10 Tips for travellers in Vietnam

This is by no means an extensive list and I welcome input from you guys.  I had a discussion with a group of expats from America, Canada, Philippines and England last night as well as a few local Vietnamese.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that in my own personal experience, I have had nothing but respect and friendliness from the Vietnamese and I have not personally experienced theft or violence, but I’m not silly and I realise it is out there.

  1. When carrying cameras, phones etc try not to make it too obvious.  One of the biggest problems is that tourists (like me) like taking photos and we extend the camera/tablet/phone at arm’s length on the side of the road.  We’re asking someone to please steal it.  When walking down the street, keep your electronic gadgets on the side furthest away from the traffic.  They ride in pairs and the passenger’s job is to snatch the item.  They are gone before you even realise what has happened.  Same goes for handbags ladies (and metrosexual males).

    Traffic in saigon

    Traffic in Saigon

  2. When crossing the road, look left, look right and keep looking left and right.  In Vietnam it is not uncommon for people to drive on the wrong side of the road.  Once you decide to cross, maintain a steady pace.  Do NOT run.  The drivers here will anticipate your movements and drive around you.  If you run, you stuff up their anticipation and chances are you will get run over.  If you think you are going to get hit, slow down or stop, but DON’T run.  I saw a girl panic and run this morning and I screamed out to her before she ran into oncoming traffic.
  3. Learn some basic pleasantries – like thank you “Cám ơn” and sorry “xin lỗi” and Have a Nice Day “có một ngày tốt đẹp”. Even if your pronunciation is bad (like mine) most people are appreciative of the effort and will go out of their way to help you.
  4. When catching a motor bike or taxi (without a meter) negotiate the price beforehand.  It helps to have an idea of what the price should be, (ask someone if you can) but even if you don’t, act like you do!  It saves arguments when you get there.  same goes for any other service like shoe cleaning (I got caught today!).

    Shoe Cleaning in Saigon

    Shoe Cleaning in Saigon

  5. Be wary of anyone asking if you would like to hold whatever it is they are carrying so they can take a picture of you.  They will try to hit you up for an unreasonable amount of money (I got caught on my first day – I held a coconut seller’s yolk and then got hit up for 150,000 dong – a coconut is worth about 15,000 – 20,000).  See rule number 4.
  6. Street vendors are going to try and get as much money as they can off you.  Whatever price they first ask is probably going to be way too high.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate.  I had a girl ask me for 150,000 dong (A$8.33) for post cards I had bought the day before for 15,000 (A$0.83).  I told her she was “cong cong ding” which means “crazy” (phonetic spelling, I don’t know how to spell it correctly, or even if this is correct pronunciation, but she understood me).  I ended up buying 2 lots for 40,000 (A$2.22) total.  Still paid her a little more (because I enjoyed the bartering) but nowhere near the amount she was asking.

    Street Vendor in Vietnam

    Street Vendor in Vietnam

  7. Try and make friends with locals – they will advise you of the things to do and not to do and help when you are stuck.  I have a few people over here I can ring if I need help.  I most often have to ring if I am trying to explain something which is way beyond my limited knowledge of Vietnamese (non la (hat), ao dai (dress), cam on (thanks)).  It is hard asking for directions when you can only say dress, hat, thanks!
  8. Google is your friend.  I wanted to but a kettle, towel and a couple of other small things yesterday so I searched for “appliance sale” in google maps.  It gave me the address of a shopping mall not too far away and I managed to save 0ver 400,000 dong  (A$22.22), including travel costs, by not buying at a local shop.
  9. Everything in the city centre is expensive.  A Café Latte in the city is generally 85,000 dong (A$4.75) which is about the same at home.  By buying just out of the city, it is anywhere from 28,000 dong to 65,000 dong (A$1.55 – $3.60).  Of course, if you go too far out of the city into the country, your chances of finding a Café Latte that tastes ANYTHING like a Café Latte is remote. Of course the local coffee is much cheaper, but it is an acquired taste – it is a very strong coffee generally served with condensed milk.
  10. Don’t be scared to try the local food. My only rules with food (and I have only ever been sick once in Malaysia in about 1995 and I have been to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Vietnam twice and Vanuatu in the pacific) is make sure it is cooked, be very careful with seafood (I tend to eat seafood early in the day when it is most likely to be fresh) especially in the streets and in local markets – restaurants are normally fine.  If you are eating fruit, don’t eat the skin (eg an apple).  When you buy it in the markets, it has been washed with local water and that will make you sick.  I like to eat fruits like bananas, oranges, dragon fruit (not the skin) and mangoes, otherwise I peel them.  Don’t of course, drink the local water – always drink bottled water.  I even brush my teeth with bottled water and I am careful when I shower not to swallow any water.
    Bánh Canh

    Bánh Canh in Vietnam

     

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City

Day 1: I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and was met by a wonderful photographer named Mai Huong and a Vietnamese friend of hers from the US.  I had arranged previously that Mai would take me around from HCMC to Hue, about half way up Vietnam.  Mai booked me into a hotel in the city and we spent that night and the next day just sightseeing – me with my Galaxy Notepad!   Mai and Tom took me to dinner and then Tom and I went for a walk around the city.

