You survived the weather, now it’s time to hit the road. Unfortunately the traffic in Vietnam is worse than the heat.
Forget everything you know about one-way roads, traffic lights and police checkpoints—as long as you don’t kill anyone, whatever risky maneuver you’re about to pull on the street is probably OK.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to the five-stage process of dealing with this mess.
Shock & Denial
That motorcycle loaded with 10 cases of beer and a propane tank definitely wasn’t driving the wrong way on the shoulder. That just doesn’t make sense.
Except yes, it was doing that.
If there was ever a place to cut your teeth as a driver, it’s on a roundabout in Saigon at the intersection of 3 roads and an alley during rush hour.
For a test of your patience, I can also recommend any one-way road in District 1 near a primary school around 4 pm.
And for the inclement weather-enthusiast, take your pick of any alley from District 7 or Binh Thanh after a heavy rainstorm. Bring your water wings.
Are you blind!? Get off your cell phone, put the cigarette and ice cream cone away, and turn on your headlight! And for God’s sake please stop letting your baby steer!
Anger doesn’t help you drive or cross the street safely. It just increases your odds of causing a crash and needing to pay a bribe to the traffic police so your bike or ass doesn’t get impounded.
Think happy thoughts. And if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Feel free to stop driving abruptly under bridges to avoid getting sunburn at red lights. Don’t feel like taking a taxi? Pack your entire family and all of your luggage on the same bike. Tired of playing Frogger when crossing intersections? Have a friend block traffic until you can safely reach the other side.
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
I will empty my bank account to hire a helicopter to shuttle me around the city.
First of all, there is a lack of helipads in Saigon, making chopper travel a hassle. Second of all, your helicopter pilot would probably fly like a taxi driver—weaving in and out of other people’s air space and blocking foot traffic on the sidewalk.
Let’s take a look at all of your options.
- Taxi: relatively inexpensive, drivers know their way around, and they have air conditioning;
- Motorbike taxi (xe om): really fast, cheap, reckless;
- Walking: too hot;
- Bus: come on, you aren’t going to take the bus;
- Cyclo: often a scam, really slow, vulnerable to theft;
- Bicycle: like a motorcycle but slower, hotter, and with less armor;
- Drive yourself: as fast or slow as you want, relatively inexpensive.
As you can see, the best option is to rent a motorbike and drive yourself. At least you’ll know who’s responsible in case of an accident.
Guilt & Depression
God in heaven, take me now. Every driver is out to end me. I don’t know what I did, but the Vietnamese government must have issued a “strike on sight” notice for me once I left the airport.
If it makes you feel any better, every pedestrian feels like this. I watched a guy in a crosswalk juke a motorcycle last night because the driver was on his phone.
Drivers take the following information into consideration when considering whether to avoid a collision—will I get hurt, or will the other guy? Buses > ambulances > taxis > motorcycles > people = dogs.
I cannot change the way others drive. The bus barreling towards me in my lane, the delivery truck backing up against traffic, the bike pulling out of the alley without looking…all I can do is grit my teeth, clench my asshole and hope my helmet wasn’t made out of recycled cardboard in a Chinese labor camp.
Crossing the street, driving a motorcycle, even sitting on the back of someone else’s bike—they’re all “oh shit” moments the first time you try.
The first time I took a motorbike taxi in Saigon I literally thought I was going to die at several points. The first time I started across six lanes of traffic at a green light, I thought I would be stuck out there for all eternity; forever taking one step forward and one back as bikes and buses flew past me like a swarm of bees.
But much like riding a bike, once you figure out how to do it you’ll never forget. And if you mess up too bad, you’ll never want to try again. Because you’ll be in a full body cast.
Just like riding a bike.
I hope that helped prepare you for the wild and wacky world of Asian traffic. If I left something out, please fill free to leave a comment below. For any insurance claims caused by following my advice, please contact my lawyer at [COMING SOON!].