Ho Chi Minh City is a world where old and new competes to survive in this dense populated city. It’s a city filled with skyscrapers, ancient temples, motorbikes, people on bicycles and every inch of it covered in tall slim buildings.
The streets are overcrowded with motorbikes, piled with up to 5 people each fighting for way with taxis and even trucks. The streets look like organized chaos with motorbike drivers talking on cell phones, not abiding traffic signals, and not even driving in the same direction as the traffic flow.
I dared to brave the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on my bright yellow Honda cup only after about a month of living there. The first couple of weeks just crossing the street felt like a brave life risking thing to do. I have never seen so many people on motorbikes in one place, and they don’t actually stop at the traffic lights. You have a mere 30 second gap in which you have to weave through the motorbikes to the other side before they start moving again.
I got myself a canary yellow 1969 super cup motorbike. It couldn’t go faster than 60km per hour but in a city as crowded as Ho Chi Minh City you don’t need to go faster. And the up side of this was that when I got into my first accident I wasn’t hurt too bad because I was going at a snails pace. The down side was that my motorbike had no petrol gage so I did get stranded a couple of times without gas. But then you didn’t have to walk far before you saw a brick with a white paper cone in it on a corner. This was where you could quickly buy petrol on the street. The first time this happened and the little Vietnamese dude brought me a bottle of green petrol I thought they were trying to trick me, petrol should be red shouldn’t it? Well in Vietnam you get dirty unrefined green petrol, the cause of all the black fumes in the city.
I quickly learnt to never leave the house without my little fog mask…looks like a dentist mask but it helps you from chocking on all the fumes you will be inhaling while driving.
If you do rent a bike in Saigon, and if you’ve never ridden one I don’t recommend to learn here, remember a few tips here;
1. Traffic will come from all directions, no matter what side of the street you’re on
2. Red lights don’t always mean stop here, so keep you eyes peeled when you go through a green one and don’t try going through an orange one
3. Large trucks often don’t have brakes or don’t use them.
4. Watch out for the boy racer coming towards you, he will likely swerve all over the place to impress mates or the poor girlfriend on the back.
5. Be careful when driving along side busses, especially mini busses, as Vietnamese are notoriously car sick and a face full of vomit is not pleasant
6. I advise wearing a helmet everywhere especially on the Highways
7. As a foreigner in an accident it is more than likely, no matter what happened, you would be in the wrong. If it’s not your fault get the hell out of there as quickly as you can. If you do stop make sure you remove your keys and put them in your pocket.
8. Puddles in the road often hide very deep holes, don’t drive through them, it is not a very enjoyable experience.
If you are not renting a motorbike there are a couple of other transport options available, namely, taxis, “xe om” (motorbike taxi) and “cyclos” (bicycle taxi) otherwise known as a rickshaw. Xe means motorbike and Om is cuddle, cuddle bike because you have to hold on for dear life, also check for BO before you get on.
General advice on these guys: on the whole they are reliable and safe, I always look for the oldest bike mainly because with a foreigner on the back they can’t go fast. Otherwise they go as fast as they possibly can and you end up holding on for dear life in the hectically busy streets. Late at night is not a good time to use them, especially around Phan Ngu Lao, there are lots of reports of dodgy dealings so either use one you know (used before) or get a taxi.
Taxis services have dramatically improved in the last few years with some professional companies opening up such as Mei Linh and Vinataxi. But still there are a few rouges out there so here are some tips: You don’t need to bargain for a taxi, if the driver tries, get another taxi. The most common trick is for them not to start the meter, if he refuses get out and get another.
Someday cars will overtake the streets in Ho Chi Minh City, but for now, motorbikes rule, and cyclos(tricycle rickshaws) co-exist. The bicycle-like contraptions that are a quick mode of transportation for both tourists and locals are almost a national symbol. They cover the streets, they cover postcards, and they employ about 60,000 people.
Enjoy your travels around Ho Chi Minh City.
Throwback Thursday, is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories……