How to cross the road in South East Asia safely
Crossing the road safely is something we all learnt at a very young age. Look right, look left, look right again. In conjunction with this practise; depth perception & timing plays a huge role in crossing the road.
But what happens when traffic isn’t orderly? When traffic is moving at all different speeds in all different directions? How do you cross the road when there is hardly any space between traffic? Where you need to be going is on the other side of a busy road & in your mind you're wondering if you’re going to arrive in one piece.
These questions plague the minds of people who first see the chaotic traffic in countries like Vietnam or Thailand. In this blog I’m going to tell you a few tricks to crossing the road safely in Vietnam.
Before stepping out into traffic (quite literally) take the time to look both ways. The first section of the street you are about to cross may be one way but that doesn’t mean that some people will be riding their mopeds against traffic. Lanes & red lights are merely a suggestion so always look before you step out.
Next, gauge the flow of the traffic in both directions. Is it moving fast in one direction & slow in the other? Are there gaps coming up? Is there an island or a place to stand between the two streams of traffic? Get a lay of the land before you make a move, especially if this if you first rodeo.
If people are honking at you it’s not in an angry way. They are merely letting you know they are there. This seems a little overkill as you can clearly see them hooning past but it’s not just for your benefit. It’s also for other drivers, so they don’t get merged into on their way through.
DESIGNATED CROSSING AREAS
In the moment, designated crossing area’s may seem redundant; but they must have been put there for a purpose. Some crossing area’s have green man signals & some don’t. If there is a signal just wait for it to flash green. You may have a few mopeds try and sneak a red light but they are far & few between the amount in moving traffic.
If there is no green man signal don’t be afraid. There is a designated crossing area here for a reason. Maybe it’s in a less busy intersection, or there are sometimes breaks in the traffic. If there is no green man follow the advice below.
NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS
Once you step off the curb into traffic there is no going back. You must maintain your pace whilst also judging where the oncoming traffic is going to go. People who ride mopeds in these countries are highly skilled at navigating around people. What they don’t appreciate is having to stop dead in their tracks, as this can cause them serious harm & create a traffic pile up. Never hesitate or backtrack. Always keep moving forward at the same pace.
When you are crossing the road you can direct the traffic around you. If you would prefer people ride behind you as you walk, you can indicate this to drivers by waving your hand behind your back at hip level. This is especially helpful if you are almost at the curb or if you’re halfway across the road & you can see there is enough room for them to go behind you without crashing into anyone else. If you rather they ride in front of you, do the same motion but the opposite side of your body.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS. FIND A LOCAL
Crossing the road in a group is a bit easier than alone your first few times. You become a bigger unit for mopeds to avoid. Meaning you are given a wider berth by oncoming traffic.
I would recommend staying in a line next to each other rather than behind ( Less Beatles at Abbey Road more linking arms). By standing side by side you can use the person closest to the oncoming traffic as a “shield” & the leader. They are what the mopeds are going to be avoiding & if you are standing beside them they dictate the pace & can direct traffic around you.
If you’re not in a group, find a local crossing the road. Use the above mentioned technique & become their shadow.
WHAT NOT TO DO
There are a few don’ts that should be covered in order to cross the road safely.
Always let bigger vehicles pass before crossing. They cannot stop or dodge you like mopeds can. Also they ruin your depth perception. If you are halfway across the road & a car rolls through just wait for them to pass. Never walk infront of a bigger vehicle unless the traffic is at rolling pace.
Never hesitate or do the awkward two step. If confuses oncoming traffic & can lead to some nasty instances. If you’re going to go, just go & direct the traffic where you want them to ride. If you don’t want to go that’s fine too, just wait.
Don’t do what I’m about to share with you.
THE DANGER ZONE
Navigating the streets of South East Asia can sometimes be stressful & it feels like you’re running an obstacle course. The pavement is buckled like a mole has dug its tunnel through the streets, there are mopeds parked on the sidewalk, stools with people perched eating their lunch, ladies with milkmaid yokes, herbs & fish drying on large matts on the road & traffic coming at you from both sides. You feel a rush as you complete the obstacles like you’re on an episode of Wipeout.
Once you’ve walked the streets long enough you start to understand the ebbs & flows & your reflexes to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge get better. In fact sometimes you get so confident you put your headphones in, open instagram & step off the sidewalk.
I wouldn’t recommend this move if this is your first time, or even your second time navigating traffic. This level of confidence comes from months of walking the streets in South East Asia, months of close calls, months of jumping over objects & people. Don’t let confidence come too soon otherwise you might find yourself in a mangled mess.