Motorbikes, traffic, the water. That’s the short list. Some day, if I can think of other things, I’ll offer more, but right now those are the ones that come to mind.
There are tooooooo many motorbikes. Four million motorbikes for a population of seen and a half million is just too many. Add the taxis, trucks, busses, private cars and the fact that traffic laws are not enforced at all and you have a mess. Every day, seven days a week. The traffic police are off the streets by 9 pm, but most leave at dark. It really does not matter, for they do little. Motorbikes travel every and anywhere, from every direction on every street or sidewalk, and rarely yield to a pedestrian. Traffic lights are ignored, and people have no compunctions about going the wrong way around a roundabout. Yes, that’s what I said. About a year ago a bus driver got upset that traffic in the roundabout was too slow, so he drove the other way. He killed four people and was fined $1,200. Three hundred dollars or six million VND a person. No jail time, back at work the next day. Bus drivers are paid on the number of passengers they load, so to go slow is not profitable for the driver.
That said, there is a huge other problem–theft. Vietnam is not alone in this problem as any country that has a lot of motorbikes has a lot of ‘Drive-Bys’–two guys on a speeding motorbike who grab purses, necklaces, cameras, phones, or any other thing of value they see. They grab these things from people standing, walking, or riding motorbikes–whatever and whenever the opportunity arises. We have personally been the victims of three of these snatch and grabs, and believe me, they happen so fast and so unexpectedly that they are unstoppable and rarely result in the thieves being caught.
The last robbery we suffered happened when two guys on a motorbike tried to grab my wife’s purse as she stood in a well-lit, crowded gas station, on a busy street one block from out apartment. They grabbed her short handled purse which she had slung over her shoulder and when she didn’t let go, dragged her over 20 feet across broken concrete and gravel. Before I could take 3 steps they were gone. Nobody in the gas station could or would react fast enough and the whole incident took less than 3 seconds. She was badly cut and bruised as you can see in the picture, but fortunately did not have any damage to her eye and now is recovering and scraping off the remaining scabs.
Friends have told me about things that happened to them in China, Thailand, Peru, and yes, the United States. The motorbike is a perfect tool for snatch n grab and the thieves use it to full advantage. Recently the robbers are resorting to SLASH n’ Grab, cutting the camera or purse straps with razors without regard to whether or not they cut the victim. I don’t know how to protect us from a determined thief with a razor, and as a foreigner am assumed to be rich and carrying a lot of money. I don’t, but if they slash my pants they won’t know until they find nothing of great value. Maybe I can have a shop make an aluminum pocket on a chain that can fit in my pants. That might confuse them. Maybe.