Keep calm and swear as you wait for magic to happen on Saigon roads

By Minh Vi   August 22, 2017 | 09:33 pm PT
Keep calm and swear as you wait for magic to happen on Saigon roads
A ride in Saigon often comes with a lot of fuss and frowning. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Maybe we can all help by focusing more on the rules.

VnExpress International introduces to you the next think-piece by our reader on solving Vietnam's traffic nightmare. While Michael Allen thinks we should "brutally carve out more total road space via bulldozers," Minh Vi offers some practical wisdom on how to make the commute less stressful.


Many foreigners crossing the streets of Saigon have probably felt either shocked or humiliated by drivers who refuse to give way to them, regardless of whether the light is red or green.

Please rest assured that it’s anything but discrimination.

That’s just how the city’s traffic goes. It cares for no one.

I drove a bike in Saigon for the first time nearly 10 years ago when I got my first job. After three years, I took a break for personal reasons and had nothing to do with the city’s traffic, which at the time did not make the news as often as it does these days.

Then also for personal reasons, I decided to jump back on the bike two months ago.

The first days felt amazing. “Freedom is the best,” I told myself, saying hurray to the end of days depending on someone else to drive.

But after a week, when the honeymoon was over, reality kicked in, and all the honking, (effing) surprise turns and drivers-showing-up-out-of-nowhere were just too much to bear, silently.

So I started to swear (just enough for me to hear so don’t expect to read about a fight). I’ve used every single “F” word that I can think of, in all the languages that I know. I’ve given the finger. I’ve grumbled.

I sympathized for all the drivers who I personally know to be very nice people, but could easily get in a quarrel on the streets.

Then I realized that having to bear the traffic in Saigon can really change a person, as well as their cardiovascular condition.

I have no intention of holding on to this stress forever, so I have broken down drivers into a list of categories to watch out for.

The determined drivers:

They are the ones who set a course and stick to it. They do not swerve, they do not look around and they will not give way. You and everything else on the street is invisible, but all you have to do is to be double watchful and give them space.

The confused drivers:

They signal left and turn right. They stop in the middle of the crossroads as they have not decided where to go. They turn right and immediately swerve back left as they suddenly remember that’s where they want to go.

The no-rules drivers:

They are the ones who show up out of nowhere and drive straight at you on a one-way street. You're caught totally unprepared and your bike will shake a bit. Your face might look horrified enough for them to throw you a look that says “Idiot!”

They are also the ones who drive on their phones. I have never heard of anything like “emergency texts”, but I have seen many drivers glued to their phones. This is one reason I gave up putting my life in the hands of another driver. Your heart should not be pounding because your driver keeps checking his Facebook messages.

Oh, and they jump red lights. In Saigon, green does not mean go, green means look left and right. The problem is even more frustrating during rush hour. Imagine you’ve waited for three red lights to jostle your way to the front. When it turns green you're still stuck because floods of drivers continue to pour across the intersection.

The bullies:

Thankfully, there aren't too many of these guys around, but they are the biggest threat.

Just the other day I was signaling to cross a T-junction when a van driver leaned on his horn and sped up from my left to cross straight in front of me. It was so close that I closed my eyes and froze for half a second.

I bet that has happened to every motorbike driver in the city.

There’s a kind of big fish versus small fish culture on the city's roads. Cars cram into alleys to take short cuts and force the motorbikes to squeeze around them under the burning sun. Cars speed up in the rain causing waves that send motorbikes spinning. Cars rush through over the red light and crush motorbike drivers’ feet.

And cars honk to shoo motorbikes ahead of them away. That happens every minute, in a city which is packed with 13 million people, 7.6 million motorbikes and 700,000 cars which can rarely travel at speeds over 20 kilometers per hour due to the traffic.

Motorbikes honk too, but the loud car horns are possibly the most irritating noise on earth, and they stink of condescendence. "I can afford a car so get out of my way!"

Some motorbike drivers just keep going ahead of the honking car, sometimes with a middle finger. I consider them brave.

I screamed back at a honking car once, but it was pointless as the driver could not hear me through his closed windows.

Should he be able to hear his own honking? My other headline was “Is it okay to wish the loud honkers in Saigon be deafened by their own noise?” But I admit that sounds less moral than swearing. The latter has at least a creative way of using your linguistic skills in response to difficult and stressful situations.

So what else can we do to survive this stressful situation besides accepting it and looking forward to one magical day when everyone has a good night's sleep and hits the streets safe and happy in the morning?

One easy way is possibly to throw your anger and frustration into a piece like this. It does help.

Practically, you should drive with as much focus and preparation as possible. That’s the advice I received from a friend when I started driving again.

And if you drive a car, please think before you hit the horn. Decide if it is really necessary or if you are just being a douchebag.


Is it worth taking up a fight with reckless drivers hoping to educate them or should we just keep calm and follow the rules?


*Editor's note: The writer lives and works in Saigon. The opinions expressed are her own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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