You can drive carefully, you can drive defensively, you can drive at a sedate 30kph, but sooner or later you’re going to come to grief on Vietnam’s roads. It was my turn early last year.


I was en route back to Vung Tau after a week’s holiday in Vinh Long. It was around 10pm, and few kilometers before Ho Chi Minh City I pulled out to pass another motorcycle. For no apparent reason, it pulled out at the same time. Next moment I was sliding along the road at 60kph with my motorbike sliding alongside me.


Now I can’t claim that it was altogether unexpected. You know, you just know, that sooner or later your number will come up. The statistics prove it: Vietnam averages 29 traffic fatalities a day, which is a pretty sobering figure. (In my country there’s around one a day.) There comes a time when your slow, ultra-careful, defensive driving isn’t enough. Then — blam — you’re another victim. Friends of mine in Vung Tau have all had their mishaps; lots of grazed elbows and knees, one with a broken collarbone, and one comatose for three days.


A Lucky Escape


Back to my predicament. Here I am, sliding along the road and thinking, “Oh God, is this it? Is this goodbye cruel world? Even if this contact with the hard, unforgiving road doesn’t kill me, will I become pancake under the wheels of the truck hurtling along behind me?”


But my slide does come to a halt, and the truck behind me does manage to stop in time, and I’m left lying on the road in a daze. A crowd quickly gathers around me. There are lots of loud opinions being voiced, but nobody seems exactly sure what to do next. I try to sit up but can’t, and roll back onto the road. Two men help me to my feet, then to the side of the road. I’m hurting. My shoulder, my elbow, my knuckles, and my knee are throbbing and dripping blood.


Oh shit, what to do next? Getting away from the scene is a good idea, before the police arrive, and things like driving licences, negligence and liability become unwelcome issues. Some onlookers have righted my bike and wheeled it to the side of the road.


“Can I still ride it?” I ask the man beside me. He shrugs. I swing my leg over it. Five minutes earlier this would have been an effortless, automatic move; now it’s a slow, painful feat that has me gritting my teeth and groaning. The handlebars are slippery with blood, the mirrors and speedo splattered with it. I press the starter. The bike starts straight away, and that’s one compensation at least.


Hospital? What Hospital?


Now, where to go? Hospital? Doctor? No, it would take an age to track one down, especially at this time of night. I’ll go to a chemist shop to get something for the wounds. There’s one nearby, and I park in front of it and with difficulty ease myself off the bike and limp into the shop. I hold out my trembling hand to the pharmacist, showing her the bloody knuckles. She tut-tuts and nods, then reaches for antiseptic cleaning fluid, iodine, bandages, and band-aids.


“And some painkillers too”, I say. “The strongest you’ve got.”


I pay with blood-stained banknotes, and ask where the nearest hotel is. She waves a hand down the road. “Near or far?” I ask. “Near.”


Once in the hotel room I get my shirt and jeans off, and study my wounds in the bathroom mirror. Shoulder, like a red, oozing tennis ball. Knuckles, a mish-mash of raw flesh, dripping blood on the tiled floor. Elbow, more red meat. Knee, twice its normal size, and stiffening fast. I dash antiseptic fluid onto the wounds, gasping with pain as I do so. I gingerly towel the wounds dry. I apply iodine to all four injuries, bandage the elbow and knee, and put three band-aids on the knuckles. I take two Panadol and get myself onto the bed. I sleep fitfully for five hours, waking intermittently to take more Panadol, then get up at 7.30am. I check out of the hotel, and drive ever-so slowly, shakily, back to Vung Tau.


Born in New Zealand, Don Wills lives in Vung Tau. He’s been writing his way around the region for decades

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