Monday, September 6, 2010

Vietnam...How to survive the chaotic traffic!

If you are a first time visitor to Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon ), one of the most striking thing to hit you is the sheer mass and volume of traffic on the road. That was the 1st thing that struck me. Now, Unk Dicko has been to more than 500 cities around the world and still counting. Most big cities have as much traffic as Saigon but they are better controlled and perhaps more regulated.
In some big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta and Bangkok, if you want to cross the might be wiser to use pedestrain crossings at identified locations.
So too in most of the European cities.
However, in Saigon it is not necessary to use a "zebra crossing" as most motorists do not really stop for pedestrains. In fact, it may be highly dangerous if you simply expect ALL motorists to treat you like the rarest diamond on earth!
So how on earth do you cross a street without being turned into pizza?

[ Me on " Ah Sup's bike before we explored the city ]

To answer that question and this is really good advice...When in Rome,Do as the Romans Do.
So how do the local Saigonese cross the road? Observe and learn and you'll survive just
like them.
You are at the curb of a road. The traffic seems really thick and chaotic. You look right, then left and then right again, then left again..and you see a 50/50 chance, without much further thought
DASH or RUN across the dizzy stream of unending traffic. Next thing you hear... BONG! BANG!
And you become history.

[ It was early morning on Sunday. Traffic starting to pick up ]
The local method of crossing a road:
Survey the road. Pick the less congested part preferably where the traffic is coming
from only ONE side or direction.
Be brave! Watch traffic carefully.
Get ready for the right moment.
Spot a GAP in the line of traffic and WALK VERY SLOWLY into the traffic,
moving towards the middle of the road.
Somehow as I have observed, all the motorbikes will know how to go around and avoid you.
But if you start may not be coming home.

Two things worth noting in this photo.
This is the kind of cross junction you should Never attempt to cross at.s
Why? The traffic comes at you from more than 4 directions. It will be beyond you.
Look closely at all the overhead electric cables. They are so heavy and overloaded they have
begun to sag.
I wonder if any of my visitors can recall when was the last time we saw this in S'pore?
As Ah Sup rode his bike carefully with me as his pillion, I was doing something I should
by right not be doing...shooting the scene with my digital camera. One handed shooting!
My other hand gripped the side support bar.
First time I've ever tried doing this. If I didn't do it, I can't bring you these scenes.
All these pictures were shot on the move.

Look closely, the different streams of traffic actually at "cross-path" to one another,
with no traffic lights to regulate the stop or flow. They just merge into each other gently
as though all those behind the wheel or bike have telepathic understanding of each others'
Incredible but true!

The flow of traffic in Saigon, despite the sheer volume, takes place every a
highly rehearsed ritual. Everyone moves, everything moves even in opposite directions or
at cross-directions without the need to stop SUDDENLY. It's almost like an art form.
It's mechanised ballet.

Any rider or driver from Singapore will face immense problems if they hope to
ride or drive here.
I personally would not reccomend it.
That's why, although Unk Dicko is a very safe and reliable driver and rider since the 60's
[ 100% accident free record ! ] and I am still doing both daily, for Saigon I thought it wiser
not to tempt fate.

We went through different sections of the city. Fortunately, the roads
originally built with French help when Vietnam was a French Colony, were
generally wide with sidewalks( pavements) for pedestrains.

The slight white top of Ah Sup's helmet can be seen in this picture.

Was I at any time afraid while we rode through and around the city?
Let me say here loudly and clearly.
Not once throughout our entire trip did I notice anyone SPEEDING on the road!
Not a car, lorry, van or motorbike !!!
(Back home in S'pore...without FAIL, everyday you and I
will see more than one SPEEDING moron behind a bike or vehicle on our roads.
Why do they do it? Are the penalties not severe enough? I have no answer. You tell me. )
This is another REAL eye-opener for me.
I did ask Ah Sup at the end of our ride about my observation.
His reply?
The police is VERY STRICT about anyone caught SPEEDING.
Suspended License or Revoked License can be expected.
Practically everyone old enough has a motorbike license. It is the cheapest, fastest and most
practical form of transport for moving around or to conduct your business, etc.
Without this license, with no MRT, few buses, few taxis, little is almost like a
death sentence without a bike.


stanley said...

Uncle Dicko,
It is true that crossing a road in Ho Chi Ming City is never a pleasant thing to do. With the endless stream of motor-cycles and the two-wheelers together with constant din and cacophony made by the heavy traffic, crossing the road requires a bit of bravery. I remember I took almost half an hour to cross the road in Saigon.

unk Dicko said...

Hi Stanley, I'm not surprised you took that long to cross over because some of their major roads are 3 to 4 times wider than our own roads. Definitely crossing such roads is not for the Faint-hearted. Most important of all is the precise TIMING to take that first step into potential danger and keep walking v SLOWLY forward only. No " go-stan"! Anyone going forward and then in panic moving a candidate for tragedy.
Thanks for sharing!