Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day 2 – Hanoi, crazy city!

I woke up way early, intent on doing the necessary business and at the same time seeing a bit of Hanoi. I had to wake up the young man of the desk so he would let me out of the hostel, and drifted through the deserted streets of downtown Hanoi like a wraith. It was nice to see the city wake up, but I found it a bit hard to orient myself: The streets have very clear street signs, but they change name every couple of blocks, so there you are walking down Pho Bat Dan, when all of a sudden you are in Pho Hang Bo and a couple of blocks later you find yourself strolling down Hang Bac. It plays wonderful tricks with your orienteering, and to make things worse the street morphs from minute to minute, as scooters materialize from thin air, and businesses spill out unto the sidewalk in all their splendor. In the course of the day I passed three times in front of my hostel without being able to tell I was going down the same street!
Fortunately everyone is friendly and willing to direct you, so with many twists and turns I finally made it back to my hostel in time for breakfast. Afterward was time to call the outfit I was renting the motorcycle from, and ten minutes later the local rep came to pick me up to take me to the shop. It was a rinky dinky shop, and the motorcycle seems to have seen hard use, but it is a genuine Japanese Honda (by definition indestructible), and beginners cannot be choosers. The shop owner (clearly a subcontractor from the fellow I had originally contacted) outfitted me with helmet and saddlebags, gave me a 5 minute lesson, and off I went with about 1/8 of a tank of gas.
The first order of business was to go pick up my Vietnamese motorcycle driving license from the Hanoi office of the Saigon lawyer who had done the whole license application. His office was some distance from the old downtown, so I had quite a bit of practice orienteering inside the city, while at the same time learning not to kill myself navigating the ever busier streets of Hanoi. By the time I completed that errand it was getting close to noon and the traffic had already become an amazing mess. There are 6.5 million people living in Hanoi, and all of them were driving motorcycles in front of me!
I managed to get the tank filled, but just as I was beginning to feel comfortable I forgot to stop accelerating while I was applying the brake and down I went in a crash. No big deal. Thanks to the numerous bystanders who quickly brought me to my feet, and to the poor fellow I crashed against who took the inconvenience on stride, but my sore left hand is now even more sore, and my budding confidence fell into red numbers.
One way or another I made it back to the hostel, parked the bike, and went for a long walk to lick my wounds. I did remember to have lunch, and I enjoy my little walk around downtown. It reminded me a bit of the historic center of Mexico City, where the different specialties each have their own street. So there is a street for the flower vendors, other for hardware stores, and yet others for fabric vendors, motorcycle spare parts, or crockery. A very colorful place indeed.
I have decided that tomorrow I will try to get out of the city before the traffic gets too gnarly, and will first head south toward the beaches. With any luck it will be easy riding and I will be able to get more comfortable with the motorcycle in quieter surroundings.

1 comment:

Jaz C said...

I really like your blog. I went to Vietnam a few months ago and it’s always a discovery to see pictures taken from a different perspective. I just wished there were some pictures to illustrate your textlI thought I’d share with you a Vlog I just discovered on tips to Hanoi:
You both give complementary great insights.