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Halong Bay
Vietnam, Dec 17, 2004

cyclo vs. moped

We needed to get across the city fairly quickly to meet John Moon for dinner. (John is a friend from home who had just returned to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh to spend the remainder of his Vietnam vacation with us.) So instead of walking or taking an auto taxi, we flagged down a “cyclo,” a pedal-driven taxi with a bucket seat up front just barely big enough for the two of us.

in a cyclo (a different one)

The driver wanted to charge us US$5, which is an exorbitant price here. We eventually arrived at a reasonable price of 20,000 dong (about $1.25) and clamored into the vehicle. [Hint: always negotiate *before* your ride starts.]

He promptly set off in the wrong direction. We thought that maybe he knew a shortcut, and it was nighttime so it was harder for us to figure things out, and most of all, we both have a really cruddy sense of direction so we’re never quick to criticize somebody else’s directions (especially a local’s). After 7 minutes of harrowing travel through Hanoi’s free-for-all traffic, we reached one of the few stoplights in town. At this point, we were pretty sure he had gone the wrong way. Our suspicions were confirmed when he started asking nearby moped-riders for directions.

The light turned green and we headed out into the middle of one of Hanoi’s biggest intersections. Most of the traffic raced ahead of us since we were powered only by pedals. When we were alone in the center of the intersection, our driver strangely decided that perhaps he should suddenly turn right and… WHAM!

Doing anything sudden in Hanoi traffic is a bad idea. The only thing preventing massive pileups is the idea that if you keep slowly doing what it *looks* like you’re going to do (or should do), things will work themselves out as other drivers adjust. John Moon describes Hanoi’s traffic as the best example of fluid dynamics ever. (To see this in action, watch our street crossing video in the vietnam: hanoi gallery.)

Anyway, back to our accident. The crunch of metal on metal is an ugly sound, especially for the split-second when you experience the physical jolt of impact and realize you’ve been hit. We looked back to see the moped driver, a middle-aged man, laid out on the pavement. He looked to be alright, but he and his moped seemed a bit worse for wear. Susan was apprehensively examining the crunched metal at her side where the cyclo had been hit. But nobody was bleeding, so that was good. Phew. It was then that I realized that with my arm around Susan, my fingers had been gripping the outside of the thin metal bucket seat, right where the moped had hit us full steam. I’m really not sure how my fingers didn’t get completely munched; the moped must have hit just in front of or just behind my precious digits. Phew again. [More important hint: keep your hands and feet and everything else inside the vehicle at all times, even if the vehicle doesn’t really have an inside.]

Our driver apologized briefly to the horizontal moped-driver and left him in the road as we slowly ramped up speed again. We asked our driver if he was okay to continue and he assured us he was, but drove markedly poorly for the remainder of the ride, probably because of those post-accident-shakes that one gets. We finally arrived safely at our destination - albeit a bit shaken ourselves. In America, I would never have paid a taxi driver that had gotten us into an accident (not to mention an accident that was surely his fault), but I didn’t have the heart to deny this man $1.25 after he had biked us all around town.

Funnily enough, people in who live in Vietnam like to tell you that despite the frenetic traffic, accidents never happen. “Oh really,” we say…

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


we were on a tour (in the safety of a large bus) and saw a person dead on the side of the road, surrounded by incense and police - apparently they experience 8 deaths per day of people riding mopedsin HCM city.

--Marylin (Australia); Feb 24, 2006


I always feel as if a cyclo is about to have an accident, especially when you are pushed out into the traffic ahead of the driver. But I've never actually seen an accident before.

--Violets (Australia); Jan 28, 2006