Hi everyone,thanks for bearing with me, I haven’t been very good at blogging the last few weeks and now I’m in a small village by the river in Laos after crossing the border overland from Vietnam via several buses and a small river boat and the wifi is patchy but that’s okay because this place is so serene.
Happy Chinese (and lunar) new year! It’s the year of the rooster (hence the display picture) and Vietnamese people have a lunar new year celebration too.
So Chris and I spent about 1 month in Vietnam travelling from Ho Chi Minh City in the south (aka Saigon) up to Hanoi in the north since leaving Hong Kong just after Christmas. There’s quite a few things to cover so I’ve decided to write Vietnam in a few posts (e.g. food and places).
As you can tell from this post, it will be about traffic. So if you come from a country where the traffic is orderly well Vietnam is quite a shock.
Rule one of Traffic
Forget about what you know if you come from a country like the UK, the pecking order of traffic in Vietnam is that pedestrians are at the bottom, then scooters, then the cars and then the buses and that what you think are traffic rules/lights are more like ‘guidelines’.
Pedestrians are at the bottom in every way even on pavements – scooters are parked on pavements outside shops so you end up walking in the road and if its rush hour and scooter drivers can’t be bothered with the traffic then onto the pavement they go!
Another thing to be mindful of is that even if there is pavement you can walk on, quite often it’s broken or missing.
Tip: However you need to have some courage and sense in order to get across roads otherwise you’ll be stuck there forever. Even if there is a green light for pedestrians, there are always scooters driving across the road. Even if you thought it was a one way road, think again. There’s always a scooter or 2 going the wrong way! So you always have to keep your eyes peeled (to non-native speakers of English, this means always keep looking).
It’s easier and (a bit safer) to cross in front of scooters as they don’t actually go very fast, so walk slow and look past them – on the whole they are very good at dodging (but have spotted/heard of a few accidents during our time here). I wouldn’t bother crossing in front of cars or buses.
The main and popular way for Vietnamese people to get around especially where the streets are narrow.
There’s such a massive business of scooters, you get parking attendants outside shops looking after scooters and guys on street corners who fix scooters. Scooters will always try find a shortcut and often dodge in and out of traffic and to aid them, they will honk the horn a lot but in a friendly way to say ‘I’m here’. You can tell when they start getting angry as they’ll honk for longer and harder.
The art of sleeping anywhere on a scooter is something that Vietnamese people have mastered. Plus there’s a lot of chickens out and about.
Scooters can carry A LOT of things such as:
I saw a 5 person family on a single scooter, there wasn’t enough room so the toddler was perched upright just on the side of the seat inbetween the older kids by the mum who was sat at the back. WTF. Of course, quite often there were no helmets for the kids.
It was gearing up to Tet, the lunar new year similiar to chinese new year, we saw a few trees (Tet tradition) strapped to scooters. Or people carrying stuff with one hand and driving with the remaining hand.
- produce and other things
I saw both halves of a freshly slaughtered pig slung over the seat.
Or a scooter carrying another scooter on top -it was perched across the seat for balance.
I did see one lazy guy who scootered with one hand and then used his other hand to pull along his food cart as he drove. Insane.
Here are some examples below!
You can tell that the people of Vietnam are masters of the art of being creative problem solvers.
There’s not as much cars as there are scooters and it’s probably because cars are not as affordable as scooters are. We probably travelled by a car only a few times and in one instance it was by Uber. I hear that’s a pretty cheap way of travel in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh, locals still say Saigon) compared to taxis and if you can’t be bothered to take the scooter. Most streets seem suited to scooters as they can be narrow, although the mass of scooters can be a problem in itself – in creating traffic jams.
Buses have more power than cars. When we asked Yen, our Airbnb host in Saigon about the best way to get to the bus station to travel up the coast of Vietnam she said that the local bus would be quicker than the taxi. After taking the bus during rush hour traffic, we can understand why. We got stuck in a jam in a narrow road, and the bus driver had enough and got his bus conductor to do some traffic ushering up ahead. The bus driver then decided to drive on the other side of the road to get ahead of the traffic (!), the taxi driver who was in front of us complained but the bus driver was like I’m behind with my schedule (pointing to his watch). We blocked the traffic from the other side, some people got grumpy but ultimately let us through.
When we stayed in Saigon, we stayed in a local district rather than the touristy District 1 (it felt a bit like we were in the Hunger Games everytime we said District) and took the local bus into District 1. This half hour ride was 6,000 VND = 21p or 26 USD cents. Amazing. It’s a pretty interesting experience, the buses don’t actually stop, they just pause at the stop so you have to get on pretty quick. If you’re an old person then the bus conductor will give you a helping hand and grab you in. Also when buses approach bus stops, the bus conductor will stick his arm out of the window and starts waving to tell scooters to not get in the way. Hahaha.
Saigon and Hanoi had snazzy real time bus apps,which was handy for finding where your bus stops are and where the bus is. It is ahead of the world.
Other methods of transport between cities/towns in Vietnam that we took
This is popular as it can be cheap! We travelled on a few of these and a couple of times was a sleeper bus set up so all the seats are reclined and long enough for sleeping in. It wasn’t bad when we did an overnight trip. There’s 3 columns of these and 2 levels within the bus. Chris and I picked the top bunks.
Perfect for my height.
When we travelled from Sapa (famous for tribes, rice paddies on hills and hiking on green mountains) up north to the west to Laos, the buses were a bit more basic. It was a case of shoving on as much passengers and boxes as can be fit on. Luckily the minibus driver declined to take a family of 4 onto the bus when we were already full.
We travelled a couple of times this way. It wasn’t too bad if you got one of the newer trains to travel on. The second one was a bit older and had cockroaches on it. Some weird Vietnamese lady in front of us took selfies and then included Chris and I in it and deleted most of the photos apart from where Chris is doing the peace sign and I was snoozing. It’s okay, I got my own back and took a picture of her sleeping face. Mwhahaha. Here’s a picture that’s nicer to her.
On the snazzier ones, you get tvs! We watched Jackie Chan’s Rob B Hood. Utterly ridiculous but good fun, you don’t even need subs or dubs.
There’s also trains where you get can get beds on overnight journeys but we didn’t try those.
It’s funny when the train stops at a station and these ladies get on trying to sell food to the travellers but keeping an eye out for the train conductors and then making a run for it when they think they’re busted!
Well that’s it. Hope it gives you a little insight into Vietnam. The next post might be about food or places we’ve been to.