Crossing the Street in Vietnam

In the big cities of Vietnam, during most times of the day the traffic is incessant and chaotic-looking, since motorbikes drive in all directions, taking the opposite directions down one-ways and even driving up on the sidewalks. But, on closer look, or from experience actually driving within the swarms, you will realize that Vietnamese drivers drive slowly and in a cautious uniform.

Crossing the street: It may seem odd to give adults instructions on how to cross the street, but here in Vietnam, it isn’t your typical look left and then look right situation. The traffic of all types of vehicles on the roads is one of a kind and requires a one of a kind crossing method. Simply finding and using the nearest crosswalk isn’t going to work like one might expect.

The traffic lights are quite slow to change and wait for, and the countdown for a red light is most often rushed by drivers, or frequently, the lights are ignored by drivers. Also, it can be tough to find the right time to start walking even during a red light, because a fast approaching stream of motorbikes zoom around from the adjacent turning lane while the forward lanes are stopped, making the whole maneuver equally difficult as just crossing the street into oncoming traffic at any time and any point.

This is how you will notice the Vietnamese do it- they seem to choose their line across the street they want to cut, and then keep a steady pace walking slowly straight for the other side, letting the bikes deal with their presence.

Thanks to the slow(er) style, constant traffic, it isn’t as impossible to cross the street as it may look. Local pedestrians, younger kids on bicycles, tourists and older ladies with giant carts are constantly crossing, so drivers are accustomed to always having to work around these obstacles in the street. You can do it, too!

Instinct may tell you to run across, but this could be dangerous because no one does that here and drivers aren’t used to that! It is much better to be calm and slowly make your way over to the other side of the road, as drivers will not slow or stop (not even for someone running), but rather, they will go around you.

So, look at the oncoming traffic as you cross, and you can also wave your hand about waist-high as you will see the locals do. Try not to stop, as this may confuse a driver- just walk steady! After doing it once or twice, your fears will diminish and it won’t be such a foreign experience anymore.