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Retired vehicle becomes tourist attraction

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 at 9:39 am

Retired vehicle becomes tourist attraction

QĐND – Sunday, December 12, 2010, 22:2 (GMT+7)

No longer a public transport means, xích lô in HCM City has stepped down. But it should live on as a symbol of the municipal tourism.

In his masterpiece Truyen Kieu (The Tale of Kieu), Nguyen Du—one of the greatest poets of all time in Vietnam—used the phrase “tri qua mot cuoc be dâu” to mean dramatic changes over the time. Be (sea) and dâu (mulberry) denotes a contrasting pair stemming from a classic reference which emphasizes how drastic life can change when in place of a former azure sea has been fields of mulberry.

Nguyen Du’s adage may be applicable to xích lô, a man-powered, three-wheeled vehicle popular in big cities in Vietnam. In Saigon, xích lô used to be ubiquitous as a public transport means. In fact, it was once so popular it could be considered one of the symbols of the city. But “sea” has turned into “mulberry fields.”

Xích lô originates from a French word, cyclo. Archives differ in how and where the three-wheeled vehicle was invented. In Vietnam, the vehicle is believed to be first introduced in the 30s of the previous century. Xích lô’s gradual emergence and firm foothold in the country entailed its inexpensive cost of building and high maneuverability further spurred by the local abundant labor force.

In Saigon, xích lô marked its heyday in the 60s and early 70s when the three-wheeled vehicle rivaled taxis and buses for the top slot in the overall hierarchy of public transport system. After Vietnam’s reunification in 1975, xích lô continued to be a favorite public transport means in this southern city. During the period of subsidy when motorized vehicles and fuel were scarce, the man-powered xích lô proved to be very useful. It can be said that during the time, the bicycle was the number-one individual transport means and xích lô was among the top choices for public transport in Saigon. Many Saigonese, especially housewives and old people, opted for a xích lô. Otherwise, they had to resort to their bicycles which would require a lot of their own sweat instead of the xích lô driver.

As Vietnam broke away from the planned economy to embrace the market mechanism, per capita income has improved substantially. When motorized vehicles and fuel have been no longer rare, xích lô has given way to taxis and buses.

Unfortunately, during its time of existence, xích lô drivers in Saigon also built up notoriety and were associated with reckless driving and overcharging. What’s more, given the new conditions of the urban lifestyle and worsening traffic jams, the three-wheeled vehicle was no longer an appropriate public transport means.

The real reclusive time for xích lô came several years ago, when HCM City authorities decided to ban the vehicle on top commercial streets in Saigon. The list of these restricted areas has been extended so much so that the vehicle has been virtually banned in the city downtown.

Although xích lô has lost its ubiquity, it does exist. In Saigon, groups of xích lô are still seen rolling on the streets, particularly during the tourism season. Despite the ban, xích lô du lch, or xích lô for tourists, is allowed in HCM City’s center if organized by authorized tour operators. Many tourists, particularly those from the West, are excited at traveling on board a xích lô. Some have even tried to manipulate the vehicle on its back seat themselves.

Man-powered public transport means are still in use by the hospitality industry in cosmopolitan cities, for instance New York and Singapore, as Saigon Stories has personally witnessed. Therefore, there should be no objection to similar things in Hanoi and HCM City. In this regard, xích lô for tourists should be allowed to make Vietnamese cities more attractive to tourists from afar.

The process in which the three-wheeled vehicle has stepped down as a common public transport means has some side effects, though. So far, the majority of xích lô drivers has quit the job while those who still remain are mostly elderly people.

Who will replace them when they finally retire?

Source: SGT, VietnamNet


Source: QDND

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