Travel on local transport
Traveling on local transport seems like a foregone conclusion when traveling around a country, but many services offer ‘international’ standard services that are more expensive and specifically aimed at tourists that make it difficult to do as locals do.
When it comes to trains; you’ll rarely see a foreigner on one. It’s easy to understand why when you discover that the train stations are far from the main attractions and have little information on how to get there. To add to this, you may find yourself walking half-way up a train track to get on the train, but that’s the fun of it – right?
Trains are easily bookable online, with the option of hard or soft seats and beds.
If you are traveling for a long period of time take snacks, however there is a food cart that will be pushed around at meal times.
When it comes to getting to and from the train stations: city’s are fairly easy to navigate, however in smaller areas it is best to ask locals how to get there.
Try all the food
In Vietnam, you can forget your idea of what a restaurant should look like; eateries come in all shapes and sizes, especially in the mornings, when you will see plastic chairs and tables outside formal restaurants.
‘Street food’ is a way of life in Vietnam and if you want to get the good stuff, you not only have to be an early bird, but you have to be prepared to take a risk; it’s not always clean, however there is a simple way of finding the good stuff.
You’ll often see crowds of people sitting around street corners or on roundabouts getting their fix from their favourite street food vendor. There are no dodgy dealings here, just really good food for the equivalent of 80p. As many a seasoned traveler will tell you, if the place is packed with locals, pull up a chair.
Take locals advice
With Saigon and Hanoi now ranking as having the best English in Vietnam, many Vietnamese people take to the streets to find foreigners to practice their English.
You can expect to be stopped while walking around or accosted when having a drink in a street bar. During your free lesson ask lots of questions; find out where the best places to eat are, ideal day trips and weekend getaways.
You never know what might happen, you could end up at a wedding or if you’re staying long term, taking English classes for a company.
Break your big notes in chain-stores
Shop vendors don’t expect you to have the correct change, but if you are whipping out 200,000VND for something that is 10,000VND, then you’re going to annoy people.
In Vietnam, the smaller the shop; the smaller the change you must have.
If you’ve got 500,000VND a chain supermarket such as Family Mart or Circle K will give you small change without the evil eye.
Depending where you are this can be a big deal, so be prepared with your ‘pennies’.
Quick Tip: Don’t be alarmed when someone walks away with your money without giving you change, they’re going to find someone with the smaller notes they don’t have; promise.
Take shit from a taxi driver, especially outside airports
Taxi drivers can be ruthless. When you’re looking for a taxi outside the airport, it’s unnerving. When you arrive, you’re greeted by people shouting at you from all directions and what appears to be aggressive demands for dollars; not the best experience when you’re jet-lagged and don’t speak the language.
With the number of tourists coming into Vietnam, airport taxi’s rely on naive travelers who don’t know that the journey is actually half the price.
However, the development of apps such as Grab and Uber, have created fierce competition: not only do they have customer services who are at hand to give a rude guy the boot, but they can pick you up from the airport for a fraction of the price.
Alternatively, with the exact address, ignore anyone that tries to ‘help’ you and go straight to the nearest official looking taxi rank, these guys are normal taxi drivers; ask for a meter before you get in.
Important things to remember:
- all taxi drivers should have their registration card clearly displayed on the dashboard, get out the car if they don’t.
- Mai Linh or Vinasun tend to be the more reliable, avoid any variations of these names
- There is an extra 10,000 VND charge to get out of the airport, unless you are in a Grab or Uber, you may have to pay this to them before you leave.
Say no to an invitation
Socialising is part of every day life in Vietnam and when it comes to big events, it’s an all out feast with every member of the family you can possibly imagine.
With this, Vietnamese people love to invite people, especially if you are a foreigner, they want to invite you into their way of celebrating.
The most important thing in all of this is if someone invites you to something and there is no reason for you to refuse; you cannot.
For example, it’s traditional for Vietnamese people to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death. One day, I notice big preparations for lunch in the house I am living in: enough food for 30 people, crates of beer and Aunt’s and Uncle’s arriving and the family I live with are rushing around frantically – they’re preparing to celebrate their Mother’s life. As I make my way through the house to my room I’m stopped and invited to sit down by the ‘father of the house’ – I cannot say no!
Instead, I sit with the family and celebrate their Mother with them, and I end up drunk by 3pm.
Wave your expensive possessions around
As with any city, crime is to be expected, so you have to keep your wits about you.
No matter the time of day, if anything containing or worth money looks easy to grab, someone might just do it. Secret wallets hidden under your t-shirt are an excessive Western idea of safety when visiting a developing country; it’s unnecessary.
There are some tried and tested ways to avoid loosing your things when out and about:
- Keep your possessions in a zipped bag, close to you.
- Try not to purchase flimsy strapped bags, there are people out there with scissors and they are not afraid to chop your straps.
- Separate your money by having big notes and small notes in separate compartments.
- Try not to flash your cash.
- If you can, don’t take your phone out when in markets or in the backpacker area. If you do need to check it, hold it with both hands.
Do you have any advice for travelers visiting Vietnam?