“A to B In Vietnam” by Paul Edlund
Honk! The hustle and bustle of traffic in Ho Chi Minh City sounds more like my fourth grade orchestra experience than it does the steady thrum of SUVs, pickups, and Subaru that travel across I-90 or Brooks Street in Missoula. Urbanization has hit Vietnam hard, and the masses of people migrating to the cities have left the infrastructure of places like HCMC and Can Tho wobbling as millions try to squeeze past each other on highways, roads, and back alleyways every single day of the week.
Most surprising to me are the rules of the road, or lack thereof. Instead of the orderly compilation of bikes lanes, stop signs, and speed limits that Americans rely on to feel safe on the road, the city commuters use the agility of their motorbikes to circumnavigate any obstacle on the road that may slow them down. We have seen motorbikes hop curbs and cross medians to accelerate past slower drivers. To us, that seems rude and dangerous. But in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s just a faster way to get to the grocery store.
While I call it dangerous, this method of transportation is simultaneously exhilarating. On numerous occasions our group has had to use car taxis to transport ourselves across the city or to the countryside.
These quiet trips have been a great opportunity to observe the different scenery. Yesterday, our group traveled by motor bike taxi from farm to farm in the Mekong Delta. While driving in a car is much safer, there are some locations in the Delta that are only reachable by motorbike. These streets are either too narrow or too bumpy for a car to navigate.
As the commuter travels farther away from the city, the methods of the transportation become less than what we would call “traditional.” In actuality, these are the methods by which people in southern Vietnam have been traveling for hundreds of years . Roads only began to be implemented in Vietnam during the French Colonization in the first half of the twentieth century. Until then the primary method of transportation was boating through a river canal. Currently, many farmers in the Delta use the canal system to distribute their produce to the market.These farmers have no access to roads and rely on waterways.
However, Vietnam has been working to develop more land into roads as rural families migrate to the cities. Our view from our hotel in Can Tho includes a 2.75 kilometer suspension bridge crossing the bridge which was completed in 2010.
This bridge, contracted and developed by Japanese parties, is one piece of Prime Minister Phan Văn Khải’s plan to connect the Mekong River Delta by highways. Before then, commuter’s would traverse from HCMC to Can Tho by slow ferry boats. This faster method of travel allows for more trade and commerce between different regions of the Delta.
Ho Chi Minh City is also seeing new methods of transportation inside the city. According to the American Chamber of Commerce, four metro lines are under development in HCMC. This metro line is also to be designed and built by Japanese contractors. All of these lines will either be elevated above the ground or underground in order to bypass the packed layout of buildings and roads on the ground. Metro Line Number One is scheduled to be completed by 2017.
Transportation has become an increasingly important asset in Vietnam. Vietnam’s GDP has annually increased like clockwork, in part because of the increasing ease of distributing products in Vietnam and exporting products globally. In addition, this trend of transportation enables Vietnamese people to diversify their skills . Like our own cities, the residents in Can Tho and HCMC rely on their transportation to connect with each other and continue to develop.