Posted by: adventuressetravels | July 3, 2012

Scooters of Burden

The sun was just creeping over the horizon as the train pulled into the dusky streets of Hanoi.  Looking out the window I gaped as a scooter sped down a street with the skinned carcass of a cow draped over its back.  It is unbelievable the objects that can be piled onto little 110 cc motorcycles in Vietnam.

Scooters and motorbikes dominate the streets and roads of Vietnam, and that’s the way the government wants to keep it.  Many of the roads and highways aren’t wide enough to comfortably accommodate cars, busses, and trucks passing one another.  On some turns even squeezing by a bus on a scooter can prove problematic.  To keep cars off of the highway the government has placed a 200% tax on them.  Even larger motorcycles, over 175 ccs are taxed prohibitively.  Because of this, only the extremely wealthy are able to afford to own a large bike or private car.

This leads to some creative transportation alternatives.  I thought the strangest 2-wheeled transportation I would ever see was when I helped move an entire apartment by bicycle,

But Vietnam’s creativity puts Portland’s bike trailers to shame.

The things that Vietnamese drivers can transport on just a small motorbike stretches the imagination to breaking.  I have seen dozens of live ducks strapped to the sides of a bike, hung by every possible appendage.  Caged pigs, or live pigs strapped to the back of motos, boxes piled so high that it’s a wonder the back tires don’t pop from the weight.  Families of 6 go on trips together all aboard a single scooter.

And some of the pictures I have seen are even stranger, a live water buffalo or donkey strapped to the back of a scooter.  The amount and weight of things that are transported on scooters here has to break several laws of physics, or at least mechanics.

But somehow the scooters keep going.  The more I see the more I become convinced that every Vietnamese person is part scooter whisperer.  When Westerners can’t start a scooter, (which happens on a fairly regular basis), or are broken down on the side of the road, invariably a kindly stranger will stop and magically fix the temperamental machine.  No tools, no payment; they are just being helpful.  Helpful and probably amused at the Westerners who can’t even get a scooter to carry a person or two and a bag.

This culture of using scooters as beasts of burden is one of the most interesting and unique things in Vietnam.  Again and again I marvel at the he way Vietnamese drives balance piles of fruits, vegetables, boxes, or whatever needs to be transported that day.  It is part acrobatics, part experience, with a heaping spoonful of sorcery dumped in for good measure.


  1. Wish you had been able to get a shot of a scooter with a donkey aboard. The chickens were a gas.

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