Troi oi, traffic is getting nutty in Saigon. Not only are there many more motorbikes clogging the streets, but it's the buses and cars that really make things crazy. Streets here are rarely more than two lanes in both directions. Usually the cars and buses stay in the left lane and motorbikes in the right lane. Since motorbikes are small, motorbike traffic acts like a fluid -- it can easily flow around obstacles that crop up. Problems arise when buses and cars move to the right lane for various reasons, like stopping at a bus stop ("nha cho xe buyt" or, literally, "house wait vehicle bus") or just plain pulling over and stopping in the right lane because the driver is an idiot. I also enjoy the sight of cars mucking things up by pulling u-turns across several lanes of crowded traffic.
Yesterday I had a morning meeting across town from my house. I hopped on a xe om (literally, "vehicle hug") which is a motorbike taxi. I wasn't sure where the address was, and I assumed the xe om driver knew where he was going. He took an inefficient route, but that's beside the point. The point is that the traffic was simply horrendous! Saigon streets are rapidly reaching the saturation point where they simply cannot handle more traffic during peak hours. There is still a ways to go before the problem really affects business and growth since I expect people will begin commuting earlier or later in response to the congestion. But nevertheless, it's remarkable. I usually don't see rush hour traffic because I walk about 10 minutes to work each morning. I did have a sense that traffic was getting worse, though, because I walk through one of the busiest intersections in the whole city, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Cach Mang Thang Tam. I've been seeing the motorbike cops there more frequently directing traffic when they are not issuing tickets.
Not only is the traffic bad, but the street-level pollution it causes is a bit unpleasant. There are many old motorbikes, buses and trucks here that belch out toxic black clouds filled with particulate matter. The buses are bad, but trucks are the worst. Stuck behind one, I've often wondered if the engine designer listed "Emit noxious black fumes" as a top design objective because it's hard to imagine it being worse. I've learned that motorbike transport and contact lenses are a poor combination.
All that being said, the street-level pollution dissipates quickly later in the evening after traffic dies down. There doesn't seem to be the kind of industrial, pervasive pollution suffered by China. Skies generally are blue and sunny, not the opaque haze that afflicts Shanghai or Beijing.