Volunteer in Vietnam with Friends for Asia

Hanoi – A Traffic Survival Guide

If you’re going to spend some time in Vietnam, you simply must visit the capital, Hanoi. A vibrant metropolis that at first glance seems chaotic, with scooters eagerly jostling for that little bit of road space, accompanied, of course, by the blaring horns that every single driver uses with gusto. Crossing the street is an art and definitely not for the squeamish and negotiating the never ending flow of traffic that Hanoi has to offer is something every westerner must face.

In the true spirit of volunteering, experiencing Hanoi is an adventure in itself, and much like Bangkok, this massive city is a tangled spaghetti of roads, each filled with mainly two wheel vehicles that are all going somewhere in a hurry. Pedestrians take their lives in their hands, yet by observing the locals, you quickly master the art of dodging and weaving the bikes and cars.

Hanoi, Vietnam

A Natural Order

To the untrained eye, Hanoi traffic is complete chaos with absolutely no regard for any form of rules, indeed, your first few encounters will leave you thinking there are hundreds of accidents on these streets daily, yet considering the high volume of two wheel traffic, the number of accidents is extremely low. How could this be? A question new arrivals ponder and the answer lies in the fact that all of the road users (including pedestrians) are following an unwritten law that roughly translated says, “avoid colliding with anything else!”

Assume Nothing

As a foot soldier in this real-life virtual madness, rule number one, assume nothing. The motorcycle that is indicating to turn right might not actually be turning right and at home, one would kind of take it for granted that the said bike will make the turn. To do so here would greatly increase the chances of bodily contact with a motorcycle and we generally come off worst. A one way street, for example, might (more than likely will) have traffic moving the wrong way and if you were thinking the footpath is your oasis, the fact is, there are as many bikes on the footpath as on the road – if not more.

Pay Attention

Walking along while texting is never advised, especially in Hanoi, as traffic can come at you from any angle – and at any time – so this is definitely not time for screen staring. Another absolute no-no is listening to music via your headphones. Such is the risk on these streets that you simply cannot afford to lose your hearing. Negotiating Hanoi roads demands your complete attention at all times.

Crossing a Busy Street

This is where it gets serious. If you wait for a decent gap in the traffic, you will literally be there all day, and the next. Watch a local as they weave and dodge, sometimes stopping and holding their ground, waiting for that split second until they can make the next dash. To do this successfully, one must be very alert and trust that all of the drivers can see you and when an opportunity presents itself, seize the moment and make the crossing, all the while being aware of what’s coming from all directions. Once you are off the pavement, there should be no sudden movements, which helps drivers figure out what you are doing and if you are really uncomfortable with crossing a busy road (is there any other in Hanoi?) then have a local chaperone you across the first time.

The Absence of Road Rage

Whenever there is a minor bump – or a close shave – both parties simply nod and continue on their way, and if you are from a European city, you will notice how all the drivers are acting defensively and there is no aggression. This might stem from the Buddhist attitude that everyone is trying to get somewhere and if we all help each other, we will all reach our destinations in good time. The constant beeping of horns should not be viewed as an aggressive act, but rather a “Hey, I’m here”, and you do get used to it after a while.

Traveler’s Delight

Despite the obvious road danger, Hanoi is a fun place to be, and some of the best Asian street food can be found here. When you enrol in a Friends For Asia Volunteer placement, our experienced coordinators are there to help you acclimatize, plus they know all the best markets and food stalls, and there is so much to see and do while you are in Hanoi, getting some background info saves a lot of time.

Experiencing Hanoi Life

For many of our volunteers, Hanoi is so addictive, they decide to join a Hanoi based community project, which gives you the opportunity to live and work with the local people and experience their culture in a truly unspoiled way. Living in this dynamic city brings with it a certain contentment and there’s always something going on around you. Taking a random walk through the leafy streets is like a trip to wonderland, as you never know what you are going to encounter, with the backdrop of old French colonial architecture that makes Hanoi unique.

Doing Something Worthwhile

There’s a certain satisfaction about helping the poorer people in a place like Hanoi, and whether you are looking after orphaned children or helping to empower the local women, you will forge many friendships and feel like you have contributed something tangible to their lives.

If you would like the experience of a lifetime, enrol in one of our Hanoi based community projects and get to see and experience Hanoi in a truly unique way. We have projects starting every two weeks and if necessary, you can join an ongoing project at any stage and with your energy and enthusiasm, you can help to really make a difference in the lives of the local people, while having an unforgettable experience.