How to Cross the Street in Vietnam

One of the wackiest places I have ever been is Saigon, not for any reason other than the downright insane traffic situation. I mean, I did live in California for four years—I didn’t think anywhere could have more chaotic roads than Los Angeles and San Francisco. And then I went to Vietnam on Semester at Sea where traffic lights and stop signs are not the law, but rather mere suggestions.

If you don’t think you need an actual tutorial for crossing the street there before you go, well, then clearly you’ve never been to the Vietnamese city. Luckily my ship pal (and Field Office boss) Josh had lived in Ho Chi Minh for five years and was more than happy to do a little coaching. Pair that with a confident husband who bravely walked between me and the traffic—most of the time—and I was ready to do this thing.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Breathe. Take a big, deep breath and get your zen on before attempting the following steps.

2. Walk slowly, rhythmically and with purpose. Make your footsteps form a distinct pattern, so that the oncoming drivers can anticipate your position and adjust their drive path accordingly.

3. Don’t stop. Whatever you do, resist the urge to panic and come to a grinding halt in the middle of the street (or risk being mincemeat)!

How to Cross the Street in Vietnam
How to Cross the Street in Vietnam

4. Enlist a wingman (or woman). There’s always safety in numbers. The same applies when in Vietnam. You’re much more likely to be seen by a motorist when walking with a group than venturing across the street solo. Traveling alone? Don’t feel bad being that creeper who silently stalks along next to a family crossing the street. Better safe than dead.

5. Be insured. All things considered, it’s always wise to invest in travel insurance before you go, as there’s never any guarantee the traffic will stop for you.

6. Document your attempts. But only if you followed numbers 1 through 5 first.

7. Never go back. i.e. Don’t try to turn around and go the way you came. Just trust me on this. You’ll get yourself into even more of a pickle.

8. Pedestrians do NOT have the right away. So don’t even think a red light and crosswalk means it’s your turn.

9. If all else fails, and fear gets the best of you, take a motorbike cab. Because then, at least, you’ll return home from Vietnam with stories to tell that don’t include you imitating a possum on the side of the road.

Any tips you care to add from your own experiences?

COMMENTS
  • April 18, 2012

    Dude. That street crossing is CRAZY!

    • April 18, 2012
      Kristin

      And I feel like we broke out the camera on a “calm” day. The other afternoons we were there, it was SO much worse!

      • April 18, 2012

        When the bus comes close though? Whoa!

    • April 17, 2015

      In cities like Hanoi or Saigon where pedestrian crossings are merely something to speed over, stoplights are practically non-existent, one-way streets are laughed at, and thousands of motorbikes speed past without stopping, crossing the street can be an intense experience. The question, “how did the tourist cross the road” is not a joke, it’s a real query from most visitors to Vietnam. To make it to the other side, you need to be brave, focused, and a risk-taker — just like in life.
      Anthony James recently posted..Life Lessons You Can Learn From Crossing the Street in VietnamMy Profile

  • April 18, 2012

    Oh boy, this post brings back such memories!

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      I hope not memories from a hospital bed 😉

  • April 18, 2012
    Pauline

    Totally agree with #2! Crossing the street in Vietnam is almost like wishing to die in style, but if you survive it, i think it grants you a valid bragging right! (Yes, I’m bragging here! =D)

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      It’s easy to be confident about it once the experience is behind you, right?!

  • April 18, 2012

    Try to make an eye contact with the drivers on the bikes. Stare them down and let them know that you are crossing. 🙂 They most likely to stop for you after the eyes contact.

    • April 18, 2012
      Kristin

      They’re going way too fast to even see who’s driving half the time!

  • April 18, 2012

    Good lesson. But it’s hard to believe that there aren’t crosswalks somewhere.

    • April 18, 2012
      Kristin

      Welcome to Southeast Asia. Cambodia was similar in its traffic, but much more civilized. I hear Thailand and Laos are as bad, if not worse. I’m shocked there aren’t more accidents.

  • April 18, 2012

    And I thought Shanghai was bad!

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      Shanghai seemed tame after Saigon.

  • April 18, 2012

    haha, I felt HCMC’s traffic was very tame after having seen the rest of Vietnam – Bangkok can be similar, but the craziest motorbike action was going on in Hanoi!

    • April 18, 2012
      Kristin

      I hear Bangkok is the worst (haven’t been)! I’ve read about quite a few American tourists getting in bad wrecks there…i guess it does make HCMC seem tame!

