Traffic in Vietnam is best described as organized chaos. The sight of hundreds of noisy scooters and cars whizzing past, with little regard for lane designations or traffic lights, can be daunting for someone accustomed to the orderly lines of one-person SUVs pacing their way through the suburbs.
Crossing the street as a pedestrian is an exercise in blind trust. In order to cross, you have to steel your nerves, ignore any instincts of self-preservation, and calmly walk into oncoming traffic, allowing the traffic flow to adjust around you like a river around a rock.
Even seasoned travelers can find crossing the street a little unnerving. Though I wasn’t unfamiliar with the traffic situation when I went to Vietnam in February, it still took me a day or so to get back into the swing of just launching purposefully into the street.
After Ho Chi Minh, I really thought I had gotten the hang of it. I was comfortable—cocky, even—flaunting my newfound skill.
And then I went to Dalat…
I, the intrepid explorer, decided to walk from my hostel to the city center. All was well until I arrived at the roundabout from hell. At least five different streets emptied into this one massive roundabout, and drivers expertly merged into the chaotic flow at breakneck speeds.
I stared at the roundabout, a little dismayed at just how many different lanes converged into this noisy, seething mass of scooters. I must have looked a bit overwhelmed, because the next thing I knew, I felt a tug on my sleeve.
It was a wizened old man with a long wispy beard, stooped with age and grinning toothlessly as he grabbed my hand. Without a word, he firmly pulled me along, and we crossed the insanely busy intersection together.
“Cam on! Cam on!” I sputtered my gratitude, ducking my head respectfully when we reached the other side. It was one of the few Vietnamese phrases I’d picked up. I was so deeply touched that the old man had stopped to help the (rather obvious) tourist. He just smiled his toothless smile at me again, squeezed my hand, and went on his way.
Experiences like this are exactly why I travel. Such a small, kind gesture, and yet it will forever stand out in my mind. THIS is how you discover the essence of a country and its people. THIS is why travel is important and enriching and valuable.