I struggled, but grew from the experience
On 3rd August, I rented a bicycle (along with my friend) to explore Hoi An.
Back in Singapore, I’ve only cycled on pedestrian paths. But in Vietnam, people cycle on the road, along with motorbikes and cars. People go by right-hand traffic there too, whereas Singapore follows left-hand traffic.
It was very scary and I almost got knocked down by a taxi car while attempting a U-turn on a road at the very start. Because I didn’t check my blind spot clearly and I wasn’t very familiar with the traffic flow as well. While I could have been more careful and avoided my near-death experience with the taxi, I felt that incident made me feel more alive and present with the road conditions as well.
At the start of the day, I found myself giving excuses to myself for not cycling well. For instance, the bicycle didn’t have any rear view mirrors, so I couldn’t see traffic behind me. Or, the traffic was quite “chaotic”, so I didn’t know how to navigate my way through. Or, I haven’t cycled on the road before, so of course, I can’t cycle well there. In short, I bore a defeatist attitude and probably wanted to protect my ego too.
Unfortunately (but also luckily), I was exploring the whole town on the bicycle for the whole day, which meant that I can’t just give up and return the bicycle. So, by hook or by crook, I must learn how to cycle decently on the roads in Vietnam.
Instead of just blaming it on external circumstances, I looked inwards to work on a few mindset changes. I told myself to adapt and try.
Since stopping was quite common in Vietnam along smaller streets, I lowered my bicycle seat so that my legs could comfortably touch the ground while I was still seated. Due to that change, I changed the way I started cycling, instead of my usual mounting method (when I would raise my seat higher till just below my hips).
I turned my head and shoulders more when checking the traffic coming from behind me. I learnt to be (slightly) more comfortable with cycling at rather slow speeds to avoid any collisions with anyone and to double-check at junctions.
When I wasn’t confident about crossing major roads on my bicycle, instead of worrying that I’ll be seen as a “noob” by other riders, I would just dismount and use the zebra crossing for pedestrians. I also used the bell a lot more at junctions to let others know of my presence. In Hoi An, there is a lot of honking, but all are friendly and short honks to let one another be aware of one’s surrounding vehicles. Over time, I got used to it and was less startled whenever I hear a honk near me.
By the end of the day, I was truly quite proud of myself for my cycling progress in Vietnam! I knew how traffic worked better and was able to make left turns safely in a calm manner. I became less frantic and more confident cycling on the roads here.
I would describe roads in Vietnam as an “organised chaos”. At least in Hoi An and Phong Nha, there are no lanes in each direction, and overtaking is the norm. But, so long as you are decisive in the direction you want to go, I find that other riders are quite giving. Unlike in Singapore, where if you drive or ride “out of order”, you would get honked furiously and even get a complaint. Roads in Vietnam can be quite crowded but I learnt to just “mix” myself in and flow with the traffic, instead of constantly seeking a clear path in front of me.
In the evening, I parted with my friend because I didn’t want to enter an attraction that they were interested in. Throughout most of the day, they were the one navigating and I was merely following. But after we split, I was able to find my way back to our homestay and navigate through the streets on my bicycle on my own, which is a feat that I wouldn’t have thought I could achieve back in the morning!
One day of cycling in Hoi An, Vietnam made me more self-aware that:
- I sometimes make excuses for myself way too easily when things don’t go well, or at least as good as expected.
- My past experiences (e.g. cycling expeditions in ODAC) can make me quite close-minded as I try to replicate them in a new country, or a new environment in general.
- One mistake can discourage me quite badly due to my perfectionist mindset. But, I have to understand that mistakes are part and parcel of progress and be confident that I can eventually “do it right” if I try long enough.
- I can be more patient with myself and give myself more time to learn & adapt to new places, cultures, and ways of doing things.
- (To do the above) I need to believe in the “power of trying” and be willing to even try since that’s the first step to doing so.
That night, as I walked along the streets of Hoi An ancient town while pushing my bicycle, I reflected on my day and myself, which made me emotional and very grateful for whatever I have as well.
To Hoi An: You will always have a special place in my heart!!
Thank you for reading!