To a first-time visitor to Vietnam, crossing the street can be an intimidating and frightful endeavor. There are traffic lights at major intersections, however even with the lights, drivers often ignore the signals and will even drive motorbikes on sidewalks as mentioned above. The good news is that most vehicles travel slowly, and vehicles and pedestrians all move together in a seemingly synchronized flow. Everyone displays typical Vietnamese courtesy with very few displays of anger or any confrontations.
The most important thing to keep in mind when crossing the street in Vietnam: Walk slowly and do not make any sudden movements!
Never run across the street or dart through traffic.
Start walking slowly and maintain your pace - vehicles will weave around you. Even if there is a traffic light, you will rarely find a €perfect time€ to cross.
You will sometimes only be able to cross one half of the street, then have to wait in the middle of the street before you have an opening to finish your crossing.
Spend a few minutes watching how locals cross the street, to see how it is done. Try to maintain eye contact with vehicle drivers, to make sure they see you.
There are €tourist police€ in green uniforms and blue caps who assist tourists with crossing the street, getting directions etc. Large hotels have the same service.
Keep in mind too when walking that there are uneven and pot-holed surfaces everywhere, from sidewalks to roads to shop entrances - so be very careful.
Drink only bottled water, never tap water. You can find bottled water everywhere. A 1.5 liter bottle is about 8,000 Dong ($.50). A good idea is to buy a large 5+ liter jug of water for your
room, then fill smaller bottles to take with you during the day. You can buy the large jugs for
about 10,000 Dong ($.60). It saves you money and you'll use fewer plastic bottles.
Hoan Kiem District
Most foreigners stay in Hoan Kiem Disctrict, about 45 minutes from the airport. There are a dizzying number of hotels, restaurants, markets (indoor and outdoor) and shops that cater to foreigners and locals alike. The presence of tourists has created a small army of pushy vendors walking around selling their goods or others simply begging for money. You'll quickly become familiar with the sunglasses guys, motorbike taxi guys (blue shirts mostly), girls carrying books to sell, and the
bars and restaurants that have staff permanently on the sidewalk to lure you in. The good part of
Hoan Kiem District is that it is so vibrant and you will find many shops and hotels who speak decent English. The bad part is that many visitors - especially volunteers - find the tourist area a bit tiresome after a while.