Hanoi, Vietnam, 2007

The city is dusty and manic, more so as we near the city centre. Traffic seems to swirl without plan, drivers shrug off incidents that would keep a Westerner in road-rage anecdotes for weeks.

As we walk around Lake Hoankiem, the footpath becomes more and more like a road – filled with hundreds of mopeds and push bikes. After observing some of the remarkable uses the locals put their 2-wheelers to, we decide to start our own version of the moped Oscars, “The Moscars”. OK so the name’s a working title. By the end of our walk we have the following nominations: Most impressive load; 20 crates of eggs, 4 friends. Innovation award; 12 chickens in cages. Sheer weight; 6 bags of concrete, a mini bar fridge. Dumb and Dumber; 5 x 10 metre long steel poles, a 2 metre square sheet of glass.

A cyclo ride seems like the most appropriate way to head back to our hotel… until we’re on it! Like a rollercoaster ride through a maze of human busy-ness, the fright in this journey is matched only by that of the inevitable, uncomfortable argument over the fare. 20+ years of travel and I still overlook one of the most basic rules of transportation abroad – always negotiate and agree on a price before boarding your choice of transport, whether it be speed boat, tuk-tuk, or elephant. Or cyclo.

So what do you say to a veteran of the “American war” who scrapes together what he can with the little energy he can muster and currently has his hand extended, expecting $50 US dollars to magically appear? You say “$5” of course, and watch as he happily cycles off, content in the knowledge that he and his family will be having fresh meat in their Pho tonight.

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