It took guts for me to get on a motor bike in the back streets of newcastle (my home town in Australia) so the thought of hitting the streets of Ha noi was slightly intimidating for me, to say the least – but then you see all these stylish and dainty vietnamese women taking on the traffic looking like they are on a yacht cruising along. So after a little practice in the countryside and being told I could start in second or third gear no problems, I slowly put on the throttle and headed off along the road to the centre of Hanoi. Of course I wasn’t alone, it wouldn’t be right to ride in Hanoi alone when some people are carrying three or four passengers. I had my friend Trang behind me and she had my camera pack on so I had lots of precious cargo.
I kept my head looking forward, occasionally glancing in my mirror – no one checks their blindspot here, it’s assumed the drivers in your blindspot have a sixth sense that you are going to pull out in front of them and they will know how to swerve in such a way that other vehicles will move out of their way – I guess it’s just a series of waves of people getting out of each others way. The best thing is, it is not competitive and it’s not fast. I felt like I could take it easy and just keep my eye out for vehicles approaching from my periphery and slow down or swerve as needed. I managed to stop and start without stalling (I think these bikes don’t stall too easily) and I learnt that you don’t wait til the light goes green. There is a countdown for the end of the red light – you hear the engines rev from about 10 seconds to go, and they are off at about 6. This is if you stop for red lights. I slowed down for one light and trang told me to keep going – it’s just one of those lights where no one is coming from the side street anyway so there’s no reason to stop – kinda like the way many cyclists approach traffic lights. I managed to turn right and left without too many dramas – I did need to come to an abrupt holt momentarily as I was squeezed between traffic coming directly from my right and a lady on a scooter swerving around me.
I was a little bit frazzled by the experience but I definitely had moments of peace and moments of fun while we were going along. I had unfortunately lost my sunglasses – they fell out of my bag the day before while I was on the back of a motor bike and it was like watching them being trampled by a stampede – although my driver nearly did a quick and fearless u-turn into oncoming traffic before I convinced her it wasn’t worth it. Most people in hanoi don’t wear glasses and I can’t work out why – the glare and the dust are pretty full on. I had to wipe my eyes a few times.
I enjoy looking around at the other motor bike riders. There is something about them that just makes them so awesome – it might be their laidback almost elegant look while they are surrounded by millions of bikes, or it could be the fact that high heels and glamourous skirts sit comfortable next to engines and exhaust pipes. After a few more times riding I might try to be a bit more glamourous but for now I’m happy to have made it safely.