Crazy Traffic Is Perfectly Normal In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

In America, we honk our horns and get irritated if some old lady is going 40mph in a 55mph zone. Hell, we’ll probably get a little annoyed if she’s going 55pmh, if we’re late. That’s because everyone in America is “go go go go” all the time. We don’t take our time, and we certainly don’t like going slow. Crazy traffic for us makes us upset, because we aren’t used to it all that often. Crazy traffic is perfectly normal in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam though.

The Vietnamese people don’t drive nearly as fast as we do. In fact, some of our “in the city” speed limits match their highway limits. It’s not entirely because of the scooter thing either. Cars are limited to this limit on the highways as well. It’s true that when my mother-in-law first came to the United States, she was startled a bit by how fast we drive in this country. Going 50mph is fast in Vietnam, and it’ll certainly get you a rather annoying ticket. Going 70mph is just plain nuts, and it was a bit of a scary experience at first for her.

In the big cities, especially Ho Chi Minh, you’d find it rather difficult to travel any faster than 10-15mph. The congestion of bikes in the city was enough to make me quite nervous, and it was difficult to really attain a decent level of comfort about the traffic, even after having experienced it for a couple of weeks. I still, to this day, don’t quite understand why there aren’t more accidents. Sure, every now and then you see a guy tip over, or a couple of bikes maybe touch each other, but it’s no more a big deal than a child falling off his bike. They just get up, get back on the bike, and keep going. Hopefully a light isn’t busted. Not a big deal.

The simplicity of their traffic system really stands out to me as well. While stop lights do exist, they aren’t quite as enforceable as they are here. In fact, many Vietnamese people consider them “suggestions” as opposed to laws. If you absolutely must go, and it’s a red light… just go. The other people will understand, and will let you through. I didn’t really believe this at first, but it doesn’t take long until your understanding of the phrase “don’t worry, they’ll move” actually does hold its weight. Despite no official signs or signals of any kind actually being used, people just know. It’s crazy. In many of the side streets, intersections have no signals or signs at all. It’s just a cross-section of street. People make their way through just fine still, slowing down and stopping for others and then being allowed to pass themselves. No accidents. Remarkable.

The busiest of the intersections don’t have much for traffic lights either. Instead, they’re giant roundabouts with traffic moving counter-clockwise around it. While it is quite efficient, in theory, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have huge disadvantages. All it takes to mess up the whole system, is for one bus, or one car even, to try and mix themselves into the giant mosh of scooters.

That’s really how it goes too. It’s almost like cars and busses are frowned upon here, because of the complications associated with them trying to move through traffic. Most people have no car. The scooter is all they have. It’s really all they need as well. These people use scooters for everything, whether it’s shopping, or hauling large objects, or even taking their family out to dinner. Far more than just two people can fit on these little 2-wheeled vehicles, and they prove their talent for packing a lot of stuff onto them every day.

Even in bad weather, the Vietnamese are efficient with their bikes. Frequently, Ho Chi Minh City will look like a nice day, only to turn to a downpour within a few minutes notice. If you’re out and about on a scooter when the rain hits, you’re going to get really wet. – Unless of course you come prepared.

They do come prepared, of course. It takes no time at all for the crowd you seen in the video above to turn into a mosh of ponchos instead. It seems like every single person is ready for the rain, and they’re incredibly skilled at putting their ponchos on, without it really halting their travels all that much.

I quite literally was looking out the window of the van one moment without rain, and then the next minute (when it began raining) all I could see were drivers wearing ponchos. It’s as if they all got a text at the exact same time, and knew to switch into rain-mode in unison. Again, the place looks like chaos for a minute, until you really examine the efficiencies in their system. BIkers in this country have to pull off the road, probably under a bridge or something, and then shut off the bike, get off and fit themselves in rain gear… if they even have any.

The vietnamese just reach down, grab their poncho, slip it on while they drive, and just like that, they are ready. Their ponchos even come with extra length in the back, because we all know common it is for more than one person to be riding on the scooter.

Charlie Pryor

Charlie is a media producer, writer, and a traveler. He grew up in Michigan, all of his life and attended Grand Valley State University for a B.S. in Film and Video Production. He's married to a wonderful woman named Hang, and simply hopes to one day turn himself into a man that many will remember long after he's gone.

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3 Responses

  1. Ben Doty says:

    Other than modern transportation & streets,the traffic hasn’t changed much since 1971 when I was stationed there. Is it possible to get a Viet Nam /or international drivers license there?

  2. Charlie Pryor says:

    That is actually an excellent question, and luckily for you, I have an upcoming article talking about getting drivers licenses in Vietnam, and the differences in that system in comparison to America. Stay tuned! :)

  3. Is that a fuz buster on the dash of the van?

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