ROADS IN VIETNAM
Vietnam’s roads extend over 210,000 kilometers, implying a network density twice as high as Thailand’s and Malaysia’s. However, the condition of the roads is generally poor; only 13.5 percent of the roads are considered to be in good condition. Only 29 percent of the roads are tarred, and road access is cut off to more than 10 percent of villages for at least one month per year because of monsoons. In 2005 the construction of the 1,690-kilometer Ho Chi Minh Highway, which eventually will link Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, was still underway. The project, which is expected to cost US$500 million, is the largest transportation project since the end of the Second Indochina War. Despite government efforts to promote the use of buses, motorcycles remain the preferred mode of local transport. There is one motorcycle for every seven people. Poorer citizens rely on bicycles, while only the affluent can afford cars. [Source: Library of Congress]
Roadways: total: 180,549 km, country comparison to the world: 26; paved: 133,899 kilometers; unpaved: 46,650 kilometers (2008).
Busy Vietnamese roads are filled with pedestrians, pigs, ducks, water buffalo, bicycles, cyclos, motor scooters, motorcycles, automobiles, trucks and buses—all traveling at different speeds. As a rule the slower traffic is on the side of the roads and the faster vehicles barrel down the middle.
There is only one main north-south road, National Highway No. 1. It runs near the coast. Sections are often closed during to floods and typhoons. Roads which often become impassable after a heavy rain make it difficult for farmers to get their rice to market.
Vietnam-to-China Road to Be Built
In 2007, the BBC reported: “Vietnam will get a $1.1 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to build a highway linking its capital Hanoi with mainland China. Once the highway is completed in 2012, drivers will be able to make the trip in less than one day, reducing the time from two or even three days. The ADB said the project would help stimulate the economy in Vietnam's poor north-west region. The poverty-fighting body added the loan was the biggest in its history. [Source: BBC, December 14, 2007 |+|]
“The ADB said that the reduced travel time would increase employment opportunities in Vietnam's north-west region, where communities have not been able to join in the country's new prosperity. "Vietnam needs modern highways to help remove the country's transportation bottlenecks, accelerate economic growth and ultimately expand economic opportunity for Vietnamese families," said John Cooney, a director of the ADB. |+|
“The 244km (151 mile) highway will stretch from Hanoi to Lao Cai, on Vietnam's border with China's Yunnan province. It will operate as a toll road, with analysts predicting that it will generate sufficient revenue to recover the entire loan within its first 10 years of operation. Bank officials say it will increase Vietnam's ability to export agricultural and maritime products to China. At the same time, Chinese exporters will benefit from a faster route to global markets as Vietnam's Hai Phong and Cai Lan ports are significantly closer to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, than the Chinese port that they currently use. |+|
Vietnam’s Largest Mountainous Pass Tunnel Opens to Traffic
Huu Tra wrote in Thanh Nien, “Vietnam’s biggest motorway tunnel in the central region opened to traffic June 5 after nearly five years of construction, with total investment capital of US$127.9 million, local authorities announced. In attendance at the inauguration were Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Japanese Ambassador to Vietnam Norio Hattori as well as high-ranking government officials. [Source: Huu Tra, Thanh Nien, June 05, 2005 >*<]
“The Japanese government provided official development assistance (ODA) capital to the project which was also partly funded by the Vietnamese government. The tunnel – which traverses the Hai Van Mountain Pass – is 15.1 kilometers long and links Thua Thien-Hue Province in the north and Danang city in the south. As one of the world’s 30 largest road tunnels, the Hai Van tunnel will shortens the time needed to go through the mountainous pass to only 10 minutes from alomost an hour. Furthermore, traffic accidents are expected to decrease when the tunnel is available as the original 22-kilometer Hai Van Pass is winding and dangerous for drivers. >*<
"With the tunnel in place, the central region will draw new attention for local and foreign investors," said the Vietnamese Minister of Communications and Transport. The tunnel will provide good conditions for socio-economic growth in the region, as the tunnel is the final link of the East-West Corridor, and of great importance towards ASEAN countries and those in the Mekong region, said PM Phan Van Khai. >*<
“Mr. Khai asked authorities of Danang and Thua Thien-Hue to proceed with constructions to take advantage of the tunnel. Specifically, resorts will be built in the north while the southern part will build ports to attract foreign ships since the location provides easy transport and access to Laos and northeastern Thailand. The Hai Van Tunnel is only available for circulation from 6am to 6pm every day during the first week after the inauguration, before it opens ‘round the clock. Relevant agencies have yet to announce toll charges for traversing the tunnel. >*<
New Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Ho Chi Minh Trail is currently being converted into a major highway. Vietnam’s largest public works project since the end of the Vietnam War, the 1700-kilometer-long road, built largely along a ridge along its western border, will connect Saigon and Hanoi. Originally expected to take four years to build and cost $400 million, the road will be asphalt and have 314 bridges. Dozens of tunnels will be built and hills will be leveled. Unexploded bombs and mines will be defused. More than 50,000 soldiers and youth volunteers have been put to work building it. The new road is expected to be a huge boost to the economy. In addition to providing jobs it will also provide farmers, coffee producers and loggers with better access to their markest and tourist with better access to remote sites.
