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To Walk or Not to Walk: How to Cross The Street In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Guest post by student contributor, Alyssa Fishman

The first life lesson my dad ever taught me was to look both ways before crossing the street.  I can recall him hollering at my six-year-old self as I darted carelessly into the middle of a four-way intersection, unaware of the cars that could flatten me into nothing more than a grease stain on the side of the road.  Having such a panicked reaction in the States – a place where going even five miles over the speed limit can result in one hefty fine – my dad surely would not have been able to stomach Vietnamese city traffic.

Ho Chi Minh is a bustling city of winding concrete, a city where every part of the road is fair game, traffic lights are only suggestions, and pedestrians do not have the right of way.  Cars whip by, scooters carrying entire families weave their way through, and even bicyclists show no mercy.

So, Dad, I want to take this time to apologize because I wasn’t able to look both ways before crossing the street during my time in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  I don’t think it would have helped very much, anyway.

As an alternative, I’ve created a new set of rules that should be utilized when visiting Vietnam:

Step 1:  Check if there are any locals nearby.

The older, the better as they definitely know a thing or two about HCMC traffic.  Stick close, perhaps uncomfortably close, and shadow them as they saunter across the street.  Not only will you make it safely across the street, but you may also manage to make a new friend.

Step 2:  Place one foot on the asphalt, leaving the other safely on the curb.

If the cars and vehicles continue toward you, don’t be alarmed.  Walk signs aren’t a guarantee that traffic will stop completely.  Keep your cool and appear confident.  If you act like a pro, no one will suspect anything.

Step 3:  Step your other foot down onto the road.

This gesture assertively lets others know you mean business.  If possible, refrain from appearing flustered and try to maintain focus, the cars and scooters will move around you.

Step 4: Here you have two options – Either keep your chin up and walk across the street at a slow and steady pace, refusing to stop for anyone, or look in the direction of the heavy traffic flow and proceed walking with your palm jutting out just above your hip.

The former method will result in cars and scooters slowing down or going around you. Those who’ve enjoyed playing the game “Frogger” as a kid will enjoy the latter of these techniques, as it requires a bit more deftness and patience.

 Step 5:  Don’t be alarmed by the excessive honking.

In Vietnam, this gesture is less of a sign of annoyance or alarm and more of an acknowledgement of one’s presence.  You’ll become very familiar with the honk of a horn during your time in the city, and might even come to appreciate its efficacy.

When you make it to the other side, treat yourself to some white Vietnamese coffee at a local café.  The combination of slow-drip coffee and condensed milk makes for a heavenly drink that will give you the liquid courage you’ll need to do it all over again.

Alyssa Fishman is a Junior at Boston University, majoring in Communications.

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