It’s inevitable when driving in around Vietnam that you will occasionally be bumped, scraped against, or rear ended whether you are on a motorbike or in a car….most of time it will be minor and the parties involved will just give each other a dirty look or exchange a barrage of curses and that’ll be the end of it. No matter how safe you try to drive, there will be some situations you will not be able to avoid because there are just too many crazy drivers on the streets. The best way to drive is to try to stay within the flow of traffic and to only pay attention to the traffic in front of you…it’s the job of those behind you to avoid you. When you need to turn….you should flip on your signal light and slowly angle 45 degrees in the direction you are trying to turn; this gives the people behind you time enough to adjust to your movements.
Of course, knowing the right way to drive and doing it are two different things. Sometimes you’ve only got a split second to make a decision and if you make the wrong one you better hope the people around you have fast reflexes. I got into my first real motorbike accident last Sunday morning and it was entirely my fault. I was driving back home from teaching at DRD (Disability Resource and Development) and decided to drop by the local dry cleaner and pick up some stuff I had dropped off earlier in the week. The dry cleaner’s is located just a couple of blocks from my Aunt’s house right off of 3 Thang 2 Street.
3 Thang 2 is always a fairly busy street….but the city recently closed off a couple of blocks west of Thanh Thai for road work, so that there is only a single lane available in either direction….making the drive through that area especially treacherous. Buses and cars usually take up the entire lane….forcing many motorbike drivers to resort to driving on the sidewalks. To get to the dry cleaner’s I have to squeeze in between the cars/buses, straddle the far left side of the lane and then try to inch my way into a left turn through heavy oncoming traffic.
Turning left into heavy traffic is one of the trickier things to pull off when driving around in Vietnam. You can’t wait for an opening to appear because it’ll never happen. You have to make your own opening by slowly inching your way across the lane and pray that people will try to avoid you. That morning, I pulled up to my turn just as two other motorbikes were starting to make a left turn onto the same street. It’s so much easier following other motorbikes/vehicles when turning left since you can use them as a shield. In my rush to try to slide alongside the turning motorbikes, I didn’t pay attention to the big green barrier (which blocked my view of the incoming traffic) in front of me and the small gap that was between the barrier and the back of the motorbikes in front of me. The instant I started my turn, I saw from my periphery something coming at me really fast on my right side. All I could do was just to close my eyes and brace for impact!
The other motorbike was driven by a couple who were around 50 years old. The shock from the crash popped the woman from the back of the bike, but she impressively managed to land on her feet…although her sandals went airborne. Despite the jarring hit….I was somehow able to keep myself and my bike upright. My right forearm took the most direct hit….and a deep dark bruise immediately appeared. I was in a state of shock so I just sat there and looked at the man on the bike who also was just staring at me. I was expecting them to unleash a torrent of profanities at me….which is the usual reaction when accidents occur. I knew it was my fault for turning into the street without making sure the way was clear first. The female passenger was the first to say something.
“You must have not seen us because of this barrier blocking the view of the street”, she said.
“No, I didn’t see you at all” I replied.
“Are you ok?” the male driver then asked me.
“We’re both fine too. Sorry about that”, he added.
I just smiled and waved at them and we both continued on our way. I have to reiterate that this was a highly unusual encounter in Saigon. I have never seen an accident involving 2 guys where there wasn’t a ton of “Du Ma May’s” being hurled around. I’ve seen women being knocked off their bikes by aggressive male drivers who never bother to apologize or to help them up. Women usually never say anything in these circumstances either since they like to avoid confrontation.
I knew I was going to get into an accident sooner or later in Vietnam….luckily my first incident was fairly minor and I was fortunate enough to meet a very forgiving couple. Everything happened so fast that I never even thought to say “Xin Loi” (I’m sorry). This time I was one of the crazy Vietnam drivers. 🙂
Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I will try to make up for it in the next few weeks.