Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cars and Bicycles and Motorbikes, Oh My!

Hi friends, here comes another post about our trip to Vietnam. This one is about traffic, which is probably the singular most striking thing about my visit there. There are more motorbikes than cars (I mean a lot more), and far fewer traffic lights than you find in the United States, but really, it's the lack of order and regulation that stands out. The drivers purposefully maneuver their vehicles with a startling lack of regard for road safety.

I took this short video while we drank fresh beer in the Old Quarter. It's not a very busy corner but you can get a sense of the variety of conveyances and the traffic patterns. You can also see Matt's video, which is a little longer and features me eating a donut, here.

We arrived in Vietnam at 10 pm and our guide and driver for our time in Hanoi picked us up at the airport. It was dark, traffic was light, and we were exhausted, but we still noticed a motorbike piled high with flowers, the driver on the way to a nighttime wholesale market.

photo by Matt
Our guide seemed accustomed to the awe we expressed and she explained that the following day, she would teach us how to cross the street. Her instructions: don't run, don't stop, keep a steady pace and they vehicles will go around you.

Let me tell you, I don't even like jay-walking in San Diego. But that is the only option here. Even if you find a rare street light, chances are, people turning (either direction) will just go right through the red light. Vehicles will use both sides and the middle of the road, and motorbikes will use the sidewalks, for both driving and parking. You would think this kind of chaos would deter pedestrians and bicyclists, but people have to get around, and they do so in any way that they can. I would be terrified to ride a bike there. I was on edge most of the time because the sidewalks are so crowded we often found ourselves walking in the street.

photo by Matt
And I'm not sure there are limits to what the people there will put on motorbikes. In addition to flowers, we saw cases of beer with nothing tying them down, trees, a bicycle, and of course, children of all ages--on the back of the bike, standing on the foot rest of a scooter, and sandwiched between other riders.

Family car
The crazy thing is, even though the drivers all have to be really aggressive (they'd never get anywhere if they weren't), drivers seem to be more aware of the other vehicles and movement around them, and the average speed seems to be significantly slower. As a result, we only saw one accident the entire time we were there. It was on our last day in Ho Chi Minh City, a girl was heading straight for a car and lost control of her scooter, which slid. Fortunately, she was able to pick herself up, and she seemed to generally be okay.

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