Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #88: Chaos

The only order in the universe is just a cycle of calm and chaos.

–Toba Beta

With over four million motorcycles in Hanoi, it’s not surprising that rush hour is sheer chaos. Zipping through crowded streets, dodging slow-poke bicyclists and pedestrians, and holding on to children who frequently stand and watch the chaos is just business as usual in this city of eight million people.

And watching rush hour became just another part of our tourist experience.

Lines on the streets were merely suggestions. And bikes, carts, motorcycles — all had the right of way.

We stood at crossroads waiting for the light to change just so we could hear the zoom of the bikes, feel the rush of air as they passed by, and get a feel for what it takes to survive a green light in Hanoi.

Who’s headed in the right direction?

Most people were determined. Determined to pick up their children from school, determined to get home and start supper or sell goods from metal baskets. Or just determined to make it to the end of the line.

We, the timid Americans, were puzzled about how to spare our lives as we darted across the chaotic frenzy to the other side.

But our guide gave good advice: Walk deliberately. Don’t look back. Don’t look at the cyclists. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t stop. Make one smooth, fell swoop of it. “You see,” she said,” the driver is gauging your speed and your direction, always watching you so he can chart his course around you. If you stop, you confuse him, and he may skid or brake and hit you.”

We got the hang of it. And lived in the chaos as if we were one of them.

Would you walk through the chaos of this every-which-way intersection?

We even came to love these times of hectic street maneuvering. Sitting on the front porch of our hotel, Silk Path, we watched as if it were the evening news. And toasted their efforts with our glasses of wine.

We waved at children, marveling at how most of them had no helmets even though their parents did.

And we noted that some riders and drivers were so unperturbed by the chaotic comings and goings that they checked their phones for messages in the midst of the hubbub.

But what seemed as true a chaotic experience as one could ever see in a city became what was merely “the way we do business around here.” Not once. And I repeat not once in the four days we were there, did we see anyone lose his temper or get off his bike or shake his fist or yell at fellow drivers.

Rush hour in Hanoi just may be the most humanitarian event of the day when drivers and riders alike go out of their way to make the ebb and flow of the traffic work well.

After all, they just want to get somewhere.

Chaos? What chaos?

For more entries in this week’s challenge, go to Lens-Artists Challenge #88: Chaos on Leya’s blog.

27 thoughts on “Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #88: Chaos

  1. robinwrites

    Wow! The photos are fantastic and the description of such lack of chaos in what looks so chaotic is intriguing. I cannot imagine. Coming from a world of yellers and fist-shakers, this all seems like a dream to me.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I was surprised that the little girl reacted to me that way. I was standing on the sidewalk filming people as they stopped for the red light. Fortunately, her family was one of the happy ones who didn’t mind having tourists become fascinated by all modes of transportation. I wanted to reach out and hug her, but better judgement prevailed!

  2. Pingback: Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #89: A River Runs Through It | The World Is A Book...

  3. pattimoed

    A great choice for the challenge! Wonderful shots. I love the family on the motorbike with the little girl giving the “V” for victory sign. I’m so glad you shared these!

  4. Judy C

    That sounded like a wonderful experience. And pictures!!! I’ve never been to Vietnam and always hoped to go. Do you recommend it?

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      We definitely recommend it! And a side trip to Ha Long Bay — stunning. The people were graciously friendly, the food was delicious, and the scenery was unique in many ways. I would go again. Thanks for taking a look.

  5. Green Global Trek

    I think the reason the traffic works in Viet Nam is firstly because the majority of people are on motorbikes. That makes things a whole lot easier than when there are cars in the mix. The second factor is that the traffic flows like a river. As your guide mentioned, no looking back, only forward, keep moving. Once you get the hang of that, it’s a breeze. People watching in Hanoi gets replaced with traffic watching for sure!! Amazing how many people fit on a bike and often carrying things that are ridiculously big or heavy, but they do it with grace and ease.


    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Love your response. Yes, I agree that motorcycles help the flow of traffic. I have no idea what would happen if they had the number of cars and trucks that we have. Also, we were amazed at the families on bikes, some with the children standing and not attached to the bike in any way. But it all worked. I was quite impressed with the calmness and skill with which each driver moved through the traffic as it is was a river flowing smoothly. A beautiful country, one I would love to see again!

  6. Curt Mekemson

    It is hard to imagine riding a bike through that chaos, Rusha. But it appears they have their rules. I’m reminded a bit of Burning Man at night where thousands of people are out and about on their bikes and it seems to work. –Curt

  7. Valentina

    They are used to live that way, it is a very normal way to do things. They get disoriented when they come to live in an organized society as they must obey rules. Great pictures.

  8. Tina Schell

    Oh I do remember feeling exactly the same way there Rusha. It took real chutzpah to brave crossing and there was never a hesitation among the drivers. Great example

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