(BEGODI) – Traffic in Vietnam is unmatched by any other country. It is a cataclysm of persistent horns, whole families and their fridge on one bike, and hundreds of engines funnelling down the same small alley in both directions. It is chaos. But it is also survivable. Here are some encouraging words to help you cross the road safely, with the savvy of a local.
Mopeds are the main type of vehicle that you will see on the roads in Vietnam. Since cars are heavily taxed and downright inconvenient given the number of tiny alleys that make up Hanoi and Saigon, scooters are the best way to get around. Virtually every person has one, and they are all trying to get somewhere. Seemingly at the same time.
Traffic is present at most times of the day, but it spikes during the morning and late afternoon when people are commuting to and from work.
Impatience is the standard form of conduct while in traffic, so every bike edges forward to be the first in line at a traffic light build-up. Hooting is also a hugely popular traffic pastime, so even if you cannot go anywhere, you are reminded that there is someone waiting behind you.
Pavements are often used as convenient extra lanes to allow the opportunistic ones to surge ahead of the masses. Until they have to join them again at the next stop light.
Using brakes is not very popular (unless one eventually has to in avoiding a collision). Drivers will much rather keep going at a speed until the obstruction moves out of their way.
Taking all of this into account, it is no wonder that most people find the traffic overwhelming when they first arrive in Vietnam.
Luckily, acclimatising to this new world happens rather quickly, and walking with confidence teaches you how to be assertive in this dynamic space.
Crossing as a pedestrian
Using a marked pedestrian crossing means nothing to most people, and they are quite rare to find. Pedestrian lights are also very sporadic. This means that 9 times out of 10, you’ll have to jay-walk to get where you want to be. As daunting as it is to walk into the booming sea of motorbikes, cars and bicycles, there is a formula to it.
The trick is to: just go.
If you are able to find another person crossing at the same time as you, use them as a shield and follow how they walk. You will soon adopt the buoyancy that they exude. (Also safety in numbers is a real thing).
Have faith. If you have ever watched Mulan, you will recall one of the early scenes when the grandmother crosses the road with shielded eyes. Her blind faith in the ‘lucky’ cricket was enough to make her walk without hesitation, and the drivers thus diverted their routes to avoid her. That is much the situation in Vietnam. Be like water and flow with the chaos.
Don’t underestimate the skill of these motorists. They may seem like they are driving with no inhibitions, but they have incredible anticipatory reflexes and will not hit you. Take courage in their mysterious sixth sense.
Dos and Don’ts
Here are a few things to keep in mind while you stride into oncoming traffic:
Do not wait for a wide open gap before beginning to walk
This gap will never come. Simply start walking and you will realise that there is more distance between you and the drivers than you thought.
Once you have begun to walk across an intersection, don’t stop
Keep a steady pace until you get to the other side. Drivers will time their speed to your walking pace so stopping suddenly throws the rhythm off.
Do not run across the road, ever!
No one does this. It is not safe. You will get hit.
You can signal that you are crossing
Raise your hand lower than your shoulder, and anyone who is going too fast will know to slow down or avoid you.
Walk in a straight line
It makes it easier for everyone to judge their distance from you.
Don’t only look toward the oncoming traffic
It doesn’t matter if it is a one-way or tiny alley or pavement, bikes will travel in both directions. You need to keep an eye on the approaching vehicles on either side of you.
Avoid making eye contact with the approaching drivers
This will make them think that you see them, and are thus going to give them right of way. Just walk assertively and they will be forced to adjust their speed to avoid you.
You are now equipped with all of the tips to brave the roads safely. Go forth and conquer your fears, one congested alley at a time!
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