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[Photos] A System of Chaos: Public Transportation and Saigon's Traffic Pandemonium

Saigoneer is a proud media sponsor of the third edition of TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City, released earlier this month. The compact and concise photo book explores urban development, landscapes and people in Vietnam’s largest metropolis, documenting the rapid changes currently transforming the city. With the support of the Goethe Institute as well as funding from Audi Vietnam, TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City is divided into six chapters, each covering a major theme related to Saigon’s urban development.

Over the next two weeks, Saigoneer will provide readers with a glimpse into each of the book’s chapters. For the full publication, you can find TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City at bookstores across the country.

Urban Transport

Many visitors who visit Ho Chi Minh City for the first time retain the image of traffic as the most impressive feature of the metropolis. An unimaginable number of motorbikes move through relatively narrow downtown streets, passing through disorderly intersections, traveling in all directions simultaneously with each driver trying to reach his or her destination in the shortest time possible.

When looking more closely, however, it is possible to recognize a system in this apparent chaos when, for instance, a small group of motorbikes unites instinctively and turns left together through oncoming traffic or a mass of motorbikes pushes laterally into the main road at an intersection without traffic lights. To some extent the traffic regulates itself, somehow considerate and ruthless at the same time. Those who dare can almost effortlessly pass through this chaos in which motorbikes miss each other, as if by magic, and flow around the pedestrians.

From the perspective of motorbike riders, the traffic is especially dangerous when buses and trucks cross their paths. Bus stops are still located on the motorbike lanes and many storage places for containers are close to the main roads.

Nevertheless, much has improved during the past decade. On major highways, motorbike and car lanes are separated by long stretches of concrete walls, and on strategic inner city roads, metal fences prevent the mixing of traffic in different directions. The number of overburdened motorbikes with five members of a family riding together on one bike is decreasing. Streets are dominated by new, stronger, more stylish motorbikes, and there are constantly new cars being registered. Major transport infrastructure projects, such as the Thu Thiem Tunnel below Saigon River and the associated Vo Van Kiet Highway, have reduced downtown traffic. Ring road projects are making progress and several new bridges now cross the Saigon River.

Public transportation is also playing a more important role. The number of bus routes has increased rapidly in recent years so that now almost every major street is serviced. The subway project, which will provide six lines in the future, is in the construction phase now. Apartment complexes already advertise their future proximity to metro stations. However, it will be a few more years until a functioning mass transit system is finished, and whether or not such a system will be accepted by the population is still unknown. So far, travel by motorbike corresponds quite well with the needs of urban residents, it is quick, requires no waiting and can proceed directly to their destinations.

Henning Hilbert is the co-publisher of the first two editions of TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City and contributed both photography and writing to the book’s third edition. He is the director of the Goethe Institute in HCMC and has lived in Asia since 1997.

[Photos courtesy of TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City]


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