Vietnam is a beautiful nation, stocked with genuinely nice people, a deep culture and exquisite food. Before you get too excited secure first your Vietnam visa before exploring this up and coming tourist destination, there are a number of things to keep in mind. An exhaustive summation is outside the scope of this article, so we are going to limit ourselves to the top five Vietnam travel tips.
1. Money Matters
A lot of folks run into money issues when visiting Vietnam. The biggest problem lies in the denominations themselves and their excessive number of zeros. 10,000 dong notes (44 cents USD) looks a lot like 100,000 notes ($4.44), and 50,000 dong bills ($2.20) can easily be confused with 500,000 dong notes ($21.99). The key here is double checking what bills you are actually passing over. The next biggest issue people seem to have (especially westerners) is with haggling: The requested price is NEVER the final price, and a little negotiation can go a very long way. The biggest trick to haggling is being willing to walk away – vendors love seeing business coming in but hate seeing it walk away.
2. Hotel/Hostel Reservations
The best hotel and hostel deals in Vietnam are to be found on foot – not online. This runs counter to everything we take for granted when it comes to hotel reservations. In most parts of the world, Agoda typically gives better value than you will find as a walk in. In Vietnam, this is rarely the case, and hotels and hostels are usually more expensive if you book them online. Take particular care to try to look for hotels and hostels off the beaten path – cheaper and nicer places can be typically be found off of the main avenues.
Vietnam is a beautiful country, and motorbikes (scooters and larger motorcycles) are the best way of taking in all the glorious locales. Rental bikes are available in every urban area and usually cost six to nine dollars a day. Unfortunately, motorbikes are also the number one cause of tourist death around the world. If you are not an experienced motorcyclist, Vietnam – like Thailand and other SE Asian destinations – is a very scary and dangerous place to ride. The Vietnamese have been on two wheels since they were children and have perfected the art of riding together in groups like schools of swarming fish. If you unsure as to your abilities, err on the side of caution. Drivers can be found for around $14 a day that will take the worry out of the trip while you sit (somewhat) comfortably on the back surveying the stunning mountain and valley roads.
4. Booking Travel
Hotels will often ask about your travel plans and will quickly jump on the offer to book them for you as a part of their ‘free’ concierge service. Nine times out of ten, they will then tack on a pretty exorbitant – and completely invisible – service charge and pocket the difference. To get the most of your travel dollars, book your train and/or bus reservations directly at the terminals. And being on the topic of travel, beware of shady ‘cyclo’ drivers in all major cities that will initially offer a cheap fare and then drive you off to an isolated location and suddenly produce a much higher bill which you are basically forced to pay. Taxis can be similarly sketchy – never take one that offers a smile and ‘fixed price’ and be on the lookout for taximeters that continue to run while the vehicle is stationary – a sure sign that the meter has been tampered with.
5. Personal Safety
Getting separated from your valuables is never a pleasant experience, and it’s particularly vexing when it occurs while traveling. Pickpockets (‘cowboys’) are prevalent around urban areas as are snatch and grab banditos that like to steal laptops, packs and cellphones out of your hands while zooming by on a motorbike. Food and water problems are also a real issue in Vietnam, so make sure that your street food has been properly cooked (charred is actually a good thing), the soup is on a light boil and you only drink purified or bottled water. You should also have had your hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Drug scams are also dangerous in Vietnam with hustlers working with police to jail foreigners or extort them for money. Liaisons with prostitutes is also a very real concern and can result in blackmail (underage prostitute), robbery from her accomplices or outright imprisonment.
So, those are our top five travel tips for visiting Vietnam.