Guidebook Navigating traffic chaos is a Vietnamese necessity

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Navigating traffic chaos is a Vietnamese necessity

The streets of Vietnam are “a sea of scooters and small motorcycles,” writes Roger Cohen in The New York Times. “Entire families perch themselves on bikes, often with a small child up front who gets the best view, the hot breeze in her face and, of course, the least chance of emerging unscathed from a collision … adults wear helmets; children and live animals do not.” And if seeing thousands of motorbikes daily isn’t enough culture shock, says Joe Batruny on the Matador Network, look at what’s being transported on them: “Several pigs. Several mattress. Tires upon tires. Dozens of goldfish in plastic bags. Entire families.” And each time you see this parade, “you’ll shake your head in disbelief, feeling as if you’re watching a Cirque du Soleil balancing act.”

Bikes are the cars of the newly affluent, notes Cohen, “and pedestrians weave around one another in a seamless pattern fashioned not by any rule or organizing principle but by individual awareness.” Major intersections are “unburdened by anything as cumbersome or inflexible as traffic lights,” and therefore function as “massive group exercises in tentative advance, the principle being to coax others to the prudence of the brake by nosing ahead with just the right dose of insistence.” The result? “Lo, the sea divides … a path opens.” And the data explains the story: there are about 30-million two-wheeled motorized vehicles in Vietnam, they make up more than 90 per cent of all the country's vehicles and traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death, explains Debi Goodwin at Perceptive Travel.

The key to coping with Vietnam’s traffic is eye contact, explains Debi Goodwin at Perceptive Travel. “It's easy to learn this lesson first as a pedestrian … you simply stare at the rider coming at you and keep walking at a steady pace … riders do much the same … at any given second they are gauging the intention of the riders to their left and to their right and the speed of pedestrians and vehicles in front of them.” As she notes, it’s “only through this individual awareness and collective consideration that riders arrive at their destination unscathed.”

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