The Year of the Dog starts February 16, and reminds me of our visit to Vietnam in January 2012, in the two weeks leading up to the Year of the Dragon. Our few days in the Old City part of Hanoi were some of the best. A hectic and fascinating city––we loved it.
Honk. Honk. Honk. We see and hear lots and lots of scooters. We are told when a person intends to buy a new motorbike, he first asks to hear the horn sound. But it doesn’t really matter what sound the horn makes––there’s such a cacophony of noise that one doesn’t know where the sound is coming from, or who it is intended for. Sometimes it’s not intended for anyone, or maybe everyone. We see a grandma on a motorbike in Hanoi, beeping the horn constantly, as if the horn itself makes it go.
Crossing the street is hazardous. We are told to cross together “like sticky rice” and to keep moving. Slowly, slowly. Don’t stop. Irv and I find it best to attach ourselves to a pole-lady, and cross with her. Those ladies with poles on their shoulders know how to stay safe.
You can carry anything on a motorbike, and the Vietnamese are out to prove it.
Sometimes it takes two.
Bags of rice, or wheat, or dried noodles or whatever were delivered to their destinations by folks who used their motorbikes as a source of income.
Bikes are essential for commerce.
Lots of flowers and plants are gifted at Lunar New Year.
Kumquat trees in pots are a special gift because “kum quat” means good luck in Vietnamese. At least that’s how I remember it – I hope I’m right.
North and South alike, motorbikes are a primary means of transportation. Single people going to work, couples out on dates, friends offering rides to others, couples carrying a new baby going home to see relatives for Lunar New Year, families of parents and three children all piled on the same vehicle. Only the parents wear helmets, or at least that was true in 2012.
One can fill up with gasoline at stations resembling those in the United States. Or, if one is pressed for time and needs only a liter of gas, you might find a small petrol station along the side of the road. The petrol is in small bottles re-purposed from other uses, and is usually orange or green-colored.
City shopping is made for motorbikes. No street-side parking spaces are needed because motorbikes park up on the sidewalk, forcing walkers to the street. Sometimes small shops stretch their wares on the sidewalk clear out to the street, where shoppers don’t even have to leave their motorbikes to buy something.
City people love the traffic, some say. But things change and too much of a good thing is no longer good––I read that the government is looking to ban motorbikes in the old section of Hanoi by 2030, due to congestion like this.
In the meantime, you can still catch a taxi.
If the motorbike is parked on a corner, has two helmets attached and there is a driver nearby, it’s a taxi.
You can even go via Uber on a scooter (UberMOTO). Quick transportation for one, I hear.
Good luck and Happy New Year!
Date of travel: January 2012. Tour: OAT’s Inside Vietnam