My first and I think my longest lasting memory of Vietnam will be the traffic!  Horns blaring, Mopeds by the millions (or so it seems!) and Chaos!!  However, this chaos seems to work – in a city of 10,000,000 people the traffic flows pretty well – albeit a little scary too!  I haven’t stopped laughing since I arrived – mopeds everywhere, going seemingly wherever they want – road, right hand side (the norm here), left hand side, footpath, in shops, in homes – they’re everywhere!  And not only the sheer volume, but 1, 2, 3, 4 or more people on 1 moped, mopeds carrying amazing loads – car parts, plants, lengths of conduit, bottled water and tonight – the best one I’ve seen yet – a guy on a moped carrying a large sheet of glass, riding down the wrong side of the road (and a pretty main road it was too).

Mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City

Mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City

Moped carrying load

Moped carrying load

Bottled Water on moped

Bottled Water on moped

Mopeds Everywhere

Mopeds Everywhere

Chaos in Ho Chi Minh City

Chaos

Day 2: The next morning I went for an early morning stroll through the markets across from the hotel.  At 6:30am these markets are already a bustling hive of activity!  Fresh fruit and meats (some recognizable, many not so!), cooked meals and all sorts of items for sale.  A typical Asian market.

The markets in HCMC

The markets in HCMC

The chaos begins

The chaos begins

Mai, Tom and I then headed out for breakfast.  I had told Mai that I wanted to eat local food so off we went to a local restaurant for some Pho (pronounced Ferh).

Pho

Pho

The table setting at breakfast

The table setting at breakfast

The restaurant where we had breakfast

The restaurant where we had breakfast

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing and enjoying the local scenery.  I also picked up a new tripod which was a great deal (thanks Mai) and then we decided to leave for Phan Rang that afternoon instead of spending more time in Ho Chi Minh City.  Originally we were going to take Mai’s little Honda i10 but her husband was worried it wouldn’t handle the roads (in hindsight I think he was right) so somehow Mai organized a bus for us!  SO, instead of the 3 of us it was now 5 – the bus came with a driver and co-driver.  Hue the driver did the right thing and found an Australian flag to display in the front of the bus.

The bus for the trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue

The bus for the trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue

So, after a bit of toing and froing, off we set for the 8 hr drive to Phan Rang Province.  What a fantastic start to my 18 day trip in Vietnam.  I’ll try and post every day but it is a bit hard because we are normally in a bus travelling along some not so great roads!

Vietnam

I’m off to Vietnam in a few weeks – will be over there for 15 days.  I have hired the services of Mai Huong who is an extremely talented Photographer that I met on Google+.  If you haven’t seen her work, I recommend you have a look.

Mai Huong will arrange an itinerary shortly – she is currently on Holidays in America – hope she is having a great time.  We will be photographing normal everyday life in Vietnam in a range of places – yet to be discovered!  Her tours include bus trips, motor bike hire, walking and exploring Vietnam.

I’m not and never have been, interested in hitting tourist destinations and eating “Westernised” cuisine – I have opted for local meals, bus & motor bike travel, 2 Star accommodation (can’t get totally away from some creature comforts).

I have done a fair bit of travel in my life – I’ve been all over Australia and a fair bit of New Zealand, I’ve been to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vanuatu, Macau and the US.  In all those places, whether it has been business or holidays, I’ve always wandered around wherever I’ve been and taken in the real locals sights.  I love to see how people live more than the places where they live.

In Hong Kong I wandered around the back streets trying food from local vendors, ate in local cafes even though I couldn’t read the menus, walked through areas where they had fish factories and prawn peeling operations.  In Macau we wandered around the back streets and were fascinated by the Portuguese architecture. In Malaysia I got invited to a local Chinese wedding (a small one, only 800 guests) and ate in small “cafe’s” in Kampongs (local villages). In Vanuatu I was fascinated by the local fishermen in their canoes, making a living with a cast net.  The highlight for me in any of my travels is going to a local’s home and having a meal – real local food, made by locals in their home.

To me, that’s travel.

Image

Photo courtesy of Mai Huong