THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVEL TO VIETNAM
- FOOD AND DRINK
Drink lots of water. Make sure to hydrate throughout the day while taking in the sights. Drink water in the bottle, ice in the restaurant and coffee shop is ok to drink.
Eat everything. Vietnamese food is delicious and you will want to try it all. Go ahead and buy a kilo of those strange looking purple fruit, but be aware of hygiene when you’re eating street food. Look to see if the vendor is using plastic gloves when preparing your food. If it looks dodgy, go down the block.
Get your hotel