Riding a motorbike in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in the spring of 2019.
This is a short, 15-minute video taken from my Suzuki Hayate motorbike while driving in the western area of HCMC Tan Phu. It shows driving along the streets and all the ways one must stay vigilant to drive safely and securely.
Vietnam is a motorbike country. Virtually everyone has one, though some still get by with a bicycle only, like Ti’s late mother. The motorbikes here are all 150 cc or less. They consume very little gas, getting about 36 km/liter of gas (85 mpg). There are a few larger motorcycles, very few. My guess is they are taxed my higher like cars (with a 100% to 300% VAT).
I’d estimate that for every 1,000 motorbikes (<150cc) there are 10 cars (half of which are taxi), 1 large motorcycle and 10 to 15 trucks.
While I said, that city driving is pretty safe. Intercity driving is downright dangerous. Number one reason is truck drivers (18 wheelers) who are reckless due to lack of sleep or drug use. The government has been trying to crack down on these abuses, but…
While initially upon arriving in HCMC in the spring of 2017, I found the traffic very chaotic. As I watched and observed over the coming days and weeks, I understood the system better and actually found the system pretty transparent. It was simple:
Don’t hit whatever you can see.
That means, it you hit anything, it’s your fault. If anyone hits you, it’s their fault.
Doesn’t get more simpler than that. And in fact, since many of you reading this are boaters, it’s similar to how the COLREGS are interpreted for ships and boats. Even when people do stupid stuff in front of you, the captain is still obligated to avoid it.
So, in that sense, the traffic in HCMC and Vietnam in general, seemed almost normal.
An example, (besides the ones you will see in this video, like drivers going against traffic or making U-turns just in front of you) in my early days, the street I was on had a line of 4+ wheel traffic in the left lane (which is normal, cars and trucks stay left). We come upon a little construction obstacle, so all motorcycle traffic is restricted to about half a lane or smaller, allowing only two motorbikes side by side. All of a sudden, a motorbike stops in the right side, because the driver is answering his cell phone!
Everyone is now funneled to a single file. No one complains, or says anything to the stopped driver, who essentially stopped in the middle of traffic.
No road rage, no nasty comments, just a few quizzical glances.
It means we must drive defensively all the time. While I have had a few close calls, I did have one accident that was caused because I was looking at Google Maps on my phone and while my head was done looking at the directions I had to go, a motorbike turned in front of me and I T-boned him.
What he did was stupid, but had I been paying attention, I would have bared left a bit and passed behind him.
Not too much damage, only a hole in my shirt and arm and on my foot and shoe, as it scrapped on the pavement. The other driver was very apologetic, as I was. He was up first and helped me and my moto up. This is very normal from what I have seen, though I must admit, I have seen very few accidents in my two years in Vietnam.
Also, the accidents I have seen have been all very minor.. that’s the main advantage of a motorbike community. The speeds are relatively low, 40 mph is going really fast. Most traffic is 15 to 30 depending upon traffic and conditions. Also, motorbikes are not too heavy, so not much mass.
During my accident, I was going about 15 mph. I broke my right handlebar mirror and that’s it.
Let me know by Liking or your comments if you like this type of video, if so, I have many more.
So Thursday, I passed my first car in a roundabout (aka traffic circle, rotary) and today, Saturday, I passed a few more.
What does that mean? Simply that my terror of driving in a right-hand drive car on right-hand drive roads is slowly decreasing as my skill of using my right hand to shift and left hand to steer is coming along nicely. I still let out the clutch a bit slower than normal, as there are still occasions of getting third when I want fifth gear or vise-versa. Even worse, in this car, reverse is to the right of forth and right where sixth is on some BMW’s), so when shifting to forth, I am really slow with the clutch just in case.
Crossing the Atlantic is still preferable, but while Dauntless is laid up, I need convenient transportation and that means renting a car. Knock wood. (Should I die tomorrow, or anytime this month, I hope someone has the decency to remove this post and not re-post on Trawler Forum, with the title, “I Told You So”.
