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.