How to cross a street in Vietnam… and survive!

Last Updated on August 26, 2010 by Christine Kaaloa

crossing a street in Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
How to cross a street in Vietnam… and survive!

From an outsider’s perspective, a Vietnamese road has little rules.

Traffic in Vietnam is hairy. It’s a tangled and endlessly-streamed mess of motorbikes (video here), an occasional man-drawn cart, some cars and trucks and more motorbikes. The majority of motorists on the roads are motorbikes, a household horse that many can afford.

Crossways do and do not exist in Vietnam and if you’re looking for pedestrian lights… you’ll have to keep looking.  This all raised a quick “danger” signal to me when I arrived in Vietnam and had my first street to cross in Ho Chi Minh.

The oncoming traffic looked intimidating. The opposite side look more intimidating. There were just a massive craze of motorbikes and honking.

Shit, I thought. This is like a game of Frogger. 

If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s a game where you’re a frog and you have to cross a street of busy cars, to avoid getting flattened. Splat.  Not a pretty picture.

Fortunately, there were other Asian tourists on the same sidewalk, giving me courage with numbers. And I quickly figured out that there’s a method to the madness of these Vietnamese streets.


Road rules of a Vietnamese street

Firstly, the Vietnamese are virtuosos of the two-wheeled mule and highly skilled motorists, able to handle hoards of traffic, chaotic congestion, soggy weather circumstances and a bike heaped with  a cornucopia of furniture, from dresser bureaus and a mountain of crates, carrying live chickens! How these drivers balance everything on their bike is an art you won’t want to miss.

In many ways, this art of balance that Vietnamese drivers are known for, make them experts at handling chaotic traffic. They are very artful dodgers!

If a vehicle wants to pass you, they signal by honking their horn. Car and truck horns bellow out long and deep “wah wah wah…” echoes. Bike horns emit short, staccato-like pitches, which cry out with an annoying “meep!”   

[youtube][/youtube] Can’t see the video above, watch it here


How to cross a street in Vietnam?

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, how do you cross a street in Vietnam?

Very slowly.

how to cross Vietnamese traffic

I’m not kidding. Slowly enter the street watching on-coming traffic.  Make the motorists see you and make your actions predictable.  Don’t make any quick, sudden darting movements or sprint across the streets. Motorists won’t stop the flow of traffic unless there’s a stop light, but if they can see you in advance, they’ll break slow to drive around you.   Also, they’re already calculating how they’ll swerve or dodge you, so don’t throw them off. Proceed to walk slowly,  giving traffic some time to swerve around you.

And you’ll find you just crossed your first Vietnamese street.

[youtube][/youtube] Can’t see the video above, watch it here.


Driving Rules in Vietnam

Remember: What you can see, you can easily avert.

That’s the rule of driving and what will get you across that street.


motorbikes in Vietnam

What are some of your tips for crossing a street in Vietnam? Any stories?

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Transportation Guides, Vietnam


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