These days, I am stay in a wonderful B&B in New Ross, close to JFK’s ancestral home, and I had a great conversation with the owner’s son about movies and series. The Unit by David Mamet came up, because for me, it is still the best depiction and most realistic military shows I have seen. So in looking for the DVD’s I discovered Amazon Prime streams them.
I have been skimming through season four since yesterday and also grabbed my World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell from Dauntless. A must has, it’s a great planner for any passage in which weather matters.
As for The Unit? A must see that reminds us of the sacrifices many have made for the sake of ours and much of the world’s freedom.
So, a few days earlier, I had gotten the idea to go the Sands Casino, in Bethlehem, PA on Saturday, then pick Julie up at Newark Airport on the way home Saturday night. The Sands is a little less than 2 hours driving in normal traffic, though I have made it in 1.5 hours in the wee hours of the morning.
With the Storm, flights were cancelled and therefore I had nothing to do.
Well, I did have a plan, so I figured, I’d just modify the plan.
As I brush the more than one foot of snow off the car at 9 a.m., I thought about not going, but once the car was clean, how could I not go. In fact, I was more worried about getting back and finding no parking, but turned out not to be a problem.
Having watched the storm prognosis for the last 5 days, I knew exactly what to expect, with the worst conditions being south and east of the City; therefore, I would head north, then west, then southwest and finally west on I-78. Now, the only problem was I knew I-78 to be in the bullseye of the heaviest snow, but I figured if everyone stayed off the road…
I also expected the heaviest snowfall, at the rate of about 2” per hour, to hit during mid-day, so that would just keep things interesting.
There were a few cars about, more than I expected, what with the dire warnings and all. The plan was to go north on the Bronx River Parkway, then west across the Hudson on the Tappan Zee bridge, I-87. Then as the Thruway turns north to Albany, I head South southwest on I-287 for 30 miles to I-78 west to Pennsylvania. The Sands is only 10 miles into Pennsylvania.
As I got on the Bronx River, traffic was running about 40 mph and the road was pretty good condition. I discovered why within minutes as I came up on 2 NYC snow plows that were doing a good job in keeping two lanes clear.
Once they got off, there was more snow on the road, but less snow had fallen. Once on the Thruway, going west, traffic continued at a moderate pace until I got to I-287. Then it got interesting.
Much more snow on the highway, heavier snow falls, though reduced traffic, made the next few hours stressful.
I saw four or five groups of snow plows consisting of 6 to
12 trucks cleaning the three lanes of northbound I-287. What 12 trucks can do at once, that 4 could not do, is something, probably only someone in New Jersey can explain.
Not being able to judge how deep the snow is in the less travelled lanes is one of the most difficult and dangerous aspects of driving in snow. The cause of many off road excursions.
This happens because the tires on one side of the car have increased resistance, thus pulling the car into the deeper snow, slowing, but surely. It must be countered quickly, but delicately. Cars like going the direction they are going. Any big changes will cause upset. In this case, many immediately turn the wheels in the direction where they want to go, let’s say back to the middle of the road.
The problem is, buy turning the wheel, it increases the slip
angle, as the slip angle increase, tires have less traction. So, the two tires that were keeping the car going relatively straight, now have less traction. The car will usually spin off the highway, into the ditch. Sometimes though, it’s worse, in that the car tries to turn, can’t, but as it slows, the tires all of sudden gain traction, but the driver has the car aimed at the center guard rail and within seconds the car does a header into that guard rail. That’s why one sees so many cars, that initially drifted off to the right
shoulder, the driver over corrects, and the car makes a left turn, nose first into the center median.
I-287 was reduced to one useable lane, as the left lane had snow at an unknown depth. Presently, I see a semi-tractor trailer gaining on me and I am happy to have him pass. Now, he will put a lot of snow in the air, my wipers
will ice up more rapidly, but he solves the unknown depth for me.
