Hanoi is often compared to a French city, because of strong colonial flavor. Although I have not yet made it to France, Hanoi is only like a French city that has been invaded by hundreds of thousands of Asians on mopeds… on every street. Moped (xe in Vietnamese) (and bike and motorcycle and all other two wheeled vehicles) riding is taken to a high art in Hanoi.
One of the most interesting aspects of this for me is the change in causes on to make in ones street crossing strategy. In the US, my street crossing are generally legal (ie at crosswalks waiting for lights) or rural… “look both ways before you cross the street and since there is next to no traffic in rural Maine, cross the street” style. In China, I am more of the philosophy of the lane by lane crosser. When the is a break in the traffic, cross a lane. Wait. Cross the next lane and so on. I also prescribe to the theory (and I will acknowledge that this is not originally mine, but I don't remember who came up with it…) that it would be far too my paperwork to hit a laowai (foreigner) so most Chinese drivers will avoid you. But with the proliferation of xe in Vietnamese cities, there is a different street crossing method. Walk at a slow even pace across the street. Assume the xe drivers will get out of your way but give them some assistance by not changing your pace. (I do stop to make sure the car, trucks and busses don't hit me… I don't have the same level of confidence in them.)
With all of the motorbikes, there are also a ton of xe om, motorbike taxis (lit. Motorbike hug or snuggle, for how close you need to get to the driver as he [and it is always a he] careens through the street weaving between other xe, people, and vehicles). I have chosen not to put my life in the hands of a xe om driver on this trip, but they are on every street corner with a smile and a “motorbike? Where you go?” With a shake of the head, most go back to lounging on their bike, waiting for someone who needs a ride.