Tuesday, 12 March 2013

This Could Get Hanoi-ing

In our time we've tried many potentially dangerous activities. We've abseiled down a cliff, climbed up a wall of ice, been rescued by the Jordanian army after a flash-flood, driven a car in Italy, scuba dived inside a World War II supply ship 30 metres below sea level, gone down various scary ski slopes, Justine has jumped out of a plane (with a parachute) and I've been in the away end at Elland Road (which I maintain is probably top of our "risk list", given the demeanour of the primitive life forms prowling around outside).

However... nothing (and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough), NOTHING that we've experienced so far could have prepared us for the ultimate in dangerous activities... attempting to cross the road in Vietnam.

The minibus journey from Hanoi airport gave us sufficient warning - the traffic here seems to be completely uncontrolled and in the 45 minutes it took to get to our hotel I have no idea how we didn't kill at least a few hundred motorcyclists, cyclists or pedestrians. Roads that are single carriageways become occupied by at least two lanes of cars and buses, but then the "space" that's left is filled with mopeds weaving in and out of each other, sometimes travelling in the opposite direction, often carrying multiple passengers (including babies), or transporting large loads of fruit or trees, or even a massive bass speaker (with what was probably a bass guitarist hanging off the back of that). It is insane.

We had read about the technique for crossing the road before we arrived and it seemed to be along the lines of "don't wait for a break in the traffic, there won't be one - just step out into the road and walk confidently across at a steady pace and the fast moving mental drivers will simply flow around you. Just don't suddenly speed up or slow down, otherwise they'll probably run you over". We stood at the side of the road for a few minutes, desperately hoping for a chance to run across, but none came so eventually we held hands, took a deep breath and stepped out. It's like playing the 70s arcade classic "Frogger", but for real.

Some of the bigger junctions have traffic lights with little green men just like at home, but in some ways these are worse. They're not universally obeyed, so you get lulled into a false sense of security as the traffic stops at the red light, you get halfway across the road and then swarms of mopeds laden with bananas and cyclists with entire florist shops strapped to their bikes come rushing through from the back of the queue, catching you completely by surprise and causing you to commit the potentially life-ending act of dodging out of the way. We nearly had to have words with a bus which decided that it couldn't be bothered obeying the red light and carried on coming towards us as we crossed. Justine employed her "hard stare" (don't be on the pointy-end of one of those by the way) and the driver stopped just in time.

So we got across, still in one piece and gradually became more confident, which is good because there is a very limited range of sights we could have visited from our hotel without crossing a road or two and paying for a taxi to take us from one side of the road to the other would have been extremely costly!

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