The people who have been in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) know what this post is about. The traffic is chaotic and crazy. If you don’t like big cities, if you don’t like noise, if you can’t handle pollution, stay out of Saigon.
The traffic was already in a bad situation in Saigon in 2001. That time the traffic was already out of control. Way too much for the infrastructure. Not that the infrastructure sucks, wide roads, lots of green and parks and a lot of one way roads. The problem is that there are way to many people with vehicles. 15 years later. Things couldn’t get worse, but they did. It doesn’t help either that Vietnamese people take the motorbike to get bread around the corner. I’ve never seen anyone walk for 100 meters. So, it is hard to get people into public transport. They should’ve started building subways and/or skytrains (as in Bangkok) 25 years ago. Now they are obviously too late. The Japanese in cooperation with Vietnam, have started building a subway now, but it will take at least 10 years to complete that and then still you need to get people from their vehicles into the subway. A mentality change is needed, how many years or generations that takes.
I traveled many months on the back of a grabbike taxi and I drove a motorbike myself for many months. The lessons I learned: there are no rules. So better be as fast as possible, better have guts and better be selfish in traffic, just like everyone else. It helps you a lot. Roads? They’re nothing more than suggestions. The same counts for traffic signs. When the roads are stuck with 8 motorbikes and a car all next to each other, about 150 meter before the traffic light, then you just drive with hundreds over the sidewalks till it’s stuck there too. Not a single person gives a damn about you walking there and getting stuck thanks to them. Not a single person on a motorbike takes anyone else into consideration. They don’t even have the brains to see that they block everything only more on junctions by keep going and overtaking till each and everyone gets stuck, with not a bit of space left to solve the whole thing. It takes themselves longer by this behavior after all.
Another thing I have to mention: wear a mask. When you drive a piece of 20 minutes, you will feel a sticky layer of pollution on your body / face and a strong smell in your clothes from all the pollution that comes out of the motorbikes and other vehicles. It is really bad and the local people aren’t even be bothered by it.
When you are a tourist, and need to cross the road. There is a big chance that there will never come a gap to do that. Traffic lights won’t bring you the gap. You just have to walk, slowly, but steady. You might raise one hand, as locals often do. Just to make sure the drivers see you better. Don’t stop walking in the middle of the road. The drivers don’t anticipate on that. Just keep walking slowly to the other side of the road. You will see that amazingly that’s the way to do it.
Rent a bike
You can rent a motorbike for max 1,5 million VND a month, around $70. Often you can find cheaper places. You have to give a copy of your passport and a deposit of 2 million VND, which you’ll get back when you return the bike. You are responsible for punctures, they take usually the cost of engine failure. The price for a liter petrol is 16000 VND, 70 cents. A license is officially needed, but you can easily drive without. You must have bad luck when you get stopped by traffic police with such an amount of motorbikes driving at anytime. If it occurs, you just pay them, therefore it’s better not to put too much money in your pocket, which they can see. A 200.000 note is normal for Vietnamese. Don’t get yourself in an accident. I heard different stories about it. One story goes that the foreigner is always wrong and should pay. Not to mention that an ambulance will arrive when you already passed away. They can’t get through the traffic either. Don’t think that driving at 6.30 am or on a Saturday is easier and less traffic. That counts only for a Sunday morning.
I know, it all sounds bad, but unfortunately I haven’t exaggerated anything here. My only advice: stay out of Saigon, but if you really need to be here, take care with the traffic.