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How do I…cross the road in Hanoi?

A group of people riding motorcycles through the streets of Hanoi.

So, you’ve arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam’s grand old capital. You breathe in all of the eroded elegance – the assorted sediments of Chinese and French colonialism. You’re itching to explore. The plan: cross the street into the Old Quarter, drink a dirt-cheap, ice-cold beer and sample some of the local food.

You stand on the side of the road. You look at the traffic. You scratch your chin. You look at the traffic. You have an existential crisis. You scratch your chin. You continue to stand on the side of the road.

Don’t fear, brave traveller. After rigorous research and years in the field, I’ve put together this definitive guide to crossing the road in Hanoi:

Stand on the side of the road, looking puzzled

This is a crucial part of any Hanoi traveller’s journey, the launching pad of every great adventure. As you stand there – on the side of the road, looking puzzled – it becomes clear that there is traffic coming from no fewer than 39 different directions. Swarms of mopeds; bellowing vans; daring, darting bicycles; and then, incredibly, an old woman in a leaf hat, carrying enormous baskets of food on a wooden pole. She appears to be surrounded by a halo of light, and somehow seems to step right through the traffic. Like a ghost, or an angel. She holds mystical secrets, you think. Secrets you must steal if you are to ever cross the road in Hanoi.

A group of people riding motorcycles through the streets of Hanoi.

Try to catch people’s eye

If this were the 5 stages of grief, this part of the process would be filed under ‘bargaining.’ With your largest, most helpless puppy-dog eyes, you stare desperately at passing motorcyclists. You stare harder than you’ve ever stared before. You wave an arm limply. You’re not sure what you want from them. Even if they stopped and waved you past, a wall of traffic still stands between you and a beer. But maybe one of them holds the key; maybe a helmeted hero can take you away from all of this.

Shadow an old woman

You spot another elderly woman in a leaf hat. You tiptoe behind her. Could she be your guardian angel, shielding you in her protective forcefield?  It’s 2018, you decide: it’s time to flip the help-old-lady-cross-the-road stereotype on its head. You step away from the curb for the first time as four motorbikes descend upon you with deadly intent. You reach out towards your guardian, but she evades you like the wind. You blink. She’s already crossed to the other side.  You step backwards to avoid losing your toes. You stand on the side of the road, looking puzzled.

A woman with baskets walking down the street in Hanoi.

Use the force

You’ve now been standing on the side of the road for approximately 3 years, and you’ve had plenty of time to reflect. The other-worldly calm of these leaf-hatted ladies reminds you of a film you once watched. As Luke Skywalker swooped towards the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie, he decided to let go of the controls of his X-Wing, close his eyes and place his trust in the mystical forces that bind the galaxy. He decided to use the force. You close your eyes and hold out your palms like a Jedi in training. You take two steps forward and draw upon the energies of the universe. You decide you don’t want to die without getting your beer. You return to your position on the side of the road.

Transcend the realm of mortals (without dying)

You’ve been in training for some time. You’re visibly wiser (your beard now reaches your ankles and you’ve acquired a stick). One morning, as the sun rises, you feel a spiritual calm. In a flurry of assertive activity, you step out into the road. You make eye contact with motorcyclists, but this time daring them to test your will. You duck in and out of old ladies’ forcefields, giving them a knowing look as you pass, acknowledging ancient wisdom. You walk with purpose. You move with power. You use the force. You part the sea of traffic like a modern-day Moses.

Later, as you take your first sip of an ice-cold Bia Ha Noi, a single tear rolls down your cheek. Nothing will ever be the same. You’ve transcended the realm of mere mortals. You’ve crossed the road in Hanoi.

A group of people riding a rickshaw in a crowded street in Hanoi.