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SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION FROM MOBYLETTES TO HONDAS: THE HISTORY OF MOTORCYCLES IN VIETNAM
Motorcycles and scooters are synonymous with Vietnam.
It’s common to see them everywhere, weaving through hẻm, transporting goods of all types and sizes, including refrigerators. They are also commonly used to transport entire families, plus their pet dogs. The sounds of the engines play out like a symphony of noises, especially in Saigon and Hanoi.
But has it always been like this? And how did motorcycles become so popular here?
Motorcycles in Vietnam Today
According to figures from the Ministry of Transport, there are 45 million registered motorcycles. For a country with a population of 96 million, that’s close to one bike for every two people.
Motorcycle sales in Vietnam rose 9.5 percent in 2016, from the previous year to 3.12 million units, according to the Vietnam Auto, Motorcycle and Bicycle Association (VAMOBA).
The motorcycle market had initially shown signs of slowing after hitting a decade-high of 3.3 million units in 2011. Sales fell for three consecutive years thereafter, but the trend changed in 2015 and has been positive for the time being.
Why Motorbikes Are So Popular in Vietnam
Some of the many factors that may contribute to the popularity of motorcycles include the ease of egress.
Many of Vietnam’s roads are simply too narrow for four-wheeled vehicles. And with incessant traffic jams occurring in the two major cities, motorcyclists can just simply weave through tight spaces or, although not recommended, simply continue their journey using the sidewalks.
The lack of parking spaces is also another bugbear for those who own cars, with very few dedicated parking spaces available for cars. Probably the most likely reason for such a strong motorbike presence is economics: many Vietnamese can’t afford a car.
With an average annual salary of only US$2,200 as of 2016, most cars available for sale in Vietnam are beyond the reach of the average Vietnamese. That difficulty is compounded by the inclusion of tariffs for imported brands.
However with all the noise and chaos and pollution that’s evident in Saigon and Hanoi today, one might be surprised to know that right up until the 1990s, the main mode of transportation in Vietnam was actually the motorcycle’s silent little cousin, the bicycle.
A Quieter History
National Geographic photographer David Alan Harvey said that the thing that struck him during his visit to Hanoi in 1973 was, “it was silent. It was all bicycle traffic or people walking, so there wasn’t much on the streets to hear. To me, that’s the sound of a socialist city…Now it is a city full of noise: cars, horns, and motorbikes.”
The Sudden Surge
Vietnam went from half a million motor vehicles in 1990 to almost 14 million at the end of 2004, according to the National Traffic Safety Committee.
Grant McCool of Reuters wrote in 2005: “The ever-increasing number of vehicles is fueled by one of the world’s fastest expanding economies. In the biggest cities, crossing the street is hazardous with few crosswalks or traffic lights available. A motorbikes’ cargo can include everything from trees to chickens and pigs, TV sets and crates of beer.”
The Downfall of Bicycles
As motorcycles were starting to replace bicycles as the de facto mode of transportation among locals, the mindsets started to shift too. Bicycles were now not only going out of fashion, they were deemed inferior.
Nguyen Ngoc Trung wrote on the South Korean citizen journalism site OhmyNews in 2006, “In a parking place on the road in Nguyen Xi Street, famous for cheap bookshops, motorbikes overwhelm bicycles whose owners are students and pupils. Only a few of the latter stands modestly in a small open space. In big cities, many people think that bicycles belong to the inferior classes and are deemed unfashionable. That’s why people often find it hard (psychologically and physically) to park their bikes when going to a modern cafe or shopping mall.”
With about 85 percent of the population below the age of 54, it’s no surprise that traffic density is at an all-time high in Vietnam’s two biggest cities, with motorcycles flooding the streets, alleys, and sidewalks, usually to the point of irritation if you’re a pedestrian.
The Motorcycles in Vietnam
The types of motorcycles found in Vietnam also varied throughout the decades. Currently, Japanese brands Honda and Yamaha dominate the market in the country with about 90 percent of sales, while Suzuki, SYM, and Piaggio share the remainder of the pie.
Suzuki and SYM have focused their efforts on making 50cc “naked bikes”, which provide functionality while Piaggio is known for their world famous Piaggio and Vespa scooters.
The current popular motorbike models that you will see on the streets (or even possibly own) are the Honda Lead, Wave Alpha, and Airblade; Yamaha Nuovo, and the SYM Atilla.
The Great Pretenders
However, Honda didn’t have an easy time as an influx of China-made imitation bikes started to flood the market, costing much less than the original Hondas.
Spinoffs such as “Hunda”, “Hongda” and “Yamaza” with logos similar to the Japanese brands but at one-third, the price started to appear on the streets, much to the chagrin of the Japanese manufacturers and it was only after Honda released its Wave Alpha for a very low price, and tighter regulations enforced by the Vietnamese government, that these brands started to disappear.
The Evolution of Motorcycles in Vietnam
At the turn of the century, right after Honda built its Vietnam production factories in Vinh Phuc Province, it was common to see Honda bikes everywhere, including the Honda Spacy, Honda Win, and the popular Honda Dream, which was also known as Vietnam’s ‘it’ bike before Yamaha entered the fray.
The Honda Dream was a remodeled, and more powerful evolution of the Honda Cub at 100cc and it was a symbol of class. Even today, you can still spot one or two xe om drivers riding it.
The Honda Win was a more rugged, trial-tested bike that was a popular choice for rides up the mountainous region in the North but wasn’t popular among the locals on the streets due to its unreliability. The Chinese-made imitations of the Honda Win became a hit among backpackers simply because they cost less than US$300.
The Honda Spacy, which was first released in 1995, was popular among young females during that period for its body which allowed space for the rider to keep her purse, the only bike at that time which allowed that. Semi-automatic bikes with little storage space were the rage back then.
The 1980s and the Street Ninjas
The 1980s witnessed the birth of the “street ninjas”, women covered from top to toe. The outfit typically includes a facemask that essentially blocks peripheral vision as well as sunglasses, a sight that is still all too common today.
The Honda Cub, a 50cc low-powered cruiser, was one of the more popular models available at that time when motorcycles were starting to gain popularity over bicycles.
The other bike that achieved legendary status back in those days was the Belarus-made Minsk bikes, also known as the “old buffalo”.
The rumbling sight of a Minsk terrorising the then quiet streets of Hanoi was probably a sign of things to come but the bike was certainly in a league of its own, being the only bike in Vietnam that had the State Quality Mark of the USSR.
The bike was exceptionally popular in Vietnam. The country was the largest export market for the brand but due to some privatization issues with the manufacturer, production ceased in the 2000s.
However, production has resumed today, with the brand renamed M1NSK although you can still spot some of the old buffalos trotting the streets of Hanoi and Saigon today, with all the scars to prove their age.
The Minsk was featured in BBC’s “Top Gear: Vietnam Special” as Jeremy Hammond rode the bike along the Hai Van Pass.
The European Wave and The Honda 67
The 1960s and ‘70s were a time when motorcycles were mostly from Europe, until Japan started its own wave, introducing the Honda 67 to Vietnam. The stylish bikes from the pre-war days became popular here due to their affordability and signalled Honda’s intent to make its name in Vietnam, which it surely has.
The 1950s to 1970s saw a vast majority of stylish, classy, and functional European bikes where form and function co-existed in mechanical harmony. With the roads mostly filled with pedestrians, bicycles, and cars, the likes of BMW bikes, Lambrettas, and Vespas ran alongside them.
Some of the bikes were vintage, even for those times, with the oldest BMW motorcycles dating back to the 1930s. The Lambrettas and Vespas ruled the roads in the 1950s and 1960s which was also known as the Italian era.
Motorcycles during those times weren’t just limited to the European workhorses though, another popular bike from the 1950s through to the 1970’s was a little 50cc two-stroke cruiser called the Mobylette.
Also known as Moby, the moped from French manufacturer Motobecane had a top speed of 64km/h and didn’t look much different from a bicycle. Its cute exterior won it so many fans that they are still remembered fondly by Mobylette enthusiasts to this day.
The Future of Motorcycles in Vietnam
Despite government announcements to reduce the number of motorcycles on the road to ease traffic congestion, it seems motorcycles will be here to stay for a while more.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade in 2013, had forecast 36 million motorcycles on the road by 2020. However, there are already currently more than 45 million motorcycles across the country, 25 percent higher than what was forecasted.
