Traffic, Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City has the most difficult streets to cross of any where I have traveled. They are crazy. The motorbikes seem to come out of nowhere. I recommend just sticking close to a local when he or she crosses the street and hope you don't get hit.
With thousands of motorbikes, cyclos and bicyles, one wonders how does pedestrians cross the road. From the attached photo, the man will have a troubled time crossing the road in other countries but in HCMC, you do the following:
(1) Look Right and Left First
Usual practice before crossing any road and find a "break" in the traffic
(UK and Commonwealth countries tourists- please take note that cars/vehicles/bikes travel on the RIGHT side of the road. We almost got run down by a car as we looked on the "wrong side" of the road)
(2) Cross slowly
We cross slowly as the motorbikes/cyclos will try to avoid you.
I say "try" as this does not apply if there is whole bunch of taxis/cars coming your way. They will run you down as in any other country. If you see a bunch of cars, best to wait in the middle of the road. its "safer"
Wave you hand to indicate to these "drivers" to slow down, and buy you time as you cross
(4) By the time your heart beats above 200 beats per minute,
You have crossed the road
BTW, there are dedicated zebra crossings in the main city centre and it is advisable to use them. And the traffic lights do assist the tourist crossing the street.
However the above instructions still apply.
HMC is definitely motorbike city which means that it can be quite hairy trying to cross roads. Basically, you walk without panicking and stopping- the motorbike riders will adjust so long as you walk predicatably.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh is very bad... very messy... very chaotic!! Take my words, it really is. It consists mainly of motorcycles, and drivers tend to ignore the traffic rules there. Crossing roads is therefore a challenge for people like us used to traffic lights. The trick is to follow the Vietnamese - step confidently out into the road and cross at a slow but steady pace. The traffic will just flow miraculously around you.... somehow. :)
I have been riding a bike here for over twelve years, only two accidents so far, and both my fault. Here's some advice for travelers renting a bike in Saigon:
1. When you pick up the bike make sure both brakes work, including the front one
2. If you have not driven a motorbike in urban area this is not a good place to learn....get a xe om
3. Drink driving laws overseas were made for a purpose, too many mates have come a cropper forgetting that one.
4. If you do have an accident and it's deffinatley not your fault (i.e. you sober, you weren't breaking "normal" taffic laws and no one seriously injured or dead) get on your bike as soon as possible and get out of there, otherwise it will be your fault.
5. If you get stopped in accident or for any reason, first thing remove the keys from your bike and put them in your pocket
6. Don't drive through puddles, there is a good chance that it might be hiding a big hole.
7. Traffic lights are used as a rough indication of when to stop and start, so if you don't want to get t-boned by obey them.
In spite of what my travel guide said it was as safe as similar asian cities like HK and Bangkok. I didn't take any special precautions and never experienced anything unusual. Traffic can be hazardous though (crashed once with a moto), and you need some nerve (or alcohol) to cross the streets.
Crossing the streets is harder than you think! Cars don't take notice of you, so just follow a local to cross the street safely! Or just close your eyes and walk, the motorcycles and cars will slow down...
"Look ahead and walk with purpose". It didn't get any less scarey though! Alternatively wait for a local to start crossing and tag along with them. The bikes don't actually go very fast although that doesn't help the pumping adrenaline when you are amongst them!
If you are brave or crazy then you can try driving in Saigon. Even though the Vietnamese are pretty good drivers, there are so many motos on the road in close proximity that accidents are bound to happen. They do in large numbers. Anybody who has spent a fair amount of time here have seen at least a couple of big accidents. And rules...what rules? I would suggest hiring a driver for a ride as it is cheap and he will know what he is doing.
As for walking across the street, it is very easy. Just leave the sidewalk and move at a regular pace. You can't just wait there or you'll be stuck forever. Don't make any sudden movements and don't stop in the middle of the street. The Vietnamese are very good at driving around pedestrians who aren't stupid and try to play "Frogger".
They say a picture speaks a thousand words so here it is. Now, imagine me trying to cross this road. I've been told countless of times to walk slowly and carefully and let those vehicles avoid me but my shaky nerves just couldn't get used to it.
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Crossing streets in Saigon can be very dangerous at times. Surprisingly, it's actually safer to cross the streets when traffic is congested. But when it's not, it's kinda tricky. The trick is to pretend that you are playing leap frog. Don't ever try to just run across quickly. You just gotta move slowly across, take a couple of steps and then stop. The people on the scooter will definitely maneuver around you. Don't rely on crosswalks and crosslights either. Unless there is a traffic cop at that corner, some people won't even stop.
Like everywhere else in the world, teenagers will be teenagers. When you are in the city of Saigon(HCMC) be aware of the street racing. The locals call it "Bao" meaning "Storm". These events usually occurs in the late night hours. The scene is worthy of its name because having a bunch of motor scooters rushing your way does sound like a storm. The danger in this? Well, imagine a bunch of motorcycle closely following each other, going as fast as they can....if one falls, the rest goes too. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be caught in the middle of that. So if you hear a "Bao" or "Storm" coming your way, stay clear of the road.
The traffic in Saigon is chaotic! Most of the vehicles are mopeds, only few cars. If you want to go on the other side of the road, walk slow, dont run and never step backwards! Let the mopeds pass you, dont try to pass them.
Saigon's streets are spectacularly chaotic. Cars, animals, motorbikes, bicycles, cyclos, and pedestrians pack the pavement, with no apparent attention paid to such minutiae as traffic lights, stop signs, the idea of keeping to one designated side of the road, or terrified foreign tourists trying to cross the street. A never-ending festival of horns, bells, and shouts enhances the effect.
Crossing the road generally takes nerves of steel. If you're cautious like me, you can stand on the edge of the sidewalk for ten minutes waiting for a break in the traffic. If you're braver than I am, you just walk out like the Vietnamese do and simply assume that all those vehicles will manage to avoid you. As my friend Kathy and her cyclo driver found, this does not always work out well. Within 15 minutes of starting out on our first ride through Saigon, Kathy's driver crashed into a motorbike. No major damage done, but it was a little nerve-racking.
The Horrible Traffic It is a nightmare and I strongly recommend you do not drive yourself. The rules may be there, but they're completely disregarded.
If you wish to cross the road, the trick is to start crossing very slowly and you will find that the traffic will avoid you. Usually you will get safely from one side to the other this way. Good luck.