Crossing the street in Hanoi is one of the scariest leaps a traveller can take when visiting Vietnam’s capital for the first time—let alone driving a motorbike through its notoriously busy streets. While guidebooks often mention the city’s overwhelming traffic, they never quite provide advice on how to navigate it during your visit. Here’s how to survive traffic like a local (both on and off the sidewalk) when visiting Hanoi for the first time.
Make like “Sticky Rice”
The road to understanding Hanoi traffic begins with your stomach. That’s right, start your visit to Hanoi by signing up for an authentic food tour. It’s an opportunity to encounter the city’s overflowing roads and fascinating street food culture at the first time—and it comes with a guide who will be a Hanoi traffic expert.
Don’t be surprised if your local guide offers the advice, “make like sticky rice!” Just as rice clumps together to form the tasty Asian dish, xôi (sticky rice, in English), your group should stick together as you learn to cross the street safely.
Whether you’re on a narrow road crammed with motor vehicles and foot traffic, or a highway-like street without traffic signals, your first time crossing a Hanoi street on your own might cause some anxiety. But look around: Locals cross the road with nonchalant confidence in their stride as motorists zoom around them.
Mimic their motions to discover that despite the chaos, they neither hesitate nor lose eye contact with drivers. Pedestrians who stand firm with their decision to cross (as opposed to hesitating or making a frightened retreat) are more likely to get across the road safely and calmly.
Go With the Flow—Of Pedestrians
Sometimes veteran travellers feel overconfident about their ability to speed through local crowds and make it to their next destination in good time. Hanoi is not the place to prove how quickly you sightsee. When trying to sidestep the crowd you could wind up on a sidewalk crowded with vendors that’s not actually meant for pedestrians. When it comes to getting places efficiently, the locals really do know best—even if they seem to be moving too slowly for your own taste.
Learn the Signals
Without public transportation, Hanoi traffic isn’t going to clear up anytime soon. So if you want to rent a motorbike or vehicle, or become a champion street-crossing pedestrian, you must learn the signals. Vehicles and pedestrians are able to travel safely through intersections without stop signs or traffic lights thanks to the horn (or bell).
At corners, intersections or crosswalks, pay attention when a vehicle honks twice at you. Silence indicates a clear path, but a double honk warns you that someone else is coming into the intersection. A long honk, or three short honks, might mean “get out of the way”—but just like honks anywhere else in the world, that’s up to interpretation.
Getting around Hanoi might be intimidating for the first-time visitors, but navigating around the city is possible with this guide to getting around Hanoi. Stick with the crowd and mimic the behaviour of locals, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you assimilate to the chaos. If worse comes to worse, stop in one of Hanoi’s cute cafes for a quick cup of courage.