Currently, motorcycle production is at 5.5 million a year with Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Piaggio all having established manufacturing bases in the country. With 3.12 million units sold last year, Vietnam remains the fourth largest motorcycle markets by sales in the world, after China, India and Indonesia.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION HOW TO GET A DRIVING LICENSE IN VIETNAM
It is not that easy to get a Vietnamese driving license
If you do not hold a driver’s license of any kind, you have to pass both theory and driving tests. The theory test is in Vietnamese and you are not allowed to have an interpreter or translator.
To register for this case, you must:
- Be a Vietnamese resident or a foreigner who is allowed to reside, work or study in Vietnam.
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- A completed application form to register for the driving examination.
- A photocopy of your permanent residence card or valid passport.
- Health certificate provided by the jurisdictional health department.
After taking the examination you will be granted your driver’s license within 10 working days.
If you hold an international or national driver’s license, you can obtain a similar Vietnamese driver’s license by satisfying the following requirements:
- You have to reside in Vietnam and have at least a three-month Vietnam visa.
- A complete application form to change the driver’s license
- A notarized translation of your driver’s license
- A photocopy of your driver’s license
- A photocopy of your passport (the page with your picture, personal details, and other valid information)
- A photocopy of a valid visa or permanent residence card.
The deadline for changing your driver’s license is five working days after receiving the following documents:
- A notarized translation of your driver’s license
- A photocopy of your driver’s license
- A photocopy of your passport (the page with your picture, personal details, and other valid information)
- A photocopy of a valid visa or permanent residence card.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION THE DAWN OF TRAFFIC VIGILANTES IN VIETNAM
How bad is the traffic in Vietnam?
Over the past few weeks, you may have come across a few videos from the streets of Vietnam that have gone viral. Although they were separate incidents from different cities, they all had two things in common: they involved foreigners who stepped in to deal with traffic offenders, who were all motorcyclists.
On 31 October, VnExpress International released a short compilation video of these incidents. Some were tense, amusing, or just downright funny but what transpired out of these was fierce debate on the state of traffic in Vietnam, and whether they were right to do such a thing in the first place.
Vietnam’s Traffic Situation
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 14,000 people lose their lives each year in Vietnam from traffic incidents. Approximately 59 percent of road traffic collisions involve motorcyclists and most of the victims are aged between 15 and 49 years—the economically active group.
The WHO also estimates that road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 29 in this country. According to the WHO Global Status on road safety, many of Vietnam’s existing road safety laws are either not comprehensive in their scope, or are poorly enforced.
Saigon and Hanoi are trying to improve their public transport infrastructure with the construction of new metro lines with the aim to clear the traffic on the roads. However, the projects have fallen into delays due to funding issues and complications with construction. This is why there are 45 million motorcycles on the road, because it’s the easiest way to get from point A to point B.
Too much of something is not always a good thing: the large number of motorcycles has not only contributed to traffic congestion and accidents, but also air pollution.
Statistics aside, it is obvious that Vietnam has a traffic problem the moment you step out of your house and almost get run over by a motorcycle on the sidewalk. Traffic policemen are generally overloaded with the volume of traffic they have to deal with. When the streets are clogged, the motorcycles simply mount the sidewalks and as a result, the streets and sidewalks turn into a nightmare for any pedestrian—especially foreigners who are new to the country.
A Matter of Common Sense
The incidents in the videos highlight one very important and serious issue: some motorcyclists on the streets do not practice basic common sense.
Stopping a bike in the middle of the road to use a phone to film traffic police, or driving on the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic, are just not socially acceptable actions in most parts of the world; and more importantly, they not only potentially cause harm to themselves, but to others as well. It is these actions that have plagued Vietnamese road users over the years to the point where it has almost become accepted as a norm.
Now step in the foreigner, who may have come from a country with a far more developed traffic system. Where cars and motorcycles ride in harmony on the correct side of traffic and where honking is only reserved for critical moments, such as to prevent accidents.
He/she may have come from a place with designated traffic crossings and where drivers actually stop at red lights and only start moving when the lights turn green and where sidewalks are only meant for pedestrians, and where flouting any of these would result in heavy fines or even jail time.
Errant motorcyclist versus the foreigner undergoing culture shock… Most times, the latter just shrugs shoulders and moves on, but as these recent incidents have proven, a limit has been reached to the point where they have resorted to doing what law enforcement should have done: taking matters into their own hands.
Crossing a Line?
For example, there’s the incident in Hanoi where dashcam footage showed a woman on a motorbike using her phone right in the middle of the road, blocking traffic before the Finnish driver went over to her and dragged her bike off the street. It raised plenty of debate on the absurdity of what she did and whether what the man did had crossed a line.
It’s understood that what she did was ridiculous, and dangerous to herself and others; but what gave the man the right to physically move her bike away? Are there legal repercussions? To some extent, he can be viewed as a wrongdoer too, by physically handling someone and her property.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. However, in this case, it certainly solved the problem.
The rising frequency of incidents like this shows a growing discontent among foreigners, be they ex-pats or tourists, towards the traffic situation, and the lack of proper solutions via enforcement.
This is not really a “local vs foreigner” issue as plenty of locals are law-abiding citizens themselves, and the actions of a few errant motorcyclists have inconvenienced locals as well. The only difference is, the locals have always been more forgiving and just shrug it off and move on.
Legally, there are two solutions to this problem. Firstly, there has to be stronger law enforcement in place. The streets in Da Nang, for example, are equipped with surveillance cameras to assist officers who aren’t physically at the location, and fines for traffic offenders have been increased with the rules made stricter.
For example, motorcyclists can face a fine of VND400,000 for running through yellow lights, the same amount imposed on those who run red lights. The rationale behind this was to stop the habit of rushing through the intersection to beat the yellow light, instead of slowing down.
If verbal warnings and signs don’t work, then it’s inevitable that harsh punishment is one of the only feasible solutions left to fix this issue. The other solution to the problem is education. Most of these incidents point to a lack of common sense and a selfish desire to get from one place to another in the shortest possible time without any regard for others.
This mindset can only be changed by educating riders on the consequences of their actions. As the public transport systems in Saigon and Hanoi are still being developed, the rising vehicle population will mean motorcycles will still remain the de facto mode of transport and incidents like these will probably happen again.
As long as traffic violators continue their selfish acts without any repercussions, this trend of vigilantism is likely to continue and it won’t be long before the locals decide to join in the fray too.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION PHOTO STORY: MOTORBIKE REPAIR SHOP CULTURE
Where can you fix your bike in HCMC?
In Vietnam, most of us ride them on a daily basis, yet we don’t know their ins and outs (let alone fix one). Yes, I’m talking about motorbikes (xe máy in Vietnamese).
You probably don’t pay much attention to the mechanics, just because motorbike shops are everywhere in Vietnam. Whether you need to replace a flat tire, get your oil changed, or simply want to purchase a new side mirror, mechanics will get their hands dirty (and greasy too) and have it fixed for you on the spot.
There’s a whole culture surrounding these mechanic shops. The way the repairmen interact with frustrated drivers, reacting calmly to all complaints going their way; their ability to find a replacement screw or tiny part among their shop’s messy, but organized shelves; and the pranks and jokes they seem to play on each other as they wait for their next customer.
We visited these shops and capture the feel of them in pictures. Black and white worked perfectly for this topic, given the different shades of grey one encounters in every motorbike replacement piece. Enjoy the photo gallery, although we hope that your bike doesn’t break down anytime soon.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION RAINY RIDER: A GUIDE TO RIDING DURING MONSOON SEASON
From May to November, you can expect daily afternoon rains
The rain’s cooling power is a welcome respite from Vietnam’s onerous heat, especially at this time of year, but it can put a damper on those traveling on two wheels.
The world can’t stop for a little rain, though. And no matter how long you’ve lived in Vietnam, there’s always more of it to see. If you’re teaching, the rainy season corresponds to summer break, a time when work stops for you and presents an excellent opportunity to go on an adventure by bike.
You’re going to stay home for a little rain? Driving in the rain is a skill that can be learned. Follow these tips for a safe and maybe even fun ride.
First of all, you should have a good poncho or, better yet, a waterproof jacket and pants if you’re planning on champing it through the rain on a moto. While your mum has probably overstated the worries of getting a cold as a result of taking a walk in the rain, our part of the world’s rainy season has other health risks.
Mahesa Paranadipa, a doctor from neighboring Indonesia who spoke to the online publication VICE on the matter, said the rainy season itself isn’t a health risk, but a weak immune system will make you vulnerable to the bacteria that come in abundance during this time of the year.
