The worst feeling in the world may be sitting here at my desk, my suit rubbing against my still fresh sunburn, and my mind wandering off into memories of the last week. Actually, that may be the best feeling. I still can’t figure it out but it definitely a feeling of one sort or another; I am not too good at identifying these things. One thing is for sure though, giving the chance I would be back in Ho Chi Minh right now seeing out the rest of the Tet festivities. Despite being a short trip we managed to cram a fair bit into the time as well as get some high quality nothing done too, so I’ll probably do this in a few parts to avoid one uber-post…
This one is dedicated to motorbikes…
We arrived pretty in HCM after a pretty uneventful flight. Hong Kong to Vietnam is only a 2 hour hop, so I just snoozed for a while because the in flight entertainment was a documentary on tigers that I had already seen. After which, we were met at the airport by Samantha’s parents and their driver. That’s right, for the rest of the trip we would have a driver. How fancy am I? It turns out having a driver in Vietnam is not so uncommon for western expatriates who have need transport within the big cities. A driver’s fees are guaranteed to be more than taking a taxi or, of course, driving yourself, however, it’s not as lazy as one might think. It’s just that driving in Ho Chi Minh City, especially around a major festival, is not an activity for the faint of heart.
Small motorcycles, such as the Honda Cub, are the vehicle of choice in Vietnam. They are practically a national emblem. They should be on the flag and I am sure they sing about them somewhere in the national anthem in between something about the glory of communism and whooping the Americans. Everybody has one, and during Tet, everybody is on holiday too and free to do their thing. ‘Their thing’, it would seem, is for everybody and their dog to hit the street on their bikes and ride around the main areas of the town in their hundreds of thousands with no apparent aim or destination. The result is total chaos. There are bikes everywhere from the roads, to the pavements and even inside buildings and shops. In fact, driving back from the airport the bridge we needed to cross to get to our destination was so clogged with bikes we gave up and had to take a massive detour to the next bridge along the river, turning the 30 minute drive to and from the airport into a 2 hour odyssey through the only marginally less crowded back streets of Ho Chi Minh (which, of course, we would never have found without a driver).
It is not the only sheer density of traffic which warrants the service, it is also safety. Traffic lights mean nothing, personal safety also seems to be relatively insignificant except, strangely, when it comes to air quality. Despite the fact that most bikers are content to drive (one handed) at 50mph directly through a red light without a helmet, almost everybody on the bike (anywhere between 2 and 5 people, plus livestock/goods) will be wearing a mask over their nose and mouth to protect them from the fumes. Go figure.
Sitting in the car your worry turns from your own personal safety to the safety of others. Besides, if one of these little mosquito bikes hit us, we wouldn’t be the ones in trouble. Mr. Ha was an amazing driver and could weave the 4×4 between seemingly impossible gaps whilst avoiding knocking over any bikers or even denting a panel, however, he would be totally blameless if somebody were to slam into the side of the car. Over the couple of days I was there I took a few shots out of the window of our car, or from the sides of roads while we were out and about enjoying Ho Chi Minh City.
That in (not so) short, is why you don’t want to drive in Vietnam.