Monday, January 5, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City: Motorbikes

I'll admit, I've been to a lot of places in the world, and I've seen a lot of crazy things. But, I have to admit, Ho Chi Minh City may well be the most insane places I've ever been. Don't get me wrong, that's no insult, I absolutely loved Ho Chi Minh City.

So, why does it get a 10 in my book of culture shock? The motorbikes... and traffic in general in the city. I've never seen anything even remotely close to it.

According to Wikipedia, in this city of approximately 6,600,000 people, there are 4 million motorbikes and (only) 500,000 cars. I get the feeling that buying a car would never even occur to the residents of the city. I suppose even if you could afford a car, you'd never be able to get around.

Whole families of a mother, father and three children will all be piled onto one regular sized motorbike to get around the city. If that's not bad enough, traffic rules are quite lax here and many parts of the city rely on rotaries rather than traffic lights.... making pedestrian traffic nearly impossible. Those who choose to walk, risk their lives every time they need to cross the street, because even if there is a crosswalk, the motorists have little mercy for them.

Of course, I suppose they treat the pedestrians just as they treat each other on the road. motorbikes will ride within inches of one another, and cars merging lanes will force themselves in leaving less than an inch between themselves and the other cars... or motorbikes.

I read somewhere that the traffic rules of Vietnam are as such: Small yields to big. Pedestrians yield to bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses. Bikes yield to motorbikes, cars and trucks... and so on in that order. They signal to each other to yield by beeping the horn... and continuing to beep until they get what they want. The city is filled with a cacophony of horns that can be deafening sometimes when you're on busy, traffic filled roads.

I hope to write more about Ho Chi Minh City soon, because I don't want to leave my readers with a bad impression of the city. It is a vibrant and exciting city, though, admittedly not huge for tourism.

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