Surviving traffic in Southeast Asia – a selection
Southeast Asia is home to an estimated 610 Million people with main metropolitan cities of Bangkok (Thailand), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore (Singapore), Jakarta (Indonesia), Manila (Philippines), and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam). These urban sprawls have been growing significantly over the past decade, and together with the growing economy means there is more purchasing power and need to buy a car to get to work and back. This gives rise to ridiculously bad traffic jams that for better or worse, have become a way of life in Southeast Asia. Here are my overlays, from best to worst.
Taxi drivers here tend to complain about traffic congestion, but man, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Due to the high number of public transportation, and ridiculously expensive cost of getting a car a lot of people do take the massive public transportation system, relieving the roads. The only large drawback is then the queue to try to get a taxi for those opting for a private ride. Estimated additional time taken to go somewhere? ~15-20 minutes. Estimated time to get a taxi during rush hour? Up to 60 minutes.
Ho Chi Minh
Traffic comprises mostly of motorcycles here. They will zoom by like a sea of ants and don’t stop at traffic lights, turns or on-coming cars. Sometimes you just weave your way through. So even though you’re moving slowly (I’ve never been in a taxi that went beyond 40km/hour) you’re actually moving. No additional time taken, but don’t expect to move fast anywhere anytime.
KL-ites will always complain that traffic is bad, and true enough, it is. It generally takes me 30 minutes to gain enough access to make a U-turn located 250 meters down the road. The upside is (I think), traffic police are usually deployed to try and alleviate the stress on the roads. Also, the roads that are congested tend to be limited to the main arteries in the city and some linking outwards and typically only during rush hour. Which pretty means not all roads are congested at all times. Estimated additional time taken 40-60 minutes.
I have heard that traffic is generally getting more and more notorious here which proves especially troublesome to get around the airport (terminals are located in separate areas). That being said, I never had any real issues, though I only dared to enter and leave the city at night when traffic is pretty much gone. Estimated additional time taken ~45-60 minutes
Travelling around the city center in a car could easily take you up to 1.5-2 hours during rush hour and especially so if you are travelling along Sukhumvit, one of the main road into the city. Be prepared to be completely annoyed and exasperated at the slow movement (even not in rush hour!). Your better option would be to take the Skytrain, then switch to a motorcycle taxi located in all the small lanes or to walk to your destination. Estimated additional time taken ~60 minutes.
The mother of all traffic jams can be found here. Known locally as macet (traffic jam), this is the fall back excuse used by everyone whenever they’re late everywhere… and most likely true. During the week, there are 2.6 Million cars in a city the size of 641 sq. km. Just in case you’re not sure, that’s 4,056 cars per square kilometer. The Government has been trying to rectify this issue for years, from setting up a three-in-one policy, to setting up bus only lanes to reduce car use, to planning to roll out a policy alternating car use based on odd-even numbers. Until one or all of these policies can solve the problem, be prepared to endure three hours traffic to head to the airport from the city, located 20km away. Estimated additional time taken ~60-120 minutes.
Feel better about being stuck only at the traffic lights now?
**Note: Opinions expressed here are mine alone and based on my personal experiences. Travel time may vary depending on time of day and country.