When preparing for a trip, we scour the guide books and travel sites on the internet to determine what sights we want to see and how to get to them within our allotted time. Usually, a large city is involved as the entry point because it’s the hub to reach the more remote areas. In our case, the entry point to Vietnam was Hanoi.
We had few things on our list to see in Hanoi so we flew in from Laos on the late flight. Our plan was to spend the next day checking it out, then the following morning slither off to Cat Ba island for our Halong Bay experience. We also new that we would have to come back through Hanoi to head south and were also planning to make the return trip a quick stopover.
But Hanoi proved to be anything but dull. It’s a city that appears to be in complete chaos in every aspect of its life. So completely alien that we felt it was something we needed to observe in an attempt to gain some understanding of how this chaotic city operates.
The first thing that smacks you in the face is the traffic. Try this on (math involved): take Los Angeles traffic and double it, except instead of cars insert motorized scooters and reduce the number of lanes to two. Yes, those loud, polluting 2 stroke motorbikes. Finally, add back in 20% cars into the equation. That alone would be crazy, right? But then add in that there are few traffic signals of any kind and that the only rule is don’t hit anything or anybody. That when making a left hand turn it’s ok to cut the corner against oncoming traffic, then work your way through that oncoming traffic until you reach the correct lane. And what about the pedestrians? Those lowly poor pedestrians.
There must be laws making vehicles stop for people in crosswalks, right? Nope. Before attempting a street crossing, take the time to study the locals’ technique. I recommend you do this while having a fresh beer in the old quarter. Later, when you make your first solo attempt, the beer will act as a calming agent. When you think you have the concept down and are properly medicated, stand at a corner and as close to a local as possible. When he or she steps out, stay close and attempt to mirror their movements. Under no circumstance, freak out and move in a non-Hanoin fashion or you will die. In a nutshell the process is:
Wait for a slight break in the traffic, step out, walking slowly and evenly. The scooters will move to either side of you, sometimes within inches, Think of them as flowing water and you as a rock in a stream (Zen moment). Attempt to suppress the panic attack as the noise intensifies around you. Follow these simple steps and you’ll probably live.
Now that you’ve mastered the traffic, eating becomes the next skill to master. A passing glance at one of the kiddie table and chair establishments that dot the sidewalks and you’ll find yourself face to face with a smiling waiter and a menu in hand. Pho places or hot pot places are everywhere in the old quarter. Don’t be put off by looks. The food is fantastic and we never became ill. You won’t regret it.
Having successfully survived a day of street crossing and eating local food, you too will be at peace within the chaos. You’ve become Hanoized!
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