I follow in in his tracks for about 20 minutes. If he goes in the left lane, I go in the left lane. Trucks are so heavy, they can deal with a lot of snow, as long as they are moving. But I must stay exactly in his tracks. This lasts for about 25 minutes until I peel off to I-78.
There was much less traffic on I-78, thus the snow was deeper. I had to stop twice to knock the ice of the wipers.
As I got deeper into Jersey, virtually every exit was blocked by a truck. I’m glad I did not have to stop.
OK I’ve talked enough.
Let the pictures tell the story. They are in chronological
It’s been a terrifying two days, but knock wood, I have survived so far.
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea was a piece of cake compared to driving on the left hand side of the road.
Shifting with my left hand feels as weird as blowing my nose with my left hand, in fact I really can’t.
Now, I have driven in left hand drive countries before, UK, Scotland and Ireland. Years ago, when I had my own right hand drive in Europe, I found it easier to drive that car on the left, since it allowed me to concentrate on staying on the correct side of the road.
Though coming upon a traffic circle, round-about in England, I still had a tendency to go right without thinking if there was no other traffic to remind me.
The most perilous times are right hand turns and pulling out of driveways. Both of those situations have found me close to catastrophe, as I pulled up to the street, looked left, saw no cars approaching and then proceeded to let the car roll forward as I looked right and turned all simultaneously.
Only fast feet on the brakes averted a head on collision as the on-coming car flashed by.
Nowadays I visualize where and how I am getting there with each turn practiced in my head. I use the same rules I have used since last year in Ireland as a pedestrian, look both ways twice before taking step into the street.
I’ve done the same with the car the last two days.
With only tomorrow’s early morning drive to Dublin and the airport, my odds are looking good. But I know the numbers and the reality is that the two-hour drive tomorrow is far riskier than what we have done or will do in the coming months, years and miles in Dauntless.
The link below has a very nice history of right and left hand driving.
In the years before Dauntless, we developed a mindset of what we wanted a boat to do and how we wanted to do it. Much of it depended upon being as independent as possible, without having to be independently wealthy. And much like all of our land travels, our travels would take us off the beaten track, to the little restaurant near the Rio del Muti in Venezia, where English was not spoken, or a year earlier at the place where we knowingly ordered the specialty of the house, shark cartilage. Now, that was an experience that comes under the category of, been there, done that, won’t do it again.
But that’s who we are. Given the choice of 625 miles across Montana on Interstates 94 & 90 or the little used US 12, we’ve taken US 12 twice.
Now, I do have a history with US 12, I ran out of gas in the early morning hours taking a short cut from Missoula to the Tri-Cities in Washington. It was a good shortcut, only took 8 hours of driving overnight thru the Bitterroots and across the Continental Divide, but at that time in my life, (my first of many trans-continental car trips) it never occurred to me that there would be no gas stations open anyplace, even Lewiston, Idaho!
I ended up running out of gas about 20 miles from my girlfriend’s house in Kennewick. Now, that should be the end of it, but if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you must realize there is a bit more to come. So, at 5 a.m. my car sputters to a stop in front of this typical farm/ ranch sheet metal structure, a warehouse, and wait for someone to show up. Within minutes, a young guy (in hindsight, probably my age, about 19) shows up on a motorcycle. Very helpful, we proceed to find a one quart glass jar and then in a mind that had been driving for the last 22 hours, I decide that one quart of gas is enough to get me my last 20 miles. It’s not.
8 miles later, I ran out of gas again. Still nowhere and this time with nothing close, other than a farm at the end of a drive way that must be at least a mile long.
I set out on this long walk, arriving at a barn, you know, where the windows are two feet high starting at ground level. So, I am bending over, trying to see inside, hoping I don’t get shot (City folk know that every Westerner is packing and shoots first and asks questions later) and I see a woman milking a cow. I knock on the window, hoping that’s not a shotgun by the milk bucket and knowing that she probably has never seen a brown face peering in the window at any time of day and probably never will again.
