Vietnam, Learnings, Knowledge Drop, Hanoi

How to cross a street in Vietnam

Let’s be honest: it is scary. Everything you learned so far will either get you killed or frustrated.

Trying to cross a street in a major Vietnamese city might be the biggest challenge you will face there, depending on how good you are at processing unrefrigerated street food.

Although it’s well known that you can never step into the same river twice, the endless streams of scooter bikes seem very similar both in Hanoi and Saigon. Maybe the Saigon streams are slightly bigger, but that is well made up for by the lack of sidewalks in Hanoi.

Let’s be honest: it is scary. We’ve all been told not to cross a street until you’ve looked both ways and made sure there is no vehicle coming before you start walking. At least if there is no traffic light. If there is one: easy. Walk on green.

Well that’s all cute, but here is the truth about traffic in Vietnam: Everything you learned so far will either get you killed or frustrated. If you wait until there is no scooter coming your way, you will never move. There is no gap. Deal with it. If you think a green light means free passage you will be surprised out of what angles things can hit you. You will not see it coming.


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But here is how it works to cross a street in Hanoi or Saigon:

  • Chose a segment of the road with some visibilty to where the traffic comes from. Your highest goal is to not surprise anybody with your existence or movement. So do not cross right in the middle of a curve.

  • Walk towards the edge of the sidewalk or as far as traffic allows it before it gets uncomfortable.

  • Observe traffic for a second. You are looking for a window of opportunity with no car/bus/truck in the first lane you will cross and a little less scooter bikes. Don’t hope for no scooters. It will not happen and they are your friends anyway. Scooters can move. They will dodge you. Cars can’t. They will hit you.

  • As soon as your moment has come, just step into the river. Make a move, step slowly but activly into the stream, even if it feels wrong. You have to. And keep on moving.

  • Walk slowly and steady, don’t change directions or speed. Never stop, never run, do not hesitate. Just walk predictably. Scooters will adjust their courses. Everything will just flow around you, almost magically.

  • Don’t panic when people honk at you. It does not mean you did something wrong, it just means that somebody wants to let you know they are there.

  • Suceed, repeat, start loving it.