Getting Around Sai Gon: On foot
Traffic is made up of a staggering number of motorbikes and, since import duty was reduced upon Vietnam’s joining of the WTO, an increasing number of private cars. However its exceptionally rare to see a motorbike of more than 150cc, and the traffic rarely gets above 20-30km/h in central areas.
However crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. The first time may be a little scary, after that you will get used to it quite quickly. If ever in doubt, Saigon’s “Tourist Security” officers (guys in marked green uniforms) will happily help you across. A quicker way of getting across is to simply follow the lead of a local crossing the street.
However the true trick to crossing the road is to stay aware, and walk slowly and confidently. The motorbike riders are actually exceptionally good and will simply move to avoid you – just don’t make any sudden lurches forwards, backwards, or stop for that matter! Just look for a gap or seam in the traffic, and begin a slow but steady movement. If you hear a beep coming your way it’s likely a motorbike rider is about to enter your personal space. Be a alert and prepared to stop putting your foot forward until he passes.
Adherence to traffic signals in Saigon is vastly improving, and while they’re not always followed, riders/drivers tend to use “best judgment”. Just remember though that vehicles can always turn right at any time (regardless of lights). Motorbikes often drive in the wrong direction (albeit quite safely and slowly) in unexpected places also. Crossing roads is therefore a challenge for Westerners used to traffic laws and traffic lights.
The streets, sidewalks, and outdoor markets are covered by motorbikes, and not yet geared towards pedestrian traffic (although sidewalk clearing campaigns are now underway- many areas of the center are easy to negotiate as long as you keep your wits about you for speeding motorbikes). However walking along the edge of the road is easy enough. Any motorbikes behind you will generally beep at you to let you know they’re there.
The traffic police occupy themselves with random roadside checks and do not bother the motorcyclists that are running red lights or driving on the sidewalks. The police recently announced a crackdown on pedestrians. This does NOT mean that they will hassle you; the most likely meaning of the crackdown is that you will be held responsible if you are involved in an accident.
But there are some open sidewalks to walk safely on and just walking around the city helps you really get a taste of it. Seeing people cook on the side of the street and just standing watching traffic go by in awe is just as entertaining as anything.