How to Cross the Road in Hanoi

This month’s Destination of the Month is Vietnam: I am taking you with me on a month-long backpacking trip around this wonderful and diverse country.

Our first stop is Hanoi, one of the most crazy cities I’ve ever been to in Southeast Asia. Or anywhere for that matter. We’ll be staying in Hanoi for a day or two before we head off to explore the rest of Vietnam.

So if we want to stay alive during our stay in Hanoi there is something we have to learn fast:

How to cross the road in Vietnam

Crossing the road in Hanoi is not the same as crossing the road anywhere else. Here they have turned it into a very risky art form….

I have this mastered now. It took a while though. Watch the video above and look out for me. I’m in yellow.

It’s difficult at first to adjust to the way the roads work in Vietnam: you have to walk slowly – very slowly – and without appearing to look for traffic. And you don’t stop to give way to traffic! Sounds like a crazy idea, right?

Don’t look both ways before crossing the road!

Basically when you are in Hanoi you have to unlearn all the road safety that was drummed into you as a child: things like looking both ways, waiting for the traffic to stop, etc. Things you thought were common sense.

These are the things that are not going to get you anywhere in Hanoi. You’ll still be standing on the roadside waiting to cross the street next week if you follow the green cross code.

The secret is that you are looking but only very slyly out of the corner of your eye! The idea is to let the motorists believe that you are oblivious to them and they will go around you. What you absolutely MUST NOT do is run, change direction or make any jerky movement. If you cause a motorbike to swerve rapidly you could be causing a big accident.

Follow the locals

Each time a motorbike zooms by you, take a step forward, let the next motorbike zoom by and take another step forward. This is an art form and is beautifully executed by the locals. It looks almost like a dance called the Hanoi Highway Shuffle. 

Sit at a roadside bar enjoying a Bia Hoi and watch the experts do it before you attempt crossing the road yourself. Just observe as beeping bikes weave in and out of cautious but assertive pedestrians.

The first time I realised I would have to actually cross the road this way in Hanoi I was horrified but after a while it becomes like a game, a challenge – I’m almost disappointed now when the road is clear when I have to cross! Almost.

How to cross the road in Hanoi

Motorbike is king

I should also say that for those who are unfamiliar with the roads in Hanoi, I can’t possibly make you understand how many motorbikes there actually are. If I say that I have seen more motorbikes in two days in Hanoi than I have in a year elsewhere, I don’t think I’m exaggerating!

Have you watched the video above? Watch it again, but this time watch it carefully. Watch it in full screen if you can so that you can see it properly. That’s me crossing the road in Saigon. Find me first on the right hand side waiting to cross the road. When the bus moves you’ll see me in yellow. Now keep your eye on me during the whole video – see how long it takes me just to cross the two roads!

Have you crossed the road in Vietnam? Were you terrified? Spill.

Let the dance begin…

I would like to remind you that all the photos used on are my own unless otherwise stated.
You can see my whole collection of Travel Photos here.

Are you ready to find out what happened next on this trip? Next up is: Street Food in Hanoi: The Best in Southeast Asia.

Perhaps you missed the previous post: Backpacking Vietnam.

Or you can visit my Vietnam Backpacking page where you’ll find all the posts about this trip in route order.

Or if you have any questions, drop me a comment.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedHanoivietnam

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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  1. susan sykes says:

    I watched the video, terrified, I don’t think I could do it, did you see any accidents anyone knocked down, I would think it happens quite often.

    • Lisa says:

      We saw a terrible accident when an articulated lorry destroyed a house that it drove into, which I will mention in my post about the bus journey from Halong City to Ninh Binh.

      Accidents in busy traffic like this happen a lot in the cities, but the locals have this amazing knack of getting it right. Apparently many accidents are caused by pedestrians who don’t follow the “move slow” rules and make jerky movements, like running, causing motorbikes to swerve and having a knock-on effect, making other motorbikes swerve… Seeing is believing though; even the video doesn’t do it justice.

  2. David says:

    Just seeing so many vehicles makes me gag at the thought of so much smog. Is it so?
    Nice site. I hope you do well with it!

  3. Crossing the road in Hanoi

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