Saigon, City of Motorbikes

Saigon’s poulation is just about 8.5 million. Its motorbike count?  7.43 million, according to the VN Department of Transport’s latest tally.  More than 1 for every adult resident of the city.  Yesterday, that was easy for us to believe.

That’s me, in the orange helmet upfront, attempting a selfie but instead capturing the traffic behind me.

In the afternoon, Brendan, the girls, and Mackenzie formed a motorcycle gang to explore the Saigon streetfood scene.

Not to worry, they did not drive the bikes themselves.  Instead, they were piloted by an awesome group of university students (one guide per bike).  These students work part time as guides to help improve their English and earn pocket money.

This time the guides also had the pleasure of carrying a 5 year old on little side trips by foot through the market to find street treats. While some count their first urban motorbike adventure as a harrowing experience, little Phoebe found it so relaxing that she fell right to sleep.

Coco got a little worn out herself. Following a trend on this part of the trip, it was HOT.

(Poor William was down for the count with a virus.  So he and I explored the HCMC medical clinic scene–and happily ruled out Dengue Fever.)
We learned that the number of motorbikes in Saigon is up more than 2 million from 2011.  Gone apparently are the days of Vietnam’s iconic black pedal bike. On the rise is increased pressure from all these bikes on Saigon’s transport infrastructure. The traffic is intense and the air pollution rapidly worsening.  (I was happy to learn, before saying goodbye to the bike gang, that the number of fatalities by motorbike is actually down in recent years, with traffic rules more vigorously enforced by the police and fellow drivers.)

Proposals to limit or reduce the number of motorbikes in the city (such as increased registration fees) are wildly unpopular. That’s easy to understand, given the limited public transportation options available and their dubious quality.

The city government is in the midst of building a subway system, which is scheduled to be completed by 2020. That is expected to help address the issue, though it’s a little hard to imagine the people of the city giving up their beloved scooters.

Brendan reported such fun from his trip that he and I took to the streets for a night tour.  Unbelievably exhilarating. The world sped by too fast to pick up much detail. But it gave us a sense of the city that no bus tour or walk ever could.

A huge highlight was this place, Woodstock, our final stop for the night, where we were treated to fist pumping classic rock covers by a merry band of VN 20 somethings.

B had a bit of a man crush on the bass player.  The lead female vocalist was also no slouch.  I wonder what kind of motobikes they all ride….

Lead male vocalist was a bit too much of a showman for our taste.

Since the band lacked a single guitar, the keyboardist played an especially important role. Here he is celebrating a heroic completion of the complex arpeggio of Hotel California.  He was bathed in wild applause from the crowd.

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