I started to step into the street, my foot hovering in the air as my knees shook with fright. Heat, humidity, and exhaust fumes engulfed me as the air literally shook around me from what appeared to be thousands of vehicles swirling on all sides of the round-about.
It had been three days since we had arrived in Saigon, officially now Ho Chi Minh City, and we were trapped halfway across an eight lane street. Motor scooters, taxis, auto rickshaws, human powered rickshaws, all vying for first place in the ever crazed race around the streets of the city.
Prior to arriving we’d been given the advice from a savvy traveler to shadow the largest local as they crossed the street. Good advice, I’m sure, but we’re tall Americans and, at best, the largest Vietnamese anywhere near averaged 5’4″ and weighed 110lbs soaking wet! How would they possibly be able to help block us from sure death as we stepped into traffic?
After several hapless minutes, unsure how to proceed, we finally realized we simply had to take the plunge. Adrenaline cursed through my veins making it seem even hotter than it was and finally, profusely drenched in sweat, we followed a tiny Vietnamese woman into the mass of rushing traffic. Skedaddling through traffic like a crab crossing the sand, I could feel the rush of passing vehicles and even occasionally the brush of a handlebar, arm or shirt sleeve as the motorbikes swerved around us.
Breathing hard, sure of our impending death by motor scooter, we slowly but surely made it to the other side. Relieved beyond measure but also disheartened, knowing that we’d have many more streets to cross to continue our walking tour throughout the sites of the city and then to get back to our hotel alive.
That afternoon we wilted in the heat and took cycle rickshaws back to the hotel but in the days to follow, we became more comfortable dealing with the traffic and, in the end learned the most valuable lesson of all. NEVER STOP. Walk slowly and surely and in a straight line. Don’t swerve, and above all, never attempt to avoid the scooters. They will maneuver around you and, believe me, are far more adept at dealing with the street craziness than you or I will ever be. Weeks later, by the time we arrived in Hanoi, we were no longer fazed by any of it and navigated their crazy streets easily. Saigon was a challenging introduction to the streets of Vietnam but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. If you can survive crossing the streets there, you can survive them anywhere.