Your guide to crossing the road in SE Asia

If you come from a country where traffic laws are generally adhered to, green means go, red (should) means stop and pedestrians have marked crossings then facing the streets of  Saigon for example for the first time can be a terrifying experience. The traffic is always busy and moving unless you are out at some odd time of night.

Yep, that’s a pretty wide road with no lights to help pedestrians. The back of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.

Large main roads (and “motorways”) is where you will find actual pedestrian crossings with traffic lights that you can use with somewhat of a degree of confidence, but with the smaller roads and streets, it’s up to you in the organised chaos.

So, how do you minimise the risk of an unintended trip to the hospital?

  • If you see a local about to cross, follow them. (Obvious one)

Otherwise:

  • Face / look at the oncoming traffic and when you see a gap, begin to walk (maintain looking at the traffic coming at you).
  • Confidence is everything, once you being to cross (Slowly!) commit to it until you reach the middle of the road.
  • Do not hesitate once you commit to the cross, if you are confident and walk predictably the scooters and various vehicles can anticipate your path and go around once you take a gap in the traffic.
  • If you hesitate and are uncertain about yourself, then the vehicles will be uncertain about what yo are doing whilst trying to go around you  and then accidents happen.
  • You may need to slow to a near stop, or straight up stop occasionally to let a man on a mission through (usually they come in the form of vans), but if you maintain eye contact with those coming at you can judge who will expect you to give them the right of way.
  • One you hit the middle of the road gap, face the other way again to face oncoming traffic and repeat!
Motion blur = fast! Not really… most will drive around the 40-60km/h on a road like this, but still wait for a gap in front of you before heading out. Riverfront, Phnom Penh.

Of course just don’t go barging out onto the road like you’re the terminator. It’s an exercise of confidence with a degree of caution, and every time you move forward make sure there is a gap there for you to take i.e. don’t simply step in front of a scooter / van / tuk-tuk / truck…or into the side of one.

On a final note, I personally have never had an issue but I have met people who have experienced theft. If bag snatching by a passing scooter (or whatever is going by) is a concern wear / hold your bag in front of you.

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