Friday, February 03, 2017

Saigon Traffic Observations and Motorbikes (aka the King of the Road)

If the Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world (per capita), with more than 13 million bikes in a 17 million population country (the Dutchman, by the way, has 3 bikes), then Vietnam is its counterpart when it comes to motorbikes!

There are approximately 37 million (2013) registered motorbikes in Vietnam, with 7.4 million (2016) alone and counting in Ho Chi Minh City. This does not include the non-registered vehicles which many say could go as high as 5-6 million. Read here: Ho Chi Minh City now has 7.4 million motorbikes and counting

Saigon Traffic Motorbike

So I have come up with a few traffic and motorbike observations about Vietnam, in particular in Ho Chi Minh City where we stayed for almost a week.

This is what I truly love about travelling. Being able to observe and learn new things from a different culture and understanding why local people do this in their daily lives. There is no doubt that there is a lot to see, experience and learn every day, especially when you are out there travelling and exploring the world.

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What you need to know - Saigon Traffic

King of the Streets: The Motorbikes

To be honest, I have never seen in my life as many motorbikes on the streets as here in Vietnam! When we arrived, it became quickly clear that motorbikes are a household thing.

Motorbikes are the primary mode of transportation in Saigon. The locals seem to choose the 2-wheeler over public buses and taxis. There were in fact barely any buses in the city. I do not think we have even seen one plying the streets of District 1. When you are living in a densely populated city such as Saigon, a motorbike is understandably the best answer to ease of mobility. It is cost-effective, portable and very efficient in traffic.

We have noticed that the Japanese motorcycle brand Honda has the largest market share in Ho Chi Minh City.


Click to see the video. This was taken on Le Loi street special motorbike lane. My sister and I were standing on the zebra path but none of the motorbikes was willing to stop and let us cross the road!?

Saigon motorbike traffic
Saigon Motorbike

Motorbikes in Vietnam are an everyday thing.

The motorbikes in Saigon reminds me of our visit to the island of Palau Bintan in Indonesia. The main mode of transportation there is a 2-wheeler as well. But of course, the island pales in comparison to the mob of motorbikes that takes over the roads and streets of Saigon.

Face Mask: The Motorbike Fashion

From the standard surgical face masks to cartoon character inspired and of the faux Louis Vuitton's and Versace's, many local motorists don’t go out zipping the streets of Saigon without any smog and sun protection. I guess it’s similar to everyday fashion. It goes with the territory when using the motorbike every day.

I noticed as well that motorists wear helmets, which I believe are compulsory. Motorbikes are not like bicycles that are light, they go fast on the road and join car traffic. If something happens, the impact can be very catastrophic on the vulnerable passenger. Safety first always.

At the Ben Thanh market I saw a vendor selling these ubiquitous fashionable face masks:

Face Mask saigon

Which one? The Burberry or the Louis Vuitton? Maybe Versace? Vietnam flag? 


Face masks in use here =)

Special Motorbike Parking Places

Because of the influx of motorbikes in the city, comes a huge demand for motorbike parking.

We have seen a couple of motorbike parking garages which were very similar to car parking garages. They have parking posts and barriers as well. Most are very busy with the constant flow of motorbikes going into the park and out. Around the Ben Thanh market area, locals make use of unofficial street parking facilities. There is usually someone manning the side streets who makes use of every inch of space. This reminds me of the Philippines, but instead of motorbikes, it would be cars.

On the other hand, it makes you wonder who benefits from these unofficial parking fees...

Saigon Parking

These men are guarding the unofficial motorbike streetside parking. The bikes are parked neatly, though.

The Rush Hour: Give Caution

People, watch out for the motorbikes taking over the pedestrian lanes!

