This summer my girlfriend Katka and I went on a three week trip to Vietnam. More specifically we went from mid-July to beginning of August. Even more specifically we went to Northern Vietnam with a “minor” detour to Central Vietnam and then back.
It just so happens that in exactly Northern Vietnam the travel period we’ve picked is considered monsoon season, also known as “holy fuck that’s a lot of water, let me go get my umbre…gulp gulp gulp”. It is essentially the worst possible period to travel through Northern Vietnam, but a great period for local raincoat peddlers – sales are up 247.51% (give or take). Check out the encouraging chart from VeloAsia.com:
For the record, Katka and I are not clinically stupid travel planners. And no, we’re not weirdos with an overdeveloped rain fetish. Although that last claim is on shaky ground, seeing how we live in Copenhagen – the place where Europe’s rain clouds come to hang out and throw parties. It simply was the only real window in our work schedules for this kind of trip. I know, stupid work. Stupid source of all our income.
Despite the bad timing, we have been immensely lucky to dodge most rain. The trip has been fantastic and full of adventures. Vietnam’s nature is breathtaking and there are stark differences between Northern and Central Vietnam, which made every day of the trip a unique experience.
Over the next few months you will see my extensive travel notes from the trip gradually appear on this very blog, complete with a good doze of unhealthy rambling. These will be in chronological order, because I am both annoyingly structured and not-Quentin-Tarantino.
Today I want to share with you some general observations about Vietnam that I find curious or amusing or…wait for it…both. So, without further ado (and in no particular order):
Observation 1 – Motorbike Safety
There are many, many motorbikes in Vietnam. Without any attempt at applying such concepts as “math” and “logic” I’ll put the number of motorbikes per person at around 5-6. Seriously though, motorbikes are as common in Vietnam as lack of quality acting is in any movie starring Keanu Reeves.
With such a copious number of motorbikes on the country’s busy roads, it is no wonder that safety is taken so seriously. Virtually every driver wears a helmet and many shops sell the latest advances in brain-saving gear. Case in point:
Thus, everyone’s head is always inside a protective hemisphere! And by “everyone” I mean “everyone over the age of 6”. Wait, what?! That’s right: while seeing a whole family with multiple kids on a single motorbike is a common occurrence, seeing those kids wear helmets is very rare indeed.
There are studies on the subject, showing that while adults wear helmets in 90-99% of the cases, children under the age of 7 only do so in 15-53% of the cases (depending on the study). From my observations the 15% figure is way closer to reality.
A Dutch couple we’ve met at the end of our travels asked some locals about this. Turns out the main reason this happens is because it’s not mandatory for children under the age of 6 to wear helmets! And if the government doesn’t care enough about your child’s brain to make protecting it a law – why the hell should you?! I can only assume that the price of a kid’s helmet in Vietnam is more prohibitive than the cost of simply making another kid if necessary.
Also, apparently some Vietnamese sincerely believe that wearing helmets is outright dangerous for the kids, because it can “affect their necks”. I would think that head trauma from a traffic accident is a bit more damaging than some unproven voodoo effect helmets have on necks. But hey, I’m no brain surgeon (in case you thought I was).