I don’t have a motorbike licence though, learned to drive on my way here :/ I’m not a smart man.

    I should be back to Phnom Pénh in two weeks, can’t wait to compare the two style of chaos.
    silip recently posted..My complicated relationship with fruitMy Profile

    1. James Post author

      Yeah, Saigon is a SHOCK after sleepy Cambodia and downright comatose (in a good way!) Laos. You’re brave to drive all that way! My butt can only take 30 minutes at a time before getting numb…


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