Sidewalks, pavements, footpaths or whatever you like to call them, should have one thing in common. Namely, that it's safe for those traveling by foot, pedestrians to you and I, to walk on them. In England, almost every road has an accompanying pavement. Here I can walk to my friend's house, local corner shop or to the train station with my music at full volume not having to worry about motorised vehicles. Sure there is the odd skateboard, bicycle and buggy to worry about but they are hardly life threatening.
In Vietnam things are a little different and, as a result, I seldom walk anywhere now due to the lack of footpaths, their terrible quality and the sheer fact they are seen as merely an extension of the road!
To start, most major roads have a sidewalk of some description. However, they are mainly narrow and full of obstacles. Perhaps these are to make traveling on foot more exciting but it's just annoying. Firstly, motorbikes are generally parked in front of the stores. Due to the tiny nature of the pavements, pedestrians are forced onto the roads which are generally teeming with traffic. Secondly, food or drink outlets often litter the side of the road so the unsuspecting walker has to shalom in and out of plastic chairs and stools to avoid playing 'chicken' with the motorbikes. Finally, the paths are generally seen as an after thought. No real consideration is taken for pedestrians. Most people in VN travel by motorbike. Whether this is to avoid prolonged periods in the heat, habit or fear of walking I'm not sure. But what I do know is that the sidewalks are not designed to be walked on. They aren't smooth so people regularly stumble, the drains are largely exposed so vermin can be seen everywhere and the poor drainage system means any period of rain deems them useless.
However, most annoyingly, motorbikes can often be seen mounting the curb to use the pavements as a shortcut! I'm not sure if it's illegal but it's mighty dangerous. The thing is, it's not just young boyracers, it's full families on one bike, old women and delivery guys. In short, everyone's at it! If you're walking, you're beeped at for getting in the way! They don't even slow down. You would think that some consideration would be shown for pedestrians as presumably they know what they're doing is probably illegal, but also really dangerous! But alas, this moral conscious is often lacking as people just want to get to one place to another as quickly as possible.
Maybe I'm being a little unfair, but I used to love walking from place to place. Plugging in my iPod and going for a run around town was a past pleasure of mine. To do that here I have to take a significant risk as footpaths, the home of human powered transport, is merely an extension of road in VN. Please Saigon, keep the pavements the home of pedestrians!