Mahesa explained that cold temperatures weaken a person’s immune system. This, coupled with the fact that rain elevates bacteria that typically rest on the ground, makes conditions ripe for illness.
If you’re healthy, you shouldn’t have any issues during the rainy season. Staying warm and dry will secure you during your rainy ride. As for protective clothing, “You can find it easily on the street,” says Duong Brooks, co-owner of Binh Thanh District garage DC Motorbikes. A decent poncho shouldn’t cost you any more than VND500,000. Expect to pay around VND100,000 for the gloves.
On the Road
Depending on who you ask, you can get a variety of divergent answers regarding what to do about your motorbike during the rain. Some have a pretty light approach, as Ponmudi Srinivasa detailed in response to the question, “What maintenance should I do to my motorcycle after I ride it in the rain?” on Quora. Srinivasa generally recommended care to a motorbike after a rainy ride: “not much” or “zero.”
This user noted that the machine’s carburettor—the part of the engine that controls the ratio of fuel to air—might require some attention. A small check to make sure no water has entered this component or the engine as a whole is enough. Srinivasa also said that a meticulous motorbike rider who wanted to be extra careful with their bike ought to let their moto idle for a few minutes after a long ride, especially after a rain so the water can evaporate.
Srinivasa’s comparatively simple response contrasts with the robust instructions Arindam Dey left in response to the question. “After reaching home wait for some time to cool down the engine,” Dey said detailing a multistep process that requires a cotton cloth dry, which will be enough to protect the exterior since you’ve already used a Teflon coat on the outside (because you’re very serious about this bike business).
Dey also recommends that you wax the bike every week and apply lubricants to the exposed parts of the drive chain, like the chain itself (if your bike has one).
How to Drive when roads are flooded in Vietnam
Since we know roads are made of oil that surfaces after rain, it behooves the rained-on rider to be extra careful when driving on a wet surface. Some of this stuff should seem like straightforward logic, but knowing this, it should make sense to ride with double the space between you and the next rider compared to what you’d normally offer on a dry day.
On the open road, a two-second recommendation applies when it’s dry, and three seconds or more when it’s wet. In Saigon’s congested traffic this is unworkable, but keep it in mind. But it may surprise you to learn this next piece of advice: be extra careful around intersections.
According to the motorcycle enthusiast site Sport Rider, intersections are collection points for oil because of the petroleum content of tires. Braking tends to leave a small amount of the material on the roads, so it can be extra hazardous to the rider who hasn’t controlled their speed properly at these intersections.
As for low-speed parts of the road such as the right half of the road and on-ramps: high-speed areas like highways and the left side of the road are generally safer as they contain less oil residue and will be more friendly to the grip of your moto’s tires.
What’s more, we live in a country where the stoplight isn’t exactly observed as God’s word, so one would be wise to be extra mindful at freshly rained intersections to avoid unwanted contact with another rider.
Not All Rains Are Equal
It might seem counterintuitive, but there is no positive correlation between the level of rainfall and the frequency of auto accidents, according to researchers who have studied the problem.
In 2003, researchers at UC Berkeley took a quantitative analysis of over one million fatal crashes. They found that in any given month, there was a 3.7 percent decrease (decrease!) in fatal crashes after 10 centimeters of rain.
Wild, huh? But there’s a kicker. Researchers also found that the risk of fatal traffic incidents increased to 9.2 percent if it’s been three weeks since the last rainfall.
It’s pretty speculative, but the researchers who published the work hypothesized that the oil builds up when the roads remain dry for long periods of time. The rains arrive on roads that have accumulated higher than normal oil build-ups, making traction low and accidents more probable.
Another, less exciting explanation offered that people are simply less used to driving on wet roads after weeks of dry weather and don’t adjust to it quickly enough during a sudden break in the fair weather.
Use your basic common sense, and you should be fine driving this rainy season. Try to stay personally dry and be extra careful when you’re on the road during a precipitation event. Don’t let monsoon season rain on your parade.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION THE SECRET LIVES OF GOJEK/GRAB DRIVERS
What is it like to be a GoJek or Grab driver?
GoJek and Grab have just entered Vietnam for some years already, but they are increasingly popular among both users and drivers. As more people choose these services over regular taxis in order to take advantage of the frequent promotion codes and lower fares, more drivers also switch from their regular driving jobs to become GoJek or Grab drivers, or both.
Some are between jobs, some are starting their life over, and some are looking for better means to provide for their family and save for the future.
Studying IT at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, Manh moved to Saigon to work for 15 years. A few years ago he quit his job to start a business selling electronics in installments, backed by a financial company. As the partnership went sour, Manh could no longer keep his business or his interest in starting a new one.
He blamed his business partner for betraying his trust, as well as himself: “I only looked at the profits in the short term, but could not see the risks in the long term.” After this loss, he decided to return home, hoping to find another job in his original field. However, finding an IT job would not be easy for someone at his age. While waiting for his ship to come in, he turned to Uber for a source of stable income.
Duc has always been a driver for the past eight years. After finishing high school in his hometown of Nam Dinh, he came to Hanoi, to learn to drive at the University of Fire Fighting. In the first year of his career, he drove for a taxi company. Then he worked as a driver for a pharmaceutical company, chauffeuring the director and even driving trucks.
The switch, first to Uber, and then to Grab, came only recently, and as he explained, because of the better benefits and bonuses that these companies offer, compared to a regular driving job. However, unlike in developed countries where Uber drivers often own their cars, Duc said he and many other drivers in Vietnam have to take bank loans to pay for the car in installments.
“If Uber and Grab stop doing business in Vietnam, many drivers like me would not know how to pay back the loans, and banks will face difficulties too,” he claimed. Duc hopes to keep working with Grab until he can finish paying the installments, and eventually, with enough money, he can buy a new car of his own, and continue driving to support himself and his wife when they get old.
Thien is from Buon Me Thuot, Dak Lak province. He used to own a shop selling and repairing mobile phones in his hometown, after learning his trade in Hanoi. One fateful night, some burglars took away everything in his store and in his life. He was devastated after losing about 300 million dongs, and seeing no future, his wife also left him.
That’s why when his uncle in Hanoi, who lost his daughter in a road accident, invited him to come and stay for good, Thien agreed. He and a cousin shared the money to buy a car in installments and took turns driving it.
Having no friends in the city, on the days that he doesn’t work, he stays at home sleeping or goes to a café by himself. He has no intention of returning to his old way of life, fixing phones all day. Driving allows him to go outside and interact with people, especially as he is new to the city and trying to rebuild his life from the ashes.
Tho’s part-time job is driving. His full-time job is repairing pianos. He even has his own advertisement for his piano repair service inside the car. His website is called Kythuatvienpiano.com.
His market is a niche, and it’s not every day that someone would come to him with a broken piano. But he learned his trade from people who did the same thing and he talked about it with passion. He even gave me tips on where to buy a good, inexpensive old piano.
“Learning to play an instrument gives you pleasure in life,” he said. “You don’t have to invest too much time in it to be able to enjoy it. Just 10 minutes a day is enough.”
It may be unusual to meet a female Uber driver, but Hien is a single mother after her husband died in a mining accident when their son was less than a year old. She had lived with her son in Saigon since, and only returned to Hanoi for a few months to try to sell their old house. Uber provided her with the option of an immediate temporary job.
As she didn’t know Hanoi’s streets very well, and GPS sometimes could not show the exact address or direction, she kept asking me if she was going the right way. This is something our male drivers would never do; some would even be willing to argue with their customers over which way is right. She also had an unopened bottle of water in the car, and she insisted that I took a sip, because “it’s good for your health”.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION TOP FIVE TIPS FOR CROSSING THE STREET IN VIETNAM
Crossing the road in Vietnam is easy if you have faith!
With over six seven people crowding the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, the motorbike is the preferred mode of transportation and it is estimated that over five million take to the roads of Saigon on a daily basis. In most metropolitan cities, a high concentration of traffic on its own is no cause for concern.
Add drivers with little regard for traffic rules however and you have a recipe for the most chaotic traffic in Southeast Asia. The sheer volume of bikes usually prevents any break in traffic and will make the most confident traveler question their ability to cross the road.
Luckily, a taxi is always a wave of the arm away but for many visitors crossing the street in HCMC is considered a rite of passage and a must in any itinerary. It is an art to cross the streets in Ho Chi Minh City and we have accumulated some helpful tips to help you safely (or as safe as possible) cross the streets in the city.
1. Enlist the help of a local. Vietnamese people are very friendly and most are more than happy to help you cross the road.
