Tips for using the GRAB app for ride hailing around Da Nang
GRAB is the Uber of Southeast Asia and offers both car and motorbike taxi service that’s convenient, affordable and efficient. There’s no language issue, no haggling over fares, no money changing hands, and there is a record of your trip, your driver and your route, which is an extra level of security for women travelling alone (or for that matter, anyone traveling solo). Plus, you get a receipt emailed to you, which is absolutely brilliant for taxes or business expense reimbursement.
First, let’s start with cars. Getting a GRAB taxi is the best way to get to your lodging when you arrive at the airport. So make sure you’ve downloaded the app before you arrive, and you can buy a local SIM in the airport lobby. It really helps to have a dual SIM mobile.
For everyday transport, I usually use GRAB bike because it’s quick and considerably less expensive, but during the rainy season, or when I have things I need to transport…or sometimes when I just don’t feel like arriving at my destination hot and jostled around on a motorcycle…I take a Grab taxi.
Cars vary considerably. Some are older and not as comfortable, but many are brand new cars that show up spotlessly clean, with the aircon cranked up. If the driver has forgotten to turn on the aircon, just ask.
Also, consider wearing your seat belt. Chances are, it’s mandatory in your home country, and for good reason. The vehicle accident rates are much higher in Vietnam than where you come from, so why would you take fewer precautions when your risk is even higher? It’s a simple thing to do, and you probably grew up doing it reflexively. It’s a great habit, no need to abandon it here.
Fake GRAB drivers
GRAB is a ride hailing app. Once you book a driver, a specific car or bike is on its way to you. But lots of GRAB cars and bikes just ride around looking for fares, like regular taxis do. If you look like you are waiting for a ride, one will drive up to you and you might think this is your ride. You get in the car or put on the helmet, and then they ask, “where are you going?”
Your GRAB driver knows where you are going, it’s part of the booking process. If this happens, just politely decline the ride and let them know you are waiting for your driver.
Note the plate number
Another thing to watch out for is taking someone else’s ride. If you are in a busy location, another person may have booked a ride and be waiting nearby. You might inadvertently take their ride and be well on your way before you realize you are going to the wrong destination. The best way to avoid this is to note the plate number when you book your ride and match it to the plate of the vehicle that shows up. This also helps you avoid fake GRAB drivers that solicit you when you are waiting. Just check the plate to confirm this is your driver.
Many drivers, especially GRAB bike drivers, will show you their mobile screen that displays your booking or read out your name when they arrive to make sure you are their fare.
Has your driver arrived? Maybe.
Something GRAB drivers do that seems peculiar to Vietnam is they mark their status to arrived and waiting when they are still a minute or two away. I’ve noticed motorbike drivers do this more than cars. It’s annoying because the app says your ride has arrived, when they are nowhere in sight. Give it a minute, and if they are still not there, message them — they may be waiting nearby, but at the wrong address.
The most convenient way to get around Da Nang is definitely on the back of a GRAB bike. Drivers are usually plentiful, friendly and helpful. One very convenient thing about Da Nang is that it’s pretty compact. From the beach to the city to riverside destinations…nothing is more than 15 minutes away, at most.
Compared with Hanoi or HCMC, the traffic is very light in Da Nang. Sure, there is a morning and evening rush hour, but even then traffic is always moving.
Stopping for no reason
Your GRAB driver might suddenly pull over, and might even stop the engine. For no apparent reason. What’s going on? If you are approaching an intersection where the light is red, drivers will often find a patch of shade to wait it out. As soon as the light turns, you’ll be on your way. It’s very thoughtful, as even an extra ten seconds sitting in the intense sun and heat can be quite unpleasant.
Carrying your bags
You’ll notice that everything and anything is carried around on motorbikes. Everything from 15ft construction poles to refrigerators to a hundred live birds in stacked cages. But please don’t expect to do the same and burden your GRAB driver with lots of bags or some unwieldy item. Your driver can carry one bag between his legs in front of him, and you can safely manage another. Keep one hand free to hold on to the back bar.
Make sure your shopping bags are tied or closed. The roads can be very bumpy in places, and when your driver hits them, items can be launched out of your bags and onto the road. Sometimes you won’t even know it until you get home and realize they are gone.
You will get sunburned
The sun is really intense, and more so on the road. It might just seem like a quick ride, but you can get serious UV here around the mid day hours (10:30am – 3pm), even if it’s just 15 minutes. Cover up or use sunscreen.
So, is it safe?
I’d love to reassure you that even though it looks like no one is really following any road rules at all, you only think it is dangerous because you’re a foreigner and you don’t understand the underlying order. But this is nothing more than wishful thinking.
The rules of the road in Vietnam are chaotic, and the driving environment is one of the worst I’ve seen anywhere. Which is why, even though I have an international license and ride a motorbike in many other places, I refuse to rent one here and prefer to take GRAB.
