Saigon’s Wild Streets: A Driver’s Perspective

By: Patrick Gaveau

For 10 years I have been a fervent daily observer/experiencer of transportation issues in our city. I began while driving my unregistered 250cc motorbike without license and now “drive” a legal car with papers from/to home everyday. What used to take me 15 minutes in full speed, now takes about 45 minutes in “slow” mode.

My favourite time was during Tet when HCMC's streets were emptied for a week. It was then the best time of the year to drive around to uncover what could not be observed the rest of the year. Today, these “cool down” phenomena last a day or two and many small street vendors remain open. Not the same really.

Back then; we rode dangerously as helmets were optional. That entire free spirit changed abruptly on January 1st 2008, a turning point for us all. I still wonder how did the government managed to implement such important safety legislation within a day!

In those days, police rarely stopped “white foreign” faces, too afraid of miscommunications. Since then, lots of English speaking training was conducted and we, “the Expats” are not treated so differently anymore.

In 2006, traffic “rules” were mainly applicable for “blindsided ladies” who could not see too well. And yes, police street presence was less significant. Except, of course, for the 30 days leading to Tet where a bonus fine was to be collected by police to continue to “protect” us against the lawless drivers. This behavior is now active year round.

Back then traffic congestion was certainly nothing like it is now, as cars were available to the elite mostly. Nevertheless, the main axes were already too crowded with bikes all over, especially at peak hours. So much then, that traffic often took place on the pavement too. These pavement drivers continue to fay their way on unauthorised territory, but more rarely these days.

Today, the leading streets are further saturated, regardless of numerous road improvements and the newly built bridges. Apart from the peak hour’s ever present congestion, you may have noticed that driving in the city center between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. now requires a certain degree of insanity.

The rare times that I do visit the city at these odd hours recently felt like a fashion show. Honda HD, Piaggio and the likes are often driven by well dressed pretty looking boys held tightly by young, lovely long-legged ladies wearing shorts and high heels. Showtime for many; a kind of status empowerment exercise that reminds me of Cannes.

In the past, roads were too often flooded; especially during the heavier Monsoon seasons. This resulted in serious street damages across the city. Flat tires occurred more often, but not all could be blamed on the quality of streets. Much was due to planted nails that finance the nearby tire repair shop business activities. 

Traffic light synchronization is and has always been weak, and much of our daily traffic congestions is the result of that. Other constants include the fact that when a foreigner has an accident, he is always responsible for paying the bill regardless of responsibility. Another steady matter is road signage for directions. It was and remains mostly inappropriate and ineffective, and a special mention is awarded for street address numbers, which most of the time follow no logical order.

Some of the above listed issues can be used as a to-do list to effectively begin to improve traffic and transportation in our city, at least for the short term. If not, we may have to suffer hell for an extra 20 years or so until all metro lines as well as other public transportation methods are fully operational.


HCMC Metro: Is the End in Sight?

By: City Pass Guide

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.

So how do the rumours compare with truth, is the project really so far behind schedule? Just when will trains be running to District 9?

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.

People have asked me why it was decided to go for an elevated section all the way out, surely a ground level system would have been cheaper and faster to build?

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.

Anyone who lives in District 2 has seen the impressive machine that you use to put the sections in place. Tell us a little bit about this.

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.

Is this the only difference between the Ho Chi Minh City metro and others around the world

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.


‘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


EVA Air Gets 5 Stars from Skytrax

By: City Pass Guide

EVA Air has joined the ranks of elite airlines by becoming the 8th airline in the world to be awarded the prestigious 5-Star Ranking in the Skytrax Awards.

This is only given to airlines who are providing the highest standards possible for its customers. In addition to this award, Skytrax also named EVA Air as one of the “World’s Top-10 Best Airlines” (2016) and in 2015, placed it in the top spot in the world for “Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness”, “Best Airline Transpacific” and “Best Business Class Comfort Amenities”.

“Flying to more than 60 International locations, its fleet of 70 aircraft offers passengers an inexpensive option for International flights.”

Skytrax is an internationally renowned company that judges airline standards and rates companies based on the quality of service they provide. EVA Chairman Steve Lin received the prestigious 5-Star award, on behalf of the company, from Skytrax CEO Edward Plaisted. The presentation was witnessed by Taiwan’s Chief Secretary of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Mr. Yang Gwo-Feng. Mr. Lin commented, “All of us at EVA Air are deeply humbled by this important award. Skytrax’s 5-Star Rating is a great honour and also a great responsibility.” He continued, “The Skytrax 5-Star Rating is truly an award shared by every single EVA staff member and employee.”

Skytrax has been rating EVA Air since 2008, when it was awarded 4 stars. The airline has maintained its high standards ever since; a measure of the product and staffing excellence throughout all cabin classes. Last year, EVA Air was one of only 37 carriers in the world to be rated as 4-Star; now they have gone one better.

In making their rankings, Skytrax analyses and rates more than 800 areas of an airline’s product and service provision. It is the most thorough rating system in the world of air travel. Their 5-Star rating is the highest possible and to achieve it, a carrier has to excel in all areas of service and product. The assessment was carried out over the course of a year, with Skytrax’s auditors flying many different times from different locations and sampling all classes on board.

Mr. Plaisted commented, “EVA Air is being certified as the eighth 5-Star Airline in the world, joining an esteemed and exclusive group of the leading international carriers. EVA passengers enjoy a high-quality product, supported by outstanding 5-Star staff service in both the airport and onboard environments. The 5-Star Airline symbol is recognised throughout the world by passengers, media, airlines and the travel industry as a whole.”

 

“All of us at EVA Air are deeply humbled by this important award. Skytrax’s 5-Star Rating is a great honour and also a great responsibility.”

Eva Air now finds itself in illustrious company, the other seven 5-star airlines being (in alphabetical order): All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Hainan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines. EVA Air has consistently picked up awards in its history, but more recently they have been arriving with greater regularity.

Global Traveler readers voted the airline into top place in two categories for 2015: Best Airline for New Service Launch and Best Airport Staff/ Gate Agents.

AirlineRatings.com rated both EVA Elite Class premium economy and Economy services into the top-10 “best for economy plus and economy class travel for 2015.” In addition, they placed the airline in the world’s top-10 best airlines in both 2014 and 2015.

“EVA Air has consistently picked up awards in its history, but more recently they have been arriving with greater regularity.”

Skytrax is the big one though, they are considered to be the benchmark for airline quality standards. Ranking in five categories, from 1 to 5 stars, these evaluations are recognised as the global ranking system. EVA Air is proud to receive frequent awards and recognition from passengers, media, industry experts and other organisations around the world. Since July 2016, EVA Air has increased its flight frequency between Ho Chi Minh City and Taipei (Taiwan) to three flights per day and one daily flight from Hanoi. Using the new Boeing 777-3000ER aircraft, these flights offer comfort for economy and business travellers alike. As a result of this increased frequency, now passengers are able to visit and enjoy the beautiful views of other countries in Asia Pacific such as Korea, Japan and China, along with North America with a short connecting time. To learn more about EVA Air’s quality products and services, please visit www.evaair.com.

Contact information:

Reservation hotline: +84 28 3822 4488

Address: Unit 401-404 (4F), No.2A-4A, Ton Duc Thang, D1


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.

Vietnamese Road Signs

By: City Pass Guide

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.

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!

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.

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!


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