The “Top Gear Dream” Part 2: Hanoi to Ninh Binh
Hanoi is a complete maze even with the assistance of a GPS, combine that with its chaotic traffic, escaping the mayhem can be seemingly impossible. Luckily the shop had provided us with a guide to lead us out. It was 3 in the afternoon as our group of 12 (on 8 bikes) began our journey out of Hanoi but before we could go anywhere we had to get petrol. The closest petrol station was only about 500m from the bike shop but on the short trip there we managed to temporarily lose two of our group in the traffic. After several minutes and a few phone calls later we all managed to rally at the petrol station but it was now clear that the ‘Sons of Vietnam’ were going have a hard time staying together.
Once our tanks were full we headed for the main North to South highway AH-1. The traffic of Hanoi was shocking enough to walk through, let alone drive in, but the fear of serious injury wasn’t on my mind as we were going too slow to do any real harm. In the hour it took us to leave the city I developed some much needed confidence on my scooter. This however, was short lived as the slow chaotic traffic of Hanoi turned into the fast paced chaotic traffic of the highway and things seemed to get a lot bigger! We were still surrounded by scooters everywhere you looked but now we also had to deal with the addition of buses, trucks and cars. A sound that will haunt me to the grave is the distinct sound of the lorry’s comical horn. It almost sounded like it belonged on a clown car, not a large truck determined to get to its destination, even if that mean killing you in the process.
The road rules of Hanoi, where you just had to go with the flow and only worry about what is in front of you, now involved having to worry about anything and everything bigger than you. Whether it was in front of you, behind you or even driving on the wrong side of the road, if the vehicle was larger than you, you had to give way or it would probably run you over. If you didn’t give enough room to an oncoming truck, you would get a courtesy flash of the lights to inform you that you were still in the path of the oncoming truck. It didn’t matter if the truck was passing a truck that was passing another truck (which did happen several times) taking up the entirety of your lane, you were responsible for getting off the road.
Our convoy of 8 bikes managed to stay together despite the chaos and after a few hours on the road and about 60 kilometers out of Hanoi we decided to pull over to find a place to stay for the night. The next morning we emerged from the guesthouse and were greeted by overcast skies, which terrified me as rain was something I was not prepared to ride in. My fears would come to fruition about an hour into the ride as rain started to come down as we passed through a small city. As we approached a set of traffic lights I made a hesitant decision to ignore the red light and follow a few of our group through the intersection. Although in Hanoi red lights were completely optional, I did not fair too well at this intersection and ended up crashing myself and Alice into the pavement trying to avoid running down a few of the locals. Both Alice and I were a bit shaken up despite only suffering a few minor scraps, so the ‘Sons of Vietnam’ decided to take a short break in an empty building under construction as the rain picked up. This was our first and only crash but one of many for the group over the next 1700 kilometers. After the rain still hadn’t cleared up after a little over an hour we decided to set off again for Ninh Binh now donning our multi-coloured ponchos. This time very uneasy about the driving conditions, but luckily we arrived with no more issues and settled into our hotel.