Bruce Stanley wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “The tangle of pathways and dirt roads known collectively as the Ho Chi Minh Trail was a logistical jugular vein for Communist forces during the Vietnam War. Saturation bombings and chemical defoliants failed to sever the legendary supply line, which meandered southward from Communist North Vietnam, fanned out into neighboring Laos and Cambodia and penetrated deep into the pro-American South. Now, an initial investment of $800 million and the sweat of 30,000 laborers is transforming the low-tech trail into Vietnam's best highway. More than a generation after the war ended in a Communist victory, the road -- named for the country's revolutionary hero, Bac "Uncle" Ho -- is opening up the remote highlands in central Vietnam to road trippers. [Source: Bruce Stanley, The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2007 //\\ ]
“The Ho Chi Minh Highway resonates in the national imagination largely because it evokes the wartime trail -- an almost mythical symbol of sacrifice and triumph over awesome odds. To help legitimize the highway, the government is trying to portray it as a successor to the trail. Along many sections of the road, signs in red and yellow -- the colors of the national flag -- form gauntlets of revolutionary slogans. Vietnam languished for years as a Soviet-bloc backwater, but now it's making up for lost time. Its communist rulers have embraced market reforms, as in China, and normalized relations with the U.S., penetrated new markets with exports like shoes and shrimp, and joined the World Trade Organization. Designer brands, stock portfolios and driving lessons are the new status symbols. Vietnam is still largely a poor country but as exports boom and parts of the economy begin to prosper, the government is investing in massive public works projects such as the highway. //\\
The legendary trail is still celebrated in karaoke bars with songs of separation and hardship. David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, But “When the war ended in 1975, much of the Ho Chi Minh Trail was abandoned. The jungle pushed in to reclaim the supply depots, rickety bridges and earthen bunkers that stretched more than a thousand miles from a gorge known as Heaven's Gate outside Hanoi to the approaches of Saigon. Hamlets like Doi were left to languish, so remote they weren't even on maps. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, March 2008 <>]
“The project, started in 2000 and scheduled to take 20 years to complete, is turning much of the old trail into the Ho Chi Minh Highway, a paved multilane artery that will eventually run 1,980 miles from the Chinese border to the tip of the Mekong Delta. The transformation of trail to highway struck me as an apt metaphor for Vietnam's own journey from war to peace, especially since many of the young workers building the new road are the sons and daughters of soldiers who fought, and often died, on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. <>
“The new Ho Chi Minh Trail starts in Hoa Lac, 45 minutes southwest of Hanoi. No historical plaque marks the spot. There is only a blue-lettered sign: "Ensuring public safety makes everyone happy." Lamb wrote: “The new highway, which will not stray into Laos or Cambodia as the old trail did, will open up Vietnam's remote western interior to development. Government planners insist the highway will be an economic boon and attract large numbers of tourists. "We cut through the Truong Son jungles for national salvation. Now we cut through the Truong Son jungles for national industrialization and modernization," former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet remarked, as construction began in April 2000. Most of the 865-mile stretch from Hanoi to Kon Tum in the Central Highlands has been completed. Traffic is light, and hotels, gas stations or rest stops are few. <>
Critics of New Ho Chi Minh Trail
Bruce Stanley wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “critics, many of them foreign, have panned the project. Some say the road will only benefit communities that are close to it, and they argue that the government could have invested its money more productively in, say, schools or nationwide Internet training. Others point out landslides caused by highway construction, although the government says the highway doesn't cause harm to nature. [Source: Bruce Stanley, The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2007 //\\]
“Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund worry that the new road will make it easier for illegal loggers and poachers to ravage rich wilderness areas. WWF is particularly concerned for the saola, an antelope-like creature so rare that biologists estimate there are no more than 500 still alive -- all of them in Vietnam and Laos. Scientists believe the saola's main habitat is a patch of what the WWF calls "ever-wet forest" bisected by the highway in the Truong Son Mountains of central Vietnam. In a study to be released this month, the group will urge the government to create and protect a reserve of at least 25,000 hectares for the saola. Barney Long, WWF's Central Truong Son Landscape Coordinator who works closely with local academics and scientists on behalf of the non-government organization, guides me along the Ho Chi Minh Highway where it slices through lush forest along the Laotian border between the towns of Prao and A Luoi. Except for bird songs and the trickling of streams, the mountains here are breathtakingly quiet. Fog lurks in gulches below us, and entire trees, roots and all, have tumbled on to the asphalt from steep hillsides above. Alas, we see no signs of the shy saola -- or many other humans. “ //\\\
David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Environmentalists fear this will threaten wildlife and flora in national preserves and give access to illegal loggers and poachers. Anthropologists worry about its effect on the minority mountain tribes, some of whom fought on the side of South Vietnam and the United States. Health experts say truck stops along the route could attract prostitutes and spread AIDS, which took the lives of 13,000 Vietnamese in 2005, the last year for which figures are available. And some economists believe the $2.6 billion for the project would be better spent upgrading Route 1, the country's other north-south highway, which runs down the eastern seaboard, or on building schools and hospitals. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, March 2008 <>]
Traveling on New Ho Chi Minh Trail
David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “As I headed south along the new highway, there was nothing beyond tidy, manicured military cemeteries to remind us that a war had ever been fought here. Forests have grown back, villages have been rebuilt, downed fighter bombers have long since been stripped and sold for scrap metal by scavengers. The mostly deserted two-lane highway swept through the mountains north of Khe Sanh in a series of switchbacks. In the distance flames leapt from ridge to ridge, as they had after B-52 strikes. But now the fires are caused by illegal slash-and-burn logging. Occasionally young men on shiny new motor scooters raced past us. Few wore helmets. Later I read in the Vietnam News that 12,000 Vietnamese were killed in traffic accidents in 2006, more than died in any single year on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war. Peace, like war, has its price. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, March 2008 <>]
“Sometimes we drove for an hour or more without seeing a person, vehicle or village. The road climbed higher and higher. In the valleys and gorges the ribbon of road flowed south through a parasol of high trees. What a lonely and beautiful place, I thought. A new steel bridge spanned a fast-flowing stream; next to it stood a crumbling wooden bridge over which no soldier's sandals had trod in 30 years. We passed a cluster of tents with laundry drying on a line. It was 8 p.m. Twenty or so bare-chested young men were still at work, laying stone for a drainage ditch. <>
“In Dong Ha, a shabby town once home to a division of U.S. Marines, we checked into the Phung Hoang Hotel. A sign in the lobby inexplicably warned in English, "Keep things in order, keep silent and follow instruction of hotel staff." A segment of the twisting mountain highway we had just driven over had been built by a local construction company owned by an entrepreneur named Nguyen Phi Hung. <>
