Nov 18, 2014
Saigon's Fascinating Motorbike Culture
GPS waypoint: 10°48'51.5"N 106°37'57.2"E
Location: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam
Vietnam has about 12 million motorbikes, conservatively. Motorbikes outnumber cars 21 to 1. Saigon's motorbike culture is one of its many unique traditions. Only in Saigon have I experienced a swarming of motorcycles coming from every direction, filtering through each other at an intersection....and miraculously, they all come through without any mishap - like a school of fish that move tightly together but don't touch! Pedestrian lanes are no guarantee of safety - you're still playing Russian Roulette if you'll make it in one piece to the other side. There is simply no chance to wait it out as the flow is continuous...you have to be assertive with split second timing when crossing the street.
Tuyen and her Bike
On my first day, Tuyen took me around Saigon on her motorbike. That was my first time to experience Saigon's surreal motorbike culture. Initially, I freaked-out, but Tuyen's skilled riding instilled confidence. She would know exactly when to assert and when to give-in at a swarm of oncoming motorbikes. She rides like a man and makes no hesitation when cutting through a stream of motorbikes. I stayed on the safe side and let her do all the riding as I held tight on her back - it beats out riding a roller coaster!
Motorbikes are the great gender equalizer in Saigon. Pretty women dressed in short skirts and high heels ride their bikes and tough it out with the guys. The mark of a Saigon lady is a muffler burn on her leg...no matter how beautiful! When I see alovely lady in shorts (the trending style in shorts is really short shorts, revealing part of the butt cheek, but veiled by a long shirt) or dress, I look for the burn mark...and more often than not, there it is. Women are careful not to blemish their skins - their faces and arms are covered when riding. They even have a long wrap-around skirt to shield their legs from the sun and prying eyes.
Every country has its fair share of motorcycles and its riders. Saigon however, defies every known convention of motorcycle culture by virtue of its sheer number, density and omnipresence, creating its own unique challenges and norm. At some point, pedestrians, commuters, car drivers and the general public had to adjust to the motorbike craze that has taken over and shaped the city. The scene is simply surreal!
Budget price in budget places (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 21,300 = Php 44)
- baguette sandwich (banh mi)
- noodle soup (pho)
- black filtered coffee
- sugar cane juice (nuoc mia)
- fresh coconut
- one beer bottle
- 1.5 liter drinking water
- bicycle rental, 24 hours
- cheap lodging
- motorcycle ride
- rice meals (com tam)
- motorbike rental
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong.
- unlike most destinations in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Saigon is too big for the major bus companies to provide a drop-off service with their shuttle minivans. If you are coming by bus, you get off either at the Western Bus Station or Eastern Bus Station depending on where you are coming from. From there, you can take the cheap local bus, the Xe Buyt to get you closer to your destination.
- you can get around the city by moto-taxi or rent a motorbike - but be warned that motorbike riding in Saigon is unlike riding anywhere else in Asia!
Nov 18, 2014
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