2. Commit yourself. Though every instinct in your body is screaming for you to stop, turn around and head back, don’t. Turning back can be more dangerous than continuing on.
3. Walk at an even pace and don’t dart through traffic. Head in a straight line and look at the incoming traffic. Unlike home where the traffic won’t move for you, traffic in Vietnam will flow…. around you.
4. Put your arm in the air. It makes you more visible to traffic and is an added precaution. Hopefully, the arm will indicate to the motorists that you are in fact crossing the street and to look out for you.
5. Look out for buses and cars. They are big, and fast and generally don’t stop for anything or anyone. After your feet cross the pavement to the other side, just remember to exhale and relax. You’ve safely crossed the street!
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION BELIEVE IT OR NOT: LAWS OF THE ROAD
It’s not difficult to recognize the anarchy of Vietnam’s road system
It pretty much slaps you in the face as soon as you walk outside! What is an issue is recognising the rules in all this chaos. What regulations should we all know and follow when riding the roads? Apart from the general rule of “don’t do anything unexpected”, there are quite a few laws and formalities that, believe it or not, are applied and enforced every day.
1. Crossing the street
According to Article 32 of the Vietnamese Law on Road Traffic, pedestrians may cross the road at a traffic light, a specific road marking, or otherwise when it is “safe” to cross. You can’t walk over a median strip, and if you are a child under seven you can only cross traffic if you’re with an adult. It’s also interesting to note that if you are walking your dog you are obliged, by law, to be careful with it and to watch it closely when crossing the street. Also by law, as a pedestrian you have every right to move from one side of a street to another, albeit as last in the traffic hierarchy, but you must never ever “cling to a moving vehicle” or deliberately walk in front of one. As if you would ever want to…
2. You can stop in the middle of the road
According to Article 18 of Vietnam’s Law on Road Traffic, you can be stationary in a road for the time needed to unload or load your vehicle, or “do other things”. Lovely and vague, this law tends to be interpreted as “stop whenever you like, with little warning, and move on whenever you fancy”.
Officially, drivers are obliged to signal when stopping and to stop in an appropriate place. You cannot leave your vehicle unless you’re sure you’re not being dangerous or inconvenient, and you can’t open the door of your vehicle unless you are sure you won’t hit someone.
You can’t park or stand your vehicle on a road bend, the crest of a slope, where there is no space, under a bridge, on pedestrian crossings or inside intersections… but in reality? The only real rule is to accept the consequences of whatever you choose to do.
3. No riding tandem
You can’t hang onto another vehicle. Actually, I see this quite a lot – someone has run out of petrol and a friendly uncle comes along, sticks his foot on their exhaust, and propels them to the nearest petrol station. Nice, right? Well yes but also illegal.
It is also illegal to ride your motorbike right next to your friend and shout to each other as you drive abreast, to ride in those bits of the road that are not for your vehicle (ahem taxi drivers who drive in the motorbike lanes), using an umbrella whilst driving, driving with no hands or standing on your vehicle whilst it moves. I guess this last one is not exclusive to motorbikes – I wouldn’t advise clinging to a car or standing on top of your truck either.
4. You can’t carry your entire extended family
We’ve all seen those impossible piles of people riding the roads on a flimsy two-wheel disaster, and as you would expect this is illegal. According to Article 30 of Vietnam’s Law on Road Traffic, only one passenger is allowed behind the driver of a motorbike, unless a second is required because they are sick, have just done something very wrong and are being escorted to the police or are under 14 years old.
5. Honk Before Overtaking
Though the roads here look like chaos, there is in fact a lot of organization involved according to Article 12 of the Law on Road Traffic. In small, densely populated areas the expected speed is 20-30km/hr, while the limit for other roads is 40km/hr and on the highway, you can let loose to a daunting 60km/hr.
In reality, I am yet to see anyone driving at any kind of limit and have begun to very much enjoy the concept of driving as fast as you can in the given space. The speed limit seems unofficially set by the number and nature of the vehicles in front of you.
Road etiquette is also officially set here, and in this case is followed by most drivers with pleasure: overtaking is only to be done after the honk of a horn and a light signal. You cannot, although evidence suggests the opposite, randomly change direction and expect the entire road to react in time. You cannot make a U-turn unless a sign permits it, you can’t drive the wrong way on a road and you must signal and be very obvious if you want to reverse.
If you do something wrong on Vietnam’s roads, then you may find yourself landed with a nasty fine. The list below is set by the government – although many of the fines we’ve seen administered are not so official.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION RENTING A CAR IN VIETNAM
Renting a car in Vietnam is not as common as it is in the West.
Renting a Car in Vietnam: Enough to Drive You Crazy
Driver’s licence requirements in Vietnam are like all other official requirements here; complicated. On the face of it, it should not be a problem. International driver’s licences are recognised, and a legally notarised copy of your home nation’s driver’s licence is valid.
However, whether or not the traffic cop that stops you understands this is a whole different ball game. To get a Vietnamese driving licence only takes about five days, meaning that for residents it is not much of a problem. However, for holidaymakers it is. Nobody wants to spend valuable holiday time standing in a queue staring at a bureaucrat.
If you do wish to apply for a Vietnamese driver’s licence or have your home country licence converted, contact and visit the Office of Transportation on 63 Ly Tu Trong, District 1.
To convert an existing licence you will require the following:
– A copy of your passport; both your visa and passport need to be valid
– A copy of your existing driver’s licence, with a notarised, translated version
– Three passport size photos (4 cm x 6 cm)
– A completed application form (which can be downloaded here)
– VND135,000 for the processing fee
As far back as 2014, the Directorate for Roads of Vietnam announced that starting in 2015, the government would issue international driving permits to local residents and also recognise licences held by foreign drivers. A word of warning: the international driving permit issued here does not carry any validity within Vietnam. It’s for driving outside the country only.
Rent a Car or Take a Taxi?
Many people choose to simply hire a reliable taxi, or even a private driver and pay them a daily rate. In many ways this is the best way to go, though finding a really good guy can be eventful, to say the least. Personal recommendations are always more reliable.
There are plenty of good drivers around Vietnam who will work out a reasonable fee. It is also worth considering that many of Vietnam’s roads are not of the same quality that you will be used to. The roads in the countryside can be in very poor condition, and thus require drivers familiar with the poor conditions.
Most immigration companies do not recommend renting a car in Vietnam; the roads are simply considered too unsafe for anyone but a local person with experience dealing with the chaotic traffic.
If you are still determined to get a local licence, there are now companies that are renting out vehicles. Budget Car Rentals on 117-119 Ly Chinh Thang in District 3 (+84 28 3848 6868) offers a good fleet of cars from which to choose. Chaocom.com is also a good source.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION VIETNAMESE ROAD SIGNS
Getting Lost in Saigon
Finding your way around HCMC is challenging for anyone who drives. Unfortunately, I have not yet installed a GPS in my car. Coming from France, which probably has the best signage system in the world, I never needed it there, or elsewhere for that matter.
Too often in HCMC, I found myself looking around for any signs to point me to a direction. Often left without solutions, I end up asking a local. Now, would he be able to understand my broken Vietnamese? Most likely not. Can I trust his directions? Probably not. Finding your way while driving in an unknown territory is and remains a dilemma.
I often found myself dreaming about the business potentials that exist for directional signage in HCMC. They must be huge, as so much has to be done. In the mix of crazy traffic and insane number of intersections, streets and hems, it is not possible for unfamiliar individuals to know where to go. And if you do not believe me, try going from Conic 5B in Binh Chanh to Duong so 9, Phuong 9 in Go Vap and see for yourself!
Vietnamese Road Signs
In most countries I know, road signage is there to indicate where we can and cannot go. In Vietnam, it may serve this purpose, from time to time, but it also serves to confuse us or to justify the fines we pay.
Too often I get pulled over while driving in HCMC. Not because I did not wear my seatbelt, or because I did not turn my lights on, but simply for the reason that I could not read the “signs”. And this has come at a hefty price. In France, in most cases I would hire a lawyer and challenge the police because the road signage is non-existent, inefficient, misleading or misplaced. Here in Vietnam, I pay the fine.
I spotted signage that said you could not go left, right or straight. Where then? I saw green traffic lights that tell you to turn left, when you cannot turn left. I discovered speed signage hidden behind trees and leaves. To be objective, let’s recognise my own responsibility too, as I did not pass the Vietnamese driving license test, which may have given me a clearer view of how such signage systems work!