“I left the Ho Chi Minh Highway at Khe Sanh and followed Route 9—"Ambush Alley," as Marines there called it—toward the Ben Hai River, which divided the two Vietnams until Saigon fell in 1975. Looking out the window of my SUV, I was reminded of one of the last promises Ho Chi Minh made before his death: "We will rebuild our land ten times more beautiful." If by beautiful he meant prosperous and peaceful, his pledge was being fulfilled. <>
“Factories and seafood-processing plants were going up. Roads built by the colonial French were being straightened and repaved. In the towns, privately owned shops had sprung up along the main streets, and intersections were clogged with the motorcycles of families who couldn't afford a pair of shoes two decades ago. I stopped at a school. In the fourth-grade history class a teacher was using PowerPoint to explain how Vietnam had outsmarted and defeated China in a war a thousand years ago. The students, sons and daughters of farmers, were dressed in spotlessly clean white shirts and blouses, red ties, blue pants and skirts. They greeted me in unison, "Good morning and welcome, sir." A generation ago they would have been studying Russian as a second language. Today it is English. In a few years the highway will reach Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, then push on into the Mekong Delta.” <>
Traveling on New Ho Chi Minh Trail South of Danang
Bruce Stanley wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “For travelers, a trip on the highway is a chance to go beyond the obvious places, like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and see another side of Vietnam, from craggy mountains and forests to once-remote hamlets where most people rarely glimpse Westerners. There are few hotels or restaurants yet along the highway, but it's ideal for adventurous day trips between cities and away from the crowded coast. For a taste of the road in central Vietnam, travelers can start out from the old capital of Hue, where they can tour historic sites such as the imperial fortress and elaborate pagodas, or the coastal city of Da Nang, known for its white-sand beaches and luxury resorts. Language is an issue, so hiring a guide will help travelers who want to learn about local wildlife or meet ethnic minority people and barter with them for hand-woven baskets and other handicrafts. Eventually, the government hopes the road will stimulate cultural and eco-tourism throughout the Central Highlands. [Source: Bruce Stanley, The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2007 //\\]
“I recently traveled for three days along a rugged section, driving south from around Da Nang. Although I worked in Vietnam as a reporter for three years in the early 1990s and married a Hanoi artist, I had never roamed this part of the country before. I was struck by its aboriginal isolation. The breakneck changes in the rest of Vietnam seem largely to have passed it by. The Ho Chi Minh Highway follows sections of the wartime trail for much of its length and weaves them together with many sections that are new. It winds for about 865 miles so far, from the town of Hoa Lac, near the capital Hanoi, to Kontum in the Central Highlands. By 2014, the highway will extend all the way from Vietnam's northern border to its southernmost tip, for a total cost of $2.6 billion. The government touts the two-lane highway as vital for developing tourism and the backward economy of sparsely settled regions along the country's rugged western frontier. Planners also justify the new road as important for national security, although officials won't say what the threats might be. //\\
“A jumble of one-room, wooden houses — many on stilts and most lacking paint -- straddles the road in Xoi Mot, a hamlet near the WWF's hoped-for saola sanctuary. The villagers here belong to the Co-tu minority; they speak their own language and are wary of outsiders. One woman scurries into a bamboo thicket when I greet her. Blieng Hong, a subsistence farmer and mother of five, is more chatty. She says she used to hike for seven hours to reach the nearest market, often carrying a rattan backpack filled with cassava roots. She'd barter the cassava for salt, clothing and other provisions and stuff them into her bag for the long trip home. Now, thanks to the highway, traders, most of them members of the ethnic Kinh majority, come directly to her. "Only the Kinh people know how to do business. We are learning from them -- but I haven't learned anything yet," Ms. Hong says. //\\
“As I continue south near the village of Ro, children on adults' bicycles careen back and forth across the highway ahead of me, navigating an obstacle course of buffalo dung on the blacktop. Rounding a blind curve, I almost collide with a pair of water buffalo ambling toward me in the middle of our -- their -- lane. Many of the dominant Kinh have long looked down on the minorities living in these remote highlands. Even today, Kinh people commonly refer to the highlanders as "moi," or "savages." The highway is compounding the pressures on these minorities to abandon their traditional lifestyles. Some critics worry that the highway could seal the fate of these unique mountain cultures, as ever more Kinh settle here and impose their rules, such as a ban on slash-and-burn agriculture. //\\
Buildings the New Ho Chi Minh Trail and Remembering the Dead That Died on It
Describing a construction crew led by Nguyen Phi Hung, David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “The site where his 73-man crew worked was so remote and rugged, he said, the earth so soft and the jungles so thick that completing just four miles of highway had taken two years. Hung had advertised in the newspapers for "strong, single, young men" and warned them that the job would be tough. They would stay in the jungle for two years, except for a few days off over the annual Tet holiday. There were unexploded bombs to disarm and bodies of North Vietnamese soldiers—seven, it turned out—to be buried. The site was out of cellphone range, and there was no town within a week's walk. Stream water had to be tested before drinking to ensure it contained no chemicals dropped by American planes. Landslides posed a constant threat; one took the life of Hung's youngest brother. For all this there was handsome compensation—a $130 a month salary, more than a college-educated teacher could earn. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, March 2008 <>]
"When we gathered the first day, I told everyone life would be hard like it was on the Truong Son Road, except no one would be bombing them," Hung said. "I told them, 'Your fathers and grandfathers sacrificed on this road. Now it is your turn to contribute. Your fathers contributed blood. You must contribute sweat.' I remember they stood there quietly and nodded. They understood what I was saying." <>
"My greatest pride is to have followed my father's generation and worked on the highway," said Nguyen Thi Tinh, a senior planner in the Ministry of Transportation, who knows every turn and twist of the new road. Her father, a professional singer and saxophone player, was killed in a bombing attack on the trail while entertaining soldiers in 1966. "I'm embarrassed to say this, but if I'd had a gun at the time, I would have killed all Americans," she said. "Then I realized that the same thing that happened to my family happened to American families, that if I had lost my son and I was an American, I would have hated the Vietnamese. So I buried my hatred. That is the past now." <>
We talked for an hour, just the two of us in her office. She told me how in 1969 she had gone—during a bombing pause—to the battlefield where her father died. With the help of soldiers, she dug up his grave; his remains were wrapped in plastic. Among the bones was a tattered wallet containing an old picture of him with her—his only daughter. She brought him home to Quang Binh Province for a proper Buddhist burial. As I got up to leave, she said, "Wait. I want to sing you a song I wrote." She opened a notebook. She locked her eyes with mine, placed a hand on my forearm and her soprano voice filled the room:
"My dear, go with me to visit green Truong Son.
