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)!
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.
Dude. That street crossing is CRAZY!
And I feel like we broke out the camera on a “calm” day. The other afternoons we were there, it was SO much worse!
When the bus comes close though? Whoa!
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.
Oh boy, this post brings back such memories!
I hope not memories from a hospital bed 😉
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)
It’s easy to be confident about it once the experience is behind you, right?!
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.
They’re going way too fast to even see who’s driving half the time!
Good lesson. But it’s hard to believe that there aren’t crosswalks somewhere.
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.
And I thought Shanghai was bad!
Shanghai seemed tame after Saigon.
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!
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!
hanoi is the most dangerous! (bc there are less vehicles, more space so people drive FASTER)
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 🙂
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 =)
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 🙂
HAha I love this!!!
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 😉
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!
Well, I’m sure you were more concerned about all your gear than your actual safety 😉
That is insanity! I’m glad you guys came back in one piece. Still, despite the chaos, I really want to visit Saigon.
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.
My older daughter was terrified of the traffic in Paris – I’ll never get her to Asia!
Baby steps. After Paris, graduate to Rome, then China, THEN you go for Vietnam or Thailand, once she’s feeling nice and confident =)
Wow. Just wow. I would be having a heart attack. And I can’t even imagine doing it with kids!
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 🙂
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.
I was really hoping there’d be a joke in here about how it helps to be a chicken…
BLOGGER FAIL. Next time, I promise to do better.
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/
Can you imagine having to do that every day just to go get milk from the store? Insane!
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
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).
My gosh that sounds intense!
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.
I hope you get some cool videos and photos of all the Navy dudes trying to cross in a herd! That would be entertaining =)
SO SCARY! I’d freak, for sure. I’m a spaz.
You lived in freakum Kosovo. I’m pretty sure you could handle crossing the street in Vietnam!
Pretty sure one of the preparation steps should include adult diapers …. 😉 That looks terrifying!
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! =)
Okay… one more tip…. don’t assume the sidewalks are safe! The motorcycles get right on them as well.
Ahhhh, excellent add!
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!
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.
Nice tips. To me, crossing Vietnam roads is a adventurous journey. It is worth trying.
My friend told me that crossing streets in Saigon is really art))
I have been to several places in asia, and the traffic in saigon is by far the craziest. Never a dull moment in asia 😉
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 🙂
Crazy streets! Look the drivers in the eye and they usually move a little to the side to help you out.
I think this experience will be memorable. Actually, It is hard to get familiar with the traffic in hanoi, especially at rush hour
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.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!
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.
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 😉
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!
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!
THanks for sharing our experince with us
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 :).
Gorgeous! What a delight to see!! Thanks for posting!
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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.
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Just came across this artice and had to laugh to hard- because it is so relatable.I wasn in Vietnam in 2015 and my first city was Hanoi….the traffic scared me so much the first few days. Sometimes I waited for minutes to cross….later I decided just to cross and run fast. LOL
I still cringe thinking how dangerous that is!!
I lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for about 9 months and I can still remember first trying to cross the street. I also see it from the opposite side of the fence. Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is like floating in flowing water, what you said about walking slowly with a purpose is absolutely true, the motorbikes will flow around you like water and when on a bike the only time I ever feared is when I saw some foreigner stop in and freeze while walking.
When on a bike in Vietnam, you anticipate where someone will be and if you should go right or left of them. If they stop, then it’s dangerous! Great article. Thanks for sharing.
Whenever I see the cross-roads in Saigon, its looks so chaotic. There don’t seem to be lanes, just drive where ever there is space. I think the idea is to walk slowly so the motorist sees where you will be going and can avoid you.
Interesting topic! 🙂
It feels like we’re crossing through a herd of cows in forest. The feeling is so hard to describe…
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So very true! Should have read this before my trip in Vietnam. It is really scary to cross the around Benthan Market in Ho Chi Min.
Haha this is so good! Honestly even having travelled to other countries in southeast Asia before, Vietnam definitely has the most intimidating roads! I found Yangon in Myanmar to be pretty bad as well, you could barely walk on the sidewalks!
Traffic in Vietnam people move by motorcycle pretty much. Traffic is quite crowded, the road is to be careful. Get on the road at the right place.
This blog offers really great insights. Keep it up!