The constant movement of the city propelled our travels. We walked everywhere we could, to the dismay of the waiting motor-bike drivers. As blonde Americans, we were obvious tourists and easy marks. “Madam! You buy?” people would hurry up to us and fan us with a paper fan, or show off a book of postcards. Our second day we spent exploring the downtown section of Hanoi.
I can’t tell you that Hanoi was a logical city. I can’t tell you that there was excellent public transportation. What I can tell you, is that you can get around without too much trouble as long as you are good with a map. Streets wind and curve their way around the city. Intersections are unmarked, crowded with people and generally dangerous. Everything that you hear about the traffic in Hanoi is true.
Take everything you know about rules of traffic. Now forget it. People in Vietnam don’t honk to let you know that you should move: they honk to let you know they have no intention of stopping. There are no stop signs. No street lights. Right of way is taken, not assumed. Staying on the right side of the yellow line really doesn’t matter. If there is space on the road, you can drive there. Sidewalks, too. The only benefit there is to being a pedestrian is that you are slightly more mobile than cars and trucks.
The age old adage, “look both ways before you cross the street” isn’t entirely accurate here. The first time I needed to cross the street, I stood there, staring at the traffic. I was hoping that a light would change, or that they would slow down. I stared, terrified, perplexed at how people didn’t die daily crossing the street.
My sister, who is 100lbs soaking wet, took great joy in making fun of my fear. She was used to the traffic from her weeks in Cambodia and Thailand and would frequently laugh at me from the other side of the street once she had nimbly and successfully crossed. Frequently, I would freeze mid-way through the street, heart beating in my ears as a truck or a bike or a bus would be going faster than I thought. It took me the better part of the week to become comfortable with the movement of the traffic and the pace of life in southeast Asia. Though there were many things that were vastly different, culturally, this one massive difference was the one that really underscored my culture shock.
Right, so. Traffic. Big deal. I didn’t intend to blog on it this long, but there you are.
We walked everywhere, despite the terror that the traffic had instilled in my pedestrian heart. Our goal for the second day was to go downtown to see more of the history of Hanoi. We delved into museums and we visited Ho Chi Minh.