Riding a motorbike anywhere in the world is dangerous, carries a much higher risk of injury and death and you need to take it seriously. And Vietnam has some of the worst accident stats around. At least GRAB drivers are acclimated to the local driving conditions, and I feel that gives me a better chance of making it to my destination in one piece.
When taking a GRAB bike, you can expect your driver will ride on the sidewalk, make U turns from the far right lane in packed traffic, drive on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic. They aren’t daredevils, this is just how people drive here.
At intersections and particularly roundabouts, other drivers will be coming at you from every direction other than the sky. People just drive, in all directions, often determining who is going to give way at the very last second after much honking and hard application of brakes.
It’s worst during busy traffic hours and on the multi lane main traffic arteries. Driving around the neighborhoods isn’t usually as harrowing.
You will likely be given a ludicrous helmet. It’s illegal to ride without a helmet, but this is more for looks and not for your safety, as anything you put on your head that is kind of rigid will satisfy this requirement. Hence, you will be offered bicycle helmets, tiny scull cap helmets, helmets that look like a cross between a hard hat and a baseball cap…a plastic ball cap? You get the picture. It will not protect you.
If you travel without health cover, you’re crazy. Make sure you have proper travel insurance.
Follow these simple tips to be a good passenger and have the safest ride possible.
Being a good passenger is critical for a safe journey. If you’re flipping around on the back of the bike while your driver is trying to maneuver through insane traffic conditions, you could be jeopardizing both of you.
Wear a helmet
Your driver will provide a helmet. I’ve already discussed how useless most helmets are here. Even so, adjust the strap to fit your face, and put that thing on. Anything is better than nothing.
Protect your eyes
Sunglasses are better than nothing, but do not kid yourself…there’s nothing to stop all that dust, random bugs and especially construction debris from going around those lenses and right into your eyes. Vietnamese have a terrible custom of burning trash on the side of the road, and sometimes you’ll be driving through all that smoke and ash.
I have riding goggles that work well for me, and I always bring them when I travel and keep them in my daypack in case I end up needing to get a motorbike taxi. They’re not expensive, and seriously, they are not optional. Riding goggles are a must. I use the Red Baron goggles. They come with interchangeable day/night lenses and are very affordable. Any goggles that conform to your face so that nothing can get into your eyes will do.
Wear a mask
One thing you’ll hear a lot about Da Nang is that the air quality is good. Sure, but realize it’s being compared to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City — cities with some of the worst air pollution in the world. The reality is that when you are on the road in Da Nang, you are riding through lots of trash fires along the side of the road, and behind all kinds of trucks, cars and bikes that are spewing black diesel fumes right in your face. Riding a motorbike means you are in the middle of all that exhaust and pollution, and it’s getting sucked into your lungs.
People often get respiratory illnesses after being in polluted cities and think it’s the flu or some kind of cold. It’s because of the pollution. It is a side effect of the pollution.
I always used to ride with a fine particulate mask, basically an N-95 type mask. But after covid, those things are nearly impossible to get. You can take the time to hunt down and buy a proper mask while you’re here, but it’s much easier and faster to just get it at home before your trip. You want a mask that will filter out particulates, which is different than those medical or cloth masks.
They’re so elegant! All over SE Asia you’ll see elegant Asian ladies riding side saddle in skirts with their legs casually crossed and their sandals dangling. They look so relaxed, it looks so easy and…NO. Just don’t. Don’t try this. Throw your leg over that seat and ride astride.
That means you will need to be in shorts or pants. That may seem obvious, but when you are packing, you need to keep that in mind if you plan on being on the back of a motorbike.
Hold on to the back bar
Does this seem obvious? It’s not! If you’re not experienced being a passenger on a motorbike, you might automatically want to hold onto the driver. This is not done. Or, you might really enjoy feeling carefree and not want to hold onto anything. Think again. If you hit a bump, you can easily be launched off the bike, or if your driver needs to hit the brakes to avoid a collision (this happens all too often), you’ll be glad you are holding on to something.
Reach around behind you and hold onto the bar on the back of the bike. And if you’ve got a purse or a backpack or anything, make sure the weight is centered, balanced and secured.
Your driver might have to do some rather interesting moves through traffic. Remember, you’re not just a passive thing attached to the back of the bike. It will really help the driver and make the ride safer if you are paying attention to what is ahead, anticipate his moves and balance your body accordingly. You and the driver move together, in a sense. It’s fine on open stretches to take in the scenery, but when you get to intersections or conditions where your driver is maneuvering, pay attention.
Arms and legs in
It’s best to always keep your arms and legs close in, and as mentioned above, especially when your driver is trying to get through traffic. This goes for any bags you’re carrying.
Don’t use electronics
You know I’m talking about your phone and your camera, right? As tempting as it is to whip out your phone to shoot a cool video or take an awesome selfie, please don’t. And you know, if you’ve taken my advice to wear a mask and goggles, that selfie isn’t going to look very good anyway. Besides, it’s just not the time for this kind of thing.