Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ho Chi Minh Motos

At first glance the traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is utter chaos. Looking out the front window of the bus bus as we left the airport, hordes of motorcycles crisscross the two lane road 5 or 6 across, in what looks more like a video game.

Taxes in Vietnam for automobiles are about 200 percent. Therefore, nearly all the vehicles in the city are motos (scooters and motorcycles). Motos are also fairly cheap, between one and two thousand dollars for a new one. In some ways, this lack of automobiles is a great thing. Traffic is always moving with the motorcycles, so there are few Los Angeles style traffic jams. They also move in and out of traffic and crevices with ease. The motorcycles take up less space, and thus can normally just park on the sidewalk. If the emissions of the motorcycles were controlled, this could also be better for controlling pollution. However, judging from the quantity of people wearing face masks, I doubt the emissions are controlled so much.

The first day as a pedestrian in Saigon was intimidating, but we adjusted quickly. Crossing the street initially seems scary or as if it will take forever to find a long enough gap. Rule number one is to be relaxed and steady. Don't run or dash. Step out onto the street. When there is a gap for a few seconds, begin your walk. Traffic sometimes comes from everywhere (on the street and sidewalk), so you need to keep your head scanning in both directions. Keep walking at a steady pace, and miraculously, all the motorcycles know exactly what to do and they will navigate around you, like a game of frogger except you win every time. The only trick is with cars...when they come, you may need to stop in the middle of the street until it passes, then proceed into the next gap. When you pass the double line in the middle of the road, you must quickly change your view to new oncoming traffic, whilst keeping your steady pace so they can accordingly adjust their driving path.

While it all seems utterly chaotic and dangerous, it isn't as bad as it looks. One of the big reasons it all works is that driver go slow everywhere. They have time to react, adjust, and change directions to drive around stopped vehicles or crossing pedestrians. One guy we met said that motorcycles bumping into each other is normal but accidents are few, and when they occur, not too bad.

You can also see nearly everything on a moto or being carried on a moto. Ladders, massive bags of miscellaneous crap, cabinets. And since the moto is a family vehicle, it is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 on one motorcycle. Five if you include the mom with the infant attached to her.

All in all, crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh is quite a fun experience :)

Motorcyle ponchos! Some of them even have two heads for two people and cover the handle bars.

Here we have 3 on one moto.

And this isn't even that impressive for the crap they manage to carry.
Bus driver view. I wonder how often the buses cream the motorcyclists

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