74km, av 18.4km/hr, max 40.4km/hr, time on bikes: 4hrs
Today is the day we’ve both been fearing/secretly looking forward to – the ride into Hanoi. The distance, 70km, is perfectly doable and the terrain is mostly flat. The great unknown is just how bad/mad the traffic will be and whether we feel safe enough to ride into the city. (Back in London planning the trip 6 months ago, we casually assumed we’d probably just “jump on a bus” at this point.)
We manage the first 60km with relative ease, cruising at an average of 20km/hr and not having any really hairy moments. There are more roadworks, of course, which makes it even dustier than normal, and this also makes for slightly more unpredictable traffic, as huge trucks and speeding buses look to avoid the temporary potholes etc, but it’s nothing too scary.
As we approach Hanoi the volume of traffic grows steadily and the million horns have by now blended into one continuous ‘hoooooooonk’. Suddenly, we’re on a 6 lane carriageway on the city limits, and we’ve been joined by approximately all of the scooters in Asia. But, weirdly, it’s not that scary once you get used to it – there’s even a dedicated cycle lane!
The trick, it seems, is to go with the flow, keep moving and always assume the most unexpected thing that looks like is about to happen, will indeed happen. The audacity of some of the scooter drivers is incredible and you can’t help but admire it.
As we approach the city centre, things get even more intense as the streets get narrower. At traffic lights there are literally hundreds of mopeds criss-crossing each other’s paths with inches to spare; add music and it would be like some beautifully choreographed Hollywood dance routine. Even though the fumes are enough to give you a headache, the general ‘order in chaos’ is truly something to witness – but even more fun to be a part of! It’s exhilarating, yes, but we actually feel less in danger here than on London’s roads, mainly due to lack of lorries and lower overall speeds.
After a good 30 minutes of the most white-knuckle city cycling we’ve ever experienced, we arrive at our Old Quarter guesthouse tired, a little overwhelmed by what just happened, but also kind of pleased that we took on the infamous Hanoi traffic and lived to tell the tale.