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION TIPS FOR RENTING OR BUYING THE RIGHT MOTORBIKE IN VIETNAM
The first question you should (seriously) ask yourself is whether you can drive well
You have probably noticed that few rules apply when it comes to traffic in Vietnam. You should always be extremely reactive and able to anticipate changes, either because of a pothole on the road or a driver suddenly switching lanes without warning. Accidents are very common – I witness one at least once a week in Saigon. Do not make the mistake of not buying a medical insurance.
Rent or Buy? Used or New?
If you are certain you can drive, then you should decide whether you want to rent or purchase a motorbike/scooter. Renting a basic motorbike is cheap, less than 50$ per month. It will save you a lot of hassle as you won’t need to register your purchase and you won’t need to make repairs if needed. Read our guide Top 5 Tips to Rent a Motorbike in Vietnam for more information.
Only if you have a resident card, you may choose to buy your motorcycle. Choosing a used one will be much easier to register and it will save you a ton of paperwork.
Motorbike Driving Licenses in Vietnam
Regarding the driving licenses and permits in Vietnam, the A1 license allows you to drive a bike up to 175cc. Foreigners living in Vietnam can have their national driving license translated to Vietnamese and will be granted a Vietnamese license without passing any exam. If you country’s driving license does not include two-wheelers, then you will be required to pass a very easy test. The cost to obtain the A1 license should not be more than USD 50 with an agent.
In case you want to ride a “real” bike, a genuine A2 is required. The down side to this is that it costs over USD 1,000. A cheaper route to the A2 is to get an invitation from a bike club. Obviously, the authorities want to control the number of people owning a more powerful ride than the police have. Police bikes in Vietnam have 400cc engines.
Choosing the right motorbike for you
As in most countries, what you drive often gives people a hint about what kind of person you are. Many of us look fondly at our first rides, whether it was borrowing our parent’s car for the night or working long summer hours to pay for that first used car that we inevitably sold. The unluckiest of us took those cars and demolished them. One thing is that first car is a special one.
It gives you that first taste of independence. Vietnam also has its own 2 wheeled rides and we will try to give you a non-exhaustive list of the different rides in Vietnam. Shakespeare once wrote that the cowl doesn’t make the monk. Shakespeare might have been right in 16th century England but in modern HCMC, he couldn’t be so wrong.
Look and style-conscious Saigoneers love a Honda SH or a Vespa scooter
To many Saigonese, a bike’s appearance unveils its price tag. But hang on! You should know that there are 2 schools of thought when riding these bikes. One faction drives along in a SH or a Vespa made in Vietnam (with maximum price of USD 7,000), while the other will spend at least USD 8,500 to import their ride from Italy.
The difference is slight to the uninitiated but the discerning Saigonese will know the difference. SHi are also higher than other bikes. Therefore, its driver and his partner can enjoy looking down on others, inflating their ego yet slimming their wallet. Note that SHi owner will always park pay a bit extra to park their bike in where it can be seen.
The two schools definitely have their own values, but all have the same stylish manner and similar accessories. Indeed, those bike owners all wear wide sunglasses, trendy clothes and most distinctivelya 1.10-meters tall leggy girl riding pillion like a praying mantis ready to devour her prey.
Vespas are most alluring to the Saigonese artist. Hundreds of garages inVietnam restore those old bikes. While it’s not too expensive to buy an old-school Vespa, restoring and maintaining it to its former glory will cost a pretty penny. Certainly, one looks cool riding this classic bike but beware, it’s hard to start and the backseat can be less comfortable. Therefore, consider having a back up ‘Dream’ if you want to own a vintage Vespa.
Family and price-sensitive men ride Honda Wave or Honda Dream
The Dream is strong, economical and a friendly-fixer ride that has been themainstay of Vietnamese daily life for generations. However, you lose style points for the basket up front. Although it is extremely useful to store your raincoat and other goods, you’ll end up looking like you borrowed your father’s ride. However, the Xe ôm (moto taxis) will answer you with unruffled equanimity as they don’t bother with such trivial issues. These two motorbikes usually come with manual transmission.
Younger expats and middle class Vietnamese favor a Honda Nouvo, a Honda Air-blade or a SYM Attila
The Nouvo and Air-blade scooters are a well-matched pair and created a turning point in Saigon’s 2 wheeled landscape.Suitable to the new bourgeoisie, it’s the same size of a Wave or a Future but does away with the basket up front and has a nifty container underneath the seat. It is reasonable both in price and usage and is an automatic ride, which is convenient when stuck in Saigon traffic jam. Besides, this is a model that you will also often see “pimped” out with neon lights or truck klaxon horns.
Older expatriates and classic bikes amateurs choose the Honda 67
In early the 1960s, the Japanese built Honda 67 was used throughout the south of Vietnam. After the conclusion of the American war, northerners finally got this classic and reliable ride.
The Honda 67 is a very low bike with a very small motor and almost no chassis. It certainly has a nice vintage look but don’t expect to go faster than an electric bike with this. The main advantage of this bike is that it is easy to fix wherever you break down. You see quite a bit of foreigners riding these bikes.
If you are decided about buying a motorbike, check the following locations in Ho Chi Minh City:
For finding a used motorcycle, you can check the area between Trương Quốc Dung and Phan Xích Long on Hoàng Văn Thụ in Phú Nhuận District. It has several used motorbike shops.
If you want to purchase a new one, it is better to go directly to the official motorbike dealers shop. In District 1 of Saigon, you have the following:
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION IN VIETNAM, MOTORBIKE DRIVER’S BEHAVIOUR MATTERS
Understanding the Vietnamese driving flow is essential for survival
If you’ve lived in Vietnam long enough, you’ll know that Vietnamese people would hardly be able to get around town without motorbikes. Motorbikes have become the most popular means of transportation and, at the same time, the main cause for road accidents in the country.
According to the World Health Organization, around 14,000 people die due to road collisions in Vietnam every year. Motorcyclists account for 59 percent of the road traffic collisions in the country. WHO also estimates that road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29 in Vietnam.
According to official statistics, there are 42.8 million registered motorbikes in Vietnam, exceeding the 36-million target set for 2020. With a population of around 93 million people, it works out that out of every 1,000 Vietnamese people, 460 own a motorbike.
According to news website Vietnamnet, Vietnam has the second highest motorbike ownership per capita rate in the world, after only Taiwan. Taiwan has around a 24-million population and 15.09 million motorbikes, which means 676 out of every 1,000 Taiwanese own a motorbike.
Putting aside infrastructure and law enforcement issues, the driving behaviour of motorbike drivers plays an important role in ensuring road safety.
Driving Behaviour in Vietnam
I can list many bad behaviours that invariably lead to road crashes: speeding, crossing lanes unexpectedly, overtaking other motorbikes without warning, running red lights, drunk driving, not wearing helmets, changing direction without signaling, not paying attention, driving against traffic in one-way streets and driving with more than two people on a motorbike, just to name a few reasons.
Other potentially dangerous driving habits include smoking, spitting or using mobile phones while driving, and driving on the sidewalks.
And besides the driving, there are motorbikes that pose risks to other road users, such as “zombie” motorbikes which are very old and poorly equipped with no horn, no light and no mirror.
They look like metal frames hitting the roads, speeding, overtaking others and releasing dark, smelly, thick layers of smoke from their old and loud exhausts. These bikes, used mostly by traders to transport ice, vegetables, meat, drinks or gas tanks, threaten road safety and worsen air pollution at the same time.
There have been many reports that describe motorbike riders attempting unsafe stunts on their motorbikes in recent years. Some drivers have lied flat on the seat of their motorbike and drove with their feet; others have been seen driving with their feet while using a mobile phone; still others have enjoyed standing straight up on the seat of their running motorbike — a stunt trick known as a “christ”.
In August 2015, a father was filmed allowing his five-year-old son to drive his motorbike freely on a crowded street at night. Another man let his dog “drive” his motorbike on another street. On August 21, Da Nang police arrested a 30-year-old man for driving his motorbike while standing on the seat in busy traffic without wearing a crash helmet.
The man admitted to performing the same stunt in the city on August 7, which was captured and shared in an online video, according to VnExpress. “I watched people do it online and thought it looked like fun,” he was quoted as saying. Those caught attempting motorbike stunts have been fined, but none have faced criminal charges.
What Can Be Done
Talking about traffic madness in Vietnam is like telling an endless story. Some roads and highways can not be expanded any further; it’s only up to people to change the situation.
