On the road
Be careful! When traveling within the confines of the city it is fine, as speed is pretty tame. However, getting on the freeway is dangerous, there are a lot of traffic fatalities (average is 30 deaths a day) on the freeways in Vietnam, and some locals will not even venture on them, if not in a big vehicle (car or bus).
Taking a bicycle or motobike on the freeway is not advised. There are transport buses and tour buses that go about 80 km/hour that pay very little attention to what is going on around them (as is usually the way people adhere to traffic in Vietnam). This often leads to accidents, where frequently you will see many bodies lying on the road with a blanket over them and incense burning around them.
If you are in an accident you have to get yourself to the hospital. You have to call yourself or, if lucky, get someone to call for you. Local hospitals will not accept you unless they think you can pay the bill.
Crossing the road
The stakes are high: if you are to die in Vietnam, more than likely it will happen on the road — be it in a car or under one. Vietnamese cities are crowded, and the roads are absolutely packed. You will take your life into your own hands every time that you cross a busy street in any of Vietnam’s major cities.
Although some intersections in the main cities (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City) have traffic lights and many are patrolled by a police officer, most lights are either non-functional or ignored, and you are more likely to see a traffic officer sitting in the shade than directing traffic.
In most of the Western world, the trick is to avoid the cars. That’s simply not possible in Vietnam, as there are far too many cars, trucks (lorries or utes), motorbikes, cyclos and bicycles in far too little space. No, the trick in Vietnam is to enable the vehicles to avoid you.
This is managed by first picking a reasonable gap in the traffic (probably a smaller gap than you’d choose when jaywalking in, say London or Manhattan or Sydney), then walking slowly and predictably across the street while looking directly at the on-coming cars, motorcycles, cyclos and bicycles.
The predictability of your pace and path is the critical factor between life and death. Do not change direction or speed.
If you stop, retreat or try to dodge the vehicles, you are risking injury, and your possible misfortune will merely annoy a lot of commuters by snarling traffic even further. But if you step confidently and carefully, the drivers will see and smoothly avoid you — often with grace and a casual aplomb that’s initially bewildering to many panic-stricken Westerners. But remember, they do this all the time, every day…or they wouldn’t be alive themselves.
The simplest way to cross a busy street is to find a local and walk close to him or her, mirroring their path and pace. They know what they’re doing! And once you get the hang of it, it’s actually great fun to find yourself walking unafraid through a deadly sea of swarming vehicles and people, suddenly feeling like part of the normal flow in this otherwise foreign land – many visitors find waiting at traffic lights quite boring upon return to their home countries.
Vietnam has a great night life and is reasonably safe compared to many countries. However, Vietnam is like any country, so beware of petty crimes. As in most unfamiliar places, beware of punk looking teenagers and triads. Basically don’t go looking for trouble. Remember Vietnam is a partying country and though they are lenient towards foreigners you shouldn’t try your luck. Also, things tend to get a little bit empty at night, since there is a curfew for shops to close, which is usually around 10ish. Alleyways, which there are a lot of in Vietnam, are usually safe. Use common sense.
Unfortunately, much of Vietnam’s dangerous wildlife is severely endangered and very rarely seen. Tigers are so rare that the odds of seeing one are extremely low, even for people living in rural parts of the country. Crocodiles are virtually extinct in Vietnam- Saltwater crocodiles were once present in the Mekong Delta (up until 20 years ago) and in much of South Vietnam, but due to war, discrimination and habitat destruction they are rare and most likely extinct as a breeding species in Vietnam. Leopards, though more common than Tigers, are still very rare. SnakesSiamese crocodile is also very rare and is the only confirmed surviving crocodile species in Vietnam, but is not a big threat to humans. are pretty much the only common animal that represents any substantial threat to humans. The
Vietnam is very keen on bolstering foreign tourism: with severe punishments for crimes against tourists, violent crime against foreigners is rare. Nevertheless be alert in the big cities, especially Ho Chi Minh City, where teams on motorbikes drive by their victims to snatch bags, cameras, mobile phones, jewelry, etc. Carry bags on the side away from the street, use money belts, and let the hotel reception keep your valuables.
Also infamously common are thefts on popular beaches, like in the case of Nha Trang, where tourists get into the water for a swim to find out their day bag is gone when they’re back to the beach. Never leave your bag unguarded on beaches, and keep your eyes on it.