SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAFFIC

The motor scooters in Vietnam were so amazingly plentiful, that it was simply a remarkable sight to watch a continuous wave of them driving in traffic. There seemed far fewer four wheeled vehicles here than anywhere else we had been, including Thailand and Laos. We at at one restaurant on the fourth floor balcony and looked out over a fairly major “X” shaped intersection, compounded by having a traffic circle off to one side of one of the arms, and by the middle section being elongated, (with only two lanes for about 50 meters, before splitting off again). It was a completely astounding sight to see, and we found it worthy of several minutes of videotape. There were so many near misses it seemed, but not a single accident. As a matter of fact, with traffic as amazingly crazy as it seemed all around here (less so in Laos, where there’s not quite as many vehicles as Thailand, Malaysia or Vietnam, and certainly less so than Singapore where everything is so strictly orderly), we only saw three accidents. One actually involved Luke and I in a taxi that was following WAY too close in Thailand. The bus in front of us came to a screeching halt, and a few seconds later so did we, barely a few decimeters from the bus I’m sure. Then, to add to our loudly screeching tires, the taxi behind us came to a stop only a few centimeters from us. As would be expected then, the car driver behind him wasn’t so quick on her brakes and caused a three vehicle domino collision. We barely felt it, since the sudden stop a few seconds earlier had been far more abrupt. Our driver however was very distraught, and got out in the center lane of four lanes of traffic whizzing by to check things out. I was worried about the delays and was looking to see if Luke and I could safely exit to the curb and flag down an alternate taxi. Not a chance! Inside the vehicle was by far the safest place for us! Our driver and the other, and the woman chattered for about ten minutes, and then he returned to the car. I insisted we get out immediately without paying when he said we were just going to stop off at the police station, (we were only six minutes away from the hotel after a half hour ride). He quickly radioed the other taxi driver and said he was gonna drop us off first and meet them at the police station to file a report. He was pretty upset, mainly at the woman because she had only caused just under CAN $1000 of damage to the two taxis, yet she was insisting on going through insurance. This created (as it does in Canada) mounds of paperwork and governmental red tape that no one else wanted to deal with. Our taxi only had a small dent in the bumper, and yet he was practically in tears regarding the damage to his baby. At least he looked after it I guess.

Claudette and Luke had also witnessed a motorbike getting hit by a taxi at slow speeds in Bangkok. It caused damage to his bike, but he got up immediately with barely a bruise by the looks of it. The third one we just barely saw in Vientiane, (the Capital city of Laos). It was at an intersection, and we were behind a bus and a couple other cars. A dump truck swerved abruptly to avoid crushing a crazy motorbike driver trying to scoot across in front, but miscalculating the speed of the dump truck. The truck swerved and rode up on a high median ripping apart it’s undercarriage as well as a fuel and hydraulic oil tank. The driver scurried out of the cab and away from the truck in a huge hurry, and went to check on the motorcyclist. When we finally got up to and through the intersection a few minutes later, the bike driver was being attended to and looked like he had some ripped clothing, road-rashed face, and a compound fracture of the lower leg. As we continued driving away we didn’t hear any explosions, so the dump truck’s ignition sources must have been turned off.

All in all though, I would still say that traffic in Latin America is slightly worse, in that there seemed to be way more disorderly conduct, and people constantly and very inconsiderately pushing there way in this way and that. Southeast Asia is still pretty wicked of course, just not quite as bad as what I remember from Latin America, and especially Peru. Our guide in Laos had disdainfully told us how all the nation’s roads had previously been filled with bicycles, but people started buying more and more scooters. Then the Chinese started making and selling really cheap scooters in Laos and sudden no one but kids under ten years old used scooters anymore.

Motor-scooter and motorbike drivers are simply suicidal, or they collectively have the combined fore thinking brain power of a pea. The cutting in and out of traffic, and speeding along in between lanes of cars, (while stopped at lights, or at 80KPH, it don’t matter!) is just nuts. I suppose such crazy behavior is offset lightly by the expanded awareness of the drivers, but they still make me shake my head in horrified wonderment. The car and truck driver’s inherently (generally) know and prepare for the crazy sudden turns and budding in front by the bikes, and drive accordingly. Most Westerners who get behind a wheel in Aisia or Latin America would be very likely to quickly wipe out several bikes since they would not be anticipating the two-wheeler movements without observing for awhile first. On the other hand, if a bike were to take up the center of a lane (as is propper and safe to do) most four wheel vehicle drivers would be cussing and swearing since the motor scooters are quite underpowered compared to even a four cylendar car or lorry.

Sadly, this myopically selfish viewpoint of cutting in wherever one can, generally seems to carry over into pedestrian traffic as well. None of the reading in various guidebooks prepared us for the disdainful stepping on our toes, pushing out of the way, budding in front of us, ect, that we constantly seem to be experiencing in Asia so far. China is supposed to be the worst even, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The one cool thing about entering Laos was that the sides of the road that everyone drove on were switched again. This I had mentioned in a previous post I believe. It was still refreshing to see the steering wheels back on the left side of the vehicle again though. We all easily adapted to getting into mini vans on the right side again. This was short lived of course, only in Laos and Vietnam did vehicles use the “right” side of the road again. As soon as we hit Hong Kong, the grand old former British Colony, everything was switched back to the “wrong” side, and we kept going to the “incorrect side to get into taxi’s. That should be short lived again though, since as soon as we get to Beijing in a couple days it will be back to the left side with steering wheels, and to the right side of the road with vehicles themselves.

One other cool thing we’ve noticed in many Southeast Asia countries so far is an extra, smaller sized lanes on the “ditch” side of traffic. These are not wide enough (safely) for a car to travel, and are generally meant for animal carts, bicycles, motorbikes and pedestrians. In Thailand they are almost exclusively used by motor scooters. In Laos there weren’t many except in towns, and they were most often used for parking, or as motor scooter lanes when clear. In Vietnam we actually did see a couple ox-carts and bicyclists using them, even along the side of an 8 lane raised highway. That was certainly quite the contrast!

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