Hidden Dangers of Cycling in Hanoi

8 Nov

The following incident took place a few weeks ago. I am only just recovering from the humiliation and so, it has taken me this long to post the story that I wrote some time ago. Enjoy.

Standard bicycle scene in Hanoi...

Standard bicycle scene in Hanoi… Taken from the back of our motorbike

Living in Hanoi teaching English, it is considered something of a crime not to drive a motorbike. A failing almost. Everyone has one. Seriously, everyone. It is just part of essential everyday life here, with the public transport system being practically non-existent and very difficult to figure out for non-Vietnamese. Truthfully, I’m too scared (don’t judge me). I will happily ride around as a passenger on the back of John’s Yamaha and have actually given it a try myself but I really don’t feel great about driving a motorbike with no insurance in the crazy traffic. I have resolutely stuck to my bicycle since I arrived here, stubbornly denying claims that it is too hot to cycle to work in the heat of Hanoi’s summer. The sweltering temperatures, combined with the fact that I generally have to wear smart black trousers, means that I consistently arrive to work clad in a suit of sweat. Lovely. Attempting to try and aid the airflow a little, I wore a loose, long flowing maxi-dress to work the other day. While aware that it wasn’t really appropriate cycling attire, I decided that minimizing my intolerable sweat situation was more important.

Mistake number one.

I was soon to find out that bicycles can, in fact, be even more dangerous than motorbikes.

As I cycled home from work that day, I was enjoying an unusual breeze as my dress floated around my legs in the light wind. Just as I thought to myself what a welcome respite this was from the usual stifling heat of my smart trousers, I heard a huge ripping sound and my bike began to skid to a stop. My dress had become caught in the back wheel of my bike. It felt like slow motion but in an instant my dress ripped right off from the waist down, causing me to topple off of my bike, on to the ground with only my underwear protecting my modesty. Kneeling at the side of the road, practically half naked, trying to untangle my dress from the wheel, a Vietnamese man stopped to help me.

Although touched by his kindness, I was far too embarrassed and over-exposed to want any help so I attempted to wave him away politely. He persisted in untangling the remains of my dress and, politeness prevailing, I let him.

Mistake number two.

Obviously encouraged by me allowing him to assist with the situation, he started rubbing my arm and gesturing wildly at me. Confused, it took me a moment to grasp what he was trying to say but I was soon able to work out what he was asking me. Wait for it…

He was asking if I would perform oral sex on him – FOR MONEY- all conveyed through the power of sign language.


What was he thinking? He saw me topple off my bike. He saw the dress rip and so was aware that I was not just hanging around the street in my pants, waiting for business. What was it about the incident that made him think it would be an appropriate time to suggest I gave him a blow job?! Seriously. At least he offered to pay, I guess.

Anyway, after using some ‘sign language’ of my own, I made it very clear that this would NOT be happening. EVER. I then set off home with my underwear on display and my dignity (and dress) in tatters. Cycling home through Hanoi, I attracted a lot of unwanted attention and just as I was confident that the journey couldn’t get any worse, one of the very few people I actually know in this new city pulled up beside me at the traffic lights (on a motorbike of course, dammit). Noticing the horror on his face, I proceeded to make polite conversation while he awkwardly attempted to divert his eyes, speeding off before I had a chance to explain the situation.

I had no choice but to wave him goodbye and continue the journey home in my underwear. Despite being one of the most embarrassing journeys of my life, I did see the funny side and cycled home with tears of laughter streaming down my face!

I still haven’t graduated to my own motorbike yet but I have learned my lesson – maxi dresses and bicycles DO NOT mix.

Here is picture evidence from that fateful day. I can’t quite believe I am posting a picture of myself with my ass out on the internet but I feel it tops off the story nicely.

The grand unveiling...

The grand unveiling…


11 Responses to “Hidden Dangers of Cycling in Hanoi”

  1. joelhindson September 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Absolutely LOVE the picture of the guy cycling with an aquarium on his back! Great story – at least it didn’t happen on the way to school. I’d choose a bike over a motorbike anyday, anyway – thankfully, though, I don’t own any maxi dresses. Keep up the good work!

    • siobhanambersmith September 25, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

      Haha! You see these guys everywhere, I love it. Poor fish though must be boiling in the sun…

      Well, I only owned one maxi dress and, clearly, it is a goner so I am now maxi dress-less, which is probably for the best! And yes, it would have been a lot worse on the way to work!!

      Thanks for the comment Joel!


  2. fabribar September 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Very nice story indeed! Just back from Hanoi I don’t have any doubt you may be scary driving a motorcycle. I felt the city super interesting especially because I am a beginner photographer and there are thousands of subjects, situations, places to capture with my camera that made me feel like Alice Wonderland. Saying that Hanoi is not only missing a proper public transportation, he’s missing any kind of sign at the crossroads (traffic light are a rarity as well….). Brave girl. Good luck for the next ride!

    • overdueadventure September 26, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      Thanks for the comment Fabrizio! Yes, the roads are something else in Hanoi. The traffic lights that do exist really serve as more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. Crazy drivers!

      I’m sticking with my bicycle for now but I will be wearing mroe suitable attire from now on!

  3. kadiewanders September 25, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Hahaha oh man, that sounds mortifying! But makes for an amazing story!!

    • siobhanambersmith September 29, 2013 at 11:05 am #

      Haha! It was (almost) worth it for the story!

      So funny but completely mortifying!

      Siobhan x

  4. MaitoMike September 26, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    Having to learn the hard way like I always do. At least you’re able to laugh this off! I salute your courage. Good luck learning to ride a motorbike! =)

    • siobhanambersmith September 29, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      Haha thank you! I’ll need it…

      Yes, I make a habit of learning things the hard way. It’s character building, or so I’m told….

      Siobhan x

  5. suerose83 September 26, 2013 at 3:48 am #

    I just…don’t even know what to say about this! It’s hilarious but also wow that guy…sometimes the men here just flabbergast me. I drive a motorbike, but once didn’t tuck my skirt underneath my butt…put on a good show. Lol

    • siobhanambersmith September 26, 2013 at 5:32 am #

      Haha, I couldn’t believe it Susan! Honestly. He looked so hopeful too! I really don’t know what he was thinking!

      Oh dear, an easy mistake to make with the skirt – I have probably done that before as well! I really need to learn to ride side saddle!

      How long have you been living in Hanoi for?

  6. Gem January 9, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    Hello! I’ve been looking into teaching English in Vietnam, and I enjoy reading your posts to glean some sort of perspective/insight about what I may be in for! As a young woman myself, I find the above story hilariously amusing yet somewhat alarming; I have to ask, do you ever feel unsafe over there?

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