This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to
lazy busy to blog about. This is a second in a series of three about our trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Once we arrived to the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where our hotel was, it was immediate sensory overload. Unfortunately, not in a good way. Indeed it was more of a full-on assault of the senses. The first thing you see is the utter chaos and congestion of people, cars, shops, stuff, garbage and the ubiquitous motorbike. Then you realize all of that is the source of the smoggy haze that hangs over the city.
Then there is the noise. A cacophony of bike and automobile horns constantly volleys between motorists vying for position as if in a competition for who will have the final word. With so many, one must wonder how those being honked at are supposed to distinguish one from another and interpret any sense of the intended message. And yet, it works.
Hanoi Traffic Rule #1 (This might be the only traffic rule)
Hanoi is certainly rich with history and has its allure to some who find themselves simply captured by its uniqueness. For us, it was a little too busy. We knew we were in trouble when our greeter at the hotel gave us what he described as the one and only traffic rule as a pedestrian. As we crossed the street the first time, he shouted over his shoulder as he lead us through the barrage of bikes, “Never look, just go and don’t stop.” And that is exactly what you had to do! If felt like being in a game of Frogger!
We thought KL traffic was crazy. Then we went to Bali. Then we talked to other expats who had been to places like Manilla, Jakarta, or Delhi. It’s a game expats play to “one-up” each other to see who has the worst traffic experience story. “Oh, this is nothing, dude…you think ____ traffic is crazy, you should see ____.” And so it goes until one person concedes.
The jury is still out on who has the craziest traffic in Asia, or in the world for that matter. As far as what we experienced though, it was Hanoi…hands down. Made KL look like a subdued day at the student driving course. We wish we had taken video, because the pictures in no way do it justice.
But the point is, regardless of the city, you have to just go with the flow. As westerners it’s easy to be frustrated that there’s not more caution and order because that’s what we’re used to. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents in these chaotic cities, but somehow it just works.
Even if you are simply trying to play it safe by adhering to the norms and rules familiar to you, ironically you could actually be putting yourself and others at greater risk. The failure to adapt and roll with the environment may actually increase the likelihood that you or someone else gets hurt. So, do your homework, watch the locals and try to keep up! You know what they say, when in Rome…(or Hanoi, as it were).