Saigon streets are generally busy with motorists seeming in a hurry to go home, make a delivery or just get past the traffic jam. If this is your first time, it can be quite overwhelming as a tourist!
The first thing to do? Take a deep breath and know this is a typical scenario in Vietnam. It can be unnerving to cross the streets as you wander along but don’t fret, as shocking as it may seem, the country actually has standard street rules and guidelines that everyone must follow (yep, it includes you!). Here are the Rules on Saigon Street that Tourists Must Know.
Stick to the right.
Everything moves on the right side. Stick to walking on the right of the sidewalk and you’ll be safe for the most part. Make sure to somehow look out for any illegal drivers making their way through the pavement!
Wear a helmet.
A general rule that most countries have – wear a helmet when you are traveling on motorcycle/scooter. This is compulsory in Vietnam so if you don’t want to get in trouble with the law, just put one on even when it doesn’t seem that sturdy.
2 for 1
When biking, there are only two people allowed to ride a bike. However, expect to see more than three people circusing on one vehicle – you’ll be surprised there are times wherein there are even 5 passengers locally known as “family-style! The real image of the streets in Vietnam!
Crossing the streets in Saigon, bear in mind that there is a motorbike philosophy: trust that all will behave as a collective mass, flowing through streets and around obstacles like a river. The other motorbike philosophy that comes in handy is to accept the power of numbers. When going around roundabouts, motorbikes hoping to cut through traffic wait until a number drivers are formed heading in the same direction in unison, and then together push against the river until it is miraculously redirected in the bearing they wish. Note that this is only possible and applicable for two-wheeled vehicles.
Why walk when you can hop on your motorbike?
The locals in Saigon would typically choose wandering around the streets through their motorbikes. It’s a faster and convenient way to get around most places in this city – more so, it keeps them cool under the heat of the sun.
The heat here is not for the weak. The locals, in their efforts to preserve fair skin, command respect for covering every inch of their body with jackets, pants, socks, and face masks amid the sweltering sun. But if it’s just some short distance, walking can be fun too!
Motorbike sidewalk extension
When passing through the sidewalks in Vietnam, always anticipate a motorbike to passby. Motorbikes use the sidewalks as an extension of their travel lanes or an easy access shortcut to avoid the traffic, walking in Saigon is unpleasant simply because there is often no place for people to walk. “Sidewalks” regularly serve as places for drivers to park their motorbike while they eat, shop or—in a surprising feat of balance—sleep on their bikes. Most other “sidewalk” space is commandeered by vendors selling street food, drinks, and other knick knacks, or mechanics welding motorbike parts with little to no protective gear.
The little sidewalk that remains available for pedestrians is often a jagged mess of uneven tiles, which makes traversing them feel more like hiking an uneven trail than walking through a smooth path. Pedestrians are often pushed off the “sidewalk” to the edge of the road, trusting that motorbikes will weave around them after a short, sharp “courtesy honk.”
To best describe this the nature of Saigon’s curbs are meant to ensure motorbikes—not wheelchairs, elderly, or children—are able to access all levels of the streetscape.
Trust your driver
Trust your driver, they know what to do. Avoid doing unnecessary movements while on a bike. The traffic and the streets of Vietnam can be a bit unnerving but as much as possible stay calm and relax on your seat – your driver might find it challenging to wrestle for control of the vehicle.
Motorbikes are very sensitive vehicles. But on the other hand, Vietnamese are quite skillful drivers. Some foreigners will say, “Vietnamese are born on motorcycles just like Mongolians are born on horses.” Honestly, there’s some truth to that statement as you’ll see newborn babies being carried around on the back of a scooter.
Hold on tight
Look for that rear handle bar and cling on for your dear life. Kidding aside, it’s fine to hold onto the handlebar but be mindful and don’t grip too hard because that makes it harder for the driver to control the bike. Another good way to balance is to put your hands on your outstretched knees.
When riding a motorbike, give your driver some personal space. Many times, the seat is spacious enough to give you some distance. Don’t press up on your driver or hold him up too close and too tight (social distancing is a must!)