A multitude of motorbikes, a cacophany of canines, a terrifying taxi. Here’s a look back at some of my scariest and scary-ish travel experiences.
Crossing the road, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2010
I’m going to be squished by a multitude of motorbikes!
Who knew that crossing a road could be such a scary travel experience? In Hanoi, motorbikes whizz simultaneously from every direction, as if in a motorised version of spirograph.
How to cross the road in Vietnam
Don’t even think about waiting for a break in the traffic before crossing. Unless you’re prepared to hang around until 11pm, there won’t be one.
Step out into the road, dear traveller, step out.
And keep moving. At EXACTLY the same pace.
Definitely no running.
Take deep breaths. Keep the faith.
Everything will swerve around you.
Magically, you will find yourself unscathed and safely deposited only yards away, across that erstwhile scary road.
And then do it all again.
The first time I tried this proven method, I was scared witless. I carefully placed some old Vietnamese ladies between me and the oncoming motorbikes (shameful, I know).
By day two, I was helping US tourists negotiate those same roads.
And I quickly learnt a far quicker way of getting from A to B. Motorbike taxi! After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
Hands down, Hanoi is the craziest city I’ve ever been to. But, after I’d overcome the road-crossing scare factor, I absolutely loved the place. Its old town is just made for wandering, browsing, and a spot of lovely souvenir shopping. Step out, and enjoy!
Snappy dogs, the altiplano near Puno, Peru, 2007
I’m going to be bitten by a rabid dog!
Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Peru, makes a convenient base for days out to attractions on the lake and its shoreline. And so it was, in 2007, that my then partner and I crammed in with 21 Peruvians into a local combi van that was heading into the altiplano past the pre-Incan funerary towers of Cutimbo.
The towers were a steep walk uphill from the road, past simple homes and their associated llama livelihood.
The remoteness of this spot was both magical and otherworldly at the same time.
The funerary towers – complete with impressive monkey murals – housed the ancient dead, ironically in far more sturdy a fashion than the homes of the living in the valley below.
After contemplating the incredible vistas, the two of us descended back to the road to catch a van back into town.
Or that was the plan. The llamas’ guard dogs – invisible on the journey up – had other ideas.
They came running. Barking. Teeth bared.
Several thoughts flashed through my mind. Chief of which was: “+++t, how quickly could we get to the nearest hospital for a rabies injection?”
Our trousers ended up imprinted with canine teeth marks, but luckily – aided by some entirely necessary defensive rucksack swinging and a lot of backing off – no skin was broken.
Shaken, we hightailed it back to the road. To a handy combi van. And safety.
Terrifying taxi to the jungle of Taman Negara, Malaysia, 2007
I’m going to be killed by a lunatic driver!
Rookie error: Don’t try and travel anywhere in Malaysia during a major festival.
Public transport? You’ll be lucky! It was a looooong day getting to Taman Negara, the ancient jungle in the heart of peninsula Malaysia.
After nearly two hours of waiting around, the original 90km journey was finally down to 50km thanks to the aid of a rare bus.
The last leg … just 50km to go. That’s when the news came: no more buses today. But look, here’s a man with a taxi. A 32-year-old taxi, none-the-less. He can make the journey for only £8 (about $16 at that time).
Tired and hungry (bordering on “hangry”), it seemed like a good idea; naively I thought that if a man has owned a taxi for 32 years and it’s still going strong, he must be a safe driver.
That 32-year-old car may once have had a good steed of horses under its’ bonnet, but in the intervening decades, several of them had galloped off.
Which made the drivers’ repeated blind-bend overtaking manoeuvres – narrowly avoiding two head-on collisions – even more incredulous. Several prayers went up to the God of seat belts … mostly wishing that some would miraculously manifest themselves!
Somehow, the car and its passengers made it in one piece. To this day I have no idea how.
What’s been your most scary travel experience? Tell all in the comments below – can’t wait to hear your stories!