Crossing the road should be a relatively straightforward affair, but in Vietnam you need all your wits about you – it’s one of the most perilous activities the country has to offer, as well as one of the most fun.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, has some of the most insane traffic the world has ever seen. Hanoi is equally scary but, being older, many of the roads are cramped and have a lower volume of traffic. But either way, pretty much everywhere in Vietnam has the same rules when it comes to crossing the road, so feel free to apply what you read here wherever you are.
Why so crazy?
Cars are absurdly expensive in Vietnam due to road taxes that can cost nearly as much as the car itself, so the majority of road users are on scooters. The two-wheelers are so popular that you’re far more likely to see somebody walking around wearing a scooter helmet than the traditional non la conical hats associated with the country.
Scooters are used to carry everything – you’ll see comical/scary loads that elsewhere would require a van to transport safely. Add to this that sometimes you can see a whole family of four crammed onto a single scooter, and you’ll start to wonder if riders are simply oblivious to possible dangers. Many riders wear masks though, supposedly due to pollution, which noticeably also help for an anonymous getaway should a crash occur.
Don’t fear the horns
In England, if somebody uses their horn, that means you’ve tipped them over the edge – it roughly translates to “GET THE %$&£ OUT OF THE WAY! I’M SO &*%$ING ANGRY, I MIGHT KILL YOU”. But in Vietnam, the constant chime of horns is just motorists saying “Hey buddy, just letting you know that I’m here too”.
It’s all very friendly and standard practice. If you take a sleeper coach across the country, as many travellers do, you may find your sleep interrupted by the driver happily beeping away at other motorists throughout the whole journey. Did we mention earplugs are your friend?
Traffic lights and crossings do exist in Vietnam but they’re usually ignored unless they’re at a particularly large intersection. This means that scooters and cars won’t stop for you as you teeter anxiously on the street curb.
Essentially, you can’t wait for a gap because there won’t be one. So what do you do? You just walk into it. Keep your wits about you and move slowly but surely. Do not hesitate. Being on scooters, most riders are able to predict your movements accurately and avoid you safely, but not if you stop and start unsurely – and whimpering in fear will do you no favours at all.
It may look like Armageddon but it’s fine and dandy, simply a fun game of nerves. If you’re feeling really brave, maybe rent a scooter yourself and give the road a go on two wheels – you’re certain to get offered scooters every couple minutes in many towns and cities.
This is how you do it. Watch: