When we were children, our parents taught us to cross a street safely: wait for the light to change, or traffic to stop at the stop sign; cross only at corners; look both ways; hold hands with the adult, if one is present. Here in Vietnam we’ve been given street-crossing lessons by our guides in both Hanoi and Saigon. None of what we learned as children applies exactly the same.
In Saigon the roads downtown are often 8 or more lanes wide, and there is NEVER a complete break in traffic. Pedestrians are somewhat more likely to cross at intersections, but not necessarily. Traffic mostly drives on the right, but not always (motorcycles, but not cars, drive the wrong way on one-way streets), and the centerline is largely meaningless, as motorcycles and cars weave ‘round each other for long distances. Oncoming traffic is not perturbed by this loss of space in their own lane.
The procedure for crossing a street on foot is to wait for a tiny gap between vehicles, then step off the curb while trying to make eye contact with the wall of cars, vans and motorcycles coming at you. Then, keep walking, slowly, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, never take a step backwards. All the cars and motorcycles are watching pedestrians, and aim to weave their way through right behind (inches behind) each pedestrian, so if you step backwards, even a few inches, you will be hit by a vehicle. When you are in the middle of the lanes, you have traffic flowing by you closely on both sides. It’s disconcerting initially, and our guides don’t trust us entirely to do it safely, so they tell us when to go, to keep going, and to hurry up. We feel a bit like children again, but we became confident and skilled at it in Hanoi, and now that we’ve been here awhile, our skills in Saigon, which is crazier, are improving too.