During rush (after work hours or starting 16:00), many motorists brazenly cut their routes by making use of the pedestrian lanes. We have seen this happen everywhere. I was in fact petrified on my first encounter. I didn’t see the motorbike coming from behind until I heard the toot. WTF, are you going to run me over? Why are you riding your motorbike on the pedestrian lane? But helaas, this practice seems to be a very normal thing in Vietnam.

One afternoon, my sister and I decided to go to the Reunification Palace. The parents were resting the rest of the mid-day and were not going with us. This means no cabs and that we will go on foot. Unfortunately, we were too late, the palace closed down at 16:00. We hung around a bit outside before going back to our hotel and sharing the pedestrian lane with the cheeky motorbikes. We managed to catch a few in the act!

I have to say though that the motorbikers were mindful enough with the people walking on the pedestrian lanes.

Here are the pieces of evidence:

Saigon Traffic Motorbike

Motorbikes taking over the pedestrian lanes. 


My sister and I in front of the Reunification Palace. We were too late, the palace closed early at 16:00!  Bummer.

Motorbike: Random Street Offers

Another thing we have noticed are motorbike hawkers. We have encountered locals on the streets randomly offering motorbike rentals to us.

We have not really entertained them because there is no point in doing so. We make use of the taxis to go from point A to B. In addition, I do not think I would dare rent a motorbike unless the Dutchman is driving, but helaas, the Dutchman is not with me on this trip. Instead, I have 2 elderly parents and a sister who obviously will not fit on the back of a motorbike.

Saigon motorbike rental

Many locals hawk their bike rentals on the streets to random tourists.


Few Traffic Lights and Zebra Paths

One of the most interesting marvels we have noticed in Saigon traffic is that there are very few traffic lights installed in the city. Most streets and rotundas operate on a free flowing basis kind of traffic. It took us some time to realise this. We stood on the roadside gutter scratching our heads trying to find out how we could cross a busy street full of motorbikes passing through non-stop.

There are zebra paths, but nobody really seems to give any attention to it. I swear, it would have been a rare occasion for a motorist to stop and give way to a pedestrian standing on a zebra path. I often wonder if it's just a misplaced road art. I am willing to bet that the locals do not even know that zebra paths stand for pedestrians having priority traffic and right of way.

As a pedestrian in Vietnam, you will have to prepare to hustle a bit, but be careful! Make eye contact with the motorbikers as you sizzle your way across the street through traffic. Better yet, go with a group of people when crossing.

One thing for sure that we have witnessed and is true. There seems to be an unseen proven method to all this traffic madness. The video below will show you. It is a must watch!



Saigon's free-flowing no traffic lights traffic scene. It is amazing though that there are no accidents. This is around the rotunda in front of the Ben Thanh market.

saigon motorbike

Taxis: Affordable and Quite Reliable

Taxis were our main mode of transportation in Saigon. My mum is mobility challenged and could not walk very far. Thus every single day we took cabs, even if we were just going around the next block. We found the taxis in Saigon quite cheap and mostly reliable, and the taxi drivers very polite and helpful as well.

I have read some negative stories online about being scammed and such but we have not experienced this in our almost 1 week stay in the city. Although we had a taxi driver took a much longer route than normal on our last day. I quickly informed him that he can turn left on the corner as its faster. He somehow got it, haha.

The popular and highly recommended taxi operators are Vinasun and Mai Linh, but we have also tried the lesser known ones such as Happy taxi, which was just as fine. Older cars have a cheaper flag down rate (they can have crappy aircon and strange odour) than the newer and modern ones which are not only comfortable but are also equipped with an interactive GPS navigation map. Very handy when you are going to a specific place (e.g. restaurant) the driver knows nothing about.

Depending on the traffic and distance, prices range between VND 30,000 - 50,000 (1 to 2 Euros) for trips within District 1.

Taxi Saigon
Saigon Taxi

This taxi is new and modern equipped with the latest interactive GPS navigation map. Cool.

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What you need to know - Saigon Traffic

Travel Period: December 2016
Destination: Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (Southeast), Vietnam

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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