Motorbikes with exhaust pipes modified to yield a deafening roar are plaguing streets in Ho Chi Minh City.
At 5 p.m. on Monday, the National Way No.1A in District 12 is crowded with people and vehicles. All of a sudden, the crowd parts as an earsplitting shriek emanating from two racing motorbikes tears down the road.
Hastily raising her bicycle after a crash with a motorbike inspired by the noise, Le Thi Ha, a textile worker, said it wasn't the first time she has been terrified by the deafening sounds of modified exhaust pipes.
A couple of days ago, when more than ten female workers at her factory were walking their bicycles across a street, a group of motorbikes passed making a terrible din, Ha said.
The workers were so panicked that they left their bikes behind to run back to the street's side, she said.
"All the vehicles on the street were stuck," she said. "Causing a traffic jam lasting a couple of hours."
The problem is not unique to District 12.
Locals on District 3's Tran Quang Dieu Street, for example, were recently woken up by the shrieks of hundreds of motorbikes with amended exhaust pipes. The youths usually gather to race around 1-2 a.m. every weekend, they said.
"It's so terrible. The exhaust pipes' noises are so loud and roaring with odd sounds that we have to wake up despite sleeping in a close room," Tran Van Tai, one of the locals, said. "Although we have heard those noises for many nights, we are still frightened whenever hearing them. Babies burst into loud wails, while the elderly have to cover their ears."
Despite people's complaints and annoyance, and the fact that it is illegal to set up exhaust pipes with noises of excessive volumes, many people are still hunting for modified pipes as a new status symbol.
"It's very interesting to frighten people and clear the streets," said L., who runs an electronics shop on Phan Dang Luu Street, said. The man, who now owns a Suzuki Sport with an adjusted exhaust pipe that howls like a wolf, said he would have the pipe modified once in a while.
A shop owner in District 5's Tan Thanh Market (one of the major places that supplies modified exhaust pipes) said that every day he sells between 70-100 pipes. Some days he sells up to nearly 200.
P., who runs a shop on District 5's Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, said that these days many people come to his shop for pipe adjustment, adding that there were days he was so busy he had to turn down orders.
According to P., a modified pipe cost between VND800,000-7 million (US$41.13-$359.89), depending on customers' demands.
"We guarantee that the noise will be unique, as loud as thunder," P. said. "Customers get their money back, if they aren't satisfied with it."
In fact, many customers return to ask for adjustments because the noise is similar to someone else's and "isn't loud enough to terrify people."
Shops in HCMC, therefore, are creating new pipes with different tones to meet their customers' demands.
Quang, who repairs motorbikes with large engines, said his pipes can produce a range of noises and they can satisfy any customer's request.
"The most popular, at the moment, are those that howl like wolves, roar like evil and are as loud as thunder," he said.
Modified pipes can also be bought from foreign countries and sold at $500-3,000 each, according to Quang.
Another shop owner on Tran Quang Khai Street in District 1, meanwhile, said his pipes can make six different sounds when riders speed up, adding that each is sold at VND2 million ($102.82).
Vo Van Van, deputy chief of HCMC's Road and Railways Traffic Police's Division, also said that more and more riders are using modified exhaust pipes and most of them are young people.
Modified exhaust pipes are usually purchased at vehicle accessory shops and repair shops, according to Van.
Police have strictly dealt with the violation by tightening control of motorbike-related shops, asking them to commit to not selling modified exhaust pipes and imposing strict punishments on violators, he said.
Since last December the division has found 631 cases of using exhaust pipes with excessively loud noises.
Under current regulations, riders failing to use devices to decrease exhaust and noises of exhaust pipes as regulated will be fined between VND100,000-200,000 ($5.14-10.28).