Being a farmer, this woman didn’t look shocked or even surprised, and when I told her my predicament, she went to get her husband. He then promptly took me to his pickup with the big fuel tank in the bed and drove me back to my car and asked me how much gas I wanted and whether I wanted Ethyl (Hi-test or now Premium for you young’uns) or regular. I did prefer (or better said, my engine) Hi-test, but not to be too greedy, I said half a gallon was more than enough. He gave me two; and of course, would take no money. This also started my love affair with the western US and the people who lived and worked there. I never moved back to the east coast until 1999, but then that’s another story.
So why tell this story now? This is how I deal with my angst. That was my first cross country trip in my first car, to start my second year of college with my second girlfriend.
Reflecting on this, makes me plan so that I do not let this happen on my first trip across the Atlantic, with my first boat in our second year.
And if it does, you can be assured I won’t tell the story for at least another 40 years.
Think about this picture. What is it telling you? What do you see?
Interesting questions, so why am I asking?
On Trawler Forum, http://www.trawlerforum.com/forums/recently, there was a thread asking why some boaters were so discourteous, as to cause a large wake (wave caused by a moving boat. Dauntless produces about a half foot wake (wave), most speed boats or faster boats produce wakes 2 to 5 feet in height), which can actually damage boats, property and people (if you’ve ever been in a boat that suddenly rolls 40 degrees on to it side, you know what I’m talking about). It’s not dangerous, but certainly uncomfortable.
There was also a different thread about Coast Guard stops, when they stop a boat and check for safety things, etc. These stops typically last 15 to 30 minutes, which in boater time, doesn’t not seem like a lot (we routinely wait 30 or 45 minutes for a bridge to open), but in the real world, this would certainly be viewed as intrusive. (How would you like to be stopped on the highway every few months for 15 to 30 minutes just to check your paperwork!)
So, the other day, as I was motoring at Dauntless’ normal speed of 8 mph, I noticed a smaller, newer semi-displacement trawler (American Ranger) coming up quickly to pass me on the right. No problem, as I looked out my pilot house door, I happily waved to the older couple driving the boat.
At this point he was probably going twice my speed and would be past me in mere seconds. All of a sudden, he slows his boat. Maybe because he saw me and thought, I better slow down and not wake him.
So he does, but now I had already turned my boat towards his stern, to come up right behind him. That would minimize the wake I had to deal with.
But with his abrupt slow down, everything changed. A potentially uncomfortable situation, instantly became a dangerous one. I had to cut power and make sure I didn’t hit him. But with me trying to stop suddenly, it unsettles the boat and I rolled back and forth, much more than I would have had I been able to continue at my normal speed. At this point, he sees what happened and pours on the power again. Within moments, he was well ahead of me, moving more than 20 mph.
As I reflected on what happened, I thought about the above TF threads and peoples posts.
I thought about what was this boater thinking? I realized that he was oblivious, but my wave sort of woke him, so he decided to “be nice” by slowing, but not really understanding the dynamics of the situation. He didn’t think about the fact that with his semi-planing boat (which means that when he is going fast, his boat’s power actually pushes part of his boat out of the water. Dauntless is full displacement, which means that the amount of water the boat displaces is always the same, no matter my speed or power. If I had a thousand horsepower engine, I could still only go 9 mph!). So when stops or slows abruptly, his boat must settle back into the water, increasing the wake he was already producing. Think of slapping your hand on top of a pan of water.
And he is typical of the thousands of boaters I have seen in Florida these last months. Most of the time, they don’t do stupid stuff on purpose, they do stupid stuff because they are stupid.
They may have made their fortune being the smartest wizard of wall street, but when it comes to boating, what they had was the million dollars it takes to buy one of those 40 foot sport fishers.
No license, no training, no nothing. This is America after all.
Simply put, they boat the way they drive.
