One of the tourist attractions in Vietnam is the traffic but cross the road in Vietnam is one cultural shocks :). It’s impressive to watch, but it’s not so fun when you have to cross a street as a pedestrian. The problem is, of course, more acute in the big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city. On this page, I will try to help you, because I’m a Vietnamese.
You take a deep breath and grit your teeth. A shadow falls over your face; that of determination, a need to succeed. Now it is your turn. Show no fear, no hesitation. And whatever you do, don’t stop.
Urban traffic in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of nearly 9 million. And of those 9 million, about 7.4 million own motorbikes and scooters, which makes the traffic – especially in District 1 – quite crazy. The city reverberates with the sound of horns – several beep-beep-beeps and extended horns – at all hours of the day, as well as the obvious starting of engines, sirens and alarms. There’s a certain kind of beauty to it; before long, it becomes like white noise and you almost forget you’re in the heart of one of the world’s most chaotic cities.
For a beginner, the prospect of crossing the road is a daunting task. Walking along the footpath can be just as difficult, especially when rogue motorbikes ride up on the pavement when the traffic on the road becomes too heavy. Sometimes it feels like nowhere is off limits. Even when you find the safety of a set of traffic lights with a green man, there is still no guarantee that the traffic will actually stop (spoiler: it doesn’t).
So at some point you have to twist your neck from side to side, do a Rocky-like jog on the spot and cross the road against all odds. After all, pho, banh mi and ice cold beer are calling your name. The only thing separating you from delicious food, bustling markets and super-sweet Vietnamese iced coffee is about six lanes of traffic, criss-crossing willy-nilly.
And interesting things
1. In fact, in Vietnam, the vehicle has priority over the pedestrian in all situations. For a tourist from a western country, this notion is not easy to accept.
2. As a pedestrian, you have the same status as a pigeon. Vehicles expect you to “fly away” before they reach your point. Vehicles do not like to stop in Vietnam.
3. Basically, you just cross the street and cars and motorbikes will (hopefully) avoid you.
4. There are no traffic lights in every pedestrian crossing, and even when there are and they are green for the pedestrian, there will still be road traffic from different angles, so you have to get used to the idea that you are surrounded by vehicles, when you cross.
5. Look at the behaviour of the locals when they cross (better still, cross with them to protect yourself). You will notice that even people wait for a favourable situation before crossing.
6. Cars are much more dangerous than motorbikes, so be even more careful with them, try not to cross in front of a moving car.
7. Despite the general chaos, traffic in Vietnam moves at a steady speed, there is no sudden acceleration and racing like you see on European roads. So when crossing, be predictable to vehicles, try not to run.
8. A motorbike has to decide in a fraction of a second whether you are going to cross from your back or your front, and the driver does this by predicting your walk. You can help the driver by waving, showing where you want him to go around you.
9. You have to get used to the idea that you lose some control when crossing a street in Vietnam, you are depending on the skills of the drivers.
10. The best way to cross a street in Vietnam is with a motorbike, it is difficult to be a pedestrian in Vietnam.
11. Be especially wary of tourists on a motorbike. Many of them are inexperienced on motorbikes + they take “no rules” to the extreme.
12. There is no way to learn how to cross a street in Vietnam, just by reading this page, it’s like learning to swim on the internet. You have to be there and practice.
Cross the road in Vietnam in 8 easy steps
– First of all, study your surroundings. Remember that traffic in Vietnam is on the right side of the road (this is especially important for our Australian, New Zealand and British friends).
– Spend a moment or two assessing what the traffic is doing; if you’re at a roundabout – a particularly tricky place for pedestrians – see who has the right of way and which way the traffic is going (it’s not uncommon for cars, trucks and bikes to go the WRONG way). There is method to the madness on the roads; it starts to make sense after a while.
– When you can see that the road is relatively bike/car/scooter free, get out. Don’t worry if the bikes/cars/scooters coming towards you don’t seem to slow down; like sand through the hourglass, they will move around you (although they may also honk wildly at you).
– Keep walking – with conviction – slowing down if necessary as the traffic moves around you.
– DO NOT STOP, DO NOT RUN, DO NOT BACK UP! Any sudden movement will only disrupt the ‘system’.
– Keep your head up, your eyes open and stay alert.
– Go slowly, speed up, slow down.
– Move confidently along the path and continue on your way.
In a few moments, you will find yourself on the other side. And with that comes the promise of food, self-satisfaction and a slightly faster heart rate. So get yourself a bia hoi – you’ve earned it.
5 useful tips for you
For many people, including some Vietnamese, it is quite a scary and stressful task!”In this article, we will give you 5 tips to easily cross the road in Vietnam!
Forget the rules when crossing the road in Vietnam. Don’t wait for vehicles to share “their” roads with you. See how the locals handle it.
2. Find a friendly local person who will also cross the road and walk alongside them.
3. Walk (NOT run) at a steady pace and follow a direct line, the scooters will avoid you. At first this seems like a crazy thing to do, but after only one or two times you will realise that it is a good trick.
4. Never stop in the middle of the street to photograph 5 girls on a scooter or a scooter carrying pigs. it is better to do it on the pavements.
5. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the traffic police, they are always ready to help you.
Good luck! Have a good trip!
DISCLAIMER: These handy road crossing tips should get you safely across the road, but the best way to cross a busy street in Hanoi – or anywhere in Vietnam really is with an experienced road crossing guide.
Change your mindset
It’s true the traffic situation in Vietnam, especially in major cities, leaves a lot to be desired, and it will probably be a while before we can see improvements. But while we can’t change how things are in the near future, what we can change is our mindset about it.
Don’t think, “I could’ve covered that distance in 10 minutes, but now it’s taking me 40 minutes due to traffic, therefore I’m losing half an hour of free time.” Factor in the time spent in traffic as part of the journey – a kind of extra chore you need to do each day – and plan your daily routine around that.
Once you come to terms with the fact that it’s just how things are here, maybe you can at least be less frustrated about it.
Don’t let the traffic deter you from enjoying life in Vietnam
If you’ve taken the time to read my ramble this far down, my final words to you are: don’t be intimidated by Vietnam’s traffic.
Yes, it isn’t something anyone is thrilled about, and it can come as quite a shock if you’re not familiar with it. But at the end of the day, the chaotic traffic is just a reflection of the busy city life here.
It is as much a part of Hanoi as the great street food and archaic charms, as much a part of Ho Chi Minh as the vibrant nightlife and friendly people. If you’ve fallen in love with those things, the traffic is worth putting up with.