7 Tips on how to make the most of Vietnam

There has been a lot of talk in the local and expat news in HCMC recently about the dismal tourism rates in general and in particular the rate of return tourism. One survey from the Saigoneer found that only 6% of the tourists surveyed were returning. 

I have been pondering this a lot recently. Having lived in Vietnam for the last 4 years I have hard time understanding this. Vietnam is one of my favourite places in the world and I love travelling here!

Saigon at night

Saigon at night

Tourism is a fairly new industry in Vietnam and there are a lot of structural issues that need to get sorted out in order to make Vietnam an easy and enjoyable place to travel. Until that happens (soon hopefully) here are 7 tips on how to enjoy your travels in Vietnam. I hope these tips help you to enjoy your time in Vietnam and that they will make you want to come back to this quirky but amazing land of contradictions!

Check out this article for more information about the issues in the Vietnamese tourism industry.

Most of the wiring in Vietnam looks like this, organized chaos

Most of the wiring in Vietnam looks like this, organized chaos

1)    Be safe – Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City in particular, is known for petty crime and bag-snatchings, where men drive by on motorbikes a snatch purses, loose cameras or other valuables. This is easily avoided by not carrying a bag! Women, just leave your purses at home especially at night. Pockets are a girl’s best friend or, as a last resort, put your money in your bra.

The security guards generally take their jobs very seriously

The security guards generally take their jobs very seriously

2)    Don’t take price gouging too personally  – a lot of people complain about being overcharged and yes this does happen. Try to remember that that the average annual income in Vietnam is still very low, approximately 2000$USD, and that many Vietnamese people live in extreme poverty. So while we are not as rich as they imagine all foreigners are, our circumstances are more than likely better than theirs. Go ahead and bargain but don’t spend a lot of energy haggling over differences of less than five dollars. The money saved will buy you a coffee back home or a meal in Vietnam but it would buy necessities that could last weeks or months for the local street vendor or taxi driver. That being said it is still annoying when you get exorbitantly over charged so here are a few ways to avoid common scams.  

Local market in HCMC

Local market in HCMC

a.     Use MyLinh and Vinasun taxis. They are the most reputable.

b.     Research how far the airport is from your hotel before you arrive so you have an idea of how much it will cost.

c.     Don’t buy souvenirs from the first shop you find. Collect their business cards and go back once you get an idea of the average price.

3)    Eat street food – it is cheap, delicious and often better than the fancy restaurants offering ‘authentic’ local cuisine.  This can be a bit daunting as the vendors never speak English but just guess and point at things that look tasty (most of them are). Some of my favorites: com tam (broken rice with various vegetable and bbq meat accompaniments), and the chay (vegetarian) version of com tam is great too; Bun thit ngon (vermicelli noodles with bbq pork, spring rolls and greens); and rice paper with green mango and chilli.

Spring rolls and a fresh coconut

Spring rolls and a fresh coconut

4)    Find out where the expats hang out!– these places often have English-speaking servers and expats are a friendly bunch so you can often get free advice if any of them are hanging around! Some good sites for Vietnam are anyarena.com and asialife.com

5)    If you are brave enough, drive a motorbike – this gives you so much more freedom to get around, get out of the tourist hubs and get to know the local culture. Be smart about it though and wear a helmet (you will get pulled over and fined by the police if you don’t and they love to pull over foreigners as we pay more for fines because we don’t know any better). Most importantly: don’t drink and drive!

Motorbikes are the easiest way to get around in Vietnam and there are millions of them :)

Motorbikes are the easiest way to get around in Vietnam and there are millions of them :)

6)    Be patient – sometimes it can be frustrating to not be understood and not able to communicate what you want or need. Trust me, I understand how annoying it can be when Vietnamese people just laugh at you when you are trying to explain what it is you need, but this is because they are nervous and frustrated too! Be patient and carry a notebook with you. It works wonders! Also, try learning a few words in Vietnamese. They will appreciate the effort no matter how bad you mess it up! ‘Cam on’ is thank you and ‘Xin Chao’ is Hello!

A woman selling goods at the market

A woman selling goods at the market

7)    Remember you are on holiday – have fun and enjoy! Vietnam is not the most punctual of societies so things take a while, but you are on holiday so just sit back, relax and grab a beer for the road!