I’m really grateful I don’t suffer from motion sickness. It means I don’t have to sit at the front of the bus.
You see, what I’ve found is that in South East Asia it’s better for your health if you can’t see the driving, best described by a bumper sticker I saw in Chiang Mai: “drive it like you stole it.”
Because I’m always at the back of the vehicle I’m oblivious to the fact that on-route to the border of Thailand and Laos our driver is talking on the car phone at the same time as overtaking on blind corners. It gets so bad that my roommate, sitting at the front of the minivan, turns around and with a look of sheer pandemonium on her face proclaims: “we’re all going to die.”
It’s not until later that day we find out that the two minivan drivers were actually talking to each other on the phone about when it was ok to overtake.
By the time we get to Vietnam the cars have been replaced with motorbikes, nine million of them. It blows my mind to think that in Saigon alone there’s more motorbikes than New Zealand has people.
It’s here in Hanoi on a wet and bleak-looking Valentines Day that I confront my first major road to cross.
Truth be told I’ve been scared shitless of crossing roads ever since my friend got hit crossing the street (on a green walky man I might add).
Around the same time as I’m procrastinating by taking photos of the task ahead, a story from The Bible pops into my mind (don’t ask me why).
“Moses held out his hand over the sea and the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind… The water was divided and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on both sides.”
So from then on in every time I go to cross the road in Vietnam I pretend I’m Moses. I hold out my hand. I walk with authority. I do not run. Miraculously the walls of motorbikes part around me.
But to be honest the number one thing that has me on edge about the driving in Vietnam is that everyone toots. Even when there’s nothing or no-one to toot at, they toot.
Back home you only toot if you want to get someone’s attention, if you’re really pissed off at some driving manoeuvre another vehicle has just pulled, or if you’re about to crash.
But in Vietnam, apparently if they don’t toot and they hit someone they get in a lot more trouble than if they do toot. So they just toot all the time.
The other thing that strikes me is that the Vietnamese use motorbikes like we’d use cars. I once saw a family of five on one, the mum breast-feeding her youngest while the dad drove. I also saw a lady driving a cage full of cats to the border of China. They will be dinner. Unfortunately, I was too slow to get both instances on camera.
I did however manage to capture the worst parking manoeuvre I’ve ever seen.
It occurred in Pak Beng in Laos, a must-stop town when you’re doing a leisurely two day cruise down the Mekong.
It all began when our slowboat arrived around sunset to find a dozen or so other boats already moored up for the night. Instead of tacking onto the end of the line, our slowboat driver decides he wants to be right in the middle of the action (apparently next to his relatives).
So as our tour leader’s shouting at us to keep our bodily parts inside the boat, out driver begins the process of barging right on in up there. The boat’s moaning from the stress. It’s making a sound like when you put a walnut in a walnut cracker.
It’s fair to say once we moor we’re all in need of some shots.
We each have a swig of Lao Lao, a Laotian rice whiskey so strong it causes one of the ladies on our tour to vomit. It just causes me to have this look on my face, which is strangely similar to the look I was sporting when the parking manoeuvre got underway.