The intensity of the traffic in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is such that this may be one of the only cities in the world, where walking along railway tracks may be safer than walking on the street.
Like Hanoians living nearby, we’ve often wandered along the railway line on Phung Hung St. A surprising amount of local life plays out around the line, and it’s surprisingly quiet as well.
We chatted with families relaxing around the tracks. The friendliness and good humour of the Vietnamese is matched by their inquisitiveness. I was invariably asked where my wife and children were - a standard question throughout the country. One young girl also jokingly proposed to introduce me to “vo thu hai” - a second wife.
I invented my first wife years ago in Vietnam. Explaining that I am a father, and now a grandfather - proved near impossible after also declaring that I have never been married. Inventing a wife was a sensible work-around. Everybody felt more comfortable that all was in order.
Childless couples travelling in Vietnam may also want to consider inventing offspring - a son at university, a daughter finishing high school - or face similar questioning, that some may find invasive. The dominance of family life in Vietnam - especially in the countryside, makes questions about family, a standard part of any meeting with a stranger. It's a friendly gesture and a notable cultural difference.
In case you’re wondering about the safety implications of walking on the railway line, trains operate infrequently and move at a speed that allows plenty of time to get out of the way. The same cannot be said of the cars and motorbikes in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.