One of the tourist attractions in Vietnam, is the traffic. It’s amazing to watch but it is not that fun when you need to cross a street as a pedestrian. You can look at this video, which I filmed in center Saigon and you will realise why this issue is a problem for the tourist.
The problem is, of course, more acute in the big cities of Vietnam, like Saigon.
On this page, I will try to help you with this because I have crossed many times the streets in Vietnam and I may know something :
- De facto, in Vietnam it is the vehicle who has priority over the pedestrian, in any situation. For a tourist from a western country, this notion is not easy to accept.
- As a pedestrian, you have the same status as a pigeon. The vehicles expect you to “fly away” before the moment that they reach your point. Vehicles don’t like to stop or slow down in Vietnam.
- Basically, you just cross the street and the cars and motorcycles will avoid you (hopefully).
- There are not traffic lights on every street and even when there is one and it is green for the pedestrian, there will be (heavy) traffic coming from different angles, so you must get used to the idea that you will be surrounded by vehicles, when you cross.
- Watch the behaviour of local people when they cross (even better, cross with them to protect yourself). You will notice that even locals wait for a favorable situation before crossing.
- Cars are much more dangerous than motorbikes, so don’t mess with them, try not to cross in front of a moving car.
- Despite the chaos, the traffic is moving at constant speed, there are no sudden accelerations and races like you can see on the roads in Europe. So when you cross, be predictable to the vehicles, try not to run.
- A motorbike, need to decide in a fraction of a second, if to bypass you from your back or from your front, and the driver do this by predicting your walk. You can help the driver by making him a sign, showing where you want him to drive, relative to you (how to bypass you).
- You must get used to the idea that you lose a little bit of control when you cross a street in Vietnam, you depend on the skills of the drivers.
- The best way to cross a street is on motorcycle, it’s hard to be a pedestrian in Vietnam.
- Be specially aware of tourists riding a motorbike. Many of them don’t have experience riding a moto + they take the “no rules” to extremes.
- There’s no way you can learn how to cross a street in Vietnam, from just reading this page, it’s like learning to swim on the internet. You need to be in place and practice.
Some philosophical thoughts about the way traffic functions in Vietnam :
It is a very special and interesting concept. We are used, in the western countries, that the person, the individual is the most important element of a society and so the individual has some basic rights like being able to cross the street safely and in a relaxed way and here in Vietnam they are like saying : No, the most important thing is that the traffic will flow, the group is important, the person not so much. You as a pedestrian has to manage somehow to cross the street, if you want to. This may be a communist concept.
It may be partly a communist concept but I saw the same traffic behavior also in Colombia, in south America and they are not communist there. So, this behavior is more related to third world countries than to communism. The message that is sent to society is this : I am a vehicle and I am stronger, so you better move out of the way. This is the law of the jungle, no protection for the weak.
The positive side of the Vietnam traffic
I must admit, Vietnam management of traffic has some advantages :
- The traffic flows. There are almost no traffic jams. (Why should there be ? cars almost never stop).
- Even as a pedestrian, it’s faster. You don’t have to wait for the green light before crossing.
The Negative side of the Vietnam traffic
They are many:
- As a pedestrian, You never feel safe when you cross a street.
You cannot be relaxed even when walking on the sidewalk because there are motorbikes riding also on sidewalks.
- You cannot listen to music with headphones while walking in the city because you need to be alert to dangerous situations, like a motorbike just behind you.
- You almost don’t see in Saigon : elderly people, kids, blind people. Difficult to imagine them crossing a street, safely.
- There is a huge number of motorcycles on the streets (because they have an easy and good life), and so the pollution in the city is elevated and some people need to wear masks.
- If you are hit by a car while crossing a street, you are unprotected by the law. It is difficult to claim that a car was at fault, when the normal behavior is that cars never stop before a pedestrian, even not in a zebra crossing.
- Personally, I never witnessed a serious accident in Saigon but the statistics say otherwise. Vietnam is on the top list in worldwide road accidents. See on Wikipedia, a list of countries by traffic-related death rate. See also this City ranking (from 2015) with the most traffic fatalities for every 100,000 persons :
In the following picture that I took in central Saigon, you can see a traffic light that is green for both vehicles and pedestrians, at the same time. It was like that during months. I have no idea if it a failure or it is supposed to be like that, but it resumes the situation of traffic in Saigon.
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