We were unsure whether to blog about our recent moped rental, mainly for the sake of Jacky and Debs’ peace of mind, however we hope this will actually settle any anxieties.
It took as a while to pluck up the courage to approach our landlord, Nguyen, about renting mopeds from him, as the stress of settling in to our new jobs was enough to keep us occupied, without throwing in the additional pressure of navigating our way through Hanoi’s grid locked traffic in order to get to school. Up until this point, we had been taking Ubers to the Old Quarter for dinner and to our slightly further away schools. However we have come to realise that Uber in Hanoi isn’t as efficient as we were used to in London. Uber drivers often take up to 20 minutes to reach your location and will likely drive in the opposite direction before turning around to collect you. They also have a habit of calling you to confirm the pick up location (defeating the purpose of the GPS map they have that tells them where we are very clearly). This causes much frustration from both ends due to the language barrier and normally ends with the driver hanging up on us as we can only muster our address and the word ‘Uber’.
By the time our 4th week in Hanoi swung round, we felt very ready for the freedom that our own mopeds would no doubt offer us. The idea of being able to leave the flat 10 minutes before lessons started and zooming away from the schools as soon as the day was over was a liberating prospect. Everyone in Hanoi owns a moped, and our lack of one had caused a lot of confusion, particularly to the TA’s who, baffled, watched us walk home on some occasions (the kinder ones offered us lifts in the sweltering heat).
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Nguyen sorted us out with 2 sets of wheels, and his staff drove us to a nearby park so we could practice away from the busy streets. We did a few laps while he gave us some pointers and after about an hour, sent us on our way with the advice that we must practice every day after 9pm for a week, as the streets are less busy at night.
This is what we have learnt in a week…
How to drive a moped:
- Ignore your wing mirrors – Often easy to do as most bikes don’t have them. Instead, look behind you. Nguyen insists that wing mirrors are actually more dangerous as you’re likely to get tangled up with someone else’s in the chaos.
- Only be concerned with what’s ahead – In spite of rule 1, you are only responsible for what’s in front of you. If someone drives into the back of you, that’s their mistake. This rule gives you the freedom to zig-zag across the road whenever you see fit.
- Pavements are your friend – Overtaking and undertaking is rife in Hanoi. Sticking close to the pavement prevents people from undercutting, thus giving you one less thing to worry about.
- Smile for the police – If the police stop you, it’s because you’ve done something illegal. Smile and play the naïve tourist; pretend you’ve only just arrived in Hanoi and don’t know the rules of the road. Don’t give them any money. Call Nguyen. He’ll sort you out.
- Know where your horn is – Tooting your horn as much as possible lets locals know you’re a silly Westerner so they’ll give you a wide berth. A few quick blasts and the seas will part for you.
- Ignore traffic lights and road signs – A red light means sneak forward at your own risk. Amber means…there is no amber. Green means full throttle! One-way streets are very common. If you find yourself driving the wrong way down a one-way street, plough on regardless, or perhaps think about using the pavements.
- Never mess with a bus – There is a very clear hierarcy which must always be respected: Buses – Big cars – Little cars – Motorbikes – Mopeds – Bicycles – Pedestrians.
- Move in a pack – The traffic moves like a shoal of fish. The idea is safety in numbers. If one person jumps the light, assume it’s safe to follow. Stick to the middle of the pack and use the other riders as human shields.
- Twenty’s plenty – You won’t reach speeds much higher than 20 kmph because of the grid-lock traffic.
- Load up – There is nothing that cannot be transported on a moped. Forget what you think you know. Whether you’re transporting a plasma screen TV, a fridge-freezer, 10 gas canisters, 5 children, or an Alsatian, a moped is most suited for the job.
In our first proper outing since renting, we drove up to Ho Tay via the Old Quarter. As we sit in the flat and reflect on the ride, we both agree that it was an overwhelming success. The only minor hiccup was navigation. The sprawling streets around the Old Quarter are a maze for Hanoian taxi drivers, so it was little surprise that we had to pull over every 5 minutes to check we were going in the correct direction. Ho Tay, or West Lake is the largest lake (15km in circumference) in the city, in the north-west of Hanoi. The lake is surrounded by luxury hotels, boutiques and a plethora of high rise apartments, home to many an expat. From our experience, it’s a very popular place with TEFL teachers from North America. From our brief time spent in Ho Tay, we’ve concluded that it is somewhere to visit again, but we much prefer our downtown Hanoi home.
We would also like to note, again for Jacky and Debs, that we have the biggest helmets Hanoi has to offer. They are top of the range, indestructible, and incredibly stylish. We look really cool in them. Really cool. All in all, the moped experience has been pretty smooth and easier than we were expecting. So long Uber. Hello freedom!