We will go on a historical road that has been changed day by day.
My dear, sing with me about Truong Son, the road of the future,
The road that bears the name of our Uncle Ho.
Forever sing about Truong Son, the road of love and pride."
Automobiles in Vietnam
As of 1997, Vietnam had 417,000 vehicles. At that time many of the trucks on the road were Chinese- and Russian-made relics that dated back to the Vietnam War era. Many of these vehicles are still on the road. In the early 2000s cars made up just 6 percent of the vehicles on Vietnam's roads, which teem with motorbikes. But as the nation's economy has boomed in recent years, the number of automobiles has been growing quickly. And among the affluent, Mercedes or BMW have become status symbols.
Grant McCool and Nguyen Nhat Lam of Reuters wrote: "Car sales keep growing, although Vietnam is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a vehicle with import tariffs of up to 90 percent. Honda, Mercedes, BMW, GM Daewoo and Toyota say sedan sales in the first 10 months of this year jumped 15 percent to 14,114 units. The tariffs will be lowered gradually to a maximum of 70 percent now that Vietnam is in the WTO. "You are first-class citizens if you go to work in a car," Do Thanh Trung, manager of a small import-export firm, said proudly after spending $29,000 on a second-hand Mercedes C200. [Source: Grant McCool & Nguyen Nhat Lam, November 10, 2006]
Low-Cost Cars Flocking to Vietnam
In 2007, Tien Phong reported: “More and more Kia Morning and Hyundai Gets are rolling on Hanoi streets. These models are favored by Hanoians as their prices are very ‘soft’, at $15-17,000/unit. Analysts are now talking about a new wave of low-cost car imports coming to Vietnam as these models prove suitable to the pocketbooks of many Hanoians, especially since the fixed import tax rate on small cylinder used cars was lowered by 10-20 percent in February 2007. Nguyen Minh Thanh, Director of an automobile trading company, said that car traders would focus on importing small cars, especially ones that have the cylinder capacities of 1.0L or 1.5L. According to Mr Thanh, these cars have the post tax value of $10,000 or a little higher, affordable for many people. He said that small cars would flood the market in the time to come. [Source: Tien Phong, May 18, 2007 */*]
“Unlike Hanoians, Saigonese seem to dislike low-cost cars. The sales agent for Lifan cars on Kinh Duong Vuong street in Ho Chi Minh City said that there were few buyers for the Lifan 520 1.6L, which is selling at $15,000. A car salon owner on Dien Bien Phu street said that the tastes of Hanoians and Saigonese were quite different. For the same amount of money, Saigonese will buy an old car manufactured by Toyota, Honda or Nissan instead of a brand new low-cost car made in China. Car dealers said that imports of Chinese low-cost cars would repeat what happened in the past with low-cost Chinese motorbikes. The motorbikes flooded the market in the first period and after that they were refused by customers. In the immediate time, experts say, the appearance of low-cost China-made cars will help reduce the average car price on the market. */*
“However, experts have warned that the price reduction has its price. Traffic jams, a polluted environment, hard management over low-cost cars will be the biggest problems to arise if low-cost cars flood the market. In April 2006, China’s leading automobile manufacturer set up a joint venture with TMT Company under the Vietnam Automobile Industry Corporation to assemble cars with the Tidy trademark. Many other domestic automobile assemblers are also targeting the low-cost car market. An enterprise which once made fat profit bringing Chinese assembly lines to Vietnam has shifted to assemble Chinese cars which have the selling price of $10,000/unit. */*
“When asked about the quality of China-made cars, experts from the Automobile Engineers’ Association said that there was a big gap in the quality of different models. The quality of China-made cars selling in the US and Europe is quite different from that of cars selling in Vietnam. Experts have called on State management authorities to set up technical barriers to control the quality of low-cost cars, thus limiting the number of cars rolling on the streets. */*
Busy Streets of Vietnam Start to Fill with Automobiles
Ben Stocking wrote in the Mercury News, “With Vietnam's economy expanding at a red-hot 7 percent a year, the number of people who can afford a car is rapidly growing. A Mercedes-Benz or a BMW has become the ultimate status symbol for Vietnam's nouveau riche. And further down the income scale, members of an emerging middle class are scraping together the money for secondhand Toyotas. [Source: Ben Stocking, Mercury News, September 13, 2004 >>>]
“Ten years ago, cars were a rare sight on Vietnamese streets. Bicycles ruled the road, which then gave way to motorbikes, which now share the streets with a fleet of automobiles whose size seems to increase exponentially with each passing month. Motorbikes still account for nearly 95 percent of the vehicles on the road. But car sales rose by 58 percent last year, when dealers sold 42,500 vehicles -- six times as many as they moved just five years before, though they have slowed this year because of a hefty new luxury tax.” >>>
“In a nation where vehicular Darwinism reigns and major head trauma is just a motorbike crash away, it's only natural that people long for the relative safety of a car. An air-conditioned sedan also allows them to enjoy a sense of social superiority over the masses still getting around on two or three wheels, roasting in the subtropical heat or getting drenched by the monsoon rains. Even people who can't afford a car are lining up to get their driver's licenses. For now, they content themselves with renting cars for day trips. "I'll have to save money for a long time,'' said Dung, the student driver who calmly avoided the three rampaging buses. A financial researcher for a securities firm, he is learning to drive so he can take the company car on business trips. In a red baseball cap and wire-rim glasses, Dung clutched the wheel as a steady stream of motorbikes swerved past, leaving just a foot or so for clearance. They were undeterred by the "Driver Education'' sign posted on the Jeep, which had no seat belts. >>>
