Hanoi - I'm stepping off the side walk onto a chaotic downtown street and I'm nervous as hell. A seemingly solid line of motorbikes, cars and bicycles is coming at me. Crosswalks have no effect on the drivers - they don't brake, they don't slow down.
"Don't stop walking," my son advises, "and don't run. They judge where you're going to be and curve to avoid you."
I tell myself he should know. While my wife and I were sitting in the hotel restaurant last night talking to an Irish banker, Alex was walking the streets, getting a feel for the city. All I know about the traffic is what the banker said: "Vietnam has one of the worst traffic fatality records in the world. Eleven thousand people were killed last year."
I thought he had it wrong, that he must have meant 1,100 people. But now, facing an unrelenting charge of rubber and steel, I'm thinking it probably was 11,000 - and 9,000 of them were road-crossing tourists.
In mid-traffic, I realize that the driver of a speeding motorbike isn't looking at me, he's eyeing an Avril Lavigne poster in a store window.
I can't help myself. I freeze.
The window-gazer swings his head, swerves his bike. His passenger signals that she doesn't disapprove of my fear-induced paralysis - she flashes a thumbs-up sign.
My wife grabs my arm and pilots me to the sidewalk. Sitting on a bench, it occurs to me that maybe it wasn't a thumb the Honda passenger thrust into the air.
No matter. I'm safe and sound and gazing at a sight more enthralling than Avril Lavigne, the ancient stone tower in the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake. A beggar accosts me. I drop a Yankee dollar into his reaching hand.
"Don't do that," an American woman standing beside the bench says. "There's a bad labour shortage. People are quitting factory jobs. They earn $1 a day making clothing and $6 a day hustling tourists."
The don'ts are piling up. Don't stop in traffic, don't run, don't give money to beggars. The room-rules list at my hotel states, "No washing, no ironing, no prostitution."
From the lake, we walk north to the Old Quarter, my son on my left side, my wife on the right, steering me through traffic.
The Old Quarter is an invigorating jumble of temples, stores, cafés and sidewalk vendors. Along narrow, crowded streets you can buy silk blouses, bootleg DVDs and snake wine with a dead reptile in each bottle.
The fact that the century-old district is a delightful spot to wander around is lost on some tourists.
They explore the area in cyclos (bicycle rickshaws), snapping pictures without leaving their seats.
We stand and gape at a street-blocking convoy of 18 cyclos: one tourist is wearing a safari outfit.
We go to Cha Ca Vong for lunch. Five generations of the same family have been serving grilled fish, and nothing but grilled fish, since the day the restaurant opened.
After lunch, we walk to Fanny, the storefront parlour whose ice cream rivals the finest on earth. Alex orders a flavour he claims is absolutely wonderful, young rice.
Happily fed, we visit Ho Chi Minh's gigantic mausoleum and are disappointed to learn his embalmed corpse isn't on display; it's off somewhere for a touch-up.
The Temple of Literature is next, its courtyards filled with fabulous stone sculptures. At the gift shop, teak water puppets sell for 20 bucks, and a portfolio of exquisite woodcuts for $12.
From there, we go to the one Hilton that doesn't contribute a single dime to Paris's inheritance cheques. The French built Hoa Lo prison in the 1890s, and when the Viet Cong ran the place, incarcerated Americans dubbed it the Hanoi Hilton.
A front gate sign warns, "No frolicking allowed." We look at chains, dark cells, instruments of torture and a guillotine.
Maybe something's wrong with us, but no one in my family feels like frolicking. We walk to an intersection.
Two motorbikes have collided and I'm back in a different kind of hell - Hanoi traffic.