    • April 22, 2012
      Haidang

      hanoi is the most dangerous! (bc there are less vehicles, more space so people drive FASTER)

  • April 18, 2012

    Man oh man! I’ve been in Hue for nearly two months and just mustered up the courage to ride a bike–it felt like a death wish! Totally agree that taking a deep breath is one of the best ways to handle crazed traffic like this. I hummed the entire 10 miles to keep calm…it worked! Great post 🙂

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      By ride a bike do you mean actually drive? Because I thought riding as a passenger was a whole lot of fun, but not sure I could ever take the controls myself =)

      • May 1, 2012

        Ha ha! An actual bicycle is what I’m talking about, I wouldn’t dare drive a motorbike in Vietnam! Last time I tried it in Indonesia, I ended up sprawled out on the side of the road. So yes, it’s safe to leave the motor vehicles alone 🙂

  • April 18, 2012

    HAha I love this!!!

    • April 18, 2012
      Kristin

      I was going to say, “take these tips to heart for your own Vietnam visit” and then realized you aren’t going there! But I’m sure you can apply this to South America, too 😉

  • April 18, 2012

    Crossing in Hanoi was insane and terrifying. (I’m one of those people that freezes mid-street LOL) I didn’t find Bangkok to be all that bad in comparison!

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      Well, I’m sure you were more concerned about all your gear than your actual safety 😉

  • April 18, 2012
    Brandy

    That is insanity! I’m glad you guys came back in one piece. Still, despite the chaos, I really want to visit Saigon.

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      It was one of my favorite places on the voyage, and that was completely unexpected. Funny, prior to the trip, I had no desire really to visit Vietnam, India or Japan, and those all wound up being countries I’d desperately like to return to.

  • April 18, 2012

    My older daughter was terrified of the traffic in Paris – I’ll never get her to Asia!

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      Baby steps. After Paris, graduate to Rome, then China, THEN you go for Vietnam or Thailand, once she’s feeling nice and confident =)

  • April 18, 2012

    Wow. Just wow. I would be having a heart attack. And I can’t even imagine doing it with kids!

  • April 18, 2012
    catherine

    There were a few times when I was in Hanoi that drivers (bikes/cars) stopped at a red light (shocking, I know). But every single time, someone would rev their engines and zoom by as soon as you passed them. It was unnerving but I felt like I was the signal for the races to begin.

    But yeah, with the constant honking and chaos, we learned quickly to be like screw it and just go. As long as we didn’t get hit by one of those bikes with a pig strapped to it, i figured we’d be fine 🙂

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      I don’t think I saw the pigs strapped to the bikes! Now I feel like I totally missed out on an essential Vietnamese experience. Drats.

  • April 18, 2012

    I was really hoping there’d be a joke in here about how it helps to be a chicken…

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      BLOGGER FAIL. Next time, I promise to do better.

  • April 19, 2012

    OMG, i can sooo relate to this. I love staying in Saigon but crossing the street drives me nuts! I even wrote about that here -http://solofemaletravel.net/2011/12/solo-female-travel-ho-chi-minh-city/

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      Can you imagine having to do that every day just to go get milk from the store? Insane!

  • April 19, 2012

    I felt like this in Bangkok as well… you just kind of squeeze in where you can and hope for the best. That being said, Rome is also pretty bad lol

    • April 27, 2012
      Kristin

      I’ve never been to Bangkok, but you always hear about fatal accidents there that involve Americans on vacation–eek. I haven’t really heard of too many incidents in Vietnam (if any).

  • April 19, 2012

    My gosh that sounds intense!

  • April 22, 2012

    Ha ha, it is funny that you post this, as I was just warning my shipmates about how to properly cross the other day since we are arriving in Da Nang today. I should have just printed your blog for them.
    The best advice is to not stop, to keep walking. It’s amazing how fluid and aware the moped drivers are at avoiding you. But if you stop or run, that can cause chaos.

    Great post!

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      I hope you get some cool videos and photos of all the Navy dudes trying to cross in a herd! That would be entertaining =)

  • April 23, 2012

    SO SCARY! I’d freak, for sure. I’m a spaz.

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      You lived in freakum Kosovo. I’m pretty sure you could handle crossing the street in Vietnam!

  • April 24, 2012

    Pretty sure one of the preparation steps should include adult diapers …. 😉 That looks terrifying!

