Where the Sidewalk Ends

Usually, being a walker is a benefit as a traveler. You get to see more of a city, find some hidden treasures, interact more with locals, and get some exercise to work off all the good food you’re discovering.

But so far in Vietnam, I haven’t found walkers to be a particularly relevant or important part of society. I’m often the only person walking down a road – not even the locals walk more than a block or two, it seems. EVERYONE has a motorbike, or a bicycle. The country seems so anti-walking, in fact, that though there are broad sidewalks, they are usually covered with parked motorbikes, or people sitting on stools outside their shops chatting, or mounds of dirt and construction materials, and pop-up restaurants/weber grills/food carts which take up the whole sidewalk with their cooking apparatus, ingredients, and tables and mini-chairs. So I often end up walking in the street, simply because there isn’t any room to walk on the sidewalk.

Also, almost half the people I see on motorbikes wear masks over their mouths. They hook over your ears and cover the entire lower half of your face. (Some extend to cover necks and ears, too.)  I’ve been told the masks are popular because people value light skin, so they do this as sun protection, but I also see some people wearing them at night- not as many, but a few. And the reception person at my hotel said that many people wear them for the “dirty atmosphere”, too. So I spent my 40 cents to buy one for myself, because my throat is a little rough, I’ve almost lost my voice, and I think defense against all the air pollution here will help out my laryngitis a little. And this way, I get to keep walking.  🙂

Here are some street and (blocked) sidewalk scenes in Hanoi:

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