Couple of weeks back, my crazy friend Arati and I made our way to Vietnam! Not my typical choice of holiday destination; but it was her birthday wish and she made me choose between Philippines, Cambodia or Vietnam. 😐
And you simply cannot deny a birthday girl! Especially when she’s such a dear friend. ☺️
During our 5 day stay, we explored Hanoi and Nha Trang. Most people don’t know Nha Trang; it’s a super gorgeous beach area! Check out the Google images here.
Okay, so you’re here for tourist survival tips… Here goes!
#1 Get ready to be intimidated by the VND (Vietnamese Dong)
Especially when you’re a Math idiot, like myself. 😩
Vietnamese dongs come in plenty of zeros that majority of the world aren’t too familiar with. It can really throw you off sometimes… but don’t let it fool you. Don’t even bother with 1,000 VND – even 10,000 VND is nothing.
It was pretty challenging for the first couple of hours, but I quickly trained my mind to do a quick calculation.
Y’see, when I changed currency – got it for around SGD 1 = VND 17,000
So when you see the thousands, simply cancel the zeros behind the comma out!
So for example someone quoted me VND 50,000, I would go:
50,000 -> 50
,000 -> 50/17 = 2.9-3
Therefore VND 50,000 is about SGD 3.
It becomes heaps easier once you cross out the zeros at the back. 😉
#2 When it comes to taxi companies, insist on Mai Linh or Vinasun
Personal horrible experience! Read about it here.
Basically if you take other taxi companies, you can expect to get conned quite blatantly. And it’s quite hard to do anything about it when it happens. 😞
They take super long routes; but you most probably won’t know any better.
Their meter jumps at an insane pace, it’s freaky. The one I took, the meter jumped 2,000 VND every 5 seconds!
Some of them have been known to bring you to touristy shops instead so they can earn a commission.
Or they will add random (but not so modest) amounts to your fare, and demand you pay them.
These companies are quite popular among the locals too, so sometimes it can be hard to grab one. But trust me, the wait is worth it! You can book from your hotel as well; just tell the concierge you will only accept Mai Linh or Vinasun.
#3 When you see someone trying to sell you something, gesture or say a firm no and turn away
What I learned was, don’t bother even smiling.
At the beginning I smiled and said no, they got rather crudely persistent. It was almost like they were forcing me to buy from them. So I learned to be nasty for protection sake.
When you’re waiting for a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi, there will be loads of other taxi companies that will stop and ask you to hop on – but you just wave a ‘no’ and turn away. Don’t make eye contact!
#4 Always look for a place that has written/printed prices
Somehow when you’re a tourist, you have the word “ATM” stamped on your forehead.
It’s really quite obvious the way they try to mark up prices shamelessly. I can honestly say it’s even worse than Bangkok. 😫 So make sure there’s some sort of black & white agreement on the price.
Verbal agreements have no standing.
Basically Arati went to get her nails done and we actually agreed on 50,000 VND – but after the service was completed, they demanded a whopping 300,000 VND instead. And they refused to let us leave the premises, actually using physical actions to stop us until we gave them the money they asked for.
#5 Don’t think that anything is for free
The roads were littered with people carrying around their traditional things, which were nice to look at. And some of them would ask you if you wanted to take a picture with it.
Unless you really want a picture with it and willing to pay for it – then by all means. If not, just shake your head and turn away.
This woman actually cornered Arati, asking her to hold her pole to take a picture. Arati had problem declining, so I grabbed Arati’s wrist, glared at that money-sucking bitch and walked off.
And just as we walked by, I saw a Caucasian having to pay 200,000 dong for taking a photo. Such audacity.
#6 Cross your eyes and cross the road
This is the fun part of Vietnam! …at least for me. Arati was positively dying.
The roads at Vietnam are always busy and most of the road-users don’t respect traffic lights a great deal, especially on smaller roads. The roads are filled with motorbikes and scooters and they don’t stop for anyone/anything.
So when you’re crossing the road… Just walk. Look out for a gap and walk consistently; meaning at the same pace. Don’t hesitate, don’t slow down or hasten.
The riders there are very good at gauging your speed and knowing how to avoid you – so you need to cooperate to make your road-crossing a successful one.
#7 It’ll be useful to have some survival vocabulary handy
Judging from my experience and some hearsay from friends, about only 2 out of 10 people can speak English there. The communication barrier between us and them was super real.
The only people who were able to speak decipherable English were at the hotels.
So asking for directions to an attraction, asking what meat was in the food etc… They were pretty difficult.
#8 Convenience stores aren’t convenient to find at all; so when you find one… Stock up!
I really took this for granted. In Singapore, it’s easy to find a convenience store or at least a mama shop. So you can get your bottled water and whatever from there.
But in Vietnam… They weren’t that easily found. So I went thirsty for a while, because we couldn’t find a store.
#9 Their airports don’t have great communication, so always keep a super keen lookout
Part of me thinks that it’s because as a Singaporean, I tend to be too pampered by our world-class airport – I tend to compare with other countries.
Well, it’s not hard to see why Singapore’s airport is number 1 if this is what we’re up against… #justsaying
The dirty and gloomy interior aside – we almost missed our flight because of their communication.
Basically our flight changed gate and we had no idea whatsoever. The announcement was drowned out by screaming children; and most of it was in Vietnamese and hard-to-understand English.
It was a good thing that we decided to check up on our flight 5 minutes before time! Otherwise we had no idea that the plane was at a different gate. And unlike Changi Airport, no kind staff was going to walk over and physically inform you nicely.
There was another flight that was supposed to leave at 7AM; but got delayed till about 11AM. No one tried contacting us whatsoever. They claimed they called and emailed, but neither of us received a single thing. So we basically woke up at 4AM, paid the driver extra for driving us to the airport at odd-hours… Only to wait at the airport for 4 hours.
It was infuriatingly annoying to say the least.
For those who are interested, we took Vietnamese Airlines for all flights.
#10 If you absolutely must take a taxi at odd hours, get the hotel car instead
No personal experience regarding this… Thank God.
But the hotel staff and even some friends told me about it before; going out on the street to get a taxi at odd hours is very dangerous.
If you have a flight in the early morning or super late at night, get the hotel car to come for you.
#11 Carry a sturdy bag that can be zipped up entirely
Not even those with buttons or buckles that you can close; you need something that will shut out everything. Because they have plenty of pickpockets around that will dip their hands freely into your bag and take whatever they can grab.
#12 Some beggars will grab you; don’t be startled
Okay, easier said than done – I’m sure.
This beggar grabbed onto my forearm tightly with one hand, and with the other he rubbed his thumb and middle finger. (Gesturing: money)
Typically in other countries, I’d take pity on the poor man and give some money.
However he looked angry at me; like he was pissed that he had to ask me for money. And he grabbed onto me so tightly, it was getting invasive.
…and also due to an accumulated unhappiness about my travel experience… I wasn’t feeling too kind; I’m only human.
So I glared (again. I used this trick a lot…), turned my head and pulled my arm fiercely away.
I learned not to show the least bit of weakness or niceness; for it tends to get exploited.
#13 People there can be quite touchy
When we asked the police officers for directions, the guy actually slightly put his arm around Arati.
Another woman touched my leg.
And some other instances… It wasn’t something we were expecting in Vietnam for sure!
#14 You can change your money at the gold shop!
This is a neat trick I picked up from Mark’s dad!
And apparently they (usually) offer better rates too. 🙂 So why not?
Problem is – they’re not easily found… So just change about 20-30% of your money at the money changer, then save the rest for the gold shop.
#15 For first-timers, I fully recommend staying in hotels versus home stays
I’m a fan of Airbnb and HomeAway; but when it came to Vietnam… I was entirely grateful that we chose to go with hotels.
For one, it’s actually safer.
For another, it was nice to have people ever-ready to help you out with questions and get you taxis.
#16 The locals there are fairly patriotic, so don’t insult their country in any manner
You will see flags flying proudly around the streets, it’s not a rare sight. And it’s quite lovely actually! I wish Singaporeans were that in love with Singapore.
And it’s usually common sense not to insult a foreign country when you’re in that foreign country… but just adding it into the list because you need to be extra careful.
#17 Not everyone is a cheat; it’s still a beautiful country
To be honest, I didn’t have a spanking great experience in Vietnam and there’s a high chance that I won’t head back. But everyone has different experiences and maybe some of you will be way luckier than me!
It’s not that hard… I’m not a very lucky person. 😔
The country is indeed beautiful and I find the women’s traditional costume very pretty! 😍 The bustling culture of the city area and all was a real learning experience.
Sure, it wasn’t my exact idea of a leisurely holiday – but I surely didn’t regret the experience. And if anyone were to ask me if they should go to Vietnam, I’d say, “Why not?”
Just be careful of your money and aware of your surroundings, and you should do just fine!
Every country has an experience to offer; and Vietnam has one you shouldn’t miss.