Crossing the street in Saigon

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, June 8, 2014

The first thing I realized as our bus pulled into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) late last night was the traffic.  We knew the traffic would be crazy.  We had heard from other travellers and seen the odd video online, but it was cool to see it first hand.  Saigon has 10 million people living here and 5 million motorbikes, not to mention 500 000 cars.  To an outsider, there appears to be no rules of the road.  Motorbikes travel in all different directions, traffic lights are hardly obeyed, and the roads seem like absolute chaos.  We love to walk and weren't prepared to let the madness interfere with walking in Saigon.  But the question is, how do you cross the street here?

The answer is quite simple.  Just do it and walk slowly. Initially it makes no sense when all we want to do is get to the other side and one would think the quicker we move, the quicker we'll get to our destination, and the more of a chance we'll be safe.  WRONG.  We learned ahead of time that this is a huge no-no and logically, it makes sense.  The drivers here are quite good and even though the roads are jammed with bikes, if they see a pedestrian walking, they'll veer to the side to avoid them given they have enough of a warning.  If a pedestrian walks at normal speed, the driver can recognize this and avoid him/her.  It's the sudden movements that cause problems.  If pedestrians try to run across the street, a rider may not see them until the last minute and not have the time to react.  This is when we've read accidents occur with motorbikes and pedestrians.  So, as unnerving and unnatural as it may sound, we've been crossing the street at the same speed we'd be walking if we were taking a leisurely stroll on the beach, even though the road is in complete chaos, with bikes coming from all different directions and not even slowing down.  After the first couple of times, I have found crossing the street here quite fun and in the next couple days, I'll do my best to take a video to capture what it's like.

Our first full day here in Saigon we did a lot of shopping, which is so unlike us.  We found a market which had hundreds of stalls selling just about everything.  The shopkeepers are far more aggressive here than anywhere we've been before.  Many of them literally grab our arms to try to get us to buy from them.  Garyn says the markets in Vietnam are the most similar to her experience with markets in China.  She also said though that when it came to bargaining, in China, the shopkeepers had fun with the process, but we noticed that here, even though they expect it, they weren't so friendly about it and sometimes even angry by the end.

Vietnamese have the reputation of being very businesslike, but also have the reputation of doing whatever they can to make a buck, even if it means scamming others (often foreigners) in the process.  It's just something we're aware of here (just like we're aware of making sure we hold on to our bag when we walk the streets due to theft coming from motorbikes), but we have come to Vietnam with a very open mind and will continue to be aware of our surroundings.  

The shopping experience was somewhat successful. Garyn bought a dress/cover up for $6 USD when the initial price was $20.  She also bought a pair of flip flops for $4.  I bought a pair of shorts for $7 USD and when I went to try them on back in the hotel later, it turned out the the slit to close the button was sewn shut, so I'll have to find a tailor/seamstress (there are tons here) to fix it. Hopefully it won't cost more than the shorts!  But, the purchase I was most excited about was a German football (soccer) jersey.  I am not a soccer fan, but over the last couple days we realized that for the entire knockout rounds, including the championship, of the World Cup, we'll be in Berlin.  I looked online and Germany is the #2 ranked team in the world, so it should be a ton of fun to watch the games in Berlin with millions of crazy European soccer fans. And now I can look the part.  The shirt is pretty nice in my opinion and I paid $10 for it. Coincidentally later in the day, we met someone from Berlin and as we were chatting, I showed him the jersey I bought.  He hugged me!

We went to another market after, which is more expensive, but we think the clothing may actually be real (rather than knockoffs) although we're not sure.  They don't bargain at this market - fixed prices only.  We may go back and make some more purchases before we leave Saigon.  Since Vietnam is our last stop before Europe, anything we need to buy will be significantly cheaper in Asia, so it would make sense to purchase any necessities here.

Our first day in Vietnam was an enjoyable one.  We walked a lot and saw much of the city and had fun bargaining at the markets.  The city is vibrant, busy, and crazy.  Having said that, right in the thick of things, we found lots of parks and green space.  We definitely won't run out of things to do here to keep us busy.  And if we do, we can always cross the street over and over again just for fun!
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Mom an David on

Remember what we taught look both ways when you cross the street!

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