So, this post is going to be about motor vehicle traffic (mostly motor scooters), pedestrians, and how they interact in Ho Chi Minh city. The T-shirt above fairly describes the attitude of most Vietnamese about driving in HCM. When I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, I never got on a motor bike and consequently, I always drove in taxis to get around the city. Best mode of transportation, albeit, I described it as being in an action movie chase scene, with the requisite near misses of other vehicles, cows, dogs, chickens, and people. The saving grace was that the traffic was so bad and the streets were either pot-holed or rough dirt roads, that you rarely attained speeds faster than 35 MPH. If you got in an accident, you would probably be a bit “banged up,” but alive.
In my estimation, this is not the case in Vietnam. I have driven in Vietnamese taxi cabs and they are perfectly safe. You have metal around you and because most traffic is motorbikes, they have to look out for you. In short, there are very few cars in Vietnam compared to the number of motor bikes. If you get in an accident, it will likely involve you hitting a motor bike or pedestrian (more on that in a bit).
The above photo shows multiple passengers on a motor bike. This is not unusual in Vietnam. The motor bike can be used as an SUV or as a truck (see photo below). Personally, I have driven with Oanh and An on their motor bikes. Was I scared? Umm . . . admittedly, yes. Scared to death in fact, when I was riding with An at night. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant on the other side of town, a coffee house, then a movie cinema, where we watched a Vietnamese horror, comedy movie. However, I digress – I will share more on that in another post . . . Regarding An’s driving motor bike skills, she is an excellent driver – quite aware and conscious of everything around her. However, this was not much solace for me, especially during the evening where I had no idea if some of the other drivers were imbibing or teetotaling. Couple that with the dark, yeah, I was hanging on for dear life and every block we traveled was an accident waiting to happen. Especially true at all intersections. Yikes! Sheesh, traveling with Oanh during the day time was a cake walk compared to my experience with An.
I have also traveled on a motor bike with Phuong and a friend of hers. I forgot his name. Phuong called him up to assist me in finding another hotel. All 3 of us got on his bike and rode the streets of downtown Ho Chi Minh city checking out 4 hotels I previously had noted on the web for possible stays. This was also an interesting experience and not one I will probably repeat. No idea how I got talked into it in the first place. Grin. I wish I had photos of us on the bike or taken from the bike, but when you are hanging on for dear life and you’re the 3rd person on the end of the seat, your mind doesn’t think about taking photos, sight-seeing, meditating, or thinking about how to solve the world’s problems.
Being a pedestrian in Ho Chi Minh city also presents an entirely new set of dangers. Almost as if you are prey and buses, motor bikes and cars are predator incarnate. In fact, motorcycles frequently USE THE SIDEWALKS FOR SHORT PERIODS TO GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B. GULP! This is particularly true in the park near my hotel, but is also common on many of the streets as well. However, even worse than this, is that motor bikes will go in the opposite direction of traffic for short periods as well.
Rule of thumb for crossing any street in Ho Chi Minh city: Never, ever retrace your route or you will pay the consequences. Once you begin to cross the street, the only intuitive thought going on between driver (predator) and you (prey) is that you will live if you continue on your path . . . Go back the way you came, and the driver will not anticipate this action and will run you over. Book it. Traffic lights are for the most part useless as my T-shirt humorously states. You still must be on full alert when crossing any street with a traffic light. No exceptions. Round-a-bouts doubly so. A pro football running back would do well to train in the off-season on the streets of Ho Chi Minh. Dollars to donuts, he would lead the league in rushing by practicing his skills on the major city throughfares here.
Here are some photos that illustrate what I have written about in this Post: