If you plan to visit Vietnam, prepare to forget everything you ever learned about crossing the street. Forget about waiting for the traffic to stop, forget about zebra crossings, and forget about traffic lights. Because in Vietnam, people cross the street by charging right ahead, weaving their way through moving traffic. It’s the only way to do it!
It sounds dangerous, I agree, but it also seems kind of fun, in an adrenalin-pumping kind of way. I’ve just spent the past hour reading about how it’s done. This is from a Vietnam Travel & Living Guide: “You want to get to the other end of the street but it does not look quite feasible. Unless you try it. Crossing over the jam is actually not that bad. You will just have to do it. The magic is that no one will ever run into you.”
I watched a few videos as well; it really does seem like magic. The streets are filled with moving scooters and cars, and the pedestrians just flit across effortlessly. They seem to maintain an intense focus on the oncoming vehicles, finding gaps and moving through them slowly but steadily. There’s just no other way, given the fact that traffic is a nightmare in major Vietnamese cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh.
Photo: Lucas Jans
Most of the vehicles on the streets are quite small, mostly scooters, since buying a car in Vietnam is an expensive affair. People riding these scooters are quite careful, they move slowly, have unobstructed view, and are cautious not to crash into pedestrians. All you have to do while crossing is take it slow, and don’t panic. Walk very slowly, but don’t stop either. If you keep moving at a slow pace, you’re likely to make it to the other side safe and sound. Remember, don’t be scared.
Photo: Rimantė Paulauskaitė
I’ve also been reading a few interesting accounts from tourists who were new to Vietnamese street-crossing. Evelyn Hannon, who recently visited the country, wrote on her blog: “What my hotel concierge told me is that, ‘when it feels right you step out into the traffic and you keep walking’. Then he added, ‘try not to step out in front of a bus that can’t stop easily but don’t worry, the scooter drivers will try at all costs not to hit you. The most important thing to remember is that once you get on to the road you can’t stop half way; you must keep moving because that’s what the drivers expect and they guide themselves accordingly.’”
Evelyn wrote that this piece of advice completely unnerved her. She almost skipped going to the city center completely. But then she decided to brave it – and she found help at the most unexpected places. At first, a local man helped her get across, and then a bunch of American students. The traffic police rose to the occasion as well: “I found out that there are lovely policemen in bright green uniforms that are completely at your service. It is their job to walk the ‘scaredy-cat’ tourists across the street. All you need to do is smile and wave at them.”
Crossing the street in Vietnam does sound dangerous, but it’s also a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. Since the roads are cramped, the traffic moves slowly. Signals and crossings are completely forgotten, but the drivers are quite mindful of pedestrians. It’s truly a wonder that no one gets hurt!