…especially in Ho Chi Minh City.
As your cab crawls along from the airport to the city with a river of motorbikes rushing impatiently past on both sides, you’ll get the impression that this city has more motorbikes than any other mode of transport by far; and you’d be right. A glance out the rear window will reveal dozens, if not hundreds of them advancing towards your vehicle like a stampede, some with single riders but many with multiple passengers. (I’ve seen as many as 5 people on one bike).
When the lights turn red, the motorbikes swarm around the cab, pushing their way to the front only to rev their engines like Formula One cars at a Grand Prix, ready for the second the light changes to green. Then they’re off, sending smoke and fumes into the already polluted atmosphere. No wonder so many riders wear air filter masks.
Ho Chi Minh City has a population of approximately 7 million people and an estimated 4 million motorbikes, with about 1300 more being added every day. Where do they park these bikes you might ask? Anywhere there’s a gap large enough to fit a bike, is the answer. As often as not, that’s the footpath; the area one might imagine was designed for pedestrians. But no, pedestrians play second fiddle to these two-wheeled, indispensable necessities of life for the Vietnamese. They even block shop entrances, making it really difficult to enter.
The motorbikes carry everything and anything you can imagine. Not only do they transport the kids to school (seems like the whole family at the same time, on the same bike), but I’ve seen pigs, wreaths, balloons, flowers, fruit and vegetables, chickens, and even a broken bicycle.
The law says that only two may ride at the one time on a motorbike, and both must wear helmets. However, that law doesn’t apply to children. I guess a kid must be more hard-headed than their parents, or perhaps they bounce. Go figure! But regardless, not everyone pays too much attention to the law anyhow.
How to Cross the Street (and avoid being killed)
Crossing the street is an education. At first it seems like suicide. Although there may be pedestrian crossings painted on some streets, they’re few and far between, and the bikes take no notice of them anyhow. I think they’re simply ornamental. No, you must take your life in your hands and walk across, even when there is no break in the steady stream of motorbikes (and sometimes other vehicles, like cars).
I watched to see how it was done. Then I’d stand near a local Vietnamese person and wait, stepping out when they did, and walking stride for stride with them as we crossed. That worked, and I soon had enough confidence to go it alone. The secret is to walk straight across, steadily, and DO NOT RUN. Likewise DO NOT STOP OR HESITATE. The bikes ride around you. They’re good. Very very good. They time it within a whisker. And the thing I noticed was that none of them look left, nor right. They always look straight ahead, every one of them.
And somehow, it works.