Migrants form motorbike groups for Tet homeward journey

By Ngoc Ngan   January 31, 2024 | 12:21 am PT
Migrants form motorbike groups for Tet homeward journey
A group of people from Central Highlands Dak Lac Province return home for Tet by motorbike, 2023. Photo courtesy of the group
Bich Ngoc, an office worker from Gia Lai, signed up to join a group of people who planned to return to the province by motorbike for the Lunar New Year holidays (Tet).

Traveling 400 km by motorbike for is not comfortable, but Ngoc did not have much choice.

She explains: "Around Tet, bus tickets from HCMC to Gia Lai cost VND500,000-600,000 ($20.47-24.57). That is double the usual fare besides which the motorbike parking fee is VND700,000. [Together] that’s one fifth of my Tet spending money."

Last year too, on social media, Ngoc found a group for people from Central Highlands Gia Lai Province who planned to return home by motorbike.

People in this group started meeting up from mid-January – Tet usually falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 - to get to know each other and make detailed plans for the trip.

Then, at the time of travel, they split into groups of 30 to 50, each with a leader and a support team.

"I’m a woman traveling alone, so I thought this is a safer way to go home," Ngoc says.

For the past four years Luong Van Tu, 26, has been traveling back to his hometown by motorbike.

The worker from Ia Grai District in Gia Lai says he has motion sickness and is claustrophobic, and so cannot travel by bus, especially when they are crowded during Tet. "Traveling by motorbike, I can freely travel on my own schedule, eat and take rest whenever I want," Tu said.

Another reason is that his job does not inform him about the Tet roster early enough, and so by the time he knows when he is off-duty, bus fares are already sky-high or seats are sold out.

Tu and Ngoc are members of a group called "Return to Gia Lai by motorbike" that has 3,000 members.

A quick search on social media found over 20 groups of people traveling by motorbike, ranging from 3,000 to 22,000 members.

They are from the Central Highlands and south-central and Mekong Delta provinces and based in HCMC.

Just before Tet these groups are very active with five to 10 posts every day, mostly about dates, timings and routes.

Bao Tuyen, founder of "Return to Gia Lai by motorbike," says the members are mainly students, workers, families with young children, or workers aged over 50.

"This group operates on a voluntary basis, with people supporting each other. This is not a charity or road trip group."

Each group usually has 40 to 120 motorbikes, depending on the travel date. Each group starts at a meeting point in HCMC, travels through Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Dak Nong, Dak Lak, and then to Gia Lai. The 400km trip takes 12 to 14 hours depending on the traffic.

Vo Tran Lam, 31, administrator of a group called "Ride a motorbike to Dak Lak," says 40% of the members cannot afford a bus ticket home for various reasons.

Early in January Lam opened registration for nine groups traveling between January 30 and February 8, and so far over 1,000 people have signed up.

The organizers will tabulate names, ages and addresses and assist in pairing people up if needed. Lam’s group has 200 volunteers divided equally across various dates.

Members have to abide by the speed limit and are not allowed to overtake the group leader.

Bui Thi Minh Ha, a sociology lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, says this phenomenon of people returning to their hometown by motorbikes from big cities like Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi is getting increasingly common for various reasons.

It also occurred during the Covid-19 outbreaks due to the restrictions on public transport, she says.

Then the economic downturn and decreased or loss of income forced people to save every dong they could, including on bus tickets, she says.

Besides, young people choose to travel by motorbike for the sake of adventure, she adds.

Nhu Quynh, 19, who studies in HCMC, says she can afford the bus fare but has chosen to travel home by motorbike. "I want to feel the cold air and see the beautiful scenery on the way home."

She sends Tet gifts to her hometown by bus so that she does not have to deal with baggage.

Thanh, 22, an office worker, says the groups usually have a lot of people, which greatly strains the support teams.

Flight fares are not affordable around Tet time for fresh graduates like him, and it is difficult to get a bus ticket due to the huge demand, he says.

His hometown is in Buon Trap town in Central Highlands Dak Lak Province, far away from main roads and with few bus services.

Experts warn that motorbike groups returning home in the hundreds during Tet pose problems for traffic management and emergency services.

Ha says emergency booths need to be set up to support people in case of accidents and to provide food and water along the way.

Bao Tuyen divides the volunteers into groups of five to escort people. They volunteers are tasked with making sure everybody arrives safely in Gia Lai.

Last year families with young children and people over 60 years old even got money for gasoline.

Thanh says: "Tet is the time to go home. We don’t want to leave anyone behind."

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