Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crossing over

When I first got off the bus in Ho Chi Minh City carrying my huge backpack and other belongings and realised I needed to be on the other side of the busy four lane road to get to my hotel I panicked a little.  Before arriving in Vietnam I'd heard so much about the country's crazy traffic that in my mind I thought it would be impossible to get across the road without being mowed down.

The number one rule on the roads here seems to be that there are no rules.  Traffic lights are there only to be ignored, it's completely acceptable to drive down the road the wrong way, overtaking into oncoming traffic is the norm and noisy horns seems to impart some form of power because they are used constantly!  There are millions of motorbikes in Vietnam.  This makes the roads chaotic to say the least but the fact that people use their bikes to transport all multitude of objects makes it even worse and potentially more dangerous.  During Tet celebrations (Vietnamese New Year) it was normal to see people carting massive cumquat trees around on their bikes.  I've seen large pigs hogtied on the back of bikes and I was impressed to see three grown men on one bike, one of whom had a full grown dog under each arm.  So far the record for the number of people on one motorbike at one time goes to a family of five who flew past me at an intersection in Ho Chi Minh City.  I was sceptical about being able to fit on a bike with two grown men and my backpack but with the driver straddling my backpack and struggling to steer the bike we eventually made it to our destination unscathed.

All the madness on the roads means there will inevitably be accidents.  I've seen two, both head-ons at intersections between bikes carrying more than one person.  On each occasion the bikes were going slowly enough they collided and tipped over.  The drivers and passengers simply picked themselves and their bikes up, dusted off and continued on their way while the rest of the traffic continued on around them without a second thought.

So standing on the side of the road in Ho Chi Minh City I eventually plucked up the courage to cross.  Actually, truth be told I waited until I found a local who looked like he was about to cross and as he stepped onto the road I did too, keeping the same line and pace as him all the way across.  The motorbikes continued to zoom past at the same pace, easily navigating around me, seemingly unphased that I had stepped into their path.

That was about three weeks ago.  I now find myself stepping into traffic without looking and walking against "don't walk" signs with the knowledge that, while the traffic won't ever stop for me, the bikes will avoid me and the cars will blast their horns at me to warn me out of the way.  So while there are no rules the system somehow works and watching the traffic definetely makes for an interesting way to pass a couple of hours over a few drinks!

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