The government should focus more on traffic enforcement, as the active participation of traffic police could deter traffic rule violators; traffic safety can’t be achieved without strong efforts made by the government. Strict fines and criminal charges should be pressed against motorbike drivers who purposefully practice unsafe driving.
According to statistics, most traffic accidents occur on national highways as a result of speeding and reckless driving, which shows that many of these collisions could have been avoided with more forethought. In my opinion, if the government organises more campaigns that raise public awareness of driving etiquette, along with implementing strong law enforcement, things may improve.
We all remember the year 2007 when the government issued a resolution that made it mandatory for all motorbike drivers and passengers in Vietnam to wear a helmet on all roads. The decision received backlash from the public at first, but after 10 years of mass media campaigns and strong law enforcement, the result has been positive.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION ARE YOU INSANE ENOUGH TO DRIVE IN SAIGON ?
Driving in Ho Chi Minh City is not as complicated as it may seems
Driving in Saigon requires a high level of skill, yes, but even more than that it requires daring. Bravery. Heck, insanity! Driving a motorbike on the dusty, dense, wild streets of this city is an activity that I would never recommend anyone unless they were stark raving mad, because to join chaos you’ve got to be chaotic.
There’s a pulse to the rush of the roads here, and the key to survival is to beat along with it. So what is that beat and how do you play it? Are you insane enough to drive in Saigon? Well that all depends on whether you meet these 12 criteria…
Never drive at a consistent speed
Even if you happen to find the rare patches of un-mottled tarmac that spatter a few roads in this city, you will never drive smoothly in Saigon. This is partly because the roads are like a pimpled teenager, but actually the drivers themselves are far more to blame for that famous stop-start of Saigon traffic!
I don’t know why, but I have never found a driver here who was capable of going in one direction at a fairly constant speed. And because of that, the roads are more like arteries than channels for vehicles. The buzzing mopeds pulse down them like liquid in veins, ebbing and flowing together in a never ending circus of not really knowing what’s going on. At the end of the day it is never point and shoot here – you’ve got to know the beat.
Don’t waste your cash on insurance
Insurance is silly, because…well to be honest I don’t know why and the reality is that no one does, but still everyone I’ve ever spoken to who drives here has told me I’m an idiot for even thinking about insurance. Perhaps the best justification is the wonderfully simple one of “they are insane”, which is why they’re driving here in the first place.
Drive very fast down every alleyway
If there is an alleyway then drive down it. If possible remove your helmet first, and when entering the narrow space ignore all instincts of self-preservation and step hard on that accelerator.
Always chat to someone on the other side of the road while driving
Do not drive with friends without previously establishing a topic of conversation for the drive, and setting yourselves up so that you take up the entire road and have to shout and hoot to be heard. Then drive like a frog, leaping forward with sudden bursts of speed before slowing to wait for your chums, and sway drunkenly so that no-one really knows where you’re going. If possible do this at night, with at least 3 people per motorbike, and pick the busiest possible roads.
Do not wait for traffic lights
Do whatever it takes to avoid waiting for that green light, and if you have to sit and wait make sure you speed off at least four seconds before it finally turns green again. That’s what the countdown is for, right? If you find yourself behind a huge chunk of waiting traffic, simply turn the left hand lane into a proxy-right lane and skip to the front of the queue.
Never EVER qualify for a driving license
Now this is a big no-no. If you are serious about being insane enough to fit in with the majority of drivers on these roads you will not, under any circumstances, invest in a driving license. Those horrible certificates add a level of legitimacy to your situation that no self-respecting lunatic would ever aspire to, and neither shall you.
Most foreigners who come to live in Vietnam either have an invalid license or just don’t have one at all, and to then get one is often considered a waste of time. Not sure what I think since I ride a bicycle (yes, perhaps the most insane choice of them all), but it seems to work for many. Just make sure you can at least turn the thing on before you rev your motor and join the fray.
If it’s clean, fully functional and relatively normal looking, then don’t touch it
Have you ever just stood next to a road in Saigon and tried to count the number of logical looking vehicles that fly past? Ok, so clearly there are some… and the richer you are the more likely you are to be driving something nice, but a lot of the vehicles on Saigon’s roads just make no sense. There is an absolutely fantastic array of miscellaneous moving things peppering this city, from large motorized wheelbarrows to blackened, skeleton-like beasts that might once have been mopeds.
Though this is not really a criteria for joining the Saigon traffic world, if you lack in other requirements and want to make up for it, then driving a bike that looks like something from the dark ages is an excellent way to do so. Ten points if it sounds like a wheezing duck, another five if it has no clear colour and a nice, sparkly 50 if it drops bits as you drive.
Always pile four people onto your motorbike, and then add a baby
Have you ever tried to find out how many people you could fit into your car? Neither have I, which is why I would recommend this excellent exercise of trying to find out how many people you can fit on your motorbike. If you haven’t done one then you might as well do the other, and just like in number six you get extra crazy points for every extra limb you can manage to stuff on.
When drunk, drive anyway
There will be no late night taxi drives, no no…why pay that man to drive you home, when you could be a solo super bee flying home on wings of tequila? Better yet, fly home in a pack. Get your friends together, pile other miscellaneous humans on the back of all available motorbikes, and set off on a night-time thrill ride which may or may not end up in the hospital. Everyone else does it…
Never wear closed shoes and helmets are silly
This extends to clothing too – on no account should you ever wear anything that even vaguely protects your body when driving a moped. Flip-flops are the best motorists’ footwear, and those cheap tacky helmets made of the same packaging your fish came in are ideal for your head.
The only appropriate consideration to make when choosing your attire for riding a moped is how much darker will I become if I wear this under the sun, so definitely get yourself a pair of those disgusting salmon coloured socks that everyone covers their feet with. But boots? Pushing it.
Do not be tempted to use your indicator
No indicating please, and in fact no logic at all. There is never any reason to make sense on Saigon’s roads, simply because no one else ever makes sense so the safest policy to have is to assimilate into complete irrationality. Indicating is only permitable if you do it at the absolute last minute, and combine it with a dangerous swerve, rapid acceleration and if possible an illegal run of a red light.
Invest in a large fluffy dog
If you own a large fluffy dog make sure you take it with you everywhere you drive, and if you don’t own one then a particularly still cat will do, or a box of confounded chickens. The idea is that you place this carefully selected animal in the area beside your feet, or drape them over the handlebars, and allow them to loll out their tongues, staring nonchalantly at anyone who drives past and is understandably amused.
So there you have it! Twelve criteria by which you can judge how you will get around in this city. Will you join the rhythmic network of Saigon’s streets? Will you attempt to drive in this city? Are you insane enough to be successful?
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION THE FUTURE OF TRANSIT IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Are traffic infrastructure slowly catching in Ho Chi Minh City or not?
Vietnam’s economic growth in the past two decades has led to more and more motorbikes, and as of late, many more cars. Driveways are now lined with cars as the Vietnamese find comfort in what up until recently was considered a luxury. Congestion has grown with population, and the streets are jam-packed with vehicles of all sorts. Pollution is rampant and road safety is an increasing concern.
To combat the increasing issue of mobility, the government has put forth a plan to dramatically streamline transit for the masses. Fanny Quertamp of PADDI, a decentralised cooperation project between the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in France, the Greater Lyon metropolis, and Ho Chi Minh City, informed us of the city’s future plans (translated from French):
“To fight against these negative externalities, the government has planned the construction of an ambitious transport network, including eight lines of MRT, two monorails, a tram line and six lines of BRT. By 2020, the economic capital of Vietnam is poised to acquire several subway lines and a bus line along the high traffic area of Vo Van Kiet. The development of such infrastructure will profoundly change the urban morphology, landscape [and more….]”
It is an ambitious and difficult undertaking that becomes exponentially complex due to the city’s geography and the unique habits of commuters. But various departments and investors have committed to getting everything done in time, despite negative criticism in the press.
Who is Involved?
To get a clearer perspective we have to take a look at the key players in the transit game:
People’s Committee: The figureheads of all transit projects, the People’s Committee makes the final call for any decision after listening to the opinions of relevant technical departments, foreign donors, consultants, think tanks, academics and decentralised cooperation projects like PADDI.
Transit Departments: These are the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Management Authority for Urban Railways (MAUR) and the Urban-Civil works Construction Investment management authority (UCCI). They are under the direct supervision of the People’s Committee.
International Donors: These are donors from international organizations such as ADB, BEI, World Bank, or bilateral aid agencies like JICA and GIZ. This is how the metro project gets part of its funding. There are not that many international donors, and the city wishes to involve more stakeholders.
