Hanoi City photo diary: symphony of motor bike chaos

Bia Hoi and the Vietnamese coffee were two things I have in mind before packing for the trip. Hanoi’s local draft beer is a hit among backpackers and the coffee is famous among addicts like me for its distinctly strong taste. Getting high from both could be achieved by just spotting the right roadside cafes around the Old Quarter.

The moment we stepped on the concrete pavements of Hanoi, I realized our stay won’t be just about the beer and the coffee. I fell in love in no time with the symphony of chaos and the lives made alive by the swarm of two-wheeled machines that fill the streets of Vietnam’s capital. 

The moving swarm of motor bike lights

Yeah, the road is where the life is and the roadside cafes are rendezvous for observing Hanoi’s daily movement.

We strolled the streets in shoes and slippers as light as our spirits wandering over the busy streets of the 1003 year old historic city of more than six and a half million people. A friend once quipped that each Hanoian reserves two motorcycles; the plusher one is for flaunting and the cheaper one for utility use. Just imagine how many motorcycles swerve and honk in the road each day with that. But reliable records show there are only 4 million motor bikes that crowd the seldom narrow streets of Hanoi.
crossing the street is an art..i just fired the camera here while crossing

inflatables, anyone?

We walked until we find the most comfortable seats we can lay our asses on. The walking continued. A Hero’s museum, mausoleum, old houses and outdoor museums of war were venues of our momentary rests. We continued until the skies turned grey but the streets filled with chaotic turns and noisy honks seem to never tire us.

In Hanoi, people earn a living on wheels; they flaunt their fashion style on wheels; they take the wheels for adventure, they move on wheels. Taxis, motor bikes and cyclos share the space in constricted roads surrounded by slender but tall buildings around the Old quarter. 

playing with the light trails

I could only wonder if there are road rules in this city dominated by French colonial architecture and three-lined boulevards. Drivers do bike turns with one hand texting or calling as if it’s normal. U-turns can be done in the crossroads. Mercedez Benz cars might stand out from the crowd of wheels but it is no different in doing the unexpected turns in the cycle-cramped roads. Fun!

I held my breath in one instance watching a motorcycle about to crash into a baby stroller being pushed by a mother. In one second the driver went away by swerving quickly leaving everybody safe. The mother pushed forward as if nothing happened. So I asked: are near-crash experiences normal here?
colorful toy fans for sale

The movement

Motor scooters flood the streets and tourist like us can only watch with jaws dropped how in the world the street chaos can leave no limb lost or skin bruised. It’s a daily circus, I said to my wife who would let out a modest scream everytime we cross the streets.

We walked further to find Hoan Kiem lake and the turtle tower. The bright Huc bridge and the city lights reflecting on the tranquil waters calmed us down.

But the day had to end with a bottle of that local draft. And we trudged the streets for one more round walking past moving flashing lights.

With fellow travelers and the dancing lights behind us. Loook, ma!

Finally we found a bar at the corner of Hang Phen and Hang Ga streets. Bia Hanoi to end the day! Too late to search further that time for the authentic Bia Hoi. Who cares? We were on the perfect spot to continue observing the live street show. []

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