The art of motorbike repairs in Vietnam

A man repairs a motorbike for free during a rainstorm in Da Nang
A man repairs a motorbike for free during a rainstorm in Da Nang

Well you got caught with a flat? Well, how ’bout that

Well babies, don’t you panic

By the light of the night, it’ll all seem alright

I’ll get you a Satanic mechanic
(Lyrics from the Rocky Horror Show)

You hear that chunk and feel the dump and know you’re in trouble. Yes, it’s that wonderful time when you get a flat tire and need to find the repair shop pronto.

Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong!) applies here: 1) it nearly always happens when you are the furthest away from a repair shop; 2) it will happen when you are in a hurry to get somewhere; or 3) just when you’ve achieved that perfect mood to get through the day…

(A note for English learners – ‘tire’ is used in America and Canada, however most of the rest of the world including my native New Zealand spells it ‘tyre’ – the rubber outside part of a wheel.)

A mechanic repairs a motorbike for free during a rainstorm in Da Nang
A mechanic repairs a motorbike for free during a rainstorm in Da Nang

Your magic words will be ‘sửa chữa’ (pronounced sue-a/chew-a) and you’ll see some version of the word outside most shops in urban settings. Out in the countryside, it gets trickier as the repair shop can be anything from a half-hidden bamboo shack to a fancy place with a million dismantled bikes blocking half the road outside. After the sun goes down, it’s even tougher to find unless you can say the magic words and be led to anywhere with a shop front.

I remember a few years ago I got a flat at about 9:30 pm on the coastal road from Da Nang back to Hoi An. A neighbor woke the local mechanic who rang another guy to get a new inner tube, replaced the damaged tube and charged me 400,000 dong. I didn’t object in any way as he was going out of his way – and could have easily said ‘No’ to me. Who wants to push a bike in the middle of the night along a dangerous highway? Sometimes you just have to be grateful that you can get repairs and gas for the motorbike and enough money on you to do this!

Still it’s all cheap enough. After that experience, I went to my local Yamaha dealership in Hoi An and got the tube replaced again – 100,000 dong for parts and labor. The funny part to me is the difference between the professionals and side alley mechanics. Dirt, fumes and tools splashed across the floor are standard for these local guys servicing the outlying areas far from the company service centers while the Yamaha shop seemed even cleaner than many repair shops I’ve been to in Australia! Noise is the other factor. The mechanic up the road from my place uses an old power socket drill constantly and it’s deafening. Meanwhile the Yamaha boys hardly even use the socket drill; maybe the Yamaha boys are stronger using a wrench?

Yet I cop criticism every time I go to the Yamaha shop for not changing my oil or the condition of my tyres. Hey, I’m the one who’s noticed that and brought it to you to repair, remember? They just snigger at my indignation. But at least I make the effort to keep the motorbike roadworthy. It’s staggering to me how many bikes on the roads have broken headlights, non-functioning indicators and barely working brakes. Even scarier when I know how many tourist vans in Hoi An have at least one broken rear brake light or indicator…

A mechanic stands beside a sign saying motorbike repair was offered free of charge during a rainstorm in Da Nang
A mechanic stands beside a sign saying motorbike repair was offered free of charge during a rainstorm in Da Nang

Around Tet, I try to stay off the roads as much as possible as the locals are doing silly things in the traffic. However, around this time of year, staying in tune with the idea of house painting for the New Year, I like to buy an entire new set of panels to doll up the bike and impress the neighbors that I’m not a slob. Shininess is next to a puffed-up ego in my book.

Thank heavens, as all of this costs next to nothing for me compared with the hundreds of dollars that could easily be spent in New Zealand on keeping the bike on the road. Even better when I can cross the road and have a beer and a smoke while I’m waiting for the repairs to be done. Can’t do that in New Zealand, pfft!

In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy Tet holiday and may you all be safe on the road and smart enough to wear a helmet and your driving license ready for the cong an!

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Then Book My Services 

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