The Unwritten Rules of Saigon Traffic

  • Look forward, never behind
  • Driving the wrong way on a one way street is a perfectly acceptable and common practice, stay to the far left/right
  • Driving on the sidewalk, especially when impatiently waiting to turn right at a busy intersection is also accepted.
  • Though there are no stop signs in the city, there are many stoplights, which are merely a suggestion, and roundabouts which almost pass for organized chaos. You may turn left or right on a red light, you may go straight if you think you can make it.
  • There is no limit to the amount of people, boxes, animals, water bottles or construction materials, one can fit on the back of a motorbike.

Very likely why Vietnamese family’s rarely have more than 3 kids. The whole family on a motorbike; a common sight in Ho Chi Minh. Image from Hans Kemp’s photography book, Bikes of Burden.There is no limit to how fast or how slow you may drive.

  • Buses and taxis can and will kill you. Stay away.
  • You may cruise alongside your friends and have a chat.
  • After a collision, as long as your bike/car works, you may flee the scene.
  • Always wear a helmet, only if you’re an adult. Children shouldn’t wear one.
  • Use your horn, frequently and for any reason.
  • Sidewalks are meant first for motorbike parking, next for outdoor dining, and finally if there is room, for walking.
  • If caught disobeying one of the official rules, by an English speaking officer, the equivalent of $10 should get you by unticketed. If not a local, try denying your English skills and speaking French or Spanish, you should be free to go without a fee.
  • Drive with the assumption that nobody follows any rules, written or unwritten, ever.  Be prepared, know that motorbikes, taxis, buses, bicycles, peddling street venders, pedestrians and god knows what else may approach you from any direction at anytime.

An illustration of Saigon’s traffic flow



  1. Not to mention stopping two metres past the line at a red light to get a head start, meaning you can’t actually see the lights and slow down the people behind you who could see the light change and can’t get past you. And the fact that turning left from the right lane and right from the left lane compounds what you see in the diagram about the traffic flow, and that issue is made worse by the ridiculous “2 and 3 wheel vehicle lane” and “car, truck and bus lane” which pretty much forces people to turn from the “wrong” lane at intersections. Sometimes I don’t mind driving in this city, but having to be alert and surveying 360 degrees at all times does get tiring!


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