In a city of 10,000,000 people, it is estimated that there are 3,500,000 motorcycles and 340,000 cars and this makes for some extremely interesting traffic issues! (I actually suspect these numbers are out of date now – I believe not only have the numbers grown but also the number of cars has grown in relation to the number of motorbikes, but I have no proof of this).
The traffic here is one of my main sources of amusement. I can sit at a cafe and just watch it for hours. In fact, that’s what I’m doing now! U-turns in the middle of a busy street, horns honking continuously, lanes ? what are they, red lights – cautionary at best and zebra crossings, well they are downright dangerous for a westerner. Two only on a bike? you’ve got to be kidding – you can fit the whole family and then carry a load as well. Helmets – well they are compulsory and apparently there are large fines for not wearing one – but most of them are softer than an ice cream carton at home. Driving up the wrong side of the road seems to be totally acceptable as is driving and parking on the footpath.
We teach our kids at home to look right, look left then look right again before crossing the road. Well here of course they drive on the right hand side of the road, so here it is “look left, then look right, then look left again and start crossing the road, then look left and look right, walk at a steady pace, look left and look right, look left and then right and step onto the footpath after you have looked left and then right – then look left and right again”.
Why did I say zebra crossings are dangerous for westerners? Because in the west, once we step onto a zebra crossing, the traffic must stop to let us cross. Here, there is no such courtesy. The only time I cross at a zebra crossing is when there are traffic lights and even then, remember red lights are at best cautionary and follow the “look left, look right” mantra.
The worst and most dangerous thing you can do when crossing the road here is run – that’s how tourists get killed here. If you walk at a steady pace, they will maneuver around you. If you hesitate or worse, run, then they can’t anticipate where you will be properly and you end up causing an accident. In fact, here in Saigon they have traffic police whose sole job is to help westerners cross the road!
Parking – Vietnamese seem to believe that the footpath is for parking and the road is for walking. Mind you, I have almost twisted my ankle a few times walking on the footpath, so really walking on the road is probably safer. You have never seen anyone who can park motorbikes like the Vietnamese – they make sardines in a can look spaced out!
After saying all of this, the traffic flow in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the best I have seen anywhere. I was recently in Manila, a city of 16,000,000 and the traffic was gridlock. Look at Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane – traffic is a nightmare. In Saigon, even in peak hour traffic, the traffic flows constantly, albeit slowly and so far as I have seen, it has the best traffic flow of any city in the world.