TRAFFIC TRAUMA – VIETNAMESE STYLE

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A few words about traffic jams. First, understand that I come from a gulf island that has (I’m being generous here) four, maybe five thousand cars, trucks, bicycles, skateboards, unicycles and other wheeled means of conveyance all told? I have just returned from VietNam. From Ho Chi Min city, aka Saigon which according to my guide book contains some Four. Million. Motor bikes. Not counting cars, taxis, buses, rick shaws, trucks or tuk tuks. Just… motorbikes. Four million.

Now a traffic jam on Salt Spring occurs whenever two Good Ole Boys travelling in pickups in opposite directions on the same road, espy one another and stop for a chat through their driver side windows while the traffic on both sides backs up behind them. We Islanders seldom honk at the Good Old Boys. We know they’ll be done soon enough and traffic will resume.

AD_Exclusive_AB_Motorbikes1Now, a traffic jam in Saigon? Can’t tell you. Never saw one. Oh, it’s curb to curb chrome and rubber alright. An absolute river of motor bikes and scooters and tuk tuks, but, like a river, it keeps moving. And like a river, there are back eddies and side streams and rapids and the odd whirlpool. Can’t go forward on your motorbike? No problem, go up on the sidewalk. Still can’t go forward? No problem, do a U-ee and go back. One way street? No problem.

Sounds like chaos, and in Canada it surely would be. But in Saigon, like a river, it works. In three weeks I saw more motor bikes and scooters than I could see in three lifetimes on Salt Spring, but I saw only two accidents – and even they weren’t accidents. A motor scooter fell over while the owner was parking it, and another guy had his brakes freeze as he was crossing (well, a sidewalk, but that’s another story). Point is. No damage, no injuries.

Ah, you say, but what about pedestrians. What about trying to cross that river of chrome and steel? Well, that’s where it actually helps to be from B.C. Especially if you’ve ever crossed a salmon stream while the fish were running. If you have, you know that if you walk slowly and steadily, those salmon – those tens of thousands of obsessed, hormone-besotted salmon – will not run into you. Their fins will tickle you; you will feel the ripples of water as their tails lash by – but head-ons and t-bone collisions will not occur.

Same with the rivers of traffic in Saigon. If a pedestrian walks slowly and steadily and most of all with intent, those tooting, revving motor bikes and scooters will magically part on your upstream side and rejoin on the downstream stretch without so much as brushing your Tilley trousers.

AD_Exclusive_AB_TrafficIt should be a disaster, traffic in Saigon – in fact, in much of south east Asia. Stop signs are ignored, traffic lights are merely a broad suggestion, vehicles travel in every direction at once. It would be total chaos if we tried it here at home, but there, somehow, it works.

Day after day, night and day, the streets of Saigon, gorged with people and vehicles, continue somehow to function. It’s an Act of Faith, crossing a Saigon street. Which is another thing that can’t hurt. I know I said three Hail Mary’s before I stepped off the curb in Saigon. And I’m not even Catholic.

READ MORE BALI, BANGKOK AND BEYOND
ENTRY 1: FROM BALI
ENTRY 2: MORE FROM BALI
ENTRY 3: CROSSING THE EQUATOR
ENTRY 4: FROM SINGAPORE
ENTRY 5A: HO CHI MINH CITY
ENTRY 5B: IN VIETNAM, DON’T ORDER THE MUTT-ON
ENTRY 5C: TRAFFIC TRAUMA – VIETNAMESE STYLE
ENTRY 6: AN INTERESTING SIDE TRIP
ENTRY 7: THAILAND: A FRUITFUL DESTINATION
ENTRY 8: AH, SHANGRI-LA. NO, REALLY
ENTRY 9: HOCKEY IN THE TROPICS


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Arthur Black travelled on a Voyages to Antiquity cruise called Bali, Bangkok and Beyond on a cruise tour offered through Exclusive Tours. Read all about his adventures on board the Aegean Odyssey, a modern, slimmed-down cruise ship (only 350 passengers) making its way from Bali to Bangkok by way of Singapore, Saigon, Sihanoukville and Angkor Wat. His travel diary can be accessed by clicking the links above. Happy reading!

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