Initially to an Outsider, it certainly looks like mayhem. Motorbikes and bicycles going every which way, against traffic, on the sidewalks and driving right inside buildings!
In any new situation, I try to watch as an observer and withhold judgement until I have some data.
Watching as an observer, not biased by the framework you know, but looking for patterns and understanding of the system in front of you, then the picture will become ever clearer.
My first couple weeks, riding as a passenger on Trinh’s Honda Air Blade, one of the most numerous motorbikes. (In this blog, I call all these very small engine (50 to150cc) bikes, motorbikes. This includes was we in USA call scooters).
So, sitting behind Trinh in the first weeks, I was ??Nervous. I quickly realized in many situations it was best to just close my eyes! Yes, that was amazingly effective.
Leaving the hotel, if we had to go west, just make a U-turn in the middle of the block. Traffic too heavy for the U-turn, go around the block, are you kidding, go against traffic at a 45° angle until we are on the right side of the road. Sorry, I have no video of some of the most outrageous hijinks, because I either had my eyes closed or I was awestruck.
In the first days, I derived their first rule of the road, don’t hit what you can see.
Now a simple rule like this can be amazing effective. It certainly seems to work. Let me say now that after 6 weeks, I have seen all of two accidents, which were not so much accidents, as unintended touching, causing one or both of the motorbikes to fall down. And seeing how the traffic is all low speed, between 6 and 25 miles per hour (mph) or 10 to 40 km/hr., these incidents don’t incur significant injuries. (In fact, now that I think of it, I have only seen an ambulance racing down the street once. Contrast that with NYC where it’s a few times per hour).
When you develop and rule, a theory, you then test it against the data. So, I looked at everything with that in mind, don’t hit what you can see. What I saw was that while less than half the bikes (the roads are 90% motorbikes, 10% human powered bikes) signal their intentions, for turns, the bikes behind seem to anticipate this.
They are the ultimate defensive drivers.