The woman squatting is selling small snacks. The man is one of the thousands—or more likely, hundreds of thousands—of men sitting on motorbikes waiting to give people rides for a fee all over Saigon. A subset of this group hustle rides for foreigners and the constant solicitations can finally become fairly annoying, especially when a simple no is not enough for many of the drivers. Walking 50 meters involves fighting off multiple requests for rides, shopping, tours, massages, “massages” and lord knows what else. One does not want to be rude, but… Finally, the woman behind the other two has a takeout meal, either for herself or food she is delivering.
Ho Chi Minh City is a crowded place, with more than 8 million people and almost as many motorbikes. Everybody drives wildly and getting across streets can be something of an adventure. Hanoi was much the same, though marginally less congested than HCMC. There are still not many private cars in Vietnam. Not only are most people unable to afford cars, the government keeps duties on imported cars very high to prevent, by design one assumes, widespread car ownership. This is probably not a bad thing. One can only imagine what a traffic nightmare HMHC would be if most of the people on motorbikes in this photo were driving cars instead. Think Beijing or Bangkok. It will be interesting to see how Vietnam deals with car ownership as the country develops and its population becomes more affluent over time. In general I know I believe that, with a global population of around 7 billion these days, more than half of whom live in urban areas, we need to be rethinking our commitment to private cars as a way to get around cities.
Hoi An, about 20 km south of Danang, has become a major tourist attraction for its UNESCO World Heritage site Ancient City and its beautiful beaches. Curious, I took a public bus from Danang to take a look. I had intended to make it a day trip, though I actually stayed for no more than a couple of hours. The part of Hoi An I found myself in was mobbed with tourists and everything I saw there, from the shops selling tee shirts, (allegedly) local handicrafts, and artwork to the cafes and restaurants, to the ubiquitous men with motorbikes pitching rides, was designed to part tourists from their money. Yes, the architecture was interesting and the old town was certainly quaint, maybe authentically so, but the atmosphere proclaimed very loudly, “Tourist trap.” If I had given myself a couple of days to explore, I suspect I could have found parts of Hoi An that were worth visiting. But that is not how I had organized my trip and, as it was, I quickly became fed up with the crowds and the feeling that the whole place was about money. I took a couple of dozen photos, one of which is posted here, walked back to the bus station, and two hours after arriving took another public bus back to Danang. At least I can say I have been to Hoi An.