Back in 2010 I was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity to relocate to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (District 1 as it’s called locally) for 6 months. My employment was with a Las Vegas based Architectural firm who was involved with a mega resort in a beach city north of District 1. Yes that’s right…a MEGA resort in a third world country. That’s exactly what I thought. Vietnam is one of those countries that I had never once considered visiting. But let me tell you, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life!
When I touched down in Vietnam I was picked up by the office driver, a local Vietnamese gentlemen, who knew the rules of the road. Talk about culture shock in the first 10 minutes…holy motor bikes! There must have been a million motor bikes and 5 cars on the road. These bikes were swerving in and out of lanes, driving on sidewalks and through parks as if they owned the place…and after a little while living there you learn…They do! There is a clear hierarchy of vehicles in this country. The only vehicle that holds authority over the small pint sized mopeds is the big green busses. They are so lovingly called “Skull Crushers” to the locals. These busses do not stop for anything! They will just keep going, whether you are in their way or not. If you are in a car, you are the least important vehicle on the road and usually it takes about 4x as long to get anywhere.
With that being said, if you don’t have a motorbike, or a car, you can either walk (this is an experience in and of itself) or take a motorbike taxi. Yep! A motorbike taxi. These are not official companies. They are just local guys, who appear to have not showered for some time, that stand on the street corners and as you walk by they make the hand gesture as if to rev up a throttle and say to you ‘Motorbike?’ If you say yes they will provide you with a helmet that has been hanging on the side of the handlebars for years collecting street debris and exhaust fumes to protect your head. Oh I forgot to mention these ‘helmets’ are about the thickness of a business card. Your first time on a motorbike taxi you will more than likely get ripped off. You eventually learn to discuss pricing before you get on. And these are CHEAP and the absolute most efficient way to get around (if you don’t mind seeing your life flash before your eyes every second of the ride). For instance, I lived a mere 2 miles from work. Until I purchased my own motorcycle, my daily routine was to take a motorbike taxi to work then walk home. It is very hot and humid in Vietnam and if you walk to work you would be drenched by the time you arrived. I digress. So if I took an actual taxi (in a car) it would take approximately 25 minutes to get to work because of the traffic and one way streets. On the back of a motorbike taxi…4 MINUTES!!! No joke! You know how everyone says the fastest way to somewhere is a straight line…well they live by that there. Right through the park we go and across the sidewalks, down a one way road going the wrong way on the sidewalk and to work I would arrive. My cost – 10,000 VND.
The quantity 10,000 is probably a staggering amount but I haven’t given you the exchange rate yet. From US Dollars to Vietnamese Dong (Insert jokes here) it is 20,000 to 1. So that motorbike taxi only cost me $0.50 to get to work. Not a bad gig. Even in a car the ride will only cost you about $3.00. I was tired of wearing someone else’s dusty dirty helmet and riding on the back of a moped (this must have been a site they are still talking about. Picture this…a very large 6’-2”, 360 lb man on the back of a moped that is being driven by a small Vietnamese man about 5’-3” in height and 100 lbs soaking wet). I was good for many laughs while in that country as you will see in future posts of mine. So I decided to take my life in my own hands and started talking to locals to find out where I can purchase a bike of my own. After a couple weeks I met with a very tall slender Australian man and bought an old German motorcycle for $300 US Dollars. It was a proper motorcycle which fit me better and this allowed me to gallivant around the different districts in town at my own discretion. During my time on the roads I learned quite a bit. One crazy thing I learned is when you are driving you do NOT look back. Everyone behind you pays attention to what you are doing. If you look back you will most definitely rear end someone. I’m not saying their way of driving is the best way to do things but what I can tell you is that in the six months I lived there I only saw 2 accidents.
If you ever find yourself looking for an interesting vacation I would strongly recommend taking the 26 hour flight into Vietnam and spending a couple weeks exploring. My six months was long enough to get into the culture and way of life but short enough to allow me to come home with some good stories to share with all of you. This is just one of many that I will be sharing throughout the life of this blog…so stay tuned!