Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 27, 2010

I Can Do Anything; I Have Walked Across the Street in Hanoi

Mere words cannot describe what it is like to walk across the street in Hanoi.

To start, you need to keep in mind that most traffic stays on the right, but every now and then you get someone zipping up the side in the opposite direction, so you never really know where to look. In Hanoi itself, hazards like chickens and water buffalo are rare.  But there are cars, trucks, buses, taxis, cyclos, bicycles, motorbikes, and lots of pedestrians, including the ubiquitous women with enormous baskets hanging from bamboo rods on their shoulders. Honking is so common that it is essentially meaningless, so it ceases to serve as an audible warning when you are about to step into serious danger. And it seems like every step is one that puts you in serious danger.  There is no break in traffic.  If you wait for a break in traffic you will be there all day.  If you want to get to the other side of the street – ever – you just have to go.

The traffic is so daunting that I seriously considered spending my entire time in Hanoi exploring one block, the same block as the hotel.  I could start my day by going out the door and turning right, right, right and right.  And then for fun, I could go left, left, left and left, never venturing across the street. But it seemed silly to come all the way to Hanoi and see only one square block.  The city had so much to offer.  I decided to go for it, to do the unthinkable, to cross the street.  However, first I checked to make sure my will and life insurance coverage were both up to date. I also put a photo ID in my pocket so that it would be easier for the authorities to identify my bloody and mangled body.

Fortunately, I was able to acheive some measure of success by crossing with someone else.  I knew if I looked at traffic I would be done for, so instead I looked at the shoes of the person walking in front of me.  I matched him step for step.  Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a car, several motorbikes and some bicycles coming straight at us.  We did not break stride. The car passed in front of us, a motorbike practically brushed my hip going behind us, another motorbike passed in front by mere inches, and then a bus crossed behind us.  And that was just traffic from the right. I assume life expectancy is substantially shorter in Vietnam.  I know that one crossing took at least a few years off my life.

I had done it. I had crossed the street in Hanoi!  I wanted to shout from the rooftops, scream with joy.  I was ready for a euphoric celebration, perhaps a parade in my honor, when I realized that we had another street to cross.  Then another. On and on it went.  Stepping off the curb with my heart pounding in my chest, stepping back up onto the curb with a sense of relief akin to that which death-row inmates must feel when the pardon comes through, then approaching another street and having to do it all over again.

It was exhausting.  Needless to say, a wine soaked seafood dinner with friends was just the cure.  As an added bonus, dinner was in the hotel.  All I needed to do at the end of the night was get in the elevator and push a button.  Hey, I can handle that. I can do anything. I have crossed the street in Hanoi.


  1. Sound like a super trip!! Can’t wait to hear all the stories. Kathy

  2. Oh my gosh – I know how insane the streets of Hanoi are! I was there in 2005. Amazing little place, but some CRAZY traffic patterns!

  3. I just added video – because I didn’t think anyone would believe me!

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