When we arrived in Bangkok on our first trip to Southeast Asia, the traffic fascinated — and terrified — us. From the safety of our cab, we gaped as cars and motorcycles dashed around each other in a frenzy that seemed to violate all common-sense rules of the road.
After checking in to our hotel, we needed to find a bank to change money but were too frazzled from the long flight to even consider crossing the road. We spent the evening circling the city block around our hotel (we did find an ATM).
The next morning, we got up the nerve to cross the street at a traffic light. There was a crosswalk and when it was time to go, we strolled across feeling much better about the situation. Then someone shoved me from behind.
I turned to see a tiny Thai lady flapping her hands frantically. “Go, go!” We reached the curb just as the light changed, and in a roar the tsunami of vehicles burst through the intersection. I don’t know what would have happened if we had been in the crosswalk when the light changed, but judging from the look on my Thai angel’s face, I didn’t want to find out.
Little did we realize that it would only get scarier as we traveled east. In Cambodia, where “rules of the road” is an incomprehensible concept, I pulled Julie back just before a woman almost drove a minivan over her. The woman was driving on the wrong side of the road — practically on the sidewalk — and did not slow down even though she made eye contact with us. It was at that point I was glad we had bought travel medical insurance.
The minivan was an exception though, because most of the traffic was crazy little Honda motorbikes zipping around like wasps at a picnic. You would think this would have prepared us for Vietnam.
Vietnamese traffic is slightly more controlled chaos than Cambodia, but it’s the sheer volume of motorbikes that’s overwhelming when you’re new. On a major street in Saigon or Hanoi, traffic is a raging river threatening to sweep you away in its current if you step off the curb. It’s a dense flow of whining motors and angry beeps, and you stare and wonder “How in the hell am I supposed to get across this road?”
In spite of the pucker factor, we did figure out a method that was verified by other veterans of Vietnam’s mean streets. It boils down to one concept: Be predictable. The motorbike riders are watching you and will move around you. As long as you’re predictable. No sudden stops or changing direction. No running. Keep moving.
So for those of you planning to travel to Vietnam for the first time, we’ve put together a video demonstrating this method at Cau Go street in Hanoi. Enjoy!