So a journey – a solo journey nonetheless is not complete without a post on LESSONS LEARNED or Vietnam 101. If you ever go or plan to go, here are safety and advice tips as well as Dos and Don’ts!
They will know you are a tourist/traveler even if you’re Vietnamese-American or Asian-American or Asian-Canadian. It’s easy to stick out like a sore thumb because you’re not only dressed differently but the camera and backpack makes it pretty obvious. Not to mention that your facial expression instantly turns to terror and horror the moment you realize you have to cross the street (which is amusing!)
+ Major culture shock: Being an Asian-American, I experienced culture shock even after expecting it would be different. In restaurants or the streets, people didn’t seem to “notice” where or what they were walking into or who was around them. It was all about YOU having to walk around them or get out of their way. The cutting and shoving in line or the fact that there was sometimes NO such thing as a line frustrated me. Even on the airplanes! I remember boarding the plane in DC and everybody was nice and standing in line. As soon as we arrived in Asia (Korea and Vietnam), it was a mad dash to the front of the plane with bags in gear. Elbows and bags hitting innocent bystanders were the norm. -___-
Crossing the street is akin to jumping in the middle of a group of attacking hyenas. It is really an exciting art-form! I ended up attaching myself to a local that looked especially bold and confident (usually an old Vietnamese Grandmother) and walked alongside of them alternating between holding my breath and cringing waiting for the oncoming slaughter of my body.
The old grannies actually stick their arm straight out to the side with palm up to tell you, “MOVE AROUND ME” which the million motorbikes, cars, and buses do maneuver effortlessly around you! It’s pretty exhilarating and you get the hang of it after once or twice! 🙂
+ Tip: If you are the first customer in a market stall, buy something! It’s considered the best “time” to bargain because Vietnamese are pretty superstitious They want the first customer to enter the store must buy something before they leave. If not, it means bad business for the rest of the day!
On to my Dos and Don’ts
+ Do wear a money belt or keep your papers in zipped up pockets if you’re wearing pants.
Keep your passport and money safe when you are out in the streets. The hotels I stayed at were extremely safe and some even had safes but do take extra precaution when you are out at the markets! Keep copies of your passport, itinerary, and extra money back at your hotel or hostel.
+ Don’t bring/wear a bag that you sling over one shoulder. Make sure the shoulder strap is long enough to wear around your body. A traveler I was with was riding on a cyclo and her purse got snatched right off her arm/shoulder by a passing car. They don’t just snatch but will grab with such force that you will be dragged along the streets if you don’t let go.
+ Do be aware of your surroundings and belongings.
Since I am a female and was traveling alone, my paranoia went up an extra notch but DO keep an eye out for your belongings. Someone could easily be behind you in the market razoring your bag if you’re not careful.
+ Don’t wear any jewelry especially necklaces. Keep your nice stuff at home!
I took a motorbike tour to see the city of Saigon aka HCMC and my tour guide immediately saw my necklace and asked if it was valuable. I said yes, and she immediately took it off and told me to put it away. People on motorbikes will see it and snatch it as they ride next to you.
+ Do expect to haggle at the markets! They are tough to bargain but approach the situation with a smile and a friendly attitude. Say you understand you have to bargain and offer a price. If they say no, smile apologetically and walk away. Don’t get angry and if they don’t lower the price, you can easily find it elsewhere.
+ Don’t negotiate too low and make the locals insulted. They know that you are a tourist with a lot more money than them in comparison. Vietnamese locals tend to HATE the backpackers who insist on haggling to get the lowest possible price where it’s insulting and they’d rather you just move along than deal with you anymore. It’s almost as seen as being cheap in in the eyes of, “Americans are so rich and yet they cannot buy this backpack for this much! WTF!”
+ Do tip well. One thing I did notice was that when I tipped well, they were EXTREMELY grateful and seeing eyes light up like that when it’s just a measly extra couple dollars….it was super eye-opening to me.
+ Don’t expect very orderly lines. I know I mentioned this above already but it’s mad chaos when you are in Vietnam when it comes to any form of lining up. Feel free to assimilate and pointedly shove anybody to get to the front of the line – especially if someone behind you doesn’t care and will happily shove you aside without a second thought. Here is a picture of when I was at the Nha Trang amusement park.
+ Do feel safe drinking your drinks with ice! Vietnamese love drinking ice with their soda and especially beer. Don’t feel afraid if they pour your beer over ice. It’s been filtered and totally safe because locals love ice with their beer. The locals actually won’t drink tap water either
+ Do eat at the local food stalls!! Don’t spend your dollars at the tourist spots! Find a local food stall with a bit of a line. You can also see a ton of local food vendors deemed safe and delicious at the Gastronomy blog. It’s also super freaking cheap, fresh, and delicious. You are in Vietnam! Dare to be daring but as always – practice a bit of caution if you get the feeling the place totally doesn’t care about safety/health. I never got sick during my trip so there IS some hope for us tourists/travelers.
+ Do go to Halong Bay! Beautiful place. I won’t get into details but you can read about my part of the trip HERE.
+ Do get some custom-tailored clothes! You can read about my 2 days at Hue where I got a custom sun dress, 2 work pants, and a dress skirt for work for under $100 USD!
+ Do have fun and take a ton of pictures or videos if you can. Shop, Eat, and Walk everywhere!
+ Feeling the urge to go on a trip? Feel free to check out my custom travel planning services at Up and Explore where my expertise will ensure your trip is a dream vacation.