Institutes: These institutes can be dedicated to the fields of urban planning and transport planning, engineering, architecture, transport or social sciences. They act as advisors to the transit departments under the People’s Committee.
Decentralised Cooperation Projects: Projects like PADDI who provides training courses, technical assistance and studies on urban issues, especially on public transport.
Commissioned Companies: These are the companies actively involved in the construction and engineering of the project. They may be local or foreign.
What Challenges are Faced?
It’s a day-by-day learning experience for everyone involved. Fanny remarks on the two major challenges faced by authorities involved with the various transit projects (translated from French):
“From a technical standpoint, the authorities face two major challenges: the design and construction of subway lines - part underground - require a high level of technicality in an environment with many uncertainties.... The second challenge is to optimize the management of existing bus networks (140 routes operated by 18 operators).”
In addition, there are many other problems faced on a daily basis:
• New institutions (such as a Public Transport Authority or PTA) must be created on-the-go while the projects are still taking shape.
• Because the city has no end of winding side alleys, floods and non-existent sidewalks, people’s routes need to be constantly assessed and re-assessed. Factor in the increasing number of traffic jams, the connections to be developed between the new bus routes and the metro lines, the conflicts with real estate and a number of other issues, and this becomes an incredibly complex puzzle.
• External factors have to be considered every step of the way, including: road safety issues; motorbike parking at stations; balanced ticket pricing; the public, private and corporate aspects of the bus system; and much, much more.
A Lack of Perspective and Communication
Between 1990 and 1997, it took Shanghai nearly seven years to build 16km of Line 1 of its metro. Between 2009 and 2010, it took one year to build 1,140km of rail in Shanghai. What’s happening now in HCMC is a test project – whatever is learned by all participants should expedite the process the next time around.
On a final note, Fanny remarks that it is important that all those involved remain flexible to adapt to the constantly changing circumstances as the future of transit in the city inches towards completion.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION TOP 5 TIPS TO RENT A MOTORBIKE IN VIETNAM
Rent a bike to get off the beaten track and discover Vietnam on your own.
That is if you are able to deal with the manic traffic and less than stringent road rules. There are many places in tourist areas such as Pham Ngu Lao in Ho Chi Minh City and the Old Quarter in Hanoi that rent bikes to foreigners.
You will need to fill out a form to rent the bike along with leaving your passport as a deposit and most places offer a selection of manual shift and automatic shift motorbikes. The rentals will also come with a helmet and remember that helmet use is mandatory in Vietnam. So if you have the intestinal fortitude to get on the open road, we have compiled together a few tips for you to make your experience a bit smoother.
Here are our top 5 tips:
1. Check your bike
Test the your turn signals and lights and take a quick test drive around the block. Finding out that your front brakes are a bit dodgy a mile down the road isn’t ideal so check it out first.When parking in a public lot, don’t lose that ticket. If you lose it, you will need to verify the ownership of the bike, which means contacting the place you rented the bike. Which brings me to number 3.
2. Get the rental agency’s contact details
This could be a lifesaver if your bike breaks down.
3. Make sure your helmet is in good order
If you feel it’s a bit dodgy, request a new one. If they refuse, head down to the next shop.
4. Anticipate your surroundings
Vietnamese drivers don’t really use their wing mirrors so watch out for the traffic ahead of you. Also, slow down through intersections as stopping at a red is more like a guideline as opposed to a rule.
Local insight: While manual shift bikes go for VND120,000/day (~$5/day), automatics will run you a bit more at around VND150,000/day (~$6/day).
If you need some tips and advices to help you choose the right motorbike for you, you can also read our guide: Tips for Renting or Buying the Right Motorbike in Vietnam.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION MEET THE EXPERT: LAWSON DIXON OF HARLEY-DAVIDSON SAIGON
The story of Haley-Davidson expension in Vietnam
Lawson Dixon is an amiable Australian who started with the News Ltd media company in the 1980s but has spent more time out of Australia than in since. He has a background in automotive advertising and has worked with Ford and Chrysler in the past. He started Ducati in Vietnam before finally getting the Harley-Davidson franchise off the ground in 2013.
He beat 70 competitors to win the right to be the first Harley-Davidson dealer in the country. He has matched the hard graft with a golden touch; the very week that they opened for business the ban on big bike licenses was lifted in the country. Prior to this, the only way to get a license to ride a large machine was via a government sponsored motorcycle club.
The 25-storey, 40,000 gross sq m building represents the union of the Vietnamese and German governments, showcasing modern German technology and acting as a model of sustainable design.
In 2011, Germany’s Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a declaration establishing the partnership between Germany and Vietnam, designed to strengthen the political, economic and cultural relations of the two countries.
For the past five years, Germany has been Vietnam’s biggest trade partner in the European Union, totalling a trade volume of US$8.92 billion in 2015 alone. The Deutsches Haus is to be the central platform for German and Central European companies doing business with Vietnamese and other ASEAN businesses, as well as the place to be for cultural exchange and relations.
We met up with Lawson in their District 7 showroom, surrounded by some of the most beautiful motorbikes in Vietnam.
How long has Harley-Davidson been active in Vietnam and how many outlets are in the country?
We opened in November 2013 with very few pre-orders. It was worrying at first as we felt sure there would be much more. It seems that people had got their fingers burned in the grey market and were sceptical, until they saw our operation. We have two showrooms, one here and one in Hanoi.
How are sales, in general and in comparison to targets?
We initially targeted 10 to 12 units per month but are pleased to report that we are selling 20 to 25 here and about 15 in Hanoi.
Who is your direct competition and where does Harley-Davidson stand in the market?
We really have no direct competitors, but I suppose the closest would be Ducati, Benelli, KTM, Suzuki, Kawasaki and BMW. As for our position, I’m not sure overall but for the over 1200cc market we are certainly number one.
Is there a Harley-Davidson owners group?
Yes, as an official dealer we have the rights to sponsor Saigon H.O.G. and they are very well respected. When the Cau Giai freeway opened we rode through to officially open it. Eighty members, it was really special. Harley Owners Group is worldwide; the biggest motorbike club in the world with a million members. When someone buys a bike we register them automatically for the first year. They then have the option of joining the local chapter. There are about three or four hundred members in the country.
How do your customers report their treatment by police?
I have to say all of my personal dealings have been fantastic. I’ve never heard of anyone being poorly treated because of riding a Harley-Davidson. We make sure we drive appropriately. Road safety is taken very seriously by the H.O.G. We actually trained some of the police riders. We were the first people to bring in international riders as trainers. We have taught more than 300 riders to ride safely. We teach low speed handling, how to lift a bike if you drop it. We ride round cones in car parks, learning safe riding skills. We also train on how to ride in a pack. If you have 45 bikes doing 80 kph there are important rules that you have to follow to enjoy the ride and stay safe.
Am I right in thinking that Harley-Davidson bikes suffer less thefts or damage than other bikes?
Yes. All machines have immobilisers and alarms. We have not heard of any thefts. We have heard of stolen bikes being smuggled into the country, but not be taken whilst here. These are big machines, not many people can just jump on a Harley and ride of.
What do you see as the opportunity or challenge for expansion of the big bike market?
I think the opportunities are huge. Proportionately Vietnam is the biggest market in the world. The key challenge is to reach out to the younger guys. Traditionally we have sold to older, financially secure, mainly men. We have to take the challenge to a younger market and appeal to that market.
With that in mind Harley-Davidson have introduced “Dark Custom”. This is a concept where customers can personalise their bikes to their own likings. It’s a lifestyle statement in which we are marketing to people a blank canvas on which they can imprint their own personality. This appeals very much to Vietnamese people, who make up 98% of our customers.
So are bikes getting customised here in Vietnam?
Absolutely, when you go to a function and see the bikes parked up, every bike looks different, handle bars, exhausts, colours, etc. Harley motorcycle are highly customisable. Vietnamese people love originality and Harley-Davidson does this better than anyone.
How do you train your mechanics?
I can proudly say that we have the best trained mechanics in Vietnam. They all use Snap-on brand tools and we have the best equipped workshops. We had a guy who came out from the States and spent three months working on intensive training. Before that, we spent time in Singapore. Harley-Davidson University is now in Bangkok, we send technicians there to train extensively. We have eight fully trained mechanics.
What happens if an accident happens? What facilities do you have for repairing damage?
It doesn’t happen as often as you think, in fact very rarely. In most cases a bike falls off a stand, not put up properly. Occasionally a rider drops a bike, but most of our customers are very experienced riders. If damage occurs we have the facilities to repair it.
