Traffic in Vietnam is quite the experience – being dropped into Hanoi after being accustomed to the civilization and order of American streets (I know, I can’t believe it either that I’m referring to the streets of San Francisco as “civilized”) is bit like being tossed into a whirlwind. Imagine your normal two lane road, except perhaps a little narrower so that there’s no room for parking on either side. Replace the cars that you would see heading down the street with motorbikes three across. Except, of course, motorbikes and motorcycles don’t ride down the road in easy formations; they dodge, weave, and cut into any gap in search of the fastest possible route. Now add back in a few cars for good measure – perhaps at the rate of one or two on a block at any given moment. Of course, not everyone in Vietnam can afford a motorbike or car, and so the streets also see the frequent presence of Vietnamese on bicycles — most likely carrying heavy loads destined for sale.
In fact, packing as much as possible on your motorbike appears to be the Vietnamese national sport. It’s not unusual at all to see a motorbike zipping down the road carrying a package equaling the weight of the bike and driver combined, with a bulk exceeding what would fit in the trunk of even my Cadillac. In Hanoi, with a market environment consisting mostly of small businesses, and crowded streets making large trucks difficult, these motorbikes serve as the delivery pipelines for an incredible variety of goods. On the way from the airport to our hotel I saw everything from an industrial quantity of toilet paper to steel girders three times the length of the vehicle, all being transported by motorbike.
Finally, there are pedestrians. Sidewalks in Vietnam are reserved for scooter parking and vendors selling their wares. Vietnamese consider it undignified to grab your roadside snack and continue strolling down the street, so even the humblest of food carts will have a small set of plastic stools and tables. And so, pedestrians like this tourist, are forced out into the street with the scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, and buses.