“With help from a brother who works overseas, Dang Ngoc Khanh scraped together $8,000 for a secondhand Daewoo sedan. And now he uses it to make a living, hiring himself out as a driver to anyone who needs a lift. "I bought it for the convenience of my family, but then people started calling and hiring me,'' said Khanh, who also uses the car to take his two children to school each morning. Further up the income scale, Doan Quoc Viet, president of a thriving private real estate development company, recently popped into a Hanoi Mercedes dealer. The $50,000 C-Class model wasn't good enough. Nor was the $100,000 E-Class sedan. "When they get the S-Class, I will buy one,'' said Viet, referring to the $200,000 model. "The C-Class and E-Class are no better than my Lexus.'' Mercedes customers pay in cash. >>>
Efforts to Reduce Traffic Chaos in Vietnam
Ben Stocking wrote in the Mercury News, “the government is trying desperately to reduce the traffic chaos. In addition to building new roads and improving old ones, it has begun installing more traffic signs and traffic lights. In Hanoi, authorities have restricted the number of motorbikes permitted in certain districts. And thriving municipal bus systems have recently been established in both the capital and Ho Chi Minh City, providing sanctuary to people seeking refuge from the roads. Like the legions of Vietnamese who have had motorbike accidents, Nguyen Thanh Quyen and her friend Nguyen Thi Ha An are scared to drive again. Seated in the air-conditioned red-and-yellow buses that roar down the streets of Hanoi, they no longer have to worry about getting flattened by an oncoming vehicle. "This is safer, much safer,'' said An, 22, a clothing designer who has had three minor motorbike accidents. Quyen had a more serious crash, mangling her arms and face on the pavement. "It was terrifying,'' she said. [Source: Ben Stocking, Mercury News, September 13, 2004 >>>]
“The motorbike drivers outside their bus seem oblivious to the danger it poses, swerving just inches in front of the hurtling hunk of steel. "They don't realize that I have the right of way,'' said driver Le Hai Dang. "I have to slam on the brakes all the time.'' Bus ridership has been growing rapidly over the last several years. But for those who have the money, a car seems like a better shield against the mass of humanity that darts about the roads on every imaginable conveyance, going wherever they please without looking. >>>
Driver’s Licenses, Easy to Obtain for Foreigners in Vietnam
To get a driver’s licence in Vietnam one has to be 16 years old, pass a 10 question written test and drive a vehicle around a figure-8.
Describing a driving class Ben Stocking wrote in the Mercury News, “Hunched behind the wheel, student driver Tran Chi Dung maneuvered into the chaos of Vietnam's streets, where motorbikes, bicycles, cars, trucks and pedestrians dart about in every direction. `Watch out!'' warned instructor Le Anh Tuan, as three large buses barreled toward them. "Put it in second gear! I said second! That's fourth!'' Car culture has arrived in Vietnam, and despite the harrowing roads, everyone wants a piece of the action. The waiting list for driver education courses is three months. [Source: Ben Stocking, Mercury News, September 13, 2004]
Driving in Vietnam
Ben Stocking wrote in the Mercury News, “All the new drivers are compounding Vietnam's traffic nightmares, which already defied description before people who had rarely even sat in a car suddenly got their hands on the wheel. Vietnam's more experienced drivers are terrified by all the novices now on the road. "The drivers these days are amateurs,'' said Tran Tuan Vinh, who has been driving in Hanoi for six years. "They don't know what to do. They just let the car go wherever it goes.'' Vinh said he recently saw a new driver hit the gas instead of the brakes, plowing his Toyota sedan over four motorbikes. One cyclist died and three were badly injured. Experienced or not, drivers in Vietnam swerve across center lines, tailgate with abandon and stop for no one -- not even little old ladies with baskets of fruit perched precariously atop their shoulders. [Source: Ben Stocking, Mercury News, September 13, 2004 >>>]
"There's just no respect for the traffic laws,'' said Hoang Quoc Cuong, the headmaster at one of Vietnam's state-run driving schools. Cuong and his staff try their best to instill good driving habits, but it's harder than shifting gears in the balky old Russian trucks that spew black clouds of diesel exhaust along Vietnam's roadways. >>>
Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “It's a common experience for the first-time visitor to a Vietnamese city: trying to cross a road and waiting in vain for a break in the traffic, a seemingly endless stream of motorized madness. Watching on with fascination and fear, many a newcomer has been glued to the pavement marvelling at the honking avalanche of steel and plastic that is a snapshot of modern Vietnam. With the organic flow of a school of fish, squadrons of motor scooters weave past each other as their riders look for gaps, some while sending texts on their mobile phones. Honda Dream mopeds carry families of four or improbably large cargos including furniture. Women in conical hats pedal bicycles laden with flowers. And cyclo caravans steer camera-toting tourists through the chaos. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, February 8, 2007]
Overwhelmed traffic police typically stand by blowing their whistles while trying not to get run over, only occasionally springing into action to pick a motorist from the crowd for an on-the-spot fine. The most brazen road warriors seem to regard traffic lights and one-way signs as suggestions and choked roads as cues for impromptu pavement detours. Even by the standards of many developing cities, Vietnam's traffic can be a sight to behold. But luckily for the petrified pedestrian, advice is at hand. "The traffic is a flowing river," says Dutch photographer Hans Kemp. "It's one of the most important things visitors here have to learn: don't go fast, never stop, and the traffic will flow around you. If you stay on the pavement, you will never cross the road."
