Post-Netherlands Backpacking Trip

Contrasting scenes in Hanoi

Friends and family ask how I’m enjoying Hanoi so far, and I invariably use the same two words to describe this bustling city — chaos and madness.

Though I witnessed a similar traffic dynamic in Cambodia three years ago, that experience somehow didn’t translate in my expectations for Hanoi. Like Phnom Penh, the streets are clogged with motorbikes, scooters, cars, buses, and bicycles. They weave effortlessly around each other, using their horns with good measure.

Viewing the traffic from above, in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Viewing the traffic from above, in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

These images preoccupied my mind upon arriving in Hanoi. But it’s a simplified characterization of the city, and of course not representative of the whole city.

On the sidelines, life moves at a much slower pace. Many shop owners perch on stools at the front of their establishments. They sit contentedly in between customers. When assisting a newcomer, they move with precision and ease.

Back to the traffic — from the outside looking in, the word chaos definitely comes to mind. But there seems to be a symbiotic relationship linking all of the motorists and cyclists. There is a certain elegance to the way the traffic flows. With the exception of those distracted by their cell phones, they are fully invested in the task of driving.

Scooter rides through Hanoi

And while the lives of shop owners appear to be in sharp contrast with those on the road, they are also fully committing themselves to the moment at hand. I feel like I can learn from Hanoians in this regard. Everywhere I turn, there is inspiration reminding me to remain mindful and present.

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