Sunday, November 16, 2008

Here I Come

Nghi Tam village - West Lake

Every morning in my quiet neigbourhood, in an alley with no through traffic and low population density, where birds can be heard singing; I am awoken by a horn. Even here, the curse of Hanoi’s streets cannot be escaped. My neigbour, a 60ish woman who visits the market at 6.15 each morning, blasts her tinny, off- tone horn continuously as she exits our alley. At 6.35, shopping done, she returns for an encore performance…just to make sure I’m awake. There is no traffic. There are no pedestrians.

Like many Hanoians, I don’t think she realizes she’s doing it.

West Lake

Whatever the form of transport, drivers in Hanoi use their horns just as other people bite their fingernails. It is a bad habit, hard to break. Motorcyclists drive with their thumbs permanently poised over the horn, pressing it constantly to alert other road users of their presence. “I’m behind you” or “I’m going to overtake you” or “The traffic light is red but it will be green in three seconds!” are all valid reasons for using one’s horn. If a young man is riding extremely fast and dangerously, weaving in and out of the traffic, he will have his thumb permanently on the horn. In these circumstances, the horn means “I am young, stupid and invincible so get the hell out of my way.” Such a young man usually has an air horn so if he doesn’t run you off the road, the sudden piercing noise will jolt you off your motorbike.

Traffic in Hanoi

Car drivers, a growing minority taking up an increasing majority of the roads in the capital, are seemingly licensed to beep. In fact, the first rule of driving instruction in Hanoi is not stay on one’s side of the road but instead ‘Use one’s horn as much as possible… Blast the horn because your vehicle is bigger than a motorbike…blast the horn because if the motorbike gets close, it will scratch your car.’ Taxi drivers and small delivery van drivers are championship horn users. Their horns are usually ‘musical’ but worse than a bad pop-song stuck in your head. I have been known to swear particularly well and gesture threateningly when this ‘music’ is played too close to my ears!


Bigger vehicles, like trucks and buses, have the loudest horns of all. When a Hanoi bus is bearing down on you in the traffic with its horn blaring, it’s best to move aside. Their horns mean “If you don’t move, you’re going to be road kill!”

Traffic in Hanoi

For a simple boy from the countryside who learned to ride a motorbike on the sedate streets of Nha Trang, I still can’t bring myself to use the horn. However, when I saw a group of young teenagers with horns on their bicycles recently, I have vowed to add to the noise pollution.

If you can’t beat ‘em (and you won’t), join ‘em!


Anonymous said...

It's a sad reality, you become self-loathing, or ethnic loathing. if there's enforcement for helmets then there should be enforcement for road manners, or just public intolerance, like kissing in public(Korea).
perhaps hanoians/vietnamese can learn from the chinese who were embarrassing when they travel abroad. all chinese now have to learn etiquettes like no public urinating, spitting, littering when they travel abroad for vacation. its going to be long time coming for that middle class to travel, but lets hope.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!!!

Anonymous said...

great post, VG!! The incessant honking is my pet peeve in Vietnam! I get a physical headache from it.
The way I see it, is that people overuse the horn so much, it's become pretty much useless. Honk all they want but when everyone's doing it, how the hell do you know where it's coming from?

FooDcrazEE said...

left HCMC years ago and I do miss the traffic there and especially the food and CAFE Da

Tim Rice said...

I think I'm glad I drive in the USA rather than in Vietnam. But I just wanted to say, Hi! Hope you are doing well.

Charley said...

I enjoyed visiting your blog. Great photos!

Anonymous said...

Your post made me laugh VG: I plan to visit soon, and my friends who are lucky enough to have already been to your beautiful land tell me the same - "the horns are deafening!" LOL.

Van Cong Tu said...

Thanks for all comments. Have a great week!!!