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How we crossed Hanoi’s crazy roads

There are times when I visit a city that I don’t know much of, and try to feel it the way it presents itself to me.

So, it was such that I was in Hanoi for a few nights this week. Before leaving Singapore, I was already struggling to calculate their currency in my head (500,000 VMD = S$32)–– how do I even convert?!?). Because the trip was at really last-minute notice, 24 hours after booking air-tickets and accommodation at a newly opened boutique hotel, my plane took off for Hanoi.

Now, I’d been to Vietnam (Mui Ne) once, few years back, for a beach holiday. My impression about Vietnam was – it’s very difficult to communicate with the locals because they can’t speak English. Houses at Mui Ne are old with grey concrete/stone as the flooring so I don’t think it ever feels clean. Children play outdoors and didn’t care that their clothes have been dirtied. Vietnam to me felt like a place still stuck in time.

I knew there’re many motorbikes in this city,
but I sure didn’t expect Hanoi’s traffic to be such utter C H A O S.

Hanoi traffic • The Petite Wanderess
early morning commuters, at barely 8am

Hanoi traffic • The Petite Wanderess

To summarise Hanoi’s downtown traffic:

  1. There are main direction flows, but not everyone follows the flows (as you can see from the photo above right).
  2. Traffic lights are not exactly existent and even if they are, they also aren’t followed.
  3. The roads are always busy. Motorbikes are a lot. You hear honking all the time.
  4. Not all motorists ride at a moderate speed. Some simply speed past, disregarding safety.
  5. Helmets were made mandatory in 2007, but you can see helmet-less riders everywhere.
  6. It’s common to see more than 2 people on one bike.
  7. Motorists are often multitasking on the bikes – one hand using the phone.
  8. Motorbikes are not the only things on the road – cars, lorries, buses, electric scooters, bicycles, humans, and people standing on the road selling balloons. Everyone seem to hold the exact same rights to the roads.
  9. Motorbikes are a primary source of transportation and you can see riders transporting all sorts of stuff in all sizes on their bikes. I’ve seen huge bonsai plants, bundles of extremely long metal poles on each side of the bike, plenty of stacked metal cages, and so on.
  10. An estimated 9,000 fatal traffic accidents happen in Vietnam a year – about 25 deaths a day.

Hanoi traffic • The Petite Wanderess

Traffic does not seem to ever let up, not in the afternoon, not in the evening, nor at night.

Hanoi traffic • The Petite Wanderess
On my first evening, when we ventured out to dinner, the chaos was too much stimulation for my Introvert’s Mind. I was mentally exhausted and extremely relieved to finally reach the restaurant, which actually wasn’t too far away from my hotel.

So, how does a person ever cross the roads in Hanoi and not get hit by a vehicle?

The general tip from others is to “cross the road bravely and do not hesitate“, because if you hesitate, the motorists are unsure to proceed or not. Ensure the vehicles noted your presence and are slowing down. However, because directions are not followed, you could be keeping your head turned to the right to cross and a random motorbike comes from the left. Crossing the road caused me stress each time. We were nearly hit more than once.

Hanoi Traffic • The Petite Wanderess
funniest sight I saw: a big group of tourists crossing the intersections

On the 2nd day, my companion and I finally figured out a way to cross the road. Two persons would cross together, holding hands / hooking arms. Each person will lead the way for the direction of the side they’re on, i.e., the person on the left will watch for traffic coming from the left and lead the way, and vice versa. You need to trust your companion completely and remain focused on the direction you’re responsible for.

Looking at Hanoi’s road designs and traffic makes me feel extremely blessed to be living in Singapore where roads are so much more safer.

I came back to Singapore in one piece, and don’t feel quite the same anymore.

You know you’ve become a little braver in life,
after a few days of crossing the roads of Hanoi.

Hanoi Tips:

Roads in [Old Quarters of] Hanoi hardly intersect at right angles, therefore Google Maps is so much useful than paper maps. Look at road signs to navigate directions.

Stay mindful and alert as long as you’re near the roads. And I don’t really advise walking with your hand holding your phone as there are phone-snatching robbery cases, targetting foreigners.

For an elevated view of the traffic scene as shown in this post, get an outdoor seat and a drink at Highlands Coffee (Highlands Hàm Cá Mập)

Hanoi traffic • The Petite Wanderess

Visited: April 2016

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    1. Haha Cayce I had the same fear totally! But I have to cross if you’re going anywhere, it’s all roads out there. I was crying inside my head too when I first had to cross, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it! 😉

  1. Good idea on two person watch the traffic on each sides. If I was on my own, I will just wait for another person/group to cross and follow them, but god knows if they cross at the same direction.

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