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.


Getting the right taxis in Saigon by avoiding scams

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Back of the Bike Tours


Saigon’s Upcoming New Old Airport

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

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.

So Near, Yet So Far

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.

Airport VNImage source: saigonnews.vn

A Necessary Expansion

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.

Saigon is expected to receive 60-70 million passengers a year by the year 2025. However, as things currently stand, a little patience will be required from travellers flying in or out of the city.

Banner Image source: daihocsi


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!


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.

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