Unofficial research (possibly undertaken at a bia hoi late one night) noted that 80% of all expats in Hanoi said that their worst culture shock was the traffic. It’s definitely one of the highest stress inducing aspects of our beloved city. Since a) it’s doubtful that Hanoians will return to bicycles and b) you WILL have to go out of your house once in a while – it seems that a traffic primer is needed.
The hellraiser rollercoaster ride, for which you pay $7 back home is much, much cheaper here. If you want all the same chills and thrills you need only to walk up to a xe om driver. These motorbike taxis can find the fastest way to your destination and for a pittance. No need for a caffeine boost in the morning.
If you’re of a more cultured persuasion you may first want to learn the intricacies of driving in Hanoi. The best site seeing is from the coffee shops to the north of Hoan Kiem Lake. From the top floor you can watch the traffic patterns. (yes Virginia there are traffic rules) The smallest powered vehicle stays on the right, the largest to the left. Needless to say this creates havoc when a big bus wants to turn right or a cyclo wants to turn left. As you watch the traffic ebb and flow you may be reminded of act 2 Swan Lake. That’s when all the white swans bouree across the stage and NEVER crash. Well, sometimes there are crashes on the roads of Hanoi but keep to your lane, drive slowly, give the right of way to bigger bikes and anyone with a fridge, TV or Tet tree on the back. They ain’t gonna stop !
You will find that driving in Hanoi tunes up your visual abilities. Hand – eye coordination is everything. Old hand Hanoians can watch for traffic lights, police, alley ways with trucks potentially coming out, sales in shop windows and pedestrians. (the worst of which are the tourists – deer in the head lights says it all)
Sing. There is nothing so stress reducing as a couple of stanzas of Waltzing Matilda. Don’t worry, other drivers will just think it’s foreign culture. Everyone does it in Adelaide ! Of course our anthem is from the inimitable Janis: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Honda Dream II, My friends all drive Spacys, I’m counting on You !”
Should you be surrounded by cranky drivers – smile. Just keep grinning away and nodding or throw out some of that Vietnamese you learned yesterday. Chuc mung nam moi or the plume de ma tante or Mary had a little lamb is fine – they won’t understand you anyway. But with a smile on your face they will just have to grin back.