Being someone who enjoys driving anything and everything that has wheels, it was only a month before I bought a bike when I came to Vietnam. For those of you thinking of coming here to live, the motorbike is the only way to travel! It's much faster than a taxi on most occasions and isn't actually as dangerous as you might think. Here are my top 5 tips for driving in Saigon!
1) Green lights don't mean shit!
The basic principles of traffic lights in VN are: Green means GO. Yellow means GO AS FAST AS YOU CAN AND PRETEND IT WON'T TURN RED. Red means GO, HONK YOUR HORN and HOPE THAT NOTHING HITS YOU. Okay, may be I'm being a little unfair. On most major roads and junctions the laws of the lights are observed. However, on other roads the lights may as well not be there. Those running the red light honk for all they're worth, alerting people to the fact that they are there. Contrary to England, honking means that you're there and don't hit me! In England honking is usually the action of the innocent party, not the one breaking the law. Anyways, be careful when you approach traffic lights. Just because the light is green doesn't mean that traffic perpendicular to you is stationary or is indeed going to stop.
2) Don't follow directly behind the bike in front of you
This is common sense really. If you are directly behind someone, how can you see? The answer is you can't! Therefore you should drive slightly to the left or right to the person in front of you. This will, of course, improve your visibility but also allow you to see any potholes, uncovered manholes or roadkill on the road. I put a hole in the oil tank of my bike when I went over a raised manhole because I was directly following another bike, he swerved to avoid it and I didn't have enough time to react. Furthermore, if it's raining you really don't want the spray coming into your eyes. For one, the roads aren't exactly clean, and obviously is quite dangerous!
3) One way streets aren't really one way
Expect traffic to come in both directions on your side of the road, especially if you are driving curbside. As previously mentioned, those traveling in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic will be honking, but again, that's just to tell you they are there. The basic principle here is 'so long as I get to where I want to as quickly as possible, other people's safety doesn't matter. Therefore, if I have to go the wrong way down the street, so be it!' It isn't only young boy racers who this, it's everyone to grandmas to parent's who decide having an entire family on a 125cc scooter is a good idea! Sometimes driving in this city feels like one of those handheld games machines that where popular in the early 90s where you where dodging traffic coming in the opposite direction!
4) Indicators can't be trusted!
Blinking yellow lights should be suspiciously treated at all times! Indicators generally mean that the vehicle in front is going to do something, but exactly what you can't be sure. A signal could mean that the bike is going to stop, turn left or right, or might simply be someone forgetting to turn it off after previously turning. Also, non indication doesn't mean that the transportation in front of you is going to stay straight either so you need to keep your wits about you at ALL times! Expect the unexpected! Watch the traffic carefully and be ready, waiting and willing to take evasive action at any time!
5) Don't worry about what's going on behind you
One of the only rules I hold to steadfastly is that of not worrying too much about what's going on behind me. The mirrors on the vehicles are nothing more than an instrument to check ones makeup or pimples! On the motorbikes they are generally to small to see anything out of anyway, and they are missing from most cars in previous collisions. If something is traveling very quickly it will generally be honking frantically to let you know its coming. You can generally tell the different between the size of the vehicles by the pitch, depth and duration of the sound! Turning around for a second means you might miss someone circumstances changing in front of you so you just have to trust your ears for what's behind you, and your eyes for what's in front!
If you follow these core concepts in HCMC, you should have few problems negotiating the roads of Saigon! Happy Driving!!!!