Street crossing on the edge of the Old Quarter in Hanoi. This kind of traffic might appear to be pure chaos, but, just like any other society and culture, there are unspoken rules (see below for 'Coping with Traffic Chaos in Hanoi').
This picture was taken on the southern edge of the Old Quarter which maintains most of the original street layout and some of the architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century Hanoi consisted of the "36 streets", the citadel, and some of the newer French buildings south of Hoàn Kiếm lake, most of which are now part of Hoàn Kiếm district. Each street had merchants and households specializing in a particular trade, such as silk, jewelry or even bamboo. The street names still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce. The area is famous for its specializations in trades such as traditional medicine and local handicrafts, including silk shops, bamboo carpenters, and tin smiths.
Coping with traffic chaos in Hanoi
Just like any other society and culture, there are unspoken rules about how to behave that guide peoples’ interactions with each other. Once you know the rules, you can start to participate in a harmony with those around you.
Slow and steady wins the race. The number one mistake you can make is to try to run across the street. It’s more important to be predictable. Oncoming drivers will watch you and adjust their approach based on your pace. Any sudden movements throw the whole thing off. If you advance slowly and at an even pace, you can trust the system.
Buses > Cars > Motorbikes. It’s important to remember that the bigger the vehicle, the more difficult it is to maneuver around a pedestrian. For this reason, you should yield to buses and cars with a small adjustment of your pace. Although counterintuitive, you’re much safer walking in front of a swarm of motorbikes than a single bus.
Be alert on and off the street. Traffic is not limited to the actual roadways. You may encounter vehicles driving on the sidewalks. And vehicles do sometimes go against the flow of traffic. So pay attention wherever you’re walking, and look in all directions before (and while) crossing the street. Also, if you hear someone honking their horn, they’re probably not expressing anger (like we do in the States), they’re just telling you that they’re coming, in case you don’t see them.