The Traffic of Hanoi [photos]

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May 4, 2012
Why I became Interested in Travel as a Child
May 25, 2012

The Traffic of Hanoi [photos]


People had warned me about the traffic in Hanoi. I thought I was prepared to take it on—but I wasn’t. It’s not big trucks or bumper-to-bumper cars, but motorbikes—and lots of them.

The day we arrived, our host Jenny, took us out into rush hour traffic on the way to a bar to meet her co-workers for happy hour. I was overwhelmed. The streets aren’t big and there weren’t many cars, just an endless stream of scooters, motorcycles, and electric bicycles. We cut down an alleyway for a little relief, but somehow the motorbikes make it through even the smallest streets. Jenny pointed out an old B-52 bomber that had crashed in a small pond. The wreckage is still visible, sticking out above the surface of the water. It’s in a residential neighborhood, far off the tourist track.

Back on the main roads, we proceeded to make our way with caution and finesse. There is an art to crossing the street in Hanoi, and I’ll do my best to explain how.

How to Cross the Street in Hanoi

  • Look left, then right, then left again.
  • Look for the slightest break.
  • Start inching your way out. You won’t make it the whole way, but you need to start.
  • As you are walking, motorbike drivers will anticipate your forward motion.
  • It’s important not to stop, the drivers will avoid you.
  • If you stop, you may cause an accident.
  • Keep going, you’re nearly there.

Hanoi by Foot

Oddly enough, pedestrians are the minority in this city. Also, public transportation options are limited. There are a few busses that run around town. Taxis are usually reliable, but sometimes they jury-rig the meter to skip ahead at uneven intervals.

The city is well-viewed on foot, but it takes effort to keep alert in order to not get hit. The narrow back streets are also fun to explore. But, again, watch out for those motorbikes whizzing past, with a courtesy warning beep seconds beforehand. But if you’re brave enough, rent yourself a motorbike and give it a drive around the city! Or, if you’re even braver, hop on the back of a moto-taxi and let your camera roll!

Panning Motorbike Shots

To capture some of these photos, I used a technique called panning. You’ll notice the ones where the motorbike is in focus and the background is blurred—I actually moved my camera along with the moving bike and snapped the image.

The photos with blurred bikes were taken in a conventional manner.

Thanks to Jenny for hosting @RunawayJuno and me and for showing us the ins and outs of her new home—Hanoi—and its incredible food. She’s from Canada, has done a ton of traveling, and settled in Hanoi for the time being, teaching English. Check out her food blog Culinary Wanderlust.

Hanoi Vietnam traffic (4)

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Hanoi Vietnam traffic (17)

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

10 Comments

  1. Juno says:

    It was challenging… glad we survived!! Good job on the panning!

  2. Ayngelina says:

    Crossing the street in Vietnam is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, you have to just keep walking. I used to wait to find someone else walking and just scoot along behind them.

  3. Stephen Bugno says:

    Ayngelina, that is definitely a good way to do it. Just follow right behind someone.

  4. Noel says:

    Nice photos! What’s Hanoi without its motorbikes? I was on the back of several motorbikes, and I was amazed at how they navigated the traffic and streets.
    Panning shots eh? Never tried that before, do you adjust the shuttle speed accordingly?

  5. Suzy says:

    Sounds a lot like crossing the street in Italy but about 10 times more chaotic! I would probably latch on to someone crossing, a local preferably, and hope to make it out alive.

  6. Edna says:

    I loved Hanoi, though I didn’t find the streets to be any more manic than some of the ones I’ve encountered in China. Great panning shots, will have to try that next time I’m in a hectic Asian city!

  7. Stephen Bugno says:

    Hey Edna, Thanks for commenting. Chinese traffic (in southern China) was hectic too, but I found it was more, bigger vehicles like cars and trucks, while in Vietnam was lots of motobikes.

  8. Born27 says:

    Hanoi has a very busy streets. Motorcycles are everywhere. You are definitely right, when crossing the street of Hanoi, you should be very attentive, look left and right before crossing! To tell you frankly it made me so stressed up! Lol! Nice photos!

  9. Heidi19 says:

    Great post Stephen! Hanoi’s traffic is chaotic with motorbikes generally. Thanks for sharing those photos with us!

  10. AdventureRob says:

    Great pics, I’ve got a similar set from Phnom Penh in Cambodia, but Hanoi takes it to a new level.

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