TRAVEL | Vietnam is increasing in popularity as a tourist destination yet the information on what tips visitors should know before visiting Vietnam can be quite varied. There are several things that we found to be very important when we visited Vietnam and to help you get those most out of your trip to this amazing country, we’ve put them together in this piece for you.
There are unauthorised taxis that drive through Vietnam’s cities and scam travellers by quoting a fare and then demanding more cash once the destination is reached. Another scam is a meter that will “magically” jump up a few times during your journey, resulting in a vastly overpriced number appearing on the meter by the journey’s end. The best way to avoid any taxi scams is to only use reputable taxi companies. MaiLinh and Vinasun are the two companies that we used while in Vietnam and we never had any issues during our visit. Both companies use white and green cars and also have white and green logos.
Just be aware that there are dodgy operators who try to copy the branding of MaiLinh and Vinasun (pictured above) – the real ones have logos with the correct spelling, only use relatively new cars in good condition, use meters and have displayed in the vehicle a driver ID card and fare card. It’s also a good idea not to get a taxi from directly outside a popular tourist destination (for example Ho Chi Minh City’s Ben Thanh Market). The reputable companies operate just like most other places in the world and don’t have drivers that will hassle you or shout for you to get into their car. Walk a block away and hail a taxi instead.
Crossing The Road
The roads in Vietnam’s big cities are very busy and are an intimidating sight for all first-time visitors to Vietnam. As you stand on the sidewalk watching the synchronised chaotic mess of cars and scooters honking their horns and zooming across multiple lanes you’ll wonder how you’re ever going to actually get to the other side. If there’s a pedestrian crossing then it’s just like anywhere else – wait until the person turns green, but quite often you’ll want to cross the road and there’s no pedestrian crossing nearby. Observe the locals and you’ll soon notice a pattern. Firstly there’s no hesitation – when a local decides the time is right to cross the road, usually when there’s a slight break in traffic, they just walk across. Secondly you’ll notice their hand gesture to vehicles as they cross, a sort of arms by their side, palm faced towards the oncoming traffic “easy there” gesture.
They key is to maintain the same speed while crossing and not to hesitate or stop. Do this while doing “the gesture” and you’ll notice that the scooters make their way around you as if you’ve got some sort of force field around you. It’s like Moses parting the sea. It’s scary at first but before you know it you’ll be crossing the road like a local.
Also be aware of scooters when you’re on the sidewalk near traffic lights. Sometimes scooter drivers figure that it’s quicker and easier to get to where they need to be by doing a quick detour onto the sidewalk rather than wait at the traffic lights.
Haggling is an acceptable practice when shopping in Vietnam, and it’s a good idea to try and bargain the price of something you want to purchase down. Do be aware though that this happens in places where prices aren’t marked like markets, street stalls and the like. If you’re in a shopping mall or somewhere with fixed prices, it’s more like you’re probably used to – you can try and get a good price but it’s not the place for hard bargaining and haggling.
If there’s something specific that you want to buy and you can wait, ask someone at your hotel or hostel for a rough guide on how much something should cost. They’ll tell you what you should be paying and you’ll be able to set your price range accordingly.
Also bring a calculator with you – as many shopkeepers do not speak English, the best way to bargain is to have a back and forth exchange of numbers on a calculator. And don’t be afraid to walk away if at the end of it all you can’t get a price that you’re happy with.
Water & Ice
You’ll hear a lot of people say that it’s not safe to drink water or drinks with ice in Vietnam. The reason for this is that there’s no guarantee that the water is potable, or that it’s been filtered. There’s a chance that there could be something in the water that will make you sick. While there’s no way to be 100% certain that the water/ice you consume in Vietnam is going to be OK, one thing to look out for is ice with a hole in it. Commercially made ice in Vietnam is cylindrical and has a hole in the middle and generally speaking if you see that kind of ice being used, it’s probably safe. Which takes us to the next point.
One of the main reasons to visit Vietnam is for the amazing street food. There’s loads of fresh and tasty food to eat all over the country. Many people are afraid to eat street food because they think it will make them sick but it’s easy to reduce your risk of getting sick by following a few simple rules. Firstly, make sure that the food is being prepared to order and cooked in front of you and secondly, eat where the locals are eating. If a place was serving food that was making people sick would locals be eating there? You can find out more about street food in Vietnam by checking out our Hanoi Food Guide and Ho Chi Minh City Food Guide.
Hold That Bag
Vietnam’s big cities are hectic and crowded, and it’s easy for speed past on a scooter and take your bag. Take some simple precautions and you’l be fine. Your best bet is to leave any valuables in the hotel room but if you are carrying valuables with you out on the street then it’s a good idea to carry a simple shoulder bag that you can sling over your body and keep safely next to your side. You want something secure, but you don’t want to stand out.
Shopping In Tourist Areas
If you want to find the best prices for the things you’re interested in buying, shop away from the obvious spots where tourists go. You don’t need to venture that far either. For example in Hanoi you can find all sorts of kitchen equipment and utensils at the Dong Xuan Market, but head outside and about a street away are shops selling the same stuff cheaper.
Another example is when it comes to purchasing fruit and drinks from roaming food vendors. A tasty coconut that’s ready to drink from outside of a tourist site such as the Ben Thanh Market or War Remnants Museum can cost up to five times as much as the exact same thing a block or two away.
Vietnamese SIM cards can be purchased from phone stores and convenience stores and will work in almost any unlocked foreign phone. Mobile providers to look out for are VinaPhone, Mobifone and Viettel.
We hope that you’ve found something of use in this post that you weren’t aware of before, and you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.