Traffic in Hà Nội

I did some research last week so I’d have some idea of what to expect, and arrived in Việt Nam last night ready to face the mad bustling roads with mad drivers everywhere, throngs of people and general organised chaos.

I sat in the back of the taxi, quietly amused that there wasn’t a seat belt (noting my hosts didn’t even look for hers) for the impending 45 minute, roller coaster ride in to the city. Thuong asked me lots of questions, and I her in return, I must have had the appearance of an eight year old child who has just seen a fair ground for the first time. Not only was I excited to be here, but the traffic was similar to riding dodgems; the only exception being they followed the ‘no bumping’ rule here. I mentioned I ride a motorbike, and she offered to lend me her scooter for a fun experience. I baulked.

The journey from the airport reminded me a little of the trip from Guatemala City to Antigua; long stretches of road, cars stopped everywhere, and the seemly unannounced changing of lanes, or even complete direction. As we traveled on, I was amazed to see the orchestral movement around me unfold, as though the traffic was being conducted to create art from movement; rhythm, flow and crescendos, trumpets and snare drums playing a duet, and thankfully no crash cymbals in sight. Everything seemed to just work.

And “just work” is how I’m still seeing the traffic here. I was prepared for mayhem, but there’s none to be seen. If you look past perception, the reality that tourists may see, you see a fluid stream of vehicles that swim around pedestrians, like fish slaloming gracefully through seaweed. Everyone seems to know exactly where everyone else is. Cars honk at bikes, not to express anger, as my Australian counterparts would, but to say “hey, I’m here.” Bikes dance around cars, and cars squeeze between bikes, with merely inches to spare, but they know it’s just inches. Pedestrians cross the roads, not by darting across at the first gap, mainly because there never is a gap, but my looking for the least dense segment of traffic and slowly walking across, never slowing down, nor speeding up, steady as she goes, and the bikes work around you. Occasionally you stop for a car, and occasionally cars will pass either side of you, at something slightly more than inches away, but they know you’re there.

Perhaps it’s because they break the road rules all the time here, that drivers and riders forgive others for breaking them too. Perhaps, in Australia, road rules are followed for fear of being fined or pulled over by the police, and when we see others break the rules, we project anger at them because we feel our adherence to the rules has been invalidated, or that it’s somehow unfair that they’re getting away with it. I don’t know why, but it just works here, I get it, I feel comfortable in it, and I love it. I might yet go for the scooter ride.

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