traffic mayhem

This morning I was stuck in a traffic gridlock so dense we didn’t move for just over one hour. To people living in Sai Gon this type of occurrence is only too familiar, particularly when you happen to be on a main arterial road leading to a bottleneck such as a bridge or major intersection. This gridlock occurred at the confluence of Cong Hoa and Truong Chinh roads practically at the end of the Tan Son Nhat airport runway in the major peak hour traffic at 8am.

I’ve been stuck in many traffic jams here but today I was able to witness first hand the pig-headed, stubborn stupidity that caused this to happen. I apologise in advance to any of my Vietnamese friends who may read this, but honestly, what I witnessed this morning was stupid and belligerent and I cannot believe what I saw. I’m just at a loss to understand the thinking (or lack of) of the multitude of Vietnamese people who, after causing the jam by riding the wrong way up a dual carriageway to try and force a shortcut, refused to move back to allow oncoming traffic to clear the intersection. Mind you, it was the on-coming traffic that caused the problem in the first place by failing to stop at the red light thereby blocking all traffic now on a green light.

Eventually so many bikes moved through a gasoline station and into the wrong lane that all traffic movement ceased. They had become like a solid concrete plug stopping everything from moving. There were no police present but after about 45 minutes some citizens began to urge the wrongdoers to turn around and go back to unplug the stoppage. But, and this is what I can’t understand, even though they were not moving one centimetre most could not be convinced to turn back and clear the road.

Finally the police arrived and cleared just enough bikes to allow the traffic to begin flowing but even so, those who had been backed up behind us for over an hour began swapping lanes again and re-blocking the traffic. What an unbelievable example of selfish stupidity. It really makes me wonder if there is any collective consciousness among people here or if in fact they are so impatiently intent on their own purposes that they just don’t give a shit about anybody else.

Well, that’s my rant for this week. I saw it all happen, my brain took it all in, but I’m sorry, to me it just doesn’t compute, I just don’t get the line of thought that causes this situation every day. This particular intersection is modern, multi laned and well designed. Gridlocks like this would never happen if drivers here would be more conscious of others and obey traffic laws.

I guess the images tell the story


The traffic on the left (the lane I was in) has the green light and is going in the correct direction but can’t move because the intersection is blocked by on-coming traffic which, at the stage I took this picture, was gradually being blocked by the bikes on the right heading up the road in the wrong direction.


Here are the bikes heading in the wrong lane which eventually shut down all traffic flow. These people could not be convinced that it was in their own interest to turn around and go back to unblock the road. They simply sat there unmoving.


Here is the resulting gridlock behind us. Many people, like us, were prepared to accept that they couldn’t go anywhere and to sit patiently and wait, but many more became impatient and defected to the wrong lane exacerbating the problem.

Spiralling out of Control

There are still some old apartment blocks in central Sai Gon that haven’t yet come under the developers hammer and I came across these two spiral staircases in the internal courtyard of one old block. Considering they’re the only way for occupants to enter and leave their apartments, I would hate to think of the bedlam if there was an emergency. Still, the shapes make for interesting imagery.

Click on a thumbnail to view larger images.

Con Dao Islands

Considering the sheer natural beauty of this place, it’s sad to think about the brutally tragic past of Con Dao. So while we spent our four days on the island we tried not to think about it and opted out of visiting any of the numerous old prisons. Instead we spent our time enjoying the wonderful beaches and forests only visiting the small holding cell at the old French police station where Vo Thi Sau spent her last night before being executed in 1952, and her grave in the town cemetery. That was enough sadness for one week. A brief but concise history of Con Dao can be found here.

Wonderful place to take a break if you are content with Vietnamese food and service. As far as I can make out there are only a few foreigners living on the island, those who work at the Six Senses Resort and Larry and Rebecca at Dive, Dive, Dive. There is not one taxi to be found and with a population of around only 6,000 persons there are few people and even less traffic to contend with. A stark difference from the frenetic pace of HCMC.

Con Dao Sea Travel Resort was OK. Possibly a bit over priced by Vietnamese standards, but then everything on this island is relatively more expensive than on the mainland. Put that down to supply and demand and the fact that almost all the islands needs have to be transported by boat from Vung Tau. However Sea Travel Resort is one of the resorts in what has to be the best position, fronting a sandy beach and a short walk from the main town of Con Son.

We took a scuba dive with Dive, Dive, Dive and were lucky to strike almost perfect conditions. The water was around 28 deg C and visibility was very good. We dived two sites and both had good coral with a fair variety of fish. The second site was particularly good as the coral was abundant with some excellent bright green Staghorn and a huge amount of Brain corals. Plenty of colourful fish and I came across a large group of iridescent Parrot Fish. While I was taking my time watching the Parrots feeding on the coral, a medium sized iridescent pale greeny/blue to yellow Unicorn fish appeared and was soon joined by three more. Very relaxing and satisfying to be taking a dive after so long away from the activity and very comfortable as Larry has just built a new boat and has brand new equipment.

Con Dao is not a large place and there aren’t all that many roads, but what roads there are are best traveled by motorbike. Bikes can be rented almost anywhere and are cheap enough at around 120,000 VND per day. I used the GPS on my mobile phone to track one part of a ride back from a small beach near the airport, up into the national park and back into town which you can see below on Google maps. Good roads, very little traffic, but at this time of the year, very, very hot.

Apart from becoming fodder for an influx of sand flies, (I’m scratching hard as I type this), I really enjoyed the stay on Con Dao and wonder how I could have left it so long to visit. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get a chance to return.

I think the images below speak for themselves.

View Con Dao Island motorbike ride in a larger map

One model of reality

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”—Wade Davis

Rice Harvest in Long An

Sunday before last we took a motorbike ride south of HCM to Long An Province to experience a rice harvest. In 7 hours they harvested, threshed and bagged 4,000 Kgs of unhusked grain. The ancient looking threshing machine was carried in by hand and assembled on site. As a great example of co-operation, a neighbour herded his flock of ducks into the freshly harvested fields to clean up grubs and snails and be fattened in the process. It was good to get out of the city and be in the countryside again and not bad to enjoy a homemade chau ga (chicken rice soup) for lunch either.