Traffic Safety and Automobile Accidents in Vietnam
Vietnam is considered one of the most dangerous places to drive. According to to the World Health Organization: Approximately 14 000 people lose their lives each year in Viet Nam as a result of road traffic crashes. Motorcyclists account for a high proportion (approximately 59 percent) of the road traffic collisions in the country. The majority of death and injuries on the roads are among those aged between 15 and 49 years – the group that makes up 56 percent of total population, and most economically active group. WHO estimates that road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for those aged 15-29 years in Viet Nam. According to the recently published WHO Global status report on road safety, many of Viet Nam's existing road safety laws are either not comprehensive in their scope, or are poorly enforced. Viet Nam is one of ten countries included in the WHO Road Safety in 10 countries project which will be conducted over 5-years by a consortium of six international partners. [Source: World Health Organization (WHO)]
The World Health Organization has called for Vietnam to minimise the country's huge human loss in traffic accidents. "Traffic accidents in Vietnam have reached epidemic proportions," said Hans Troedsson, WHO director in Vietnam. "Road safety is not just a public health issue, but an economic and social issue," he said, citing an Asian Development Bank estimate that 885 million dollars is lost from Vietnam's economy every year because of traffic accidents. There is widespread disregard for regulations and speed limits throughout the communist country. Troedsson said, considering it one of the most significant measures to reduce human loss and head injuries. About 40 percent of the country's total severe road traffic crashes have been caused by youths aged between 15 and 24, who account for 20 percent of the population, he added. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 18, 2007]
Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “The National Traffic Safety Committee says more than 12,500 people died on the roads in 2006 and 11,000 were injured, many suffering head trauma. "I think it's the most dangerous traffic in Asia because Vietnam is probably the fastest motorising country in the world," said Greig Craft, president of non-profit Asia Injury Prevention Foundation. "Everyone expected that the transition would be from water buffalos to bicycles to automobiles. Instead this truly unforeseen phenomenon of people buying motorcycles cropped up. It was a ticking time bomb. "Today this is a road war, it's an epidemic. The toll on society here is just unbelievable."
"An average of 1,000 deaths monthly is equivalent to the damage of 10 big storms," Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung reportedly told a recent traffic safety conference in Ho Chi Minh City. "The number of deaths a year is equivalent to those killed in 120 big storms, and the human loss of several prolonged wars. It's not an exaggeration to say it's a national calamity."[Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, February 8, 2007]
In 1999, 20,000 serious traffic accidents were reported, killing more than 6,000 people. This doesn’t sound like much in absolute terms, compared to, say, the 40,000 traffic fatalities in the United States, but it is a lot considering there are not many vehicles on the road. In the early 2000s, there were 13,000 to 14,000 deaths a years, which works out to about 35 to 40 deaths every day on the roads of Vietnam, most of them driving motorbikes without a helmet. The highway fatality rate here is nearly 10 times higher than in the United States. [Source: Ben Stocking, Mercury News, September 13, 2004]
The high rate of accidents is blamed on ignorance of driving laws; the poor conditions of roads; the high numbers of vehicles, pedestrians, bicycle, motorbikes, and animals on the road,; and an increase in the number of vehicles. According the Vietnamese government, 80 percent of all fatalities in the early 2000s were caused by careless driving, 55 percent to excessive speed and eight to drinking and driving.
Rich Kids Drag-Racing in Fancy Cars in Saigon Draws Scorn
Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Stocking wrote in the Mercury News, "Wealthy young rebels without a cause, they ran wild in the streets, racing $50,000 luxury cars down the boulevards of old Saigon. And then they got nabbed -- in Vietnam's first drag-racing bust. Seven joy riders, all in their teens and 20s, had roared through the hot tropical night in a Camry, a Lexus, a Mercedes and three BMWs. Soon they would appear on national television wearing pinstriped jailhouse jumpsuits, and their recklessness would unleash resentment across the country, where the average annual income is $420. The sensational case offered a vivid glimpse into the lives of Vietnam's nouveau riche, whose sometimes decadent habits are as unfamiliar to ordinary Vietnamese as the leather upholstery of the bright yellow Mercedes one of the young men was driving. [Source: Ben Stocking, Mercury News, September 29, 2003 ////]
"He is known as Do La -- Vietnamese for dollar -- because he is reputed to pay for everything with U.S. currency. And when he and his friends were pulled over for drag racing, 21-year-old Nguyen Quoc Cuong proved true to his nickname. He pulled a $10,000 wad from his pocket, police say, and offered four $100 bills to the cops, hoping the cash would wash his problems away. It didn't. Cuong and his pals were convicted of disturbing the public order Sept. 8, four months after their midnight thrill ride. He received a 3-year suspended sentence, and five other young men received 18-month suspended sentences. The seventh -- a high school student accused of organizing the race -- was sent to jail for three years. The Mercedes and BMWs, which belonged to the boys' dismayed parents, were confiscated. The Camry and the Lexus, which two of the boys "borrowed'' from their parents' car repair shops, were returned to their owners. ////
"Rich kids in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City -- still widely known by its old name of Saigon -- had been arrested for terrorizing the public on fancy motorbikes many times before. But this was the first time the police had broken up a car race. The hot-rodding episode underlined how out of sync Vietnam's crusty communist image has become with the freewheeling frontier capitalism that is taking root here. The seven boys are the children of successful private entrepreneurs, including a Central Highlands lumber tycoon and a Saigon textile magnate. "A $50,000 car is nothing for this family,'' said Truong Thi Cao Cac, 38, who lives next door to Mai Dang Khoa, a 25-year-old racer who worked in his parents' textile business. Cac watched Khoa's family transform their small household sewing operation into Thuan Phuong Co., one of the biggest garment companies in Saigon. Ordinary Vietnamese such as Le Binh Thuan were awed by newspaper accounts of the racers' wealth. "They spend as much as they want on whatever they want,'' said Thuan, who juggles several part-time jobs, takes home about $65 a month and gets around the city on a bicycle. According to Vietnamese press accounts, Cuong earned his nickname when he was just 11 years old by paying exclusively with U.S. dollars, which are circulated widely in Vietnam. ////
