An Idiot’s Guide to Crossing the Road in Vietnam

There is a lot of danger trying to cross the road in Hanoi, the quaint little capital of Vietnam. I spent some time there and then experienced the wonders of Halong Bay, before moving down south to Hoi An and Hue. It’s a dangerous country, Vietnam. I had heard stories of backpackers being mugged or targeted for other petty scams, but nobody ever warned me about the slipshod driving standards that the Vietnamese have, as they go about their business on their mopeds!

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I took a selection of photos from what I saw on the roads of Hanoi, in particular from around the Old Quarter where my budget hotel was located. There is no overall standard on etiquette when riding mopeds in Vietnam; it seems you hop on and go for it! I have had bad taxi rides in Delhi where my first encounter of the horrendous Indian traffic almost left me metaphorically scarred for life, and I have also encountered appalling traffic and congestion in such infamous megalopolises as Dhaka and Jakarta, where even the simplest of journeys can take twice as long as you had expected! But nowhere was I more scared of crossing the road than I was in Hanoi!

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One of the things that most amazed me was that rather than use vans or jeepneys (like in the Philippines), the Vietnamese just place their cargo on their bikes and ride off down the highway. In the UK, we wouldn’t be allowed to do this, but here in Vietnam it’s just a way of life. Each passing biker seemed to carry their cargo in a different way; some in front of their body; some behind their body; some even carried some cargo on their heads! None of this cargo looked particularly well-secured, either!

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Even when the rains came, and they usually do quite heavily in this part of the world, I didn’t really see people slow down much. I often wondered about the accident rates from mopeds on these roads in Hanoi, even though I didn’t see anything untoward myself, thankfully. Some people used only a poncho to keep themselves ‘dry’, whereas other people didn’t bother with anything. Others, improvised with make-do plastic sheets to act as a shield against the rain!

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As darkness fell on my first night in Hanoi – and Vietnam in general – I was glad to be able to retreat back to my hotel without having to cross one of the busy roads. Fortunately, I was able to do most of my sightseeing here on my first day without much road-crossing, but on the occasions when I did need to pluck up the bravery I was glad that these mopeds and bikes that I’d been watching all day were small and agile enough to avoid hitting me! I think the general consensus on how to cross the road in Vietnam is to walk at a slow, consistent pace in a straight line from one side of the road to the other. Do not make eye contact, and keep your wits about you!

As the Vietnamese would say: “Được ra khỏi con đường của tôi!

For more detailed information on the hazards of crossing the road in Vietnam, check out the following blog from Buffalo Tours for a step-by-step guide on how do it safely.

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22 thoughts on “An Idiot’s Guide to Crossing the Road in Vietnam

  1. Great entry. I laughed the whole time I read it… so true! People wished me luck when I told them I was moving to Hanoi, which is not something anyone wants to hear when they are about to live somewhere new. I guess those warnings prepared me in a way though because I knew what to expect. It doesn’t make it any less scary though.
    I’m so jealous of your picture of 6 people on the scooter! Amazing!!!

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      1. We live in the “suburbs” I guess you can say. It’s 20 minutes from the Old Quarter. I don’t know if I could live there, but going there always feels like an adventure. It’s a crazy city, but I absolutely love it here, more than I thought I would.

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    1. Are you still living in Hanoi? Late comment since I just found this blog. Just want to praise genious people who managed to balance those cargo on a single motobike 🙂 I have seen crazier things than what the pictures can tell

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  2. Ha! I love this post. When I first visited Vietnam I was absolutely terrified to cross the road. At first I just tagged along with the locals whenever I wanted to cross the street, trying my best to mimic their movements. Then I realized that you just have to go for it. As long as you don’t hesitate or make any sudden movements the traffic will just move around you. It seems counter intuitive to just walk into oncoming traffic, but if you don’t you’re never going to get across the road in Vietnam! Great photos too. They totally capture the chaos!

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  3. Score! You got the elusive “5-banger.” I want to come up with a Vietnamese motorbike board game where you get points for objects and people you see on motorbikes. My best sighting is a tie between some dude rolling around with a grandfather clock, and two characters cruising Hanoi with a life-sized headless animatronic Santa Claus (I was able to get a photo of that second one, but the first past too quickly).

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  4. Very funny… I agree it can be chaotic in the old quarter area, we’re based at Tay Ho on the West Lake which is an oasis from the crazy traffic. However the madness of downtown Hanoi is unbeatable, and I loved your instructions ‘walk at a slow, consistent pace in a straight line from one side of the road to the other. Do not make eye contact, and keep your wits about you!’

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  5. Haha, I laughed so much when I read this post. So true and so funny :D. I am Vietnamese but I haven’t been in Hanoi before, I also heard that the traffic in Hanoi is more dangerous than Saigon. Will be there soon. But I love this post !

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  6. If you can survive crossing the road in Vietnam you can survive anything life throws at you. Its quite an experience. We especially liked the beautifully painted pedestrian crossings – except no one in Vietnam knew what they were for…

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  7. Haha, the traffic in Vietnam is one of the most memorable things for me as well. The first few days in Hanoi I really didn’t know how to handle it, but after that I found the easiest way to cross the street was to just start walking! Don’t run, don’t make eye contact and everything will be just fine, ha ha. The best pile of goods I saw on a scooter was a man who had a bunch of mattresses lashed around the side somehow. He was overloaded, and tipped over so we ended up helping him reload. Great post!

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  8. When I first arrived in Vietnam it was Saigon. The first time I stood at the kerb waiting for a “break” in the traffic to cross, I was grabbed by the arm by this little elderly Vietnamese lady and basically dragged across the street! I didn’t think the traffic in Hanoi was as bad, but maybe I was used to it by then?

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    1. Nowadays, I am not too sure what is worse for traffic – Hanoi or Saigon, but one thing is for sure, it is all VERY DANGEROUS lol! That elderly Vietnamese lady probably thought she was doing you a favour by encouraging you across. 😛

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