Believe it or Not: Laws of the Road

By: City Pass Guide

It’s not difficult to recognise 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 organisation 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.

6. Traffic Fines

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.


Are You Insane Enough to Drive in Saigon?

By: City Pass Guide

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…

driving in Saigon / HCMC


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 permittable 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?


How to get a driving license in Vietnam

By: City Pass Guide

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 residents or a foreigner who is allowed to reside, work or study in Vietnam.
  • Be at least 18 years of age.

Documents required:

  • A completed application form to register at the driving examination.
  • A photocopy of your permanent residence card or valid passport.
  • Health certificate provided by jurisdictional health department.

After taking the examination you will be granted your driver’s license within 10v workings 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.

Documents required:

  • 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.

Deadline for changing 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.

‘Biker Gang’ Saving Stranded Saigon Motorcyclists at Night

By: Naomi Sutorius-Lavoie

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.

SOS SaigonImage source: saigontv.news

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.

SOS SaigonImage source: saigontv.news

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.

SOS SaigonImage source: facebook.com/sossaigon

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.

SOS SaigonImage source: facebook.com/sossaigon

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.

SOS SaigonImage source: facebook.com/sossaigon

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.

Banner Image source: kenh14.com


Eco Friendly Buses in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Aleksandr Smechov

It’s very likely that in your travels around Ho Chi Minh City, you have - at least a few times - been stuck trailing behind a bus spewing thick black smoke in your face. You probably weaved through traffic at this point, attempting to overtake the ecological disaster in front of you.

Buses operating in Dien Bien Phu-Hanoi Highway – Photo: SGGP

Ho Chi Minh City is not an emissions pollution disaster like some other countries, although it is in the top 10. Recently, transport authorities have released a series of 23 eco-friendly buses that use compressed natural gas (CNG) as fuel, according to Thanh Nien News. A ceremony was held on March 1 to celebrate the occasion by the Saigon Transportation Mechanical Corporation (SAMCO).

Ho Chi Minh City's first public buses that run on compressed natural gas – Photo: Pham Thanh/TBKTSG

CNG is methane stored at high pressure. It is used in place of petrol, diesel fuel and propane, and emits less environmentally unhealthy gases than the other three according to Wikipedia. The CNG-fueled buses will run along route 33, which connects university campuses in Thu Duc District and An Suong Terminal in the Hoc Mon District. They will join an existing fleet of environmentally friendly buses, upping the total number to 52 buses. US$2.8 million was spent to acquire these buses.

A CNG-fueled bus operates on the Ben Thanh-Cho Lon route in HCMC. Many localities are calling for transport companies to use buses running on this environmentally friendly fuel to reduce harmful emissions – Photo: Anh Quan

Government authorities have approved a plan to introduce hundreds of eco-friendly buses to Ho Chi Minh City, which will make travel in the city less environmentally damaging. According to ngvjournal.com, general director at SAMCO said that “the buses are SAMCO’s first shipment of a 300-bus purchase by the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City.” According to vietnamnet.vn, this project will extend to 2017.

A CNG-fueled commuter bus manufactured by Samco. The corporation has two more years to complete the city’s project to manufacture 300 CNG buses – Photo: Van Nam

In addition, according to deputy director of the city’s transport department Le Hoang Minh, an invest plan has initiated to replace 1,318 old buses with 1,680 new ones, as reported by Tuoi Tre News. The deputy director also said that the department looks to improve the behavior of bus drivers and bus attendants.

Currently, Ho Chi Minh City has 3,000 operating buses. Given the fact that buses are the city’s only form of public until the metro arrives in town, and that bus passenger percentages have dropped as of late, this will be a welcome addition to Saigon’s transport scene.


The Future of Transit in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Aleksandr Smechov

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.


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