It’s said that you only have one chance to make a first impression.

The same may be true for a country and a city.

For foreigners encountering Hanoi for the first time, that initial impression may be that the Vietnam is a little bit crazy.

Or maybe Vietnam is just making up the rules as it goes along.

Riding from airport to the city, the typical tourist or expat may view the world beyond the windshield as a place where modern traffic patterns and rules of the road don’t apply.

Americans like me are relieved that the traffic generally flows on the right and passes on the left—except when it doesn’t.

Wrong-way drivers, it seems, are not really considered wrong-way drivers at all.

At any moment, a motorbike may be approaching on your side of the road, or a set of growing taillights on a car reveals a driver who’s missed a turnoff and is simply backing up against traffic to find his way off.

Nobody, it seems, gets hassled by the cops for such behavior.

It’s OK.

Another early impression is how the laws of common sense, if not physics, seem to get road-tested by the sheer amount of cargo—bottled war, chickens, flat-screen televisions, loved ones—that the Vietnamese pack on a motorbike.

I remember the aquarium I once saw on the back of one motorbike.

The tank was empty, but the tropical fish were swimming in plastic bags draped on the sides.

So what are the rules of the road, anyway?

This is an especially important question to those of us who are determined to brave Vietnam by motorbike.

And my inability to divine the answer kept me in a taxi for several months before I finally mustered the nerve and finally get a used Nuovo of my own.

The rules, I finally concluded, are primarily Darwin’s.

Contrary to common belief, it’s not so much about the survival of the “strong” and the “fittest.”

It’s about adaptability.

For the typical rider of a motorbike or pedestrian, it’s about knowing when to move and when to wait, and when to weave and dodge.

Because size matters.

Oh yes, size matters much more in Vietnam than on roads elsewhere.

Do not be surprised to find your path abruptly cut off by a bus, truck or SUV.


Because they can.

Because they can squash you like a bug.

As busses, trucks and SUVs bull forward and assert their dominance, you quickly understand that the bigger they are, the harder you fall.

Sometimes, the drivers of these beasts seem to believe in their own immortality.

On a weekend trip to Hanoi we found ourselves sharing a van with some German tourists.

I did not understand a word they were saying until, as we crossed the Red River, one of them said “John Wayne.”

It’s good that somebody in Vietnam would remember “Red River,” one of Wayne’s best movies—a different Red River, of course.

Then our driver decided to pass the bus ahead of him.

He pulled left into the oncoming traffic and gunned the engine.

A huge diesel rig was bearing down on us.

As our eyes grew wide and we caught our breaths, our driver veered back into our lane with maybe two seconds to spare.

Out came a collective sigh of relief.

“Best not to watch,” my wife told the Germans.

And for tourists, perhaps that is the best advice.

But if you plan to stay, pay attention—and be careful out there.


Source: Tuổi Trẻ Online


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