    • April 25, 2012
      Kristin

      Next time, I’ll have you write the post…and maybe get Mayhem to illustrate in video form. That, no doubt, would be FAR more entertaining! =)

  • April 28, 2012

    Okay… one more tip…. don’t assume the sidewalks are safe! The motorcycles get right on them as well.

    • April 29, 2012
      Kristin

      Ahhhh, excellent add!

  • January 24, 2013

    I’m pretty sure that you nailed Vietnam in this single post!! I will never forget the first time attempting to cross the street, when a Tourist Officer saw the looks of panic on our faces and showed us how it is done! But then by day five, wearing freshly sewn suits and dresses, our group felt like pros!

    Great articles!

  • March 27, 2013

    It may seem crazy to anyone who hasn’t been – but this is a very useful blog post! Surprisingly, you do get used to it. By the end of my travels in Vietnam, I couldn’t imagine crossing the road any other way.
    Si @ Man vs World recently posted..5 things I miss most about backpacking in SE AsiaMy Profile

  • August 8, 2013

    Nice tips. To me, crossing Vietnam roads is a adventurous journey. It is worth trying.

  • October 17, 2013

    My friend told me that crossing streets in Saigon is really art))
    Anton recently posted..Как Добраться от Бангкока до Островов Самуи, Пханган и ТаоMy Profile

  • October 28, 2013
    Ines

    I have been to several places in asia, and the traffic in saigon is by far the craziest. Never a dull moment in asia 😉

  • November 30, 2013

    Soooo similar experience from Chiang Mai in Thailand 🙂
    Maybe someone above already mentioned it, but my tip is: follow a local!
    So far it worked 🙂

  • October 20, 2014
    Jes

    Crazy streets! Look the drivers in the eye and they usually move a little to the side to help you out.
    Jes recently posted..Pure Luxury at NaumiMy Profile

  • March 6, 2015

    I think this experience will be memorable. Actually, It is hard to get familiar with the traffic in hanoi, especially at rush hour
    hanoi food tour recently posted..British press suggests activities in HanoiMy Profile

  • October 13, 2015

    In my city, we don´t have stop signs as well and we have always to be cautious with the cars. It´s a bad situation.
    Alex Costa recently posted..Hello world!My Profile

  • October 15, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!
    Online Essay Maker recently posted..Universe Long Before the Big Bang and After – Neosecularism Vs Atheism and ReligionMy Profile

  • October 27, 2015

    It’s so true! Braveness needed to cross the road or ride a bike in Vietnam. Hanoi and Saigon traffic is crazy. When i first reached there,me n my friend standing beside the road for like 10 minutes just to wonder when’s our turn to cross the road. We saw locals crossed the road from opposite a few time and try to learn how to do it but we just need more courage to make it happen haha. Day 3 we rent a bike go around and after that ride i felt like there’s no bad traffic in this world i could not handle anymore because im safe and survive at the end!!what a joke.

    • October 28, 2015

      I always felt like a deer in the headlights! Sometimes you’ve just got to commit, and my husband is great at that, but me…not so much 😉

  • November 12, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

  • April 16, 2016
    Amy

    Ha! When we lived in Vietnam I always tried to cross the road alongside a local. In fact, sometimes an old Vietnamese woman would take pity on me, grab my arm and guide me across the road 🙂 I’ve never seen crazier traffic anywhere else!
    Amy recently posted..Eastern Europe and Onwards to Asia – our New Travel PlansMy Profile

  • June 28, 2016

    THanks for sharing our experince with us

  • July 18, 2016

    I have been to both bangkok and some cities in vietnam and you are absolutely right. Walking across the street and even driving a motorbike can be lethal. However, I loved every minute of it and would love to do it again. Thanks for bring back memories :).
    Steven Conte recently posted..Where To Tie The Anchor On A Kayak Trolley SystemMy Profile

  • July 26, 2016

    Gorgeous! What a delight to see!! Thanks for posting!

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  • October 16, 2016

    It is funny how to cross these crazy streets. I have heard that you just have to get the courage and cross slowly and confident without stopping, the bikes will adapt to your moving.
    Mario recently posted..Adult Services With Harrow EscortsMy Profile

  • December 11, 2016

    hey, this post is amazing and the topic is so interesting
    Himanshi Khurana recently posted..Hrithik Roshan : 3rd Most Handsome Face In WorldMy Profile

  • April 29, 2017

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