Ingenuity reigns as the Vietnamese prove that cars are second best when it comes to transporting heavy loads and entire families.
The industrious cosmopolitan hub of Ho Chi Minh City is globally known as “Motorbike City.” To traverse the streets of Saigon is to navigate through a seemingly endless flow of two-wheeled machines, each street evoking visions of high-octane salmon runs. Any tourist who’s ever crossed a major thoroughfare in this city is entitled to a certain sense of triumph, akin to having completed an initiation rite. Wading through a stream of 300-pound salmon is not for the faint of heart!
To be fair, there are cars on the streets here — even a Bentley can be seen in downtown District One. But if your goal is to get from the airport to your hotel in less time than your trans-Pacific flight just took to bring you here, you might want to look at alternatives, such as the ubiquitous motorbike taxi.
Cars are nice, and certainly comfortable, but those ponderous beasts are no match for the nimble two-wheelers that snake their ways around them, almost mocking them. Aside from having to obey traffic lights more conscientiously than their two-wheeled counterparts, automobile drivers often find themselves confined to a single lane of traffic, even on major avenues. And to add insult to injury, unlike the case with motorbikes, the police take a very dim view of four-wheeled vehicles driving on sidewalks.
Of course, it’s not just efficiency that accounts for the preponderance of motorbikes. With a 93% import tax, the price of even a mid-sized auto exceeds a lifetime of wages for the average citizen. For the typical Vietnamese, car ownership simply isn’t even on the radar screen.
Hence, the Vietnamese make do with what they can afford. Pity them not, however, as their resilience and innovative nature puts to shame our Western needs for four-wheeled transport to convey anything larger than a briefcase. If there’s any place that amply demonstrates the ageless proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, this is it. For many Vietnamese, it’s second nature to maneuver bikes through dirt roads, hauling mattresses, large 100-pound hogs, floor to ceiling mirrors, rolls of carpet — even coffins.
Along with being the heavy-utility-and-everything-in-between means of transport, motorbikes are the preferred method of transportation for the Vietnamese family. It’s not at all uncommon to see five family members on an outing with the baby sitting in front atop a tall wicker chair (sans helmet, of course – the law only mandates them for adults!), and two other kids sandwiched between mom and pop. At first sight, one may be tempted to nominate Britney Spears for Mother of the Year, for at least driving in an enclosed vehicle with a baby in her lap.
Yes, in Ho Chi Minh City, where practicality outweighs safety, the streets are flooded with a sea of bikes performing any and every task.
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