Oct 06 2011
The best way to travel in Ho Chi Minh City is by motorbike. While it is easy to catch a xe om, and have them taxi you around, it is even cooler to drive yourself. Luckily, if you cruise around Pham Ngu Lao it is easy to find a shop that will rent you a bike, but rarely do these shops give much in the way of driving instruction. Renting a bike in Saigon is easy, but driving through the city’s traffic is another thing entirely. So, if you’ve rented yourself a motorbike and want to hit the open road here is a tip to help you get from point A to point B.
Turning left, where you have to cross the oncoming lane of traffic, is something that some people struggle grasping in their minds. It can seem inconceivable, as there are few turn signals in the city, mostly because it requires you merge from the right side motorbike lane to past the left side car/bus lane and then venture into oncoming traffic. Although it can seem scary, and a little dangerous, once you get over the mental hurdle, you’ll find that turning left is easy and kind of fun.
The first thing to remember is that turning left is similar to crossing the street. To cross the street in Saigon, you simply step into the road and most drivers will stop or swerve around you; this is similar to turning left, when if you advance at a slow and steady pace, the oncoming traffic will break around you also. Just remember that HCMC streets are less guided by actual traffic laws and more by the laws of nature; if something is bigger than you it may not want to stop. By this I mean that while most motorbikes and taxis will tend to avoid you, you should be careful before you cross paths with a city bus.
It can still be nerve racking, even for the seasoned driving vets, to jump into oncoming traffic, so there are ways to make things a little safer. A common tactic is to use a traffic blocker. This can be done in a couple of ways. Firstly, you can join a pack of motorbikes turning left together. By doing this all the motorbikes work together to make themselves a bigger object when crossing. Another way to turn is to partner with a turning car. Since more things will stop for a car than for a bike, you can simply wheel yourself up next to the driver’s side of the car and use it as a shield to deflect the traffic.
Again, at first this can seem crazy and it can take some time to get used to. I have a friend who initially refused to make left turns and instead would make three rights. The best thing to do is to keep your speed down and take things nice and slow; once you get the hang of it you may find driving in Saigon to be a little addicting.
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