Saigon – red lights are cautionary and zebra crossings downright dangerous

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 (I actually suspect these numbers are out of date now – I believe not only have the numbers grown but also the number of cars has grown in relation to the number of motorbikes, but I have no proof of this).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.

 

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City

Day 1: I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and was met by a wonderful photographer named Mai Huong and a Vietnamese friend of hers from the US.  I had arranged previously that Mai would take me around from HCMC to Hue, about half way up Vietnam.  Mai booked me into a hotel in the city and we spent that night and the next day just sightseeing – me with my Galaxy Notepad!   Mai and Tom took me to dinner and then Tom and I went for a walk around the city.

My first and I think my longest lasting memory of Vietnam will be the traffic!  Horns blaring, Mopeds by the millions (or so it seems!) and Chaos!!  However, this chaos seems to work – in a city of 10,000,000 people the traffic flows pretty well – albeit a little scary too!  I haven’t stopped laughing since I arrived – mopeds everywhere, going seemingly wherever they want – road, right hand side (the norm here), left hand side, footpath, in shops, in homes – they’re everywhere!  And not only the sheer volume, but 1, 2, 3, 4 or more people on 1 moped, mopeds carrying amazing loads – car parts, plants, lengths of conduit, bottled water and tonight – the best one I’ve seen yet – a guy on a moped carrying a large sheet of glass, riding down the wrong side of the road (and a pretty main road it was too).

Mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City

Mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City

Moped carrying load

Moped carrying load

Bottled Water on moped

Bottled Water on moped

Mopeds Everywhere

Mopeds Everywhere

Chaos in Ho Chi Minh City

Chaos

Day 2: The next morning I went for an early morning stroll through the markets across from the hotel.  At 6:30am these markets are already a bustling hive of activity!  Fresh fruit and meats (some recognizable, many not so!), cooked meals and all sorts of items for sale.  A typical Asian market.

The markets in HCMC

The markets in HCMC

The chaos begins

The chaos begins

Mai, Tom and I then headed out for breakfast.  I had told Mai that I wanted to eat local food so off we went to a local restaurant for some Pho (pronounced Ferh).

Pho

Pho

The table setting at breakfast

The table setting at breakfast

The restaurant where we had breakfast

The restaurant where we had breakfast

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing and enjoying the local scenery.  I also picked up a new tripod which was a great deal (thanks Mai) and then we decided to leave for Phan Rang that afternoon instead of spending more time in Ho Chi Minh City.  Originally we were going to take Mai’s little Honda i10 but her husband was worried it wouldn’t handle the roads (in hindsight I think he was right) so somehow Mai organized a bus for us!  SO, instead of the 3 of us it was now 5 – the bus came with a driver and co-driver.  Hue the driver did the right thing and found an Australian flag to display in the front of the bus.

The bus for the trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue

The bus for the trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue

So, after a bit of toing and froing, off we set for the 8 hr drive to Phan Rang Province.  What a fantastic start to my 18 day trip in Vietnam.  I’ll try and post every day but it is a bit hard because we are normally in a bus travelling along some not so great roads!