If you saw the movie ‘Bucket List’ starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, you’ll know what I’m blogging about .. ‘things to do before you die!’ It can be an endless list – but there is no prize for having more or less, the best thing about it is – it’s ‘up to you’.
I’ve just filled another on my list – riding a motorbike around Saigon (that’s Ho Chi Minh City if you’re from the North). I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t daunted at the prospect of racing along Saigon’s streets surrounded by 10’s of thousands of fellow riders with little more than a horn, blinkers, acceleration, anticipation – all held together by an eight dollar helmet for survival.
Having done the self-taught method of learning to drive a car on my parents farm courtesy of a 1966 FB Holden (a three speed colloumn shift or ‘three on the tree’), then studied the art of flooring it on LA’s 10 freeway on-ramps to not look like a tourist – Saigon with it’s noise and flooded river traffic flow is something to be enjoyed.
Even if you’ve done Bali or Phuket on a scooter – it doesn’t quite prepare you
for that moment heading into a four-way intersection at 40 kilometers an hour and you find yourself staring at someone else doing the same thing – only problem is he or her is coming straight at you! Unlike driving in New York where size matters and you have to stake out your territory, the best advice in Saigon is – go with the flow. You become a mind reader, asking yourself – Where is he going? Do I have enough time to get in front of that truck? Is the footpath moving faster than the street? As well, you grow eyes out the side of your head.
Red lights and even green lights for that matter are usually only obeyed in District One or when a traffic cops is about – I’m told bikes are automatically impounded for a month for the smallest road in faction.
But, what is a road in fraction in Saigon? Riding while talking on a mobile phone, no worries if the person on the other end can hear you. Guide books talk about the American War Museum, Ho Chi Minh’s house or the Cu Chi Tunnels – try the free sightseeing tour just outside you hotel room door. A 125cc family on wheels .. Dad at the front – three kids jammed in the middle and Mum at the back holding on. One of the craziest things I saw was a guy balancing two large wooden doors on his head, while a mate steered at 40 kilometers an hour.
Enterence fee to this museum with no Monday closing is the price of a bike rental. I suggest if you’re going to hit the road, get the fastest and newest bike you can. Pay the extra two dollars a day – it’ll will pay-off on a rural road when you want to accelerate in front of a cattle truck doing 60 Km’s. Stay at home if you think travel insurance is too expensive and buy a helmet. They come in all shapes – US Army, Safari hat, Construction worker – express yourself.
Try riding at night – the river becomes a different world. The neon lights, bike lights along with the action off the streets make it feel like you’re lining up for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Now – if you’ve got the confidence and want to give Saigon a go on two wheels .. Good Luck finding a park!