Street Photography: Saigon Cycle Socialism / by Michael

I've been traveling back and forth to Vietnam for almost 8 years and over that time have accumulated over 12,000 photos. (I've probably deleted another 100,000).  One of the most common subjects in Saigon is people on motorcycles. It's very social. Entire families balance precariously on one cycle, and entire groups of friends ride together and chat as they swim down the slow-moving stream. Frequently, even strangers will ask directions at a traffic light. It's highly social. It's what I call Saigon Cycle Socialism. In addition to commuters, there is a continuous display of people transporting unbelievably large and unwieldy items to and from markets. There's also a healthy juxtaposition between motorcycles and other cycle types such as bicycles, motorized three-wheeler's and Cyclo's - the Vietnamese version of the 'rickshaw' that uses a bicycle to transport two brave people sitting, rather exposed in the front and facing the traffic. Not for the faint hearted. Cars and busses also make cameo appearances but they are still the minority. Interestingly, trucks are not allowed into the city at all until 10pm.

Which reminds me.  Be careful during rush hour. During this time, anything goes and motorcycles typically spill over onto the sidewalk. Pedestrians beware!  Because much of Saigon is made up of rather long, wandering one-way streets, people on motorcycles frequently will ride the wrong way up a one-way street for up to a few blocks, rather than circle around.  So be careful to look both ways before crossing!

Speaking of crossing. That's the third mortal danger.  Pedestrians have no rights and both a green 'walk' light and a crosswalk have no meaning whatsoever. Motorcycle drivers are, however, pedestrian-aware. All you have to do is wade out into the stream and make sure everyone can see you.  Typically this involves waving one hand up high, so that drivers who may be obscured behind other cyclists can see you. Once you are out into the middle of the stream, the cycles will automatically 'flow' around you. It's scary at first but works pretty well. If you are unsure, just wait for another person - or better yet, a cycle - to initiate their own forge across the 'river.'  Everyone is on the lookout for such 'blockers' and if you do happen to have the bravery to wade out into the traffic, chances are you will find at least one or two other pedestrians who quickly step in next to you. Like I said, highly social.

Here's the gallery: and here are a few of my favorites, to give you a preview: