Bicycles are the way we get around in Hue. It has been some time since either of us graced a bicycle seat, but we found the old adage about never forgetting how to ride is true. After a couple of wobbly trips around the dorm courtyard, we’re just fine. Well – maybe a little shaky in heavy traffic, but fine nonetheless.
If you look on the map (left side of this page is a link to a map of Hue), you will notice Le Loi Street (say lay loy) is the main drag through town, and it parallels the river. Most of the time we have to bike along Le Loi, except when we cross the bridge. Think about the main drag in your town – would you ride a bike a couple of miles on a street with heavy traffic?
But, its nowhere near as bad as it seems. To begin with, depending on the time of day, about 60% of the traffic is motorbikes and scooters. Motorbikes are not full-blown motorcycles. They have small engines and low gearing and are designed to carry a lot of weight at a slow speed. About 35% of the traffic is other bikes or cyclos. (Cyclos are three wheeled pedaled vehicles intended to carry passengers.) By now you have figured out there are very few cars, vans, trucks and buses here. Very few indeed.
Traffic moves at a slow pace. Except for the occasional kid, most of the motorbikes don’t go much faster than the bikes. There is too much traffic for the big vehicles to go fast.
Though not noticeable when you first come to Viet Nam and see the traffic from the inside of a bus or taxi, there is a certain ebb and flow to the traffic – somewhat similar to watching a flock of birds fly. At some mystic cue, the birds will all change direction at the same time. So it is with traffic here. While it seems chaotic at first glance, it actually has a flow to it. But, the cue is not mystic. The secret of success is the horn.
That’s right – the horn.
The horn is used for an entirely different purpose here than in the United States. Think of it as “driving by ear.” As you are tooling along the street on your bike, you will hear the nice man on the motorbike approaching fast from your right rear. Good – you know he’s there, so you don’t swerve in front in front of him. Hear that deep-throated loud horn over your left shoulder? Probably a bus. Yeah – better let him have the right of way. Didn’t notice the motorbike coming out from a side street because your view was blocked? No problem – you can hear his horn. I have yet to see anyone give a middle finger salute here – horn honking is just the way things work.
Of course, this creates one small problem for bike riders – we have no horns. Not even a bell. Cindy solved that dilemma the other day while we were pedaling back from class. I heard a horn over my left shoulder, but didn’t realize it was her making horn sounds until she pulled up next to me. The two western tourists who heard her hurt themselves laughing.
Making a left turn against traffic can be a challenge too. But, the locals solve that problem easily. They just travel down the wrong side of the road for a short distance until the traffic opens enough for them to move over to the right side of the road. No problem.
Equally easy to understand is “right of way.” There are no complicated laws and one doesn’t have to figure out who turns in what direction. Its much simpler here. The biggest vehicle has the right of way. Simple, eh?
I haven’t quite adjusted to the traffic lights here. There are no large lights strung over the intersection as there are in America. The lights here are kinda dinky, and mounted low on corner of the intersection on your side of the street.
Our bikes are provided by our employer. Not only have they been well used by previous teachers, but I doubt they would have won any quality awards when they were brand new. In the week I have used mine, I’ve had to have the handlebars tightened so the front wheel aligns with the handlebars. C’s bike had trouble letting air out of a tire until it was patched twice. But they get us where we need to go, and as long as Thai the Bike Man sets up shop everyday at the gate, we’re rolling.
So – using my back pack as my carry-all, I get around, man. I get around.
(Be sure to click on the photos to see a larger version.)
We ride bicycles
surrounded by the beeping
of scooters and cars.