Connecting the dots yet?
Flash back. 30 years ago, I am in Germany, in the passenger seat of my friend Siggi’s 20 year old daughter, Suzanne. She just got her license, so I’m expecting the worst of a typical new driver.
Instead, she drives well, competently. In her car, I am witness to the results of a comprehensive driving training program that not only costs months’ of salary, but takes a minimum of a year, and many times two years, to complete. But when complete, the new driver can drive. Not too fast, not too slow, certainly not over- cautiously, but they drive very well.
Drivers trained in Germany understand the physics of the situation: how a car slows in cornering, and how to compensate. How to brake gently and at the right rate. I see the time and effort of the training in the results of their driving. I’m impressed with a program that I was initially disdainful of as both a waste of time and money for all concerned.
I also understood that she could drive so well because she had good teaching and because she had the opportunity to practice a multitude of times over a year; she was able to learn what she needed to learn.
My 10 years in Europe were a driver’s delight. Speed enforcement was limited to the city limits and your your speed down the miles of twisty roads was limited only by your skill. But that was a real limit; virtually every road was bordered by a drainage ditch. Going off the road at any speed at best meant a totaled car, at worst, you needed better driving lessons in your next life.
So I saw an infrastructure that was about training first and enforcement second.
See any dots yet?
In the meantime, what have we done in this country, the Desks keep on creating rules and structures to enforce those rules.
If the US Coast Guard did not stop boats, how would they justify the infrastructure they have? Do we need better training and licensing for those driving million dollar boats with 10 times the horsepower of the average street car? Let’s ask the Desk.
So Desk, shall we increase the training and license requirements for boaters? Desk thinks:, sure, but then how do I justify the 10 desks working for me and the 100 working for them and the 1000 desks working in my organization? No one gets promoted for managing smaller number of desks, we get promoted for managing more desks. So Desk responds, Sure, but if we do that, the results will not be apparent for years, yet the carnage will continue, so why don’t we increase our enforcement efforts, make more signs, even add some nifty lights, powered by those solar panels and just go after the people who are causing the problems. I’ll only need another 10 desks.
Now, Politician thinks, if he needs 10 more desks, he’ll need equipment for those desks, and I have a company in my district that makes that kind of equipment, plus all that new signage, lights, everyone will get a bigger rice bowl.
Now think of law enforcement in this country, they have millions of desks and they never get smaller.
So back to the top, remember that picture of the cross walk. Think of all the work, money and effort went in to just one cross walk.
Let’s look, the two vertical signs saying “stop,” we see those all over, then there is the orange sign on the pole with arrow pointing out the crosswalk, then there is the large yellow sign with person walking, with flashing yellow light, powered by a solar panel, lastly we have the pavement, which not only gets special bricks, but is also painted outline.
Wow, that’s one crosswalk, I wonder how many desks were involved and how many promotions?
I wonder what the data shows as to how effective each of these features are? My guess is that we passed the point of diminishing returns a long time ago. Drivers see so many warning signs, they ignore them all.
I remember once seeing a pedestrian almost killed because a driver A saw him waiting on the curb, stopped , signed for him to cross, totally oblivious to the car in the far lane, which could see none of this, and was traveling about 25 to 30 mph. When this person appeared in front of their car, Driver B jams on the brakes, and pedestrian jumps up like his life depended upon it (it did) his butt came down near the top of the windshield and he sort of slip along as the car passed below him.
Getting up with just some scrapes, he walks away. Driver B is still palpitating, and Driver A, the “good Samaritan” is thinking about speed demons, since he is clueless that it was he who actually almost got that guy killed.
Living in Seattle, known for its draconian jay walking enforcement, I was struck, not literally mind you, by how many people were killed in crosswalks because they are trained not to look for cars, but to look for crosswalks. I bet more pedestrians are killed in Seattle than in NYC.
Oh, don’t worry about the Desk, he got a promotion and is enjoying his new boat this weekend.