Being from the UK you learn that pavements are for pedestrians and only pedestrians. Obstacles, that get in the way, be it signs, parked cars, bikes chained to railings or too many cafe tables and chairs are generally frowned upon, particularly if it inhibits the ability to walk. But not so in Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Vietnam the pavement is all about life and every activity under the sun seems to take place there. The pavement can suddenly become a restaurant with the emergence of small plastic tables and stools or a temporary shop with wares being laid out to entice people to buy. The pavement is used as a place to park cars, mopeds or bicycles with vast numbers neatly lined up to optimise the available room. It is a place to get your hair cut or have your shoes polished. A place to wash or repair your moped. A place to socialise. And when the roads are jammed pack full a general shortcut for traffic.
So with all this activity is there any space left for pedestrians? The general answer is no, not really. With everything that is going on it is often easier to bypass the pavement completely and walk on the road.
This involves a whole new set of rules as the traffic somehow avoids you. Don’t expect traffic to abide what would be regarded as ‘normal’ traffic rules back in the UK. Not everyone obeys the one-way street rule. Or the rule that suggest that you drive on the right. The key is to look everywhere and don’t assume anything.
Crossing the road involves a whole new rule set. If you wait until there is a gap in the traffic you will be there until Christmas. The key is to walk slowly but steadily across the road and let the bikes pass either in front or behind you. Small hand gestures or the flashing of lights indicate who is going in front. It is all good-natured and somehow it works.
Walking just isn’t that popular with local people. Everyone has a moped – why walk? You can see whole families, mum, dad and three kids, all on a single moped. Therefore, the amount of pedestrians trying to move about the city is generally a lot less than the number of bikes on the road. Which leads me to my general conclusion:
Pavements are definitely for life. Roads are for trying to get somewhere. Oh and railway tracks are for cooking.