Harmony in traffic chaos – a tourist’s survival guide
By: Henry Yuen
Where and how do you find “Harmony in Chaos”? The traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam is surprisingly fitting.
Everywhere you go, trucks of all sizes, buses old and new, vans big and small, cars mostly imports, motorbikes and bicycles often with drivers and cargoes, and hand-carts gather together on the same road, going at all directions. Amazingly, the accident rate is extremely low here – according to my observation during my recent 5 days of stay, I saw only one fender bender.
Little markings; if any at all, and limited crosswalks are ignored by drivers and pedestrians. You cross the road whenever and wherever you desire and make turns as pleased. Crisscrossing amongst pedestrians and vehicles is regarded as a must. Driving on pavements is normal during rush hour. Despite all these mayhem on the road, however, everybody – drivers, bikers, hawkers and pedestrians – all share the same road in harmony! There are no visible stress and very little confusion. Locals seem to take in the traffic with good spirit and flow along smoothly. Albeit slower from our standards, the traffic always moves along without stoppage and congestion unlike what we encounter in high-traffic cities in North America.
Honking in Hanoi is absolutely normal and necessary for good reasons: To manoeuvre around the traffic and as an audio signal to fellow drivers. Nobody honks senselessly or annoyingly, and the honking receivers never seem to mind but know exactly what direction to swerve to and at what speed. If you are in a hurry, you drive a bit more aggressively; and if you are not in any rush, you allow other vehicles to pass at ease. Unlike the civilized North Americans, honking seldom elicit a finger from the other drivers, not even mean words, let alone swearing, even tailgating is occasional and without fist fights. Everybody accepts this crazily over-flown traffic as part of the daily living. Road rage, what road rage?
Pedestrians and hawkers are at ease finding their momentums and step in and out the sidewalks without ever frowning. They never hesitate or run, but simply walk into and slide swiftly through the sea of vehicles.
It’s easy to walk from point A to point B in Hanoi, crossing the road is therefore inevitable. The first few attempts would obviously be scary. You may even ask yourself, “How am I going to do this?” or simply refuse to try. But do not be despair or alarmed, to successfully cross the road in Hanoi is easier than J-walking in Vancouver, BC!
As tourists, crossing the road is a surely challenge at first, but do spend some time watching how the locals do it. Follow them closely as they are the ultimate survivors, day in and day out. It won’t take long for you to pick up on these essential road-crossing techniques:
1) Walk with a steady pace no matter how chaotic the traffic is, but don’t run!
2) Never stop and go while crossing the road – it is suicidal. Hesitation only interferes with the flow of the wave of traffic – drivers are not good at guessing games. So be firm, take a deep breath and stride.
3) From your body language and the speed of your pace, drivers and bikers know how to adjust and avoid blocking or hitting you. Have confidence, let them do their job.
4) Drivers are used to be surrounded by other vehicles, mopeds and bikes alike. They know how and where to shift and even slow down just enough to allow you to cross, but they will not STOP! Stopping creates blockage and will likely cause the following vehicle to jam up or pile up.
5) Be sure to look all 4 ways because traffic comes from different directions, even on one way streets and sidewalks.
6) Don’t take sidewalks for granted because they are the extra lane during rush hours, be vigilant!
7) Absolutely no eye contact with the oncoming traffic! This is to avoid splitting up everyone’s focus and allowing what you see to disturb your pace.
Last but not least – good luck and have a wonderful time in Hanoi! Just a reminder – make sure you purchase full travel insurance before you go!