Cuong's mother, Nguyen Thi Nhu Loan, owns the Cuoc Cuong timber company, which is based in the Central Highlands. She recently bought Cuong a home in Saigon worth about $350,000, according to a story on VN Express, a Vietnamese Web newspaper. A few doors down is the furniture business Cuong's mother helped him set up. Stocked with puffy sofas and easy chairs, it is a couch potato's paradise. Media accounts portrayed two of the young men as loafers who spent their time spending their parents' money. The youngest, 18 years old, is still in high school. The mother of Trinh Sam Mau, the alleged race organizer, called her son's sentence "completely unfair.'' "He received three years in prison. Why did the other kids only get suspended sentences?'' said Ha Ngoc. Lt. Col. Truong Van Thuyet led the 16 officers who chased down the young men in front of a large crowd that had gathered to watch the race along Dien Bien Phu street, an eight-lane divided boulevard. Two cars eluded officers; four others were nabbed. ////
"It was Cuong who tried to give us $400,'' said Thuyet, whose $140 monthly salary is the highest in his department. "He had about $10,000 in cash in his pocket.'' Most of it was in $100 bills, and Cuong suggested the officers use the $400 to buy themselves some coffee, Thuyet said. "Tram, tram, tram, tram!'' Thuyet said, repeating the Vietnamese word for 100 with a look of disbelief on his face. The young men raced along a one-mile straightaway at speeds of up to 70 mph, whipped around a traffic circle and then headed back toward downtown. They were caught just as they crossed a bridge over the Saigon River. The roar of engines and blaring stereos awoke Nguyen Van Quang, who sleeps inside the tiny bar where he works. ////
"Everybody around here is very angry about the racing,'' Quang said. Earlier this year, he said, rich kids would show up every weekend to race their high-priced motorbikes along the same road. Young men did the driving, he said, and sometimes their elegant girlfriends would sit on the back, hugging them tightly as they tore up the road. Earlier this month, three youths died and two were badly injured racing their motorbikes in another part of the city. Capitalist role models Not so long ago, extravagant displays of wealth were frowned upon in Vietnam, where the Communist government used to demonize businessmen as exploiters of the working class. ////
But in recent years, as it has opened up the economy, the government has been portraying capitalism as a force for social improvement -- a way of generating jobs and income in a developing country yearning to raise its standard of living. The government holds up successful entrepreneurs as role models and honors them with Gold Star awards. At the same time, the rich have become less shy about displaying their money. It is perfectly common for the well-off to drop $500 during an evening of fun. Though Do La and his friends are refusing to discuss their lavish lifestyle or anything else about their case, their recklessness has enraged many of their less affluent fellow citizens, who seem embarrassed that such a thing could happen in Vietnam. Lai Hai Nhu, a 21-year-old university student, said the young men seemed to have squandered the opportunities their wealth had given them. One of the racers had lived her dream, going abroad to study for several months."Most of the young people in Vietnam are not like this,'' Nhu said. "Other students go study abroad, and then they come back and use their knowledge to help the country.'' ////
Combating the High Traffic Fatality Rate in Vietnam
To address the problem of traffic accidents the World Bank launched a traffic management program in Hanoi and Saigon. The Vietnamese government has cracked down on bad driving. Ford Vietnam offered free driving courses.
Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: The non-profit Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, “which has received support from celebrities and former US president Bill Clinton, manufactures and distributes small light-weight helmets better suited to the tropical climate. The government has taken notice of the trends, early this year announcing a national traffic safety campaign and asking for public suggestions on making roads safer. A high-ranking police officer said riders who run red lights should have their motorbikes confiscated, while one government leader likened the road carnage to natural disasters and war. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, February 8, 2007]
Que Ha wrote in Thanh Nien, “Traffic experts unanimously agreed to launch a new nationwide campaign against traffic accidents at a conference organized by the Experts from the Ministries of Transport and of Public Security. The new campaign, including more traffic patrols and heavier fines for violators. Officials at the conference attributed the accident hike to an increase in vehicle purchases, the lack of traffic police, a rise in industrial sites requiring heavy traffic on roads lacking infrastructure, and an alarming number of unlicensed buses that tend to overload and drive carelessly. [Source: Que Ha, Thanh Nien, July 29, 2007 ***]
“In the southern Binh Thuan province where the conference was held, there are currently only 80 traffic policemen. Meanwhile, vice director of Quang Ngai provincial police in central Vietnam lieutenant-colonel Nguyen Thanh Trang said that most traffic accidents in his province were due to the thousands of trucks traveling to and from the giant Dung Quoc Economic Zone. Deputy minister of transport Nguyen Hong Truong told experts not to blame infrastructure and instead look towards keeping dangerous drivers off the road. "Statistics show that the flatter the road, the more serious the accidents," he said. "It is unacceptable that one driver can cause 2-3 accidents in a year and can continue to drive." ***
Bus Accidents in Vietnam
In one three day period in 1998, five people were killed when two buses collided head on in Binh Dinh Province, 14 were killed in a collision between a bus and a cement truck outside Ho Chi Minh City and 40 were killed when a bus plunged off a bridge near the city of Qui Nhon. In February 2000, 47 people were killed when a a packed bus plunged into a river in the northern Vietnamese province of Nghe An after colliding with another bus. In May 2003, a bus burst into flames at a busy market in northern Vietnam, injuring 78, including passengers on the bus and bystanders. In May 2003, an explosion on a bus in Bac Ninh, 30 kilometers north of Hanoi, injured more than 60 people, including all 51 on board and a dozen bystanders. Many were seriously hurt.