Up to what age have people bought bikes from you?
The oldest guy we have sold to was 77. Before unification he saw a bike and always wanted one… he bought a Dyna Street Bob, 1690cc.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION ‘BIKER GANG’ SAVING STRANDED SAIGON MOTORCYCLISTS AT NIGHT
Discover the “Night Warriors” of SOS Saigon – rescuing stranded motorcyclists in need of help and repair in Ho Chi Minh City
• These volunteers are connecting Saigon’s residents whose motorcycles break down at night
• Contact the group if you require assistance with your motorbike after dark in Saigon
Picture the scene. It’s 2am in Vietnam’s largest city of Saigon. You are a young woman who is a 40-minute drive away from home and your motorcycle won’t start. There are no taxis around. Leaving the bike overnight seems like a risky option. Would it even be there the next day? What would you do and who would you call if your motorbike broke down in Ho Chi Minh City late at night? It would be a rather scary prospect.
In fact, this is precisely the situation that Australian Georgia Samuels found herself in recently. Fortunately for Georgia, a well-informed Vietnamese friend knew exactly who to call to get help at that hour. And so, within ten minutes of the late-night heroes’ arrival, Georgia’s bike was repaired and she was off safely back to her home. The most unbelievable part of the story? No cash ever exchanged hands.
Catch-Free Motorbike Rescuers – Who Are the SOS Saigon “Night Warriors”?
Affectionately known as the “Night Warriors” by some, SOS Saigon is a self-funded, volunteer brigade of nighttime motorcycle repair people. They are the biker equivalent of good Samaritans, and you can call them when you’re in a pinch like Georgia or even if you are more seriously affected by a motor vehicle accident.
The catch? None. This Saigon ‘gang’ of 10-20 volunteer Night Warriors (though that nickname makes them a little shy, preferring to be “those folks who patch tires for free”) just want to help you out. But it seems almost too good to be true. Who are these people? In a big bustling city like Saigon where everyone is out to make a buck, why the free kindness towards strangers?
SOS Saigon was launched in March 2017 by Saigonese buddies Ho Tang Sang (31) and Phan Van Sac (23). Previously, Sang had been badly hurt in a motorcycle accident. He was helped by strangers and the interaction sparked in him a sincere desire to “pay it forward”.
Sang worries that with the rapid growth of a city like Saigon, people quickly adopt an “every man for himself” attitude and become more insensitive to the needs of others. As a result, he feels we are less connected to one another as fellow city-dwellers and as human beings in general.
Connecting Saigon’s Residents One Motorcycle Rescue at a Time
He’s not wrong. Studies by the University of Miami have proven that big city living does, in fact, switch off the basic human instinct to ‘be nice’ when interacting with strangers. Historically, humans have more often lived in much smaller groups in which there were virtually no strangers. This meant that you couldn’t easily get away with being unkind to another person because everyone would find out about it.
However, the feeling of anonymity plays a role in a city like Saigon of around nine million inhabitants. It’s easy to justify not caring about the misfortune of another when there is a high chance that you will never see that person again.
According to Sang, the entire ethos behind SOS Saigon, apart from the action of carrying out nighttime emergency motorcycle repairs around Ho Chi Minh City, is to enhance connections between people. They have certainly reached out to connect with a good number of Saigonese – to date, their members have performed an impressive number of emergency rescues – upwards of 1,500, in fact.
Contact SOS Saigon If Your Motorbike Breaks Down At Night
SOS Saigon’s crew patrols the streets in various areas of Ho Chi Minh City from roughly 10pm to 1am every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. They have an emergency hotline number (0931 883 119) and also a Facebook page with an administrator who responds to messages.
The brigade is mostly made up of young men but has members up to the age of 50 and also includes several women. Adopting Sang’s forward-thinking and optimistic life view, some Saigonese who were initially helped by SOS Saigon have gone on to join the volunteer patrols as well. They are actively looking to recruit more members so that they can expand their patrols to include daytime hours in the future.
The group is self-funded by its volunteer members in Saigon. They all donate approximately VND1,000,000 per month to purchase tire patching supplies, basic medical kits and other necessary emergency repair equipment. They also pay for their own gas when out on patrol. All group members have full-time jobs and lead their own busy lives but still somehow find the time and motivation to continue providing volunteer roadside assistance to people in need across Ho Chi Minh City.
Sang recalls one of his most rewarding experiences when the group’s persistence really paid off. They were contacted on their emergency hotline by a motorcyclist who had driven off a bridge and fallen into the water below. The call quickly broke off before they could get the driver’s exact location. Sang and his team kept patrolling all possible locations until they located the man in the water. In this case, their Saigon volunteer emergency service made all the difference. A man’s life was saved.
Suspicions Provide a Challenge When Saving Saigon’s Motorcyclists
Being a good Samaritan, however, can have its downsides. Since the crew patrols at night, they are automatically subjected to the general danger of those hours in a big city. In addition, victims can also be suspicious of their motivations. Some fear that they have stopped to rob them or somehow take advantage of their motorcycle breaking down. Team members have even faced physical assaults themselves when attempting to help victims.
In order to mitigate any possible confusion about their intentions and help to identify themselves quickly, SOS Saigon team members have designed their own vests with logos, along with their emergency hotline phone number clearly indicated on the back.
For some, it might just be too much to ask to trust someone you have never met to help you out of a bind at night. But if you think about it, it’s comparable to manoeuvering your way through Saigon’s wild streets in general, where the traffic rules can be ‘negotiable’ at best. There is a sense of simply having to trust one another and go with the flow.
While it may be easy to be suspicious of a stranger who gives without question or expectation of anything in return, an SOS Saigon stranger is one who becomes a friend, at least during your hour of need.
If you break down on your motorbike at night in Ho Chi Minh City – who you gonna call? Clue: it’s not Ghostbusters!
To join SOS Saigon’s motorcycle rescue crew, donate towards their efforts or learn more about them, please visit their Facebook page.
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRANSPORTATION BEST BIKE REPAIR IN SAIGON
Finding a reliable bike repair shop in Ho Chi Minh is not an easy task
During my almost 12 months in the serene chaos that is Ho Chi Minh City I have owned a total of two bicycles. As per custom I named each of them, and both Susie and Richard have been instrumental parts of my life here. They have also both warranted city-wide searches for repair shops, secondhand salesmen and the friendliest road-side tire inflator man. I have a few favorite tire inflator men. You should visit them too.
Repairs on the cheap, or not…
Sometimes it’s worth spending that tiny bit more on your bicycle just to make sure the job you get is a good one. Especially if you plan to ride it in Ho Chi Minh City. I mean after all, that thing is the only thing carrying you safely through the mess of chaotic bullets that are the streets of Saigon. That being said, cheaper options are available!
- Đề Thám in District 1: all along this street there are a number of sidewalk motorbike and bicycle workshops. My favourite is at the Phạm Ngũ Lão end of the street on the corner of Đề Thám and Trần Hưng Đạo, but there are several other shops over the other side of Trần Hưng Đạo. Shop around for prices, and check all parts before you hand over your money. A new tire and inner tube should cost around VND 100,000 to 150,000.
Tire inflator men
Since my bike sports disgustingly old tires at the moment I have gradually become very well acquainted with the best of Saigon’s grinning men with gas, ready to pump up the tires of your motorbike or bicycle. My absolute favourite sits near the Đề Thám end of infamous Bùi Viện. This tiny guy wears only khaki and always asks for ‘ten dollar’ from me before giggling and accepting my usual VND 2,000 with a grin. The joker…
Second Hand Gems: Where to Buy a Second Hand Bike in Ho Chi Minh City?
There is a famous bike street in Ho Chi Minh City. Go to Bùi Hữu Nghĩa in District 1 and prepare to be overwhelmed by spokes and tires. At the intersection of Bùi Hữu Nghĩa and Trường Sa just as you cross over the river, a seemingly endless strip of bicycles and motorbikes appears. This street is a black market hotspot, so if you buy here bear three things in mind:
- Shop around. There are so many stores on this street! Be patient and walk the strip, check prices at as many shops as you can and compare quality – don’t rush the process.
- Bargain hard. I brought a dealer down from VND 3,000,000 to 800,000 with a simple stubborn ‘no’.
- Check EVERYTHING. Look at the tires and if possible request to see the inner tube, check the spokes are tight and unbroken, try out the brakes and make sure the brake pads are intact, look closely at the chain and if there are gears test every single one. Bikes on this street are usually riddled with low quality and often stolen parts.