Motorcycles, motorbikes, mopeds - Oh My!

After traveling 15 hours via airplane, including a stopover for refueling, from Denver to Vietnam, transportation to your bed and breakfast, hotel or cozy lodging might include a ride on a motorcycles, motorbike or moped. That's the normal transport for the natives.

Forget the comforts of a car; the majority of the Vietnamese people use the two-wheeled machines as a way for commerce in transporting goods, passengers and their precious cargo of children.

There are five million people in Saigon and three million motorcycle riders, according to government statistics. The number of motorbikes continues to rise in Vietnam and there are now nearly 20 million of them, according to the World Bank. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has 3 million about one motorbike for every two people in the city.

More people die in traffic accidents in Vietnam per capita than almost anywhere else in the world: more than 13,000 a year. Other government statistics break it down to 40 accidents a day. The World Bank also tracked 80 percent of accidents occur in Southeast Asia. As a result, a mandate of helmets has evolved into law in 2007.

The odors of gasoline fumes and pungent smell of oil causes alarm to visitors on how much adjustment is needed for all the arresting senses. Witnessing elderly and females driving through the streets complete with masks, covering most of the face except for the eyes, make logical sense with the large amount of fumes.

Just walking across the street is an act of faith. Any hesitation will place one's life in jeopardy. Frayed nerves and jumpiness only cause near misses from motorbikes swerving but still plugging along. Constant honking horn and obnoxious beeps are heard throughout the streets. The natives don't pay attention to it while visitors often check for the origin of the sounds.

Cargo on motorcycles include: bulging baskets of raw meat; oversized spools of cable wiring; six-foot bookcases, stereos, refrigerators, extension ladders, TVs, bushels of skinned chickens, plastic barrels of live fish, and rings of rubber tires. A European publisher depicts these cargos in a beautiful, coffee-sized book called Bikes of Burden. You can order a copy on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. Or find it by visiting the author's web site.

Numerous tour operators are available for visitors to embark on this motorcycle adventure. Always check web sites for reviews and read what the top tour guides for its recommendations. Most operations are fly-by-night while other businesses work in partnership with hotel and lodging owners.

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