The Busy Streets of Saigon

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…in Saigon, the main form of transportation is two-wheeled vehicles such as scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles. There were cars and military trucks but these vehicles had a harder time maneuvering in and out through traffic. There are street lines and lights and signs but nary did I notice them being used.  People would swerve in and out between each other. It was pure chaos but in an organized way. These people have been at it for years and knew how to do it with little to no accidents at all. As for us foreigners, well, one day of this would prob kill us…


streets1 …one of the few accidents that I did see involved a young girl on her bicycle. We had stopped at an intersection (I was on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle) and I noticed a girl in her teens waiting on her bike along with all the scooters and motorcycles. Suddenly, this man on a scooter came up behind her a little too fast that he was not able to stop on time. His front tire rubbed up against her back tire causing her bike to flip forward and throwing her off her bike. It looked quite painful and I winced at the sight of the accident but she, apparently too angry to care about pain, just picked herself and her bike up and turned and began scolding the man — of course, she did it in Vietnamese, so, I didn’t understand most of it because she spoke too fast but I did catch a few choice swear words that I knew really well…streets2

…one of the main forms of transportation for me was the xich lo which was basically a carriage (usually able to carry two to three people depending on your size — three average-sized Vietnamese or one average-sized Vietnamese with the uncommonly tall Vietnamese/Korean that I was) on a bike. The xich lo drivers would usually ask for about 10,000 to 15,000 dong (which is the Vietnamese dollar) for a ride depending on how far and how many were riding — this is equivalent to about $1.00 to $1.50 in American dollars. Anyway, sometimes, they would have to take you across town in rough traffic. Sometimes, they would not be able to make it up a hill and would have to get off and push it up (there were many times I would want to jump off and help them push the bikes up the hills but my mom advised me against it because “it was their job”). In other cases, it would rain (I visited Saigon near the rainy season) and the riders would have shelter from the rain but the drivers would just get soaked. Countless times, I would try to give them more money in these unsavory situations but, once again, I was advised not to do it — these people work hard and are very appreciative of what they are paid but if you tip them they will grow accumstomed to it and expect it (tipping is notconsidered proper in Vietnam), thus, making tourists target for price hikes and what not, so, I decided, when in Rome, do as the Vietnamese do…

streets4…I wanted to video tape the experience of being in Saigon traffic on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle so my friends back home could experience at best what it was like to ride in traffic there but, as always, my plans were shot down due to Vietnamese culture. I was told the moment we got into traffic, my camcorder would be snatched right out of my hand — either instantly without warning or someone clubbing me and grabbing it. The only way I was able to do it was to take a taxi, which didn’t give the full effect because the taxi couldn’t weave in and out through traffic as a motorcycle could but the shots weren’t bad. I still would’ve rather tried it out in the open but seeing how I just heard that one of my other uncle’s had his motorcycle stolen right out in front of a shoe store, in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of witnesses, without the keys in it, and there was nothing he could do about it, I guess it was good I followed that advice…streets3

…I wish I had taken pictures of the streets of Saigon at night. This was my favorite time to be out because people would just take to the streets and “cruise” Saigon. The image of all the lights from the scooters and motorcycles rushing past each other in front of all the brightly lit parks and restaurants and hotels and karaoke bars and pool halls and ice- cream parlors just got my adrenaline running. The night life is so beautiful and was one of my favorite times to be out.

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