Motorbike city

Not so long ago Hanoi was a city of bicycles and cyclos, but now the motorbike rules.

Parked bikes cover many pavements, and shops and homes usually have small ramps to allow easy access. It’s common to see shoppers on motor bikes navigating the narrow aisles of open markets. During peak hour motorbike drivers take to the pavements where they can, to bypass roads crowded, gutter to gutter, with bikes and an increasing number of cars.

Motorbike taxis (xe om) are everywhere, and are the fastest way of getting around a city clogged with traffic. Xe om driver can be found on many street corners and usually identify themselves to potential foreign passengers by calling out “oto“. The other way to identify them yourself is by spotting the extra motorbike helmet they all carry. It’s illegal to be on a bike without a helmet, and that law is usually enforced. Negotiate a price before you get on so that there are no surprises at the other end, put on the helmet and you’re away.

Watching the world go by from the back of a motorbike is exhilarating. The bustling streets, where so much life is lived, are a kaleidoscope of images as you flash past – people working, chatting, cooking and eating on the pavements, in between all those parked motorbikes.

Then there are the other motorbike drivers to watch, and their passengers and cargo: women driver wearing regulation sky-high heels, children nestling on their father’s knees at the front of the bike or sandwiched between father and mother; pregnant passengers riding side saddle; delivery bikes carrying chairs, coat stands, mattresses, 20-litre water bottles, floral arrangements the size of wagon wheels; cages of chickens; full-length mirrors; potted plants a metre high.

I recently saw a motor bike with the passenger balancing a sheet of glass the size of a window pane on his thighs, while holding it at each end with his bare hands.



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5 responses to “Motorbike city

  1. Megan

    Sheets of glass, mattresses, stilettos … Sounds like fodder for a very arty photographic exhibition.
    Feel like I’ve just spent some time in Hanoi, Jeannie.

    • I have seen a coffee-table book here consisting of photos of what people manage to get on to the back (and front) of motor bikes and bicycles: people show tremendous ingenuity, necessity being the mother of invention I guess.

  2. Peter Zakharov

    Love your writing Jeannie, and photos not too shabby! While filming in Phnom Penh we had to transport a 16′ kayak across town- have a guess how they did it? SIDEWAYS on a moped! I think a full length mirror takes the cake though. Glad you’re enjoying life there.
    x cuz Zak

  3. Marian

    Lovely post Jeannie. Puts one right there. Love how that tiny apartment block is right there in the middle of the first photo.

    • Those tiny apartment blocks are everywhere in Hanoi – sometimes it would be hard to take a photo without one! Buildings have very narrow street frontages so have many storeys, often with only one room at each level. Even in the countryside you see buildings like that out in the middle of a field. They look like something out of a Dr Seuss picture book.

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