Travel Tip: The Cardinal Rules For Crossing The Road In Hanoi

David Pettitt

Hanoi’s manic roads are almost as famous as its street food and French architecture. This local Hanoi 'travel tips' guide digs into how best to tackle the city’s traffic, or simply how to cross the road in Hanoi!

Originally published on the Buffalo Tours Travel Blog.

Hanoi

'Come on, you can’t be serious!' I hear you say – 'You cannot be about to spend the next few minutes explaining how to cross a road?'

I will be, and I will be enjoying it.

There is no art form quite like road crossing here in Hanoi. Like a mechanical version of dodge ball, crossing the road in Hanoi – and Vietnam in general – is an experience unlike anything you’ve likely ever had. This is where you quite literally come face-to-face with more cross-sections of society than any other, and once you have got the hang of it, you will revel in your new found ability to nervelessly step in front of oncoming vehicles. In most cities this would not be an attribute held in high esteem – rather something to seek medical help for.

Then again Hanoi and its roads are not 'most cities'. Clearly, there are some Hanoi travel tips in order here.

Getting to Know the Hanoian Road

Hanoi is, for many travellers, the first stop in Vietnam. A heady mix of humidity, noise, colour and mayhem greets each new arrival, and most of the above is found on the city’s (quite frankly) insane roads. If there is one particular thought that I’d say crosses every new arrivals’ mind, it’s this: 'How in the heck do I get across the street?'

You cannot help but wonder how on earth you will be crossing these frenetic pathways for the next few weeks. There are no gaps to speak of, a distinct lack of rules and regulations, and each vehicle comes with its own unique challenge to conquer.

So let us step nervously into the oncoming traffic together, and talk over a few strategies that should hold any new arrival in good stead.

Cardinal Rule No. 1: Keep Things Steady

The key to all road-crossing success in Hanoi is judging when to make that first step . You don’t want to be standing idly on the sidelines for hours scratching your head. The key here is faith. The only way to cross that road is to actually try – so hold your breath and make that first step.

The next major consideration is pace. Common sense would have it that a sprint would be the best course of action – to wait for the gap, and when it appears, to get your head down and dash through it.

However, let me be clear: This is about as bad as it gets. As with all things in Hanoi, the obvious is rarely the best course of action. What the situation calls for is a steady, ambling stroll at a constant pace. Unnerving as it may be, whatever you do, do not quicken your pace! This is the first rule of the road. Keep things steady.

Cardinal Rule No. 2: No Eye Contact!

So you have made that all important first step, you have a slow and steady pace, next on the list of concern is that rather fast approaching wall of traffic. This is the real insider tip – don’t make eye contact!

Anyone who has experienced the strange dance with an oncoming pedestrian – where you go left and they go right, giggle slightly and go on your way – the same thing can happen on the road, although a shuffle with a speeding bike doesn’t give time for a giggle.

So, perfect the 1000 yard stare and perfect it quickly. At this point, you may also like to throw in some hand gestures just to make the traffic aware that you are there. A pro tip from me to you: it never hurts to wave a hand, but beware – it will attract a number of eager cyclo and taxi drivers in a blink.

Cardinal Rule No. 3: Know Your Enemy

So far, we have made the first step, are holding a steady pace whilst avoiding eye contact and have an arm held aloft. The final thing is to know your enemy, and on Hanoi’s roads, you are sure to have a few of these.

5 – The humble bicycle is a common sight on Hanoi’s streets. Although they are the least of your problems, they are often carrying more than just a rider, so they can’t always stop.

4 – The overwhelming numbers are made up of mopeds and motorbikes. These agile vehicles are sure to find a way around you, so just keep walking.

3 – The next up are the taxis and saloon cars. You will get some variety here – some happy to plot a course around you, others rather more keen to plot a course over you. Tread with caution.

2 – At number 2 are the 4X4’s, a truly horrible foe and one best not taken lightly. As with 4X4 drivers worldwide, you best avoid them as they have absolutely no intention of avoiding you. Coupled with a horn more closely resembling that on a medium sized frigate, they are hard to miss – and it’s a good thing to.

1 – At number 1, we have the undisputed king of the road – the public bus. These yellow and red terrors hurtle all over the city and stop for no man, woman or child – and rarely even for a red light. With drivers who seem to have taken more from Grand Theft Auto than the Highway Code, under no circumstances should you attempt to make a crossing within eye (or ear) shot of these bullies.

So there you have it, a brief crash course in crossing the road – pardon the pun. God speed!

 

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