Getting the right taxis in Saigon by avoiding scams
Video source: Back of the Bike Tours
Video source: Back of the Bike Tours
What is happening with the Metro? Is it as far behind schedule as people are saying? How long will it be before trains are running? Citypassguide.com tracked down one of the men in the know. Project Manager Stephane Faure.
There are three companies working together on the project:
Freyssinet One of the Vinci group which is one of the biggest construction company in France.
VSL Originally from Switzerland but belongs to the French company Bouygues
Rizzani De Eccher A major Italian general contractor in the international construction market
Stephane Faure has 20 years experience on these kind of projects, having worked in South and Central America, North Africa, the Middle East and now Ho Chi Minh City.
This friendly Frenchman is married and has two children. We sat down to find out what’s what with Ho Chi Minh City’s new Light Rail Transit system.
No, our part of the work is completely on time. We are responsible for all the precast bridgework. Which to be honest is a large part of the whole project. There are so many other factors in play though. The companies building the big bridges over the rivers, the station builders, then the track laying and signalling before the project finally gets round to testing. Our part of the work will be finished on schedule in the second half of 2017. The stations and concourses should be done by the end of 2017 then the track, signalling and testing by 2019. So it’s on course.
It is true that a ground level system is quicker and cheaper but in the long term, it creates many more problems. Every time a road crosses the track you need a bridge. Level crossings are not practical with a metro where trains are running every few minutes. Effectively a track at ground level cuts a community in two. Additionally the ground conditions here are problematic and that would create more issues. Then of course there is the problem of Ho Chi Minh City’s perennial floods, that would be very disruptive.
Well it is impressive, the technology is far advanced from other systems around the world. We manufacture the concrete sections at our factory in Thu Duc. Each section measures eight metres by three metres. For the 12km of line that we are constructing, we will have to manufacture 4,000 sections. The machine that you mention can lay a 30 metre section between two uprights in three days. So that’s 10 metres per day, and we have three machines. The machines can lay the segments faster than we can manufacture them. So we had to start manufacturing ahead of time.
No. Other systems have a flat bed of concrete upon which the train runs. Here we build each segment in a “U” shape. The train will run inside the “U”. This means when finished the track will look more slim and streamlined.
Are there plans to build footbridges over the roads? I’m thinking in particular about the Hanoi Highway, and people getting from the An Phu side to Thao Dien.
Yes, you may have noticed the track is running at different heights in different areas. This is partly to do with that. In some places in order to put footbridges in the stations need to be higher. This is not my area of expertise but I am sure the footbridges will be built wherever they are needed.
The whole project is under SCC a Vietnamese-Japanese consortium. All other companies are working as subcontractors to them. The bridges over the rivers are being built by a Vietnamese construction company. The country has, after all, huge experience in this field. The three companies working on the segmented support sections worked together in Dubai and again have enormous experience and expertise. however, the ground conditions here have thrown up unique problem that have had to be surmounted.
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.
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.
Image 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.
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 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.
Image 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.
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.
Image 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
Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport has been the bugbear of many travellers over the years—from frequent flooding due to its trash laden drainage system to announcements by foreign airlines that the number of flights to and from the airport would be cut, as in the case of Etihad Airways that now only operates four flights a week instead of the previous seven.
Although it’s one of the only cities in the world where its international airport is barely a half-hour ride away from the city centre, the situation at Saigon’s airport has been much talked about mainly due to its overcrowding and frequent flight delays.
Originally built for a capacity of 25 million passengers a year, the airport is currently serving 36 million passengers and although announcements were made regarding the brand-new Long Thanh international airport in Dong Nai Province almost two years ago, there haven’t been any feasibility studies conducted and no guarantees that the airport will actually be ready by 2025.
Image source: saigonnews.vn
In the meantime, Vietnam’s government has tasked the Transport Ministry to execute a proposal set forth by French consulting firm ADPi, a subsidiary of Aeroports de Paris Group. The firm, responsible for the airports in Beijing, Seoul and Dubai, has proposed a plan to expand the present airport by building a new 20-hectare terminal that will be able to serve an additional 20 million passengers a year by the year 2025.
This new terminal will be built to the south of the current airport facilities, and the expansion will also include new structures to support a cargo terminal and maintenance facilities to the north of the airport where the much-talked about golf course is currently located.
This expansion is expected to cost VND30 trillion (USD1.3 billion), excluding costs that will be required for site clearances.
Banner Image source: daihocsi
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.
Photo by: Anthony Tong Lee
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!
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.
Photo by: garycycles8
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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?