Psycho Scooter Drivers In Saigon

7 02 2012


After what felt like three weeks on a plane and one hundred stop overs, we finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City.  Our primary objective was to get our entry visa, get the bags and meet our taxi pick-up waiting outside.  We had prepared the forms and photos for our visa and presented these quickly with our passports to the visa clerk who snatched them from us and impatiently waved us on to the next clerk.  We shuffled two steps to the right and stood in front of her. She immediately waved us back to the clerk we had just come from without so much as a glance, so we shuffled two steps back to the left.  in turn waved us away again muttering “Na dong yipso” or some such thing.

We looked around confused before shuffling with trepidation towards the military officials sitting nearby.  Both boys, all of about 18 years old, completely ignored us, continuing to text on their phones while we stood waiting stupidly to be noticed.  In frustration I viciously shook my slip of paper at them and they waved me back to where we had come from.

At this point we realised we no longer actually had our passports and didn’t have a clue what we were supposed to do.  Eventually, an English speaking tourist advised us that we were to take a seat and wait until our name was called.  We were stunned, is THAT what the hand wave meant?  If this was how communication was going to be in Vietnam, then we were well and truly up the Mekong without a paddle!  Welcome to Saigon.

And then we came head to head with Saigon traffic. There were scooters, hundreds and hundreds of them, everywhere!  Scooters going the wrong way, scooters without their lights on, scooters carrying up to five passengers at once, including children who seemed to be the only people NOT wearing helmets.  Children were even sleeping on scooters wedged in between mum and dad, heads lolling up and down as the small motorcycle bumped over the potholes in the road.

Add to that buses and taxis weaving amidst all this and throw in a few pedestrians trying to cross the road and you’ve got yourself one hell of a chaotic transportation system!  You can imagine what we must have looked like in the back of our cab, faces pressed against the glass with mouths gaping and eyes wide in disbelief.

It wasn’t until 4am the next morning when the local rooster was crowing its head off down our back alley (you can imagine our pleasure at that!) we realised we were going to have to confront this madness.  While the pedestrian crossings exist at every intersection, the traffic does not stop for you.  We learned this on our first day in Saigon while standing at a corner waiting patiently for some considerate drivers to stop, or for a gap in the traffic.

Fifteen minutes later we were still standing on the footpath outside our hostel.  Unless we wanted to spend the rest of the day walking around the block, we were going to have to conquer these intersections!  Roger and I grabbed each other’s hands, stepped off the pavement and took three strides onto the road as surgical masked scooter riders closed in around us.  And then we froze!  Idiots!

Could you step confidently into the middle of this?

Scooters, cars and buses were zipping around us on all sides.  Watching the left we managed to negotiate to the middle, then watching the right we managed to negotiate our way to the other side, and almost thinking we had made it, two scooters came unexpectedly from the left again (on the wrong side of the road no less!) and we scampered up over the gutter.  Standing there after my near death experience I swear I thought my legs would buckle.  My adrenalin was on full pump, my armpits had exploded, my hands were trembling uncontrollably and my legs looked like my knees had folded backwards.  I clung to Roger for support as we made our way down the avenue to the markets….and then we arrived at the next intersection….and it was a bloody roundabout!  You can see a clip of me crossing the road here:

(Mum – best you don’t watch this, you’re too young for stents!)

I really can’t do enough justice in describing the traffic.  Roger’s photos will give you an idea, but even those I don’t think capture the reality of it!  Oh and we also spent some time marvelling at the electrical concepts they are employing over here….Sharni or Jan, you must show this to Steve!

Isn't there some saying about getting your wires crossed?

Anyway, I have no doubt that traffic is something that Saigon is famous for….but I never read about it in the Lonely Planet – or anywhere else for that matter – and just a heads up would have been nice!

One thing I have learned today – once you’re committed to crossing the road follow it through, don’t hesitate or waver for a second – that’s the safest way to reach the other side.

Kiri 🙂



5 responses

7 02 2012
Barbara Brown

Oooooolala my hearts still pounding but i love the two adrenaline junkies…..Love the first entry.LOL Barbs.

7 02 2012

loved the first post. photos are great and even a video! I’m surprised the lonely planet doesn’t warn you. my sister did spend her first day on the same block until she got the courage to cross. xx

8 02 2012

Well Mrs Powell you are off to a good start! I laughed my ass off at your first post. Will pop out to mums something over the weekend and show Steve the picture of the power lines! Holy moly, bet he will be glad he isn’t a linesman over there!!!!!!

8 02 2012

holly shitballs lady, that is some crazy arse traffic.. glad you finally crossed safe.. best you take care out there you 2.. love yaz.. xx

8 02 2012

Do a haka in the middle of the road that will soon stop the bastards hahaha. Dion x

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