The first thing that strikes you when you come to Hanoi (but hopefully not literally) is the traffic. Motorcycles and scooters swarm the streets. Most minor road junctions don’t have traffic lights so motorcycles and cars arrive from four directions and interweave using some mysterious code of practice which keeps traffic flowing and rarely results in damage or injury. Call me sad if you will, but I found it fascinating to watch. I also came to the conclusion that the traffic flowed faster than if there had been lights. Bike riders and car drivers exercise considerable skill in avoiding each other and anticipating others movements. There is also an unexpected level of courtesy (or perhaps it’s just self-preservation).
Crossing the street on foot at first feels like jumping off a cliff – plain suicide. On my first night in Hanoi I felt restricted to the block which our hotel was on, and crossing any of the narrow roads with bikes swarming in both directions was not an option. Watch the locals and you see that they simply walk slowly from one side to the other and the traffic avoids them!
When you pluck up the courage to try it you find that it does work. You have to pick the right moment of course and not step off the curb in front of a scooter, but once riders and drivers can see you provided you walk in a slow and purposeful way they just drive around you!
Here is a lesson in how to (but remember to take a not very busy street – like this one – to practice at first!)