Ho Chi Minh City workers gather under bridges to escape heat

By Ngoc Ngan   April 11, 2024 | 03:05 pm PT
Upon finishing his work shift at 11:30 a.m., The Anh quickly ordered his lunch and proceeded to rest under the Ba Son bridge for his midday break with four colleagues.

The group of five, all employees of a metro project situated 300 meters away from the bridge, brought cardboard to place on the ground, allowing them to sit and share their meal.

Anh finished his lunch in roughly 30 minutes. He then put his headphones on and browsed social media, while his colleagues spread out a mat to lie down for naps.

The bridge has served as a sanctuary for workers in Ho Chi Minh City like Anh over the past three weeks, coinciding with the onset of a significant heatwave in the city. Prior to that, Anh said, workers on his project would dine and rest inside a converted container room at the construction site.

However, as the project approached completion and the site’s power supply was terminated, there was no longer a means to charge phones or use electric fans. Consequently, the noon heat, intensified by its reflection from the ground and surrounding structures, transformed the container into a veritable "baking oven," compelling the workers to seek relief elsewhere.

"It’s spacious and next to the river here, so the breeze is very cool, making it an ideal spot to escape the heat for two hours at midday," Anh explained.

Anh (in blue t-shirt) enjoying his lunch break with colleagues under the Ba Son bridge in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 on April 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Ngan

Anh (in blue t-shirt) enjoying his lunch break with colleagues under the Ba Son bridge in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 on April 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Ngan

The Ba Son bridge, which links District 1 and Thu Duc City, boasts three branches, thereby offering a spacious and well-ventilated area beneath it. Consequently, dozens of individuals, predominantly workers, shippers, ride-hailing app drivers, lottery ticket sellers, and collectors of recyclable materials, frequent this spot to evade the heat.

As per observations made by VnExpress reporters on Wednesday, with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius, some individuals have opted to hang hammocks on the railings along the riverbank or lay mats in the shaded areas under the bridge to rest.

Not just the Ba Son bridge but also other similar locales have emerged as popular havens for people. A recent survey conducted by VnExpress revealed that the influx of people seeking shade under bridges across the city, like Ba Son in District 1 and Thu Thiem in Thu Duc City, has markedly increased in recent weeks.

The Southeastern region, including Ho Chi Minh City, has been grappling with a severe heatwave for the past two months. During this period, the daytime temperatures recorded in the city have typically ranged between 35-36 degrees Celsius, with the oppressive heat persisting from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., accompanied by humidity levels of 30-40%.

However, it is worth noting that the actual temperatures experienced are often two to four degrees higher than those forecasted.

Le Dinh Quyet, the head of the forecast department at the Southern Regional Hydrometeorological Center, noted that this year’s heatwave commenced earlier than usual and has affected a broader area more intensely, primarily due to the influence of El Nino. Accordingly, many meteorological and hydrological stations around the world have projected that the temperatures in the first four months of this year will exceed the average of the past decade by 0.7-1.5 degrees Celsius.

Regulatory guidelines stipulate that temperatures above 37 degrees Celsius qualify as hot weather. Temperatures ranging between 37-39 degrees Celsius are categorized as severe heat, while those exceeding 39 degrees Celsius are considered extremely severe.

In densely populated urban areas like Ho Chi Minh City, the intensity of the heat can vary significantly across different neighborhoods. Central districts often experience higher temperatures due to the accumulation of heat from concrete buildings, metal roofs, manufacturing facilities, eateries, kitchens, asphalt and concrete road surfaces, and the reflection off glass-covered edifices.

In contrast, areas endowed with abundant greenery and situated near bodies of water typically register lower temperatures, thereby serving as refuges for the populace.

A group of drivers taking a break from the heat under Thu Duc City’s Thu Thiem bridge on April 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Ngan

A group of drivers taking a break from the heat under Thu Duc City’s Thu Thiem bridge on April 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Ngan

Thanh Tung, a 37-year-old ride-hailing taxi driver, began concluding his shifts earlier than usual about two weeks ago to secure a favorable spot under the Thu Thiem bridge for his midday rest and to escape the heat.

"Whoever arrives later finds no place for their hammocks and must seek alternative locations," he mentioned.

He emphasized the location’s appeal, noting its ample tree cover and proximity to the river, which contribute to its cool and breezy ambiance, ideal for heat evasion.

Through these rest periods, Tung befriended six other drivers, and together they have devised plans to order their lunches collectively and bring hammocks to string up on the bridge’s stone pillars for naps.

Tung appreciates this spot for its cost-effectiveness, highlighting the significant savings compared to the expenses incurred from cafe visits, which can amount to VND30,000-40,000 (US$1.2-1.6) per session. Given his daily earnings of around VND250,000, this strategy allows him to economize substantially. He also mitigates costs by carrying a thermos filled with iced water for hydration throughout the day.

Workers dining and napping under Ba Son bridge. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Workers dining and napping under Ba Son bridge. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Similarly, Van Tung, 35, and his wife have adopted this practice for economic reasons. On Wednesday, after collecting their two children from school in Binh Thanh district, the entire family sought solace under the Ba Son bridge.

The couple, who are self-employed business operators residing in a rented dwelling in Ho Chi Minh City’s neighboring province of Binh Duong, have integrated this routine into their daily schedule. Every morning, Tung’s wife prepares meals, which are then loaded onto their motorcycle. The family subsequently embarks on a 30-kilometer journey to drop the children at school, following which they disperse to attend to their respective occupational commitments.

Tung reconvenes with his family members at around 11:15 a.m. and escorts them to the bridge, where they spread a raincoat on the ground to partake in their lunch.

Tung disclosed that he and his wife previously operated a stall at Kim Bien market in District 5, which they were compelled to close due to dwindling sales. He initiated the practice of resting under the Ba Son bridge at noon a year and a half ago, driven by the family’s deteriorating financial circumstances.

"It’s convenient and helps save money," he rationalized.

He further noted that the individuals who utilize this resting spot typically resume their afternoon work shifts from 1 p.m. onward and are characterized by their cleanliness.

"Everyone tidies up after their meal," he observed. "They are courteous, consistently maintain quiet and cleanliness, and uphold a high standard of security, ensuring the absence of theft."

While the adults relished their lunch and rest, Tung’s wife diligently served rice to their son, fastened their daughter’s hair, and encouraged them to eat swiftly.

"Take a brief nap so you’ll remain alert during your afternoon classes," she advised the children.

go to top