In September 2004, AFP reported: “Thirteen people were killed and around 50 others injured when two passenger buses collided in central Vietnam after swerving to avoid a cow that had wandered on to the road, a local official said on Monday. The head-on smash occurred on Sunday in the central province of Quang Tri on the country's main north-south highway. "The two vehicles were travelling at high speed. Eleven people were killed on the spot while two others died after being taken to hospital," said Nguyen Tri Dung, head of the management office of the Quang Tri People's Committee."We did our best to rescue the survivors and take them to hospital. We cannot say precisely how many are injured but we estimate the number to be around 50, many of whom are in a critical condition," he said. One of the buses had originated from the northern border province of Cao Bang, while the other had departed from Ca Mau on Vietnam's southern-most tip. Quang Tri is located midway between the two provinces. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 27, 2004]
In October 2006, Associated Press reported: “Eleven Vietnamese aid workers and their driver were killed when their van collided with a bus as they went to help victims of a recent typhoon, police said. The 12 people were killed instantly in the accident in Khanh Hoa province, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, said provincial police officer Dang The Ngoc. One aid worker survived the collision and remained hospitalized with serious injuries, he said. The bus driver and his assistant were slightly injured. An initial investigation indicated that the van might have been speeding as it went round a curve at the time of the accident, Ngoc said. The police officer said the aid workers, from Ho Chi Minh City, were on their way to the central port city of Danang, where 26 people were killed by Typhoon Xangsane. [Source: AP, October 14, 2006]
In March 2009, Reuters reported: “A bus with 24 Russian tourists on board crashed in south-central Vietnam, killing at least 11 people, state-run media and a provincial official said. The bus, carrying the tourists and another two Vietnamese women including an interpreter, fell off a hillside road around midnight on Friday in Binh Thuan province, the online VnExpress newspaper quoted the bus driver as saying. "Eight people died right at the site and three others died in hospital," a provincial information desk official said by telephone. She said the nationalities of the deceased were not immediately clear. Binh Thuan police declined comment. VnExpress said the tourists took a day trip to Dalat — the central highland tourist city dubbed as "little Paris" thanks to its cool weather, pine forests and French architecture -- and were returning to a resort in Binh Thuan when their bus crashed. [Source: Reuters, March 14, 2009]
Bus Accidents in Vietnam That Left More Than 30 People Dead
In April 2005, Associated Press reported: “Thirty Vietnamese war veterans and a driver were killed in a bus crash Thursday while en route to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, police said. The bus had rounded a curve on the old Ho Chi Minh trail — which has been converted into a highway — about 7:30 a.m., and plummeted about 70 yards down a mountain in Kon Tum province, about 90 miles south of Danang, said A Tri, a district police chief. Only two of the 33 people aboard survived, he said. The veterans, including 14 women, were aged 60-70 and had fought for Vietnam's independence against the French and the Americans, he said. They were all from one neighborhood in Hanoi. Tri said 29 people died at the scene, while two others died en route to a hospital. National broadcaster VTV showed video of the burned wreckage at the bottom of a deep ravine and rescuers hauling up the bodies wrapped in plastic. Dozens of police and soldiers helped recover the bodies, which were taken to Danang, said Le Duy Hai, Kontum's deputy police chief. The site was so steep that rescuers had to pull themselves up the slopes with rope, he said. [Source: Associated Press, April 21, 2005]
In May 2012, Tran Van Minh of Associated Press wrote: “A crowded overnight bus plunged off a bridge into a river in central Vietnam, killing 34 people and injuring 21 others in one of the country's deadliest road accidents. The 50-seat coach lost control and ripped through the bridge's guardrails Thursday night, diving about 18 meters (60 feet) and landing on its top, partially submerged in the Serepok River, said local official Tran Bao Que. "When the accident happened, everyone in the bus was sleeping," survivor Nguyen Van Khanh told news website Dan Tri. "I vaguely heard a noise like gunfire and then people were screaming when the bus was overturned. ... I managed to escape through a window that was smashed opened by others." [Source: Tran Van Minh, AP, May 17, 2012 <<>>]
Survivor Trinh Van Mui, 34, said he was dozing on the back seat holding his 3-year-old daughter on their way to visit his father in a nearby province. "I just heard a big boom and was knocked unconscious. I later found out that I was in the hospital with pain over all my body," he told The Associated Press by telephone from the hospital, saying he remembered nothing else from the crash. "We were very lucky to survive." He suffered only minor cuts and bruises, but his daughter was transferred to a hospital in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City with internal injuries and broken limbs. <<>>
Que said it took rescuers four hours to pull the bodies from the bus, which was traveling on a regular 350-kilometer (217-mile) route from the central highland province of Dak Lak to Ho Chi Minh City. Rescuers used axes to try to free trapped passengers. Photos showed a body hanging limply out the side of the ripped-open vehicle, which was hoisted out of the river by crane early Friday morning. Y Bliu Arul, deputy director of the General Hospital in Dak Lak, said the bus' two drivers were among the 32 people who died at the scene. Two others died at the hospital. Of the 21 injured, 16 were in serious condition. <<>>
Twenty Dead as Floods Sweep a Bus Off a Road
Reporting from Nghi Xuan, Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: “ Rescuers pulled nine bodies, including those of three children, from a bus winched off a river bottom and dragged to shore Thursday, three days after the vehicle was swept off the road by floods in central Vietnam. The remains of five additional passengers, including two brothers, were found floating elsewhere in the Lam River, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 14. Six other people were still missing but presumed dead, as crews used cranes to tug the bus to the riverbank, said Nguyen Nhat, deputy governor of Ha Tinh province. Eighteen other people managed to escape to safety. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, October 21, 2010 /+/]
“Divers located the bus just downstream from where it disappeared, but officials said it was stuck in sand and mud about 40 feet (12 meters) down on the river bottom. Thousands of onlookers watched the work from a nearby vantage point, while family members stood by somberly. Some burned incense and prayed at an altar with fruit and flowers set up beside the riverbank. Others, like Nguyen Van Vu, 28, sat quietly on the ground, staring into the water. He lost his wife and 7-month-old baby, and broke down in tears after seeing their bodies among those recovered from the bus. "We were only married a year ago," he said, softly. "She was going with our daughter to Nam Dinh province for her younger sister's wedding." /+/
“The bus, travelling from the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong to northern Nam Dinh province, was caught in murky, fast-moving water early Monday after the driver ignored police warnings and attempted to plow through the flooded area on the country's main north-south highway. The vehicle's engine stalled and it was knocked off balance before being pulled under by the current. Some passengers managed to break a window, but survivors said many people remained trapped inside when the bus began to sink and disappear. /+/
“As work began to haul the bus up, police in orange life vests patrolled the swift water, looking for additional bodies. Officials closed off the road to traffic, but thousands climbed a mountain overlooking the riverbank to watch. They clapped and yelled when the first bodies were fished from the water. The crowd erupted into cheers when the blue, white and green bus was finally hoisted from the muddy river. After the bodies were identified, they were cleaned and placed in coffins for transport back to their home villages. But some loved ones desperate for closure were left to wait longer. /+/
“Tran Dang Luc, 47, survived the ordeal on the bus, but watched his 18-year-old son and 16-year-old niece sink into the water after they both called out to him that they couldn't swim. They were not among those found Thursday. "I will remain here until the bodies of my son and niece are recovered," he said. "I just cannot leave this place. My last wish is to have the bodies for a proper burial." /+/
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014