Anita and Kim Metlen of Imbler and Louise Squire of Cove cycled in Vietnam for eight days. The Metlens are on the left and Squire is on the right. The party is shown with a guide from Vietnam.
Traffic in Vietnam stops for nobody.
Pedestrians crossing crowded streets can expect to have cars, motorcycles and bicycles zigzagging between and around them.
Still, do not let this fool you.
The driving habits of the Vietnamese do not reflect their demeanor. The people of Vietnam are extraordinarily gracious and warm hearted.
Just ask Anita and Kim Metlen of Imbler and Louise Squire of Cove.
They recently spent a month touring Vietnam, including eight days via bicycle. At every turn the party met Vietnamese eager to greet them and have their pictures taken with them. Many of the Vietnamese people were excited about the chance to host them for an evening.
That the party were Americans did not hurt.
“They really, really like Americans,” said Kim Metlen during a presentation with his wife, Anita, at Cook Memorial Library about their trip to Vietnam.
The reason for the popularity of Americans is a bit of a mystery. Part of it may be that many younger Vietnamese are eager to practice their English. Another factor is that the Vietnamese disregard politics when welcoming visitors.
“They look at the people rather than their government,” Kim Metlen said.
The Metlens and Squire covered several hundred miles on bicycles during their eight-day cycling venture. Many of the miles were on paved roads, most of which were only eight-feet wide. The roads were made of concrete, the material of choice in Vietnam. Many materials are made of concrete in Vietnam, even small boats.
Concrete is everywhere and so are water buffaloes. The Vietnamese rely on them to do almost everything from hauling supplies to plowing fields.
“They are prized. They are tractors with four legs,” Kim Metlen said.
Motorcycles are also prized in Vietnam. The Vietnamese use them almost as if they were pickup trucks. They haul everything from water to live pigs in special contraptions.
Motorcycles are also a primary source of transportation and often are seen with multiple passengers.
“Sometimes we would see five people on a motorcycle at one time,” Anita Metlen said.
The Metlens and Squire were also accompanied on their trip by Howard Butts of Summerville and Phil and Trudy Hassinger of Cove. Butts became ill early in the trip and had to leave but fortunately has since recovered.
The Hassingers did not go on the bike tour but accompanied the Metlens and Squire on many other portions of the trip. The Hassingers have an extensive knowledge of Vietnam since they have visited it frequently in recent years.
They introduced the other members of the party to many customs and places in Vietnam. The knowledge they shared and help they provided played a big role in the success of the trip, Anita Metlen said.
The party from the Grande Ronde Valley had a tour guide who found homes for the party to stay in many evenings. The families were excited about hosting them, Anita Metlen said. The families provided meals, a place to sleep and full run of their homes.
One reason the people of Vietnam may be so welcoming of visitors is that in addition to their naturally gracious nature, their country is promoting tourism. Vietnam has a lot to offer American tourists, including an exotic culture, beautiful limestone formations and an exchange rate that favors the American dollar in a big way. Kim Metlen said that the one-month trip he and his wife took cost them $5,000, including air fare. This was a bargain compared to what it would cost to visit many other countries.
The standard of living in Vietnam is not high. Still, visitors see few extremely poor people or individuals asking for money. Anita Metlen said she saw just one panhandler during the trip. Her party, however, did encounter many eager salesmen.
“People were always trying to sell us something,” she said.
The Metlens spoke as if they always felt secure during the their visit, except when crossing streets on foot in the midst the nonstop traffic.
Kim Metlen compares the traffic there to a school of fish that keeps flowing — and finding its way around obstacles.
The key to crossing Vietnamese streets safely is walking slowly but steadily in a straight line, Anita Metlen said.
“Don’t do anything sudden, hold your breath and keep going.”
Pedestrians following these tips will cross safely, Kim Metlen said.
“Drivers may come within an inch of you,” he said, “but they will not hit you.”