I’d heard stories about Hanoi – how it was chaos theory made real, 4 million motorbikes all going in slightly different directions at once but somehow avoiding one another, and all the other vehicles. Sometimes they would even avoid the pedestrians I was told. When I arrived it all appeared to be true. The only rule of the road here is that there are no rules. Waiting to cross a road is a short, or rather long, cut to frustration. I have a rule when I travel somewhere that appears to have less robust traffic laws than back in blighty. It goes like this…
If you want to cross a road then find a local person who is also trying to cross the same road as you. Stand on the opposite side of the local person to the oncoming traffic. And here’s the crucial part. When they move, you move. However crazy it may look when they step out in front of a dozen mopeds, or camels, or fiat 500s (in Rome in particular for that last one) you have to exactly mimic them, ensuring that at all times they remain between you and the aforementioned mopeds/camels/small Italian cars. If it’s a one way street then you’re sorted right to the other side. If not, then there’s a strange moment in the middle where you have to duck behind them at to end up on the correct side, but with a bit of practice it can look almost natural.
Essentially what you’re doing here is using their years of experience in that city, crossing that road to shortcut the learning process. The older the person you shadow the better, because they (a) have more experience, and (b) appear to be quite good at it by stint of not being dead yet. Once you’ve got the lay of the land you can start making your own decisions and before you know it you too can step calmly into the road, safe in the knowledge that almost certain death is slightly less certain.
And that’s it. I enjoy walking around Hanoi. I enjoy the chaos. Now if only someone can persuade people not to park their mopeds all over the pavement so you have to walk along the road as well as across it that would be marvellous!