Things to do in Vietnam
Things to do before travelling:
- Stock up with medication that you might need.
- Read the guide books!
- Prepare a schedule of what/where to go.
Things to remember:
- For good telephone/internet service make sure that you buy your sim card through an established service provider in Vietnam.
- Avoid buying sim cards, tours, airport transfers etc from your hotel, they put a premium on all these services.
- Do not drink tap water and choose only good mineral water kept away from the sun.
- Take a cyclo ride, if you enjoy breathing traffic fumes.
- Avoid motorbike taxis (xe om), they charge a bit less than a taxi for the same distance but the risk of injury through accident is great, and you might not like the dandruff in the helmet they give you to wear
- There are three or four reliable taxi companies in the south, Mai Linh and Vinasun are the most common and the most reliable. Smaller companies may literally take you for a ride. Rogue taxis are known to lock their doors and refuse to let you out unless you pay an exorbitant fee. Always insist on a metered taxi. Hanoi taxis are less reliable and rip off whoever they can, including other Vietnamese. Try a small Hanoi taxi company called ‘Hanoi Star’ for reliability and honesty.
- Dress modestly and appropriately when visiting local dwellings and religious sites, etc. Make an offering to the gods and put a donation into the box if you want to make a good impression.
- Leave your valuables behind in the hotel safe box at all times.
- When crossing the road – especially in HCMC – always keep looking to the left and right and walk slowly! Make eye contact with oncoming motorbikes and check that they see you so that they can avoid you. Be prepared for zebra crossings to be ignored and for motor vehicles to expect you as a pedestrian to give way to them.
- At rush hour motorcyclists take to the pavements in droves in attempt to beat traffic jams, endangering the lives of pedestrians.
- Wear a mask when walking in the cities, to avoid breathing in vehicle fumes and other noxious smells.
- Be prepared to walk in the streets with the traffic. The pavements are for motorbikes to park on, people to sit and eat, or just lounge around on!
- When walking be prepared for people to stroll casually into your path and expecting you to navigate around them.
- Don’t offer money directly to beggars or minority people – instead donate to a local charity or offer a small gift, such as pens.
- However frustrated, don’t lose your temper (“losing face”), as it won’t get you very far!
- By all means, sample the delicious street food but for hygiene’s sake only at venues that are busy with a big turnover.
- Diaharrea pils are cheap and readily available in Vietnamese cities. You WILL need them. Avoiding milk drinks, smoothies, dicy street food, etc will help to minimize stomach problems.
- Do your homework about where to eat – there are some excellent reasonably priced restaurants.
- Be prepared to receive ‘cocktails’ with little or no alcohol in them, and COMPLAIN when that happens.
- Always ask permission first before taking photographs, especially in minority areas.
- Arrange for medical insurance (including the provision for emergency evacuation) prior to departure, as there is no free medical treatment available in Vietnam and the standard of local health facilities is below international standards. Choose an international facility if you need treatment – there are some excellent ones, but they are usually expensive (Victoria International Clinic in Saigon is an exception).
- Mind your change – the 100,000 and 10,000 notes look similar; the 20,000 and the 500,000 are both blue. While most Vietnamese are honest and used to tourists fumbling for the right currency values, a few will actively try to short-change you. Take your time to count the zeroes or you’ll unintentionally make someone very happy.
- Spring is a great time to travel in Saigon, Mekong Delta, Hoi An and Hanoi, and Halong Bay.
- If you choose to go to Halong Bay, stay 2 nights because of the road trip, poor roads, it is a long way to go for 1 night, and you see a lot more in the 2 days.
- Be prepared to bargain, especially at markets, where you should pay about half of the asking price (except at fixed price stores).
- Avoid very cheap excursions (e.g. to Halong Bay, the Mekong, etc), because you will get what you pay for – lots of time on the bus, few of the sights you were promised.