Nothing in Asia prepares you for the arrival in Ho Chi Minh City!
The bus pulls into the city like any other. The moto drivers and taxi drivers scurry round like excited puppies all vying for your attention (and money). The familiar chant of ‘taxi’, ‘moto’ is available in Dolby surround sound as you push through to find and reclaim your bag. And the same attempt to charge exorbitant prices for the short journey echo round the bus station.
So after laughing off the prices the taxis were charging – we had heard this was the best, cheapest way to travel in HCMC but this was not the case from the bus station – we turned to the moto drivers. Still quite expensive, but as we were about to find out… It’s risk pay.
We were confronted with two salty sea dogs of drivers, who had not only spent their whole life driving the streets of the city, but I suspect the life before that… And before that. So, for what was about to unfold, we chose well.
The journey, which was only 20 minutes was one of the most exciting and terrifying in my life. The city, which has a city-like share of cars, buses and lorries is overrun with bikes like no other. At any interchange literally thousands – and that is no joke – thousands, of bikes line up.
In our short hop into the city I had at least three or four near incidents. The first was were a family of 4 – a mother, father and 2 kids, who were crushed in between the parents to stop them moving – nearly careened into the back of us. The first I heard was the father shouting, ‘Whoa’ in a very wobbly voice and the front tire of their bike stopping inches from my right foot! Phew.
Then my driver gets stuck in some traffic. Joyce’s driver goes in the direction of the central reservation to get around the car in front and my driver – after pondering for the briefest time – decides, ‘I can make it through’. He hits the accelerator hard and swerves round the car. The central reservation rears up. The gap is closing. 10 metres. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. And as I truly feel that our options are either hit the car or do some X-treme stunt over the reservation itself we swerve violently in front of the car. Maybe half a metre to spare either side. Maybe.
I took to profanities, nervous laughter and speaking to my driver in English (which he didn’t understand) to calm my own jangling nerves. And the odd thumbs up when we escaped the next hazard that confronted us. To which he responded in Vietnamese and random gesticulations. Cue a thumbs up from me!
It was incredible. And the words, and even the pictures, cannot get across the magnitude of the chaos or the sheer volume of bikes. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush forget the theme park. Buy a ticket to HCMC and ride the moto’s all day!