There is often an vast abyss between driving rules and the way they are “enforced” in Hanoi. On the surface, the rules of the road follow international standards, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Unfortunately, corruption is rife among traffic police. If you are pulled over for an infraction–whether real or imaginary–you will undoubtedly be given the option to pay the fine on the spot. Actually it’s not an option–you’re just expected to pay a small fee to the cop. The standard amount is VND 100,000, about $5.
There are many one-way streets in Hanoi—these can make navigation frustrating and difficult, and sometimes dangerous. Watch for directional signs, and also watch for motorbikes disregarding the direction of a street.
You will see drivers zip through red lights routinely, and the culprits seem never to be apprehended or ticketed. However, counter-intuitively, the traffic police will sometimes pull over any vehicles that have come to a stop even slightly over the white line of an intersection—be sure the nose of your vehicle doesn’t cross the line.
A circular traffic sign with a diagonal line through it means “Do Not Enter.” The same sign with a picture of a car means that cars may not enter, but motorbikes may. You might say such streets are “one-and-a-half-way.” They are one-way for cars but bi-directional for motorbikes.
Here’s an excerpt from the US State Department’s information on Vietnamese traffic:
“Traffic moves on the right, although drivers frequently cross to the left to pass or turn, and motorcycles and bicycles often travel (illegally) against the flow of traffic. Horns are used constantly, often for no apparent reason. Streets in major cities are choked with motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and cycles. Outside the cities, livestock compete with vehicles for road space. Sudden stops by motorcycles and bicycles make driving a particular hazard. Nationwide, drivers do not follow basic traffic principles, vehicles do not yield right of way, and there is little adherence to traffic laws or enforcement by traffic police. The number of traffic lights in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is increasing, but red lights are often not obeyed. Most Vietnamese ride motorcycles; often an entire family rides on one motorcycle.”
[the full text can be found at: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1060.html#traffic_safety]
In Hanoi there is no public parking–you cannot legally park on the street. Shopping centers, hotels and supermarkets all have private parking available for customers. Knowledge of private parking areas around town is one of the main virtues of a hired driver!
In case of an accident, ring the police (113) and your insurance agent. Move your vehicle out of the way of traffic if possible, but otherwise do not disturb the scene. Try to leave all evidence intact for the police to note—in Vietnam, you become responsible for anything you touch or alter. Unfortunately this sometimes results in bystanders not helping accident victims—they are afraid they will be held responsible for the victim’s condition when professional help arrives.