How many motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City? Apparently there are over two million scooters, mopeds and motorcycles teeming through the streets (and on the pavements) of Vietnam’s largest City, and they are an attraction in their own right.
Totally mesmerizing to watch, they buzz about their business, inches apart; streaming down avenues, weaving, wending, intertwining their way across town and performing hair’s breadth manoeuvres at every cross-road. Young women wearing peaked helmets sit straight-backed at the traffic lights. Families ride pillion – four up plus baby. A wardrobe passes by. The blasting of horns and the screech of brakes is constant, the air is fume-filled and the traffic relentless. But it’s fascinating.
As captivating as it is to watch if you want to see some of the city you’re going to have to step into this moving chaos and cross a road or two – not least because there’s not always room on the pavements for pedestrians. That’s where the scooters park.
There is a technique to crossing the road and I’ve got to admit the first time I did it was terrifying; but if we’d waited for a break in the traffic we’d have waited all day. So when you’ve mustered the courage, pick your moment and step off the pavement and cross at a slow, steady pace until you reach the other side – oh and remember to breathe. Motorcyclists will try to negotiate pedestrians and they’ll pace themselves to avoid you; as long as you don’t step backwards, stop or make any unexpected movements that is. Always look both ways – even in a one-way street the traffic travels in both directions. If you’re lucky enough to find some traffic lights don’t cross at the last-minute – the scooters will hit the gas about five seconds before the lights change to green. Pedestrian crossings? – We didn’t find anywhere that the traffic actually stopped.
Finally, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – we had a mini tour of the city to experience the traffic from the streets – riding pillion or Xe Om as it’s known locally. Here’s my You Tube clip – I’m not an expert at filming footage from the back of a bike but it’ll give you an idea and the grin on our friend Bobby’s face is priceless…