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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saigon : World's Motorcycle Capital

I could still remember the first time I laid eyes on Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. We were inside the taxi with my other Filipino lecturer and academic head while on our way to Cach Mang Tam 8 Street, where FPT Greenwich Centre is located, from the airport. I could not believe what my eyes were seeing that time.  With my jaw dropped & my eyes popped out, I was so overwhelmed with the street scenery.

motorcycles on a stop
Arguably, I think 90% of all the vehicles that occupy and use the roads in this city are motorcycle. There are some four-wheeled vehicles such as bus, car and truck on the road but these are no match to the number of motorcycles. According to one of my Vietnamese friends, a brand new motorcycle costs, more or less, 25 million Vietnam dong or 1200 US dollar. If you think about the one time price, you could probably say that it is expensive. However, many locals can still get one because motorcycles can be owned through different installment plans/schemes. On the other hand, owning a car here in Vietnam is said to be very luxurious. Aside from the price of the car perse, which is clearly costly already, car owner “wanna be” also need to pay the 200% tax. The flexibility of motorcycle's purchase option and the expensiveness of the cars  probably explain why there is such a big difference in their numbers.

Aside from their personal use of their motorcycles, some Vietnamese have made business out of it too. “Xe Om” or motorcycle taxi is truly one of its kinds. There is no fixed price to this type of transportation. The amount that you will pay really depends on the distance and the type of passenger that you are. For the locals, xe om drivers ask a minimum of only 10 thousand VND but for foreigners like me the asking price falls between the range of 20 to 50 thousand VND or even higher.

xe om driver looking for a passenger
The roads here are not that broad. It is quite similar to the one we have back home, commonly four lanes.  The traffic situation can be really terrible at times especially during peak hours  considering the size of the road and the multitude number of scooters. With some four-wheeled vehicles plus tons of motorcycles, you could simply imagine the result. 

four-lane road
Even though wandering around Ho Chi Minh City can be accident prone sometimes, it is still okay in general. For your safety and protection, just remember the following as they are very important:

 ü  Crossing the street can be very dangerous and scary. Motorcycles virtually come everywhere; even along the pavements so you need to be very careful.

 ü  Riding or driving without a helmet here in Saigon is strictly not allowed. So if ever you made that bold decision to ride the motorcycle taxi at your own risk, you should always ask for a helmet.


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