Traffic in Vietnam

In the beginning I was shocked about how they drive here in Vietnam. 95% of traffic consists of motorcycles, and they drive as they please. With my bicycle I was driving on the outer right hand side, but not any more.

Imagine a big street with 6 lanes. 3 in every direction, separated by a grass strip. the rightmost 1,5 meters are used by all those people driving the wrong way. So if you cycle on the far right hand side, you always have to evade oncoming traffic, even if – or especially if you are using a one-way street.

Even in Austria I am not using hand signals any more (except of flipping someone the bird), because at crossings and difficult sections, both your hands are supposed to firmly grab the handlebar.

But in Vietnam, giving signals is absolute useless. Instead, watch out in any direction.

Okay, there is one situation when hand signals come in handy again, and that’s when walking. You see, if you are crossing a street in Vietnam, every motorbike is trying to pass in front of you. As human beings they should actually be able to anticipate that it is more efficient to pass behind a crossing pedestrian than in front of him, especially if he is a big guy and forces you to stop if he is grumpy enough.
But the people don’t get it by themselves. 70% of the people try to pass in front of you. You can help them by stretching out your hand and indicating the way you walk. Even if pointing out the obvious seems silly, this is the way it works.

As pedestrians we are used to using the zebra crossing. First, because it’s the law and we have priority on zebra crossings, second because if they hit us, we are in the right. Covered in plaster maybe and in intensive care of the hospital, but at least we were in the right.

In Vietnam, you also want to use the zebra crossings. Sometimes at least. The motorbikes and cars and buses still have priority and you have to watch out very carefully. The point is, the zebra crossings are at strategical locations, where the chaos of the crossing is not that bad any more, but they still are somewhat slow and on alert.

Also as a pedestrian at the rightmost metre of one-way streets, watch out for traffic heading in the wrong direction.

traffic in Vietnam
Oncoming traffic driving the wrong way

Now this is a handy graphic showing why the rightmost metre of the street belongs to wrong way drivers – it’s just a matter of convenience

Traffic & Speed

Because of this whole chaotic mess they call traffic in Vietnam, people drive quite slowly, carefully, and they are always on alert. There is no speeding, at least not much. You will always find the one or another idiot, but natural selection takes care of those.

Traffic in Hanoi
Traffic in Hanoi

Except maybe for the (probably illegal) street races, youngsters sometimes hold after midnight. At this time, the streets of Da Nang are empty, and if they have fun, so be it.

The only group natural selection does not take care of are drugged bus- or lorry drivers and drunk rich wankers driving full speed into groups of waiting motorbikes… Happened several times recently.

How to cross a street in Vietnam

Simple. Just walk. Of course, jumping right in front of the next coach or lorry will not do you any good, so wait for the heavy traffic to pass. Once there is less traffic that is mainly consisting of motorbikes, walk slowly and steadily. They will avoid you like water flows around a rock. Just don’t make any sudden moves. Of course, it is best to use your intuition and go with the flow. If you can do that, you cross like a boss.

Oh yes, if a car slows down and flashes the lights at you, in Austria this means that they will let you pass. Not so in Vietnam, here it means be careful or I will run you over. They just slow down in case you do something stupid, like walking on for example, because you are an Austrian for the first time in Vietnam.

Motorbike for the whole family
Motorbike for the whole family


In Austria, the language of hooting is like this:
Möp – Careful.
Mööp – Yo brother, look over here, your 3rd best buddy is here, look, look!
Möööp – Watch where you are driving you idiot.
Mööööp Möööp, MÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖPMÖPMÖP! – You damn moron, just don’t stop now, don’t, or I’ll come after you and rip out your f*cking guts, you…
you get the idea.
In Vietnam, the language of hooting is different:
Möp – Careful.
Mööp – Careful.
Möööp – Careful.
Mööööp Möööp, MÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖPMÖPMÖP! – Careful, careful and you there, be careful a well.

Update after living in Saigon for over two years:
The people love to ride on the sidewalk and if there is a traffic jam, they ride (and jam) the sidewalk as well. This drives me totally nuts, so if you happen to walk on the sidewalk and people start hooting behind you, just ignore them. They gotta use the frickin’ street or wait. Or as it happened two times to me, a b*tch riding a bike to heavy to handle (but at least fancy and expensive) tried to evade by going through the soft soil of the green stripe, fell and got stuck…

Ham Nghi street
Ham Nghi street

Traffic and the ever changing times

After the opening in the 90s, slowly motorbikes began to displace the omnipresent bicycles. The same thing is happening now with cars eliminating the motorbike traffic at the same rate as the country is developing a middle class with enough purchasing power. Of course bigger vehicles and inexperienced drivers who “convinced” an official to hand over a driving license without the necessary preparation cause the most insane traffic jams.

Before we left Vietnam, we used to reside in an area named Thao Dien. Thao Dien had only two access points and at times it took a taxi almost two hours to leave the area. I am curious how the situation will have changed the next time we return.