One of the wonderful things you can do in Vietnam—and in the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh especially—is to simple watch what happens on the streets. Just observing the traffic flowing past can be particularly interesting.
The traffic in Vietnam is unlike anything I have ever seen elsewhere. Since not a lot of people can afford a car, scooters are the main form of transportation here. Go to downtown areas and you will see endless streams of scooters flowing through the streets, seemingly ignoring every traffic regulation.
Long Bien bridge in Hanoi
Crossing the street in Vietnam can be a hair-raising experience: there is absolutely no point in waiting for traffic to subside (as it never will), so you just have to start walking across and trust that all the scooters will swirl past you in front and behind you. If you’ve ever snorkeled or scuba dived through a school of fish, that’s essentially what crossing a busy street in Vietnam feels like.
To many Vietnamese, the scooter is their only means of transporation. It’s not uncommon to see an entire family on one scooter. While I sadly was too late to take a picture, my personal record for number of people sighted on a single scooter was 6: two parents and 4 children. Crazy!
Scooters are also frequently used to transport goods around. Huge stacks of boxes will be affixed to the back. One time, I saw a scooter carrying two big (at least 2m high) panes of glass! No need for delivery trucks here.
At one point I spoke to an older traveller in my hostel; a woman who had been to Vietnam before when she was younger and had now come back several decades later. She was even more blown away by the number of scooters than I was, because she remembered what it was like not so long ago. It used to be that 90% of traffic was bicycles. While you still see plenty of bicycles, the classic image of the Vietnamese streets filled with people on bikes wearing conical hats is mostly a thing of the past. All of this happened in just a few decades.
Bicycles used to rule the streets in Vietnam. Today it’s motorbikes.
You could be forgiven for disliking the noise and congestion in Vietnam’s biggest cities, but it’s also easy to see how the motorbike is a symbol of progress and propherity to many Vietnamese.
People carry the craziest things on the back of their scooter. One time I saw someone drive around with several big (2m tall) glass windows
If you are in Vietnam just find a little cafe or neighborhood pho restaurant somewhere in downtown, pull up a chair and just spend some time watching all the people flowing past. It’s one of the little joys of spending time in this country.
A traffic accident leads to a bit of a commotion involving the police.
You might find people around Dong Xuan Market in Hanoi resting on their scooters or even taking a nap…