The ubiquitous 'Xe Om'

Xe om means ‘cuddle vehicle’ in English, an amusing, but appropriate, term for a motorbike ‘taxi’. Men (never women) with motorcycles wait on the pavements at junctions, hotels, stations or anywhere there is likely to be people wanting lifts.

A xe om isn’t the safest mode of travel, but the drivers are skilled at scooting through the busy traffic and usually concerned to avoid accidents because they’d lose their source of income if the bike were damaged.However, there are a few golden rules:

  • Always negotiate the fare in advance – you can safely assume the driver won’t speak English. Wave a (small) note and look puzzled. You can reckon that the first response will be about double the normal fare, so look horrified, smile and shake your head sadly. After a bit more humorous playacting, you should get a reasonable rate. Always carry plenty of small notes – xe om drivers follow the Paris taxi driver’s lead in never having change. Get someone to write the address you want to reach in Vietnamese and carry it with you. Don’t assume that the driver’s confident nod means that he knows the location of your destination. Take a street map with you to try to keep up with where you’re headed. There’s no point in showing a map to a Vietnamese person – map reading is virtually unknown here. If you think you’re diverting wildly from the logical route (remember street maps rarely show the many one-way streets that are appearing in all the main cities) make a fuss, wave your address vigorously, and shake your head violently – if you’re lucky, the driver will then stop to ask someone the way. Don’t assume that taxi drivers are more likely to know where they are supposed to be going.
  • Always take a card from the hotel to make sure you can get back!

Of course, the further you get from the cities, the less these rules apply (apart from the first one!).

Finally, don’t worry – it’s all part of the Vietnam experience!



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