This week, our Travel pics series is H for Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam – it has more than 10 million people, and that’s expected to increase by another four million within 10 years.
It also has an OFFICIAL 3.5 million motorcycles – but suggestions are it could be as many as three times that number.
When we were there in early 2016 we were told, repeatedly, that there was one motorbike for every man woman and child in Ho Chi Minh City. That may be an exaggeration – but if so, it’s not completely outside the realms of possibility.
In fact, the gridlock and pollution caused by motorbikes has prompted the Vietnamese government to look at how it can curtail their use.
But to an extent, it’s the government’s own fault – it drastically cut funding for public transport in the 1980s, at the same time as the disposable income for Vietnamese families was starting to climb .. and the net result was a boom in the use of ‘xe may’ or mopeds.
It’s unlikely that the genie can be put back in the bottle.
In fact, rather than a return to bicycles (which take up far less room on the roads), the next big impact in cities like HCMC is expected to be a spike in the number of cars – possibly a trebling of the number within a decade, if some economists are right.
As it stands, the average speed on Ho Chi Minh City roads is 16km/hr. If the city had to cater for a million cars, the average speed would likely drop to little better than walking speed, according to a paper at Germany’s prestigious D+C Engagement Global.
In the meantime, mopeds and motorbikes rule the roads – and as a pedestrian, you simply have to walk steadily when crossing their flow.
It’s unnerving to a westerner, but the riders do simply flow around you, like Moses parting the Red Sea.