If I were learning to drive in Vietnam, I’m not sure if I’d pass with flying colours or fail miserably. For all I know, they may hand out driving licenses like promotion leaflets for a club.
My first experience of the roads in Vietnam was in Ha Noi, possibly the craziest place in Vietnam. There aren’t two sides to the road, there may not even be one. There is just a mix of traffic flowing in multiple directions. Cars stand little chance on the narrow roads against the swarms of scooters. Scooters dart passed each other going forwards, backwards, left and right with beeping of horns to indicate you are going too slow or about to be taken over.
The sound of a tooting horn is background noise here, just as the sound of children in a playground or the rain hitting your window sill. If you heard one of these beeps in London, you would immediately look round to check the accident wasn’t too bad. The sound of Vietnam!
Crossing the road in Ha Noi is a skill worthy of any CV. There is an art to it and as far as I can see, the trick is to be calm, confident and walk out into the road… oh, and you need to know the magic hand signal – hold your hand out, palm down, and move your hand up and down. This indicates to slow down. The first time I saw the talent of crossing the road in action was my very first night in Ha Noi. Our hostel rep breezed across the road without blinking – clearly the only way to get the hundreds of scooters to slow down! Returning to Ha Noi one week later and I certainly think I could be a semi-professional, I’ve even adapted the hand movement to ward off those attempting to sell to me.
My other experiences have come as a passenger of a minibus, and a coach. I’m not sure which one I felt safer in – possibly the coach, just because it was bigger. The minibus journey was from Ha Noi to Ha Long Bay. This journey told me a lot about the road conditions in Vietnam, I’m sure there is potential contract for Balfour Beatty somewhere. Sitting at the back of the minibus can only be compared to sitting on a pogo-stick, my head felt every bump, hole or raise in the road as my head brushed off the ceiling. On the flip side, I did get a little extra leg room which was needed! I truly believe that the seat space is made for people of five feet and under.
The other aspect to roads in Vietnam is the animals that you swerve past, and I’m not talking about the occasional cat.
My scooter journey around Cat Ba Island saw me swerving to avoid around twenty goats and their owner taking a stroll in the middle of the road. The goat owner was kind enough to direct traffic to the opposite side of the road, around his herd..
The major swerve in the road was on the sleeper bus from Ha Noi to Hoi An as a cow just lay there, chilling out wagging his tail and another standing alongside it. The bizarre roads of Vietnam!