Culture shock in Vietnam - the traffic
One of the regular posters in this branch raised a question "What was your culture shock when you first came to Vietnam?", 80% of the answers were "The traffic".
Back to 20 years ago when Vietnam started opening to the world, a bicycle was an important asset in any Vietnamese family. In early 1990s, the second hand Japanese motorbikes were imported into Vietnam at cheap price, then both expensive and cheap motorbikes from different countries appeared. Most of people gave up riding bicycles and changed to use motorbikes, even for travelling a short distance. The road was not expanded while the number of people and vehicles increased rapidly. Air pollution, traffic congestion and fatal accidents became some major issues, not only in the large cities of Vietnam, I think, also in some countries of SEA during the development process.
From 15 December 2007, it was compulsory to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike in Vietnam. Awareness of traffic safety plays an important role, however many people ignore traffic rules, when there is no police. Sometimes they don't care red-blue lights, or turn left-right any time they want. You may be surprised at the noise and why Vietnamese use horn so often, but if they don't, it's very easy to hit the people in front of them. Horn also is important to warn, as someone may suddenly come from the alleys at a fast speed
An advice for you if you want to cross streets in Hanoi and in HCMC is you should walk slowly (don't run) and watch both sides. In most cases, the locals will know how to avoid you.
The highways in Vietnam actually are just "expanded and improved" road based on the old road, and some new routes were open, not really a high speed road for only car/bus/truck as there are other simple vehicles as well. The Highway No. 1 runs from China border to Nam Can in Ca Mau, and other highways connect major cities and remote provinces in Vietnam. Police are always there on some highways to measure speed of car/bus/truck. The fine is heavy and driving license may be withdrawn if there are some holes punched on the license, that is why car/bus/truck must travel at slow speed on the highways, and it takes quite much time to move from A to B.
I work in the construction industry and have participated in the tender for some large scaled projects in Vietnam. I also read the Master Plan for Development of Transport System in Vietnam up to 2010 - 2020 published by a Japanese organization. A lot of plans for the future transport system, for example, monorail, subway, pedestrian tunnels under railway, ring roads etc. All of them sound wonderful, but in fact, seeking for financial sources, signing of loan agreements then performance (site clearance, tender, progress schedule etc.) would take much time for a project to be feasible. For such a large scaled project like the 12-km subway in HCMC, an estimated budget has reached approx. US$ 2 billion. To save the costs, a combination of both on-ground and underground system has been considered. Last December, in Hanoi, the first item of the 12.7km railway project (Nhon - Ga Hanoi) which includes 9.8km on-ground and 2.9km underground railway, commenced and will be complete in October 2010, coinciding with the time when Hanoi people will celebrate the Thang Long - Hanoi 1,000 year establishment anniversary.
An American tourist asked me "If you had a wish for Hanoi, what would you want?". I answered "I wish there were not so many motorbikes and everyone would cycle same like 10-20 years ago." But until a future day when vehicles would be banned in the Old Quarter and everyone could walk freely, and when the subway system would be open, we still need to cross Hanoi streets watching motorbikes, buses, cyclos coming from every direction, and try to be an excellent driver and remember to wear a helmet (I do).
Here is the link to website of Hanoi Bus: Hanoi Bus
Over the last few years, the bus system in Hanoi became a very comfortable means of transport for both locals and tourists. I recalled a TTer get together in Hanoi in April 2006, a Singaporean guy told me, he took Bus #7 from Noi Bai airport to Cau Giay and changed into Bus #9 from Cau Giay to Hoan Kiem lake (just a short walk to the Old Quarter). You also can take a public bus to Army Museum, Bat Trang ceramics village, Van Phuc silk village and Museum of Ethnology etc.
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