Tips For First-time Travellers To Vietnam
Vietnam is a beautiful country with a very interesting culture spanning over many centuries. Its natural environment and diverse sights, along with the unique cuisine of its people, make Vietnam a wondrous country to explore. Besides the iconic paddy fields, water buffaloes and tricycles, there are lots of things traveling to Vietnam has to offer the adventurous visitor. Here are some tips from our experiences travelling the country, which we hope will help Vietnam’s first-time visitors to prepare.
Breakfast is easy to get and very cheap
In Vietnam, breakfast neighborhood shops and street vendors open very early in the morning. You’ll find numerous Vietnamese hot soups vendors just around the corner, and they are extremely delicious and super-cheap (around a dollar for a bowl)! So you can skip the breakfast option at your hotel, hit the street and have breakfast like a Vietnamese.
Best value hotels are usually found in the alleyways
In Vietnam, there is an abundance of friendly, clean and low-priced hotels, situated along alleyways and backstreets, which may not advertise themselves on agoda.com or other well-known booking sites. Explore the streets on foot, ask a couple places for prices, check the rooms out, and then decide on the ones you like the most. Don’t stick to the tourist-oriented locations, as you might miss out on the numerous good deals that are located just outside the tourist zone.
Haggling is expected
Haggling is a friendly shopping habit to locals. Apart from the products that come with price tags, like those found in supermarkets or department stores, the sellers usually add a markup for bargaining, especially when they expect to deal with tourists. Our tip is to give 2/3 or a half of what they initially offer, and politely walk away if you don’t agree with their price. They will definitely call you back if it’s a fair deal.
For taxis, try to only use Mai Linh or Vinasun Taxis
There are many different taxi companies in Vietnam, and even though they are getting safer over time, there are still some taxi drivers who might, sometimes, try to aggressively scam you. This is less likely to happen when you are riding in Mai Linh and Vinasun taxis. These two popular companies are also well-trusted by the local people. This is especially true when you first arrive at the international airports. Once you get a bit more familiar with the country, and you have a general idea of what a fair taxi fare looks like, you can try using Grabtaxi or Uber if you are looking for cheaper options, or even ‘xe ôm’ (motorbike taxi).
Watch your belongings
Sadly there are plenty of pickpockets and handbag snatchers in Vietnam, who are always on the lookout for innocent and distracted tourists who don’t keep an eye on their belongings. This happens everyday in Vietnam, and it affects both tourists and local people. Unfortunately getting mugged in this way can cause you to fall on the street and seriously injure yourself. Our tip to avoid getting robbed is to hold your bag close to your body, and to always place your cash and wallet in a zippered inside pocket. When traveling on a motorbike, you should always place your possessions in the trunk. If you want to take photos on the street, try to use a camera with a strap instead of holding an Iphone or tablet in your hand. Finally, you should always try to keep your valued belongings secure on the overnight buses and trains, as there are thieves on public transportation, too.
Pay attention to the Vietnamese currency, the Dong
Vietnam’s currency is the ‘dong’. The money is printed in different colors and there are many bills of varying values. It’s very easy to get confused with some notes, as they are pretty similar in color. The 20,000 VND (~1 USD) looks a lot like the 500,000 VND (~25 USD), but it’s a bit smaller in size. Our Vietnamese assistant and other local people we’ve known have experienced this mistake. So you should be careful with the bill’s colors, and check the number twice before handing the bills off, or when receiving your change, as you don’t want to lose a lot of money, all due to a tiny mistake.
Furthermore, another mistake you should watch out for is confusing the ‘15’ and ‘50’ bills. Whenever a coconut seller or a shoe shiner offers you a price, which is around 15,000 VND, make sure that the ‘15’ (one five), not ‘50’ (five zero) is well understood before they actually open the coconut, or they start shining your shoes. Once they start their work, you cannot win the argument. Our tip is to take out your 15,000 dong or use your fingers to clarify this. If you are shopping in a market, you can also borrow their calculator and type in your number.
Crossing Vietnamese streets is a skill to learn
You probably aren’t used to seeing motorbike divers jumping red lights, ignoring you and trying to get on their way while you are trying to cross the street. You should simply walk slowly, while watching two sides of the road, and stop when need to. Be careful not to step backward, because many other vehicles will go behind you. It’s fairly scary for many first-time travellers to Vietnam, but after a few times practicing you’ll get used to it, and actually it’s a lot safer than you may think.