Locals or anyone who has lived in Vietnam a long time, who have observed the traffic, will see it as though they are watching a perfectly coordinated ballet performance of people, motorbikes, cars, buses or even the occasional chicken. If you’re neither a local nor an expat, you will likely see it as a total breakdown in society.
Here are our tips to be a performer in the ballet, rather than a traffic statistic…
1) Push past your commitment issues:
Once you make the ‘brave’ decision to step off the curb, commit to it and don’t change your pace. You’ll find that the school of motorbikes will effortlessly dance around you. If you’re not at the stage of even actually getting off the curb, take a deep breath and close your eyes as you step off – this surprisingly works well. Just remember to open your eyes again!
2) Find a local barrier:
Before you cross, assess the crowd and see if you can find either a child or an elderly person to walk with. Vietnamese children are cute so the likeliness of them getting run over is very low. Elders are your best option! They have been crossing the roads for years, probably even had a say in how they were built so they know a thing or two BUT don’t force them to cross with you as this is frowned upon and there is nothing worse than an angry Granny!
3) Traffic lights don’t work the way they do at home:
Traffic generally does stop at the lights however; never assume that you’ll be able to continue along your merry way without disruption. You will always find at least a dozen or two bikes or an occasional taxi that will cross the lights “to gain that advantage”. Also don’t bother waiting for the stragglers to pass through; by the time they have, your green light would be red again!
4) Pedestrian/Zebra crossings are the key:
Wrong! There is no such thing. If you think you see them, they are a mirage.
5) Don’t assume sidewalks/footpaths are for pedestrians only:
Again, these are not the same as you find back home, in-fact they are actually an alternative or sometimes preferred, roadway for motorbikes! They are also often used for motorbike parking so in reality; the sidewalk is actually the street – confused yet? Don’t worry, many of us still are!
6) User a poker face as you cross:
As a pedestrian, never look the driver in the eye or smile at them. This isn’t you being rude, by doing so you may actually distract them or sometimes it can actually be interpreted as a challenge, presumably to the death (yours more than likely). It can also project fear: some drivers are like tigers – they can smell fear!
7) Fulfill your #squadgoals:
It’s always good to find a large group who are about to cross and tag along with them. At best, your odds of surviving are higher because at the very least, a driver will likely take out maybe 4 or 5 people in one go, but not all! So find a large squad to assist you and in this case, size does matter!!
On a more serious note, if you cannot remember all the rules; keep calm, walk slowly but consistently. More importantly, remember that these rules only really apply to motorbikes… cars and buses – they’re a different story 🙂
In any case, get amongst the chaos, but make sure you live to tell the tale, in other words – remember all the rules!