Ho Chi Minh City – or ‘Saigon’ as most people still call it – is where we started our Vietnam trip. It’s a bustling metropolis, with a population of around 9 million, and it’s apparent that the preferred method of transport for the vast majority is the motorbike. The roads teem with them, and the rules of the road which we are used to don’t seem to apply – there’s no ‘checking your blindspot’ here.
They weave in and out, in a somewhat chaotic and yet harmonious way, and you are left wondering how there are not more collisions. In fact, sadly, there are a massive number of road traffic accidents throughout Viet Nam: I’ve since heard the shocking statistic of 15.000 deaths per year.
However, it’s the pollution which seems more likely to send you to an early grave. The choking exhaust smoke is really unpleasant and most locals on motorbikes and pedestrians alike, fashion fabric face masks aimed at filtering out some of the fumes. They come in various colourful patterned designs. After a couple of days of feeling the pollution in my lungs, I began to understand why and even considered buying one for myself.
The necessary and daunting act of crossing the road, especially when used to the civilised zebra and pelican crossings of the UK, is an art in itself here in Viet Nam. If you ever find yourself here, you must quickly learn how to do it if you want to explore the city on foot and live to drink another Saigon beer. The best method of learning, as with most things whilst abroad, is to observe how the locals go about it. To begin with we would spot a local about to cross and stealthily walk beside him, preferably standing behind him so he became a ‘human shield’.
The technique we learned to ‘safely’ cross the road is as follows.
Firstly, don’t waste time waiting for an elusive gap in the traffic, it will probably never appear. Just take a deep breath, walk out bravely in the path of oncoming vehicles, and keep on shuffling at a continuous, steady pace. Never, under any circumstances should you panic and run, as the bikes and other road users are very much used to weaving around pedestrians and will most times aim behind you. If you run, it will just surprise them and will likely end in you being flattened. Stopping in the middle of the road is also best avoided, but sometimes necessary if you find yourself in the path of a truck, bus or car.
I began to shield my eyes with my hands whilst crossing and just keep on walking. Sometimes, as with travelling on buses which constantly overtake in the paths of oncoming traffic, it’s better just not to look.
So there you have it, road safety Viet Nam style. Good Luck!