Thoughts and observations from Ho Chi Minh City

I just spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest city and commercial hub of Vietnam (also known as Saigon). I have traveled to South-East Asia multiple times. However, this was my first visit to Vietnam. Here are my observations and thoughts, with a certain focus on aspects of urban life, tech and infrastructure.

The near-death but also amazing experience of crossing a road

Vietnam is infamous for the craziness that happens on its roads. Basically every grown-up among the country’s 93 million population owns a motorbike. Thus, the dynamics and (unwritten) rules of street traffic are very different than those in car-centric countries. For tourists, crossing a road in Ho Chi Minh City (or Hanoi, which allegedly is even more crazy in regards to traffic), can become a near-death experience: The motorcyclists do not stop for pedestrians. So standing on the site of the road, even at a pedestrian crossing, won’t make anyone hit the breaks. Instead, the rule is to start walking – no matter if there are plenty of motorbikes approaching.

If you have never been to Vietnam or a country with similar conventions, you might now wonder: How do you do that without getting killed? The answer: There is somewhat of a silent agreement between motorcyclists and pedestrians: The people on the motorbikes stick to moderate speeds and drive around you as long as you walk slowly, in a predictable way, without suddenly changing your direction or pace. It sounds insane and highly dangerous to Westerners. It also is. Yet, it does work, and over time and with some practice, you get better at it. Check out this video to get a better understanding of the process (there are plenty of videos on YouTube about the “art of road crossing” in Ho Chi Minh City). Continue Reading