The Endurance needed to drive a Vietnamese Motorbike

Sometimes all the running training can pay off in unexpected ways. Last week, I needed it especially when trying to get my Vietnamese motorbike driving license. Driving a motorbike is the easiest way to get around Hanoi, so obviously we need a license to allow us drive. However, getting such a document is not as simple as it initially seems.

Everyone gets round on motorbikes - there are 20 million of them in Vietnam.
Everyone gets round on motorbikes - there are 20 million of them in Vietnam.

First off we had to get our Irish driving licenses translated into Vietnamese. This we did back in Saigon with relative ease. Then we filled in a form and brought it to the Irish Embassy here in Hanoi for signing and stamping. The translation and the form, together with original and copies of our passports and driving license, we brought to a licensing office in downtown Hanoi. However, our application wasn’t right.

But we weren’t too sure why, because the lady at the office didn’t speak English and we don’t yet speak Vietnamese. After many varied arm movements, facial expressions, and gesticulations, we rang our Vietnamese teacher who managed to translate for us over the phone.

She told us that we had brought our application to the driving test centre. But by doing this, we were applying for a brand new license and so would have to sit a driving test in Vietnamese. This we would inevitably fail. What the lady was trying to tell us was that we needed to exchange our Irish licenses instead and so go to a different office.

So in the full heat of another Hanoi summer day, we traipsed our way over to the new address across town. We ended up going to this place three different times in total. First we were told at this second office that we had the wrong form and that we had to fill in the form in Vietnamese. We went away and got the new form filled in properly. We brought this back, but then were told that it was stamped by the wrong agency, that it needed the stamp of the company where we worked as opposed to the Irish Embassy’s. This we brought then back with the right stamp. Then we were told, because the company is a charity, we had to go to a completely different office instead of this one in another different part of town.

Three days had passed since we started the license process. But we couldn’t give up now. We arrive at the new office to be told that we now needed a letter in addition, stating that we wanted a Vietnamese driving license, as well a copy of the company registration. It was now the weekend, so we took a break from running between offices.

Then on Monday, I went back with everything they had requested. Only now, I was told that my photos were too big. I should come back tomorrow with photos of smaller size. I couldn’t face another day of coming into town to deal with this again. But I had no idea where to buy passport photos. I was sent to a pharmacy and a bakery before happening across a small Kodak photo processing shop. After more pidgin Vietnamese / English conversations, they worked out I needed my photo taken. This they emailed to another shop and 30 minutes later, a guy arrives on a motorbike with the photos in hand.

The right size photos delivered in 30 minutes by motorbike for my license.
The right size photos delivered in 30 minutes by motorbike for my license.

By now it was now 10.20am. The license office closes every day at 10.30 am. There was nothing to do but to sprint the length of the street, dogging motorbikes and rickshaws and pedestrians and cars. At 10.26am, I burst through the doors, dripping in sweat, and hand in all the documentation together with the right size photos. Finally, our applications got accepted.

We will be getting our Vietnamese licenses next week. However, I became so despondent last week about trying to get a license that I went off and bought a normal Trek bicycle instead.

My "new" second hand trek bike parked in front of Tay Ho Lake, Hanoi

Cycling around town involves less speed and more sweat as opposed to going by motorbike. But it gets me from A to B. And, even better, I don’t need a license to ride it!

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8 thoughts on “The Endurance needed to drive a Vietnamese Motorbike

  1. Going through this process at the moment in Saigon. They seem a bit more relaxed about it here and the woman at the transport office speaks a little English. She even showed me a correctly completed form with all the translations etc.

    I haven’t been told to get a letter from the sposring company for our residency, just a stamp on the front of the form. We shall see if that works.

    Be careful on the roads and never be complacent. I’m sure you are but a remider doesn’t hurt. One of our friends was tragically killed a few weeks ago on his scooter here in Saigon.

    1. Hi Scott, yeah, administrative things seem a lot easier in Saigon than Hanoi. I still haven’t finished the application process despite being here for nearly 2 months.

      However, at the moment, I’m happily sticking to my bicycle. It feels safer as I go slower, can stick into the side, and can stop quicker than a motorbike.

      Sorry to hear though about your friend. We are starting to hear some horror stories as well from friends here. And nearly every week, I see some of motorbike accident happening on the road. Sometimes, it easier just to get in a taxi and pay the 20,000 Dong / 1 USD fee.

      1. Hi Moire,

        I collected my Vietnamese Licence today which allows me to drive a car less than 3.5tonne and ride a bike up to 175cc. It could have been easier with the right information on the net. Maybe someone can benefit from my experience.
        If you have a Car and bike licence in the UK (or other country for that matter) and just wish to swap it to a Vietnamese one, you don’t go to the regular Transport Office in Q1 Saigon, you go to 252 Ly Chinh Thang in Q3. You do not need a medical neither do you need to do any practical or theory test. It is just a paper chasing exercise.
        You take with you the completed form with 6 photos (3×2), your translated licence, your copy Passport Photo page and Visa Page, your original passport and original licence and one of the following: A stamp from your employer at the bottom left of the application if you have a Work Permit OR a stamp from your embassy verifying your signature if you do not have a WP. My stamp from the British Consulate cost 620,000d!
        You then take it to counter 1 which is for foreigners and a lovely lady will help you. You pay 30,000d at another counter and then pop downstairs and photocopy every page of your application at a cost of 3000d. You then go back to counter 1, hand it all in and she will give you a receipt and tell you to come back in 5 days to collect. Collection is straight forward.
        I hope that is of some help and good luck! I’m so glad that I’m legal now. Health Insurance will be valid if I have an accident and of course I don’t have to be scared of the light tan coloured coppers!

  2. Class! Stamps, forms, specific offices and processes sound all to familiar of life in Asia! See we knew this running would eventually pay off! 😉

    1. Hi Kevin, Good to hear from you!

      Yeah, I was worrying too about getting our Irish licenses back – they were talking about “exchanging” them for Vietnamese ones. However, it ended up being a translation error of the word “exchange”. What they really meant that “we’ll give you Vietnamese licenses if you can prove you have Irish ones already”. They had one quick look at the Irish ones and then gave them straight back. And sure, we weren’t too worried. Even if we did hand in our Irish ones, I’m sure the garda wouldn’t mind us driving around Ireland with Vietnamese motorbike licenses – sure, don’t they say the same sort of thing in the end 😉

      Hope you’re enjoying the Irish summer weather and getting ready for the orienteering season. Have a good one!

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