The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam

On the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam even the most talented dancer might falter when pirouetting around the multitude of motorcycles.  Dodging drivers here certainly alarms as traffic laws are considered more like suggestions rather than rules.  Regardless, one primary rule applies to anyone looking to master the art of crossing the street in Vietnam.

The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam

The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam. Motorbikes remain the most popular means of transportation in Vietnam, which has a population of around 92 million people and 45 million registered motorbikes, according to the Ministry of Transport.
The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam. Motorbikes remain the most popular means of transportation in Vietnam, which has a population of around 92 million people and 45 million registered motorbikes, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Recognizing a foreigner in Hanoi is rather easy, as they tend to stand and wait at intersections.  Ultimately they are expecting a lull in traffic which never arrives.  And with over 5 million motorbikes on the roads, traffic has become a nightmare.  Many mopeds are even stacked high with boxes or overloaded with families of five.

Friends who traveled extensively in Vietnam comically commented prior to our voyage on the pedestrian problem.  With a smirk on their faces they wished us well and joked “good luck crossing the street.”  “It’s an art form,” they advised “acquired over time.”

As predicted my first time approaching a crossway in Hanoi, I stood back in awe.  Having lived in major cities for years, I’ve never witnessed such a rat’s nest of congestion.  In fact, the tangled mess of traffic that cover’s Vietnamese roadways reminds me of the snarl of utility wires that hang over the same thoroughfares.  Dealing with either certainly leaves me pondering how anything gets through in such a congested mess.


The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam. I filmed this intersection in front of our hotel in Hanoi.

This brings us back to the cardinal rule for all pedestrians to follow.

To avoid being hit as a pedestrian on the busy streets of Vietnam simply keep walking.  Never stop. Once you start moving into an intersection, never waiver.

This answer is simple but simultaneously scary.  Vietnamese drivers will anticipate your movements and swerve accordingly.  If you do something unexpected like stopping, you may be inviting an accident.  When in doubt I suggest tailing a local across the abyss, at least the first few times.

Find a confident looking Vietnamese, and just follow closely behind.  After a while you’ll learn the art of narrowly maneuvering between moving vehicles.  Luckily traffic tends to move slowly over crosswalks.

Allan and I managed to master street crossings after a few tries.  Once we conquered the fear of getting hit, dodging drivers became less intimidating.  In fact, it actually turned into a fun little game.  Each narrow miss became a badge of honor we wore proudly, like two little girl scouts proud of their merit in crocheting.

The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam. Traffic accidents remain the biggest single cause of fatalities in Vietnam even as the country has been working to make local roads safer. In 2015, road traffic deaths were 30 times higher than the number of people killed by pandemic diseases.
The Art of Crossing the Street in Vietnam. Traffic accidents remain the biggest single cause of fatalities in Vietnam even as the country has been working to make local roads safer. In 2015, road traffic deaths were 30 times higher than the number of people killed by pandemic diseases.

To conquer congestion Hanoi announced a master plan to eliminate a majority of traffic by 2030.

Accordingly significant investments will be made in highways and public transportation.  Furthermore, hopes are to also remove motorbikes from the roads as well.  With this plan hopefully first time travelers to Vietnam like me won’t have to worry about to get from one side of the road to the other.

Have you been to cities with similar traffic issues?

Please let me know in the comments.

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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