It was our last morning in Hanoi and Sue and I wanted to revisit the early morning public t’ai chi sessions around Hoan Kiem Lake that we had witnessed in the rain five days previously. We left our small hotel in a quiet side street in the Old Quarter just after dawn and made our way through deserted streets to the lake. We commented on how easy it was to walk the streets when there were very few mopeds about – either on the streets or parked on the pavements.
Everyone who has been to South East Asia talks about the traffic in the cities and old hands caution that this is something that travellers have to get to grips with. Guide books are clear about the optimum approach for pedestrians – to walk slowly across the road at a constant pace thus allowing vehicles to weave round you – to suddenly stop or run in response to fear of collisions is to be avoided as these are likely to cause the very problems you are seeking to prevent. This sounds bad enough to a westerner who is used to more regulated traffic system (as you are putting your safety entirely in the hands of others) but the reality is much more complex and challenging!
Where do you start?
Well virtually anywhere on the network – Da Nang? Hanoi? – the trains are the same, long lines of carriages pulled slowly along by huge work-a-day diesel units, no streamlined euro trains these! Passengers gradually assemble in large echoey station waiting rooms and are entertained by Vietnamese soaps at high volume until the gates are opened and everyone streams out across the tracks to hunt down their carriage, conscious of large machines moving in the dark as engines are changed with much clanging and not a little shouting.