Hanoi, Vietnam – The Most Insane City On The Planet (and tons of fun!)

There is no way to describe the mayhem that is Hanoi in words and honestly pictures don’t do it justice.   I urge you to watch this video to get an understanding of what happens here on the streets.   The video below was not made at rush hour.  It was made in the middle of the afternoon on one of the hundreds of intersections here where there just isn’t a traffic light.

I have never, ever seen anything like this.  People completely ignore traffic signals.  Red lights literally mean nothing.

All of the vehicles here are moving - and fast
All of the vehicles here are moving – and fast
Notice the grey bike in front of the black jacket - he's not going the 'right' way ....
Notice the grey bike in front of the black jacket – he’s not going the ‘right’ way ….

People say that “In Brazil red lights are optional” – not like Hanoi.  In Hanoi a motorbike approaches a red light at full speed and twists through the cars coming in the other direction.  It looks absolutely INSANE when you first see it.

Notice - the cars are going in the other direction ... at the same time
Notice – the cars are going in the other direction … at the same time

They tell you “Just cross the street slowly and the bikes will avoid you”.  Really there is nothing else that you can do or you will be stuck on one side of the street.  The traffic ALWAYS goes.

They tell you "Just walk slowly and the bikes will avoid you"
They tell you “Just walk slowly and the bikes will avoid you”

The traffic in Hanoi isn’t the only thing that represents a total free-for-all though.   Just about everything is a total free for all.   Want to buy “North Face” clothing for 1/10th of the cost?   Sure – it’s “Same-same just different”.

100% North Face(d) ... or maybe like North-East faced?  Still works!
100% North Face(d) … or maybe like North-East faced? Still works!

Sure, it “looks” like it’s a Vans store – and of course why wouldn’t you name your street corner pharmacy “CVS K-mart” – get double the brand recognition while having absolutely nothing to do with either brands – it’s perfect!!!!

Why not go with both brands!
Why not go with both brands!

Of course then there’s the game of “How much stuff can we actually fit on a scooter/motorcycle”?

Sure, this is safe for the kids and everyone!
Sure, this is safe for the kids and everyone!
I don't know what he's selling but it fits on a scooter and you can eat it!
I don’t know what he’s selling but it fits on a scooter and you can eat it!

And of course no one has won that game yet – it’s an ongoing competition where the actual weight of the stuff is still pushing several hundred pounds/kilos and if you are talking about family members/pets

He's happy - and he looks like he's made it a few years!
He’s happy – and he looks like he’s made it a few years!

– well – I think that someone may have maxed out at 4 kids and a dog plus mom and dad … and a refrigerator on the back (sadly I wasn’t there to get the photo but I’m still trying!).

Need to buy some porcelain?   Just find the guy on the bike!
Need to buy some porcelain? Just find the guy on the bike!
Get your hat here!
Get your hat here!

Of course the traffic and the … ahem …. not so real …. brand named items aren’t the only things that are totally out of control off the charts and in direct opposition to anything that would be considered safe and sane in the US – here in Hanoi apparently electricity isn’t quite as dangerous or needed to be regulated in it’s implementation as it is at home.  Witness here what just about every telephone pole looks like:

This is what the telephone poles look like in Hanoi
This is what the telephone poles look like in Hanoi

And just so you understand the context – that this picture isn’t somewhere out in the middle of an industrial park or separated from the general public by let’s say a 10 foot fence – here’s a shot of the same pole in context

And here's what it looks like with the street in view and the bikes going by,
And here’s what it looks like with the street in view and the bikes going by.

At first I was totally freaked out – then I got to really like it.  It definitely flies in the face of everything that we are told is needed by safety standards.   This place isn’t “safety third” – it’s (pardon my French) “Fuck safety” – there’s no other way to say it.  It’s a libertarian dream.   For what it’s worth though – we are of course trying our best to be careful in it – the reality is that there are many, many accidents here.  In fact Katie was in one on the way to the airport.

Before I wrap this one up I will mention another couple of things – the food is amazing – even if it comes from a place that wouldn’t get a “D” rating in a California health inspection ….

They call it "Bun" - I call it "Yum" - and I couldn't care less about the kitchen ....
They call it “Bun” – I call it “Yum” – and I couldn’t care less about the kitchen ….
The kitchen where my delicious Bun (pork stew) was created
The kitchen where my delicious Bun (pork stew) was created
Everyone sits on little chairs - everyone!
Everyone sits on little chairs – everyone!
All of the big kids are sitting in the little chairs these days!
All of the big kids are sitting in the little chairs these days!

I’m not going to go deep into this one but when you come here and if you visit a couple of the right places – or if you just do a bit of history – these people certainly might be inclined to have a whole lot of distaste and distrust for us – and they absolutely do not (except maybe this little cutie seemed a little wary of me ) …..

I would be suspicious of a big bald dude like me too!
I would be suspicious of a big bald dude like me too!

So many of them are so incredibly nice, kind and interested in us and not just for our money (although it would be silly to think that they don’t want our money as well).   Anyhow – I do want to write more about this place and the people here.  It is

Pedicab in the middle of traffic - people smiling and waving at me :)
Pedicab in the middle of traffic – people smiling and waving at me 🙂

so interesting – one of the most intriguing and chaotic places we have been to yet – but for now I will just leave you with some more photos – enjoy!

And more mayhem - but it all works!
And more mayhem – but it all works!
Just people on the street - you know - just like home
Just people on the street – you know – just like home
Where else would you sell balloons but in the middle of the street - right?
Where else would you sell balloons but in the middle of the street – right?
IMGL2853
Ah yes – they carry things on their shoulders as well

IMGL2852

This guy is in the running
This guy is in the running
Having a chat after a day of work
Having a chat after a day of work
So .... after work to blow off steam .... they play street badmitton.  Really.
So …. after work to blow off steam …. they play street badmitton. Really.
And I guess it's wedding season here in Hanoi - literally several brides at every nice viewpoint for photos - odd.
And I guess it’s wedding season here in Hanoi – literally several brides at every nice viewpoint for photos – odd.

And to wrap it up – just got back from my dinner and the vote is in – Hanoi is now my second favorite city yet (Istanbul was the first prior to that).  Thriving, amazing, chaotic place.   Good night Vietnam!

Barbeque street-side.  Brilliant, perfect.
Barbeque street-side. Brilliant, perfect.
Good night Hanoi!
Good night Hanoi!

10 thoughts on “Hanoi, Vietnam – The Most Insane City On The Planet (and tons of fun!)

  1. GREAT DIALOGUE. Almost as frenetic as the pictures. Just kidding. I hope Katie’s okay. Was that her in the white hat in one of the pictures? Fun way to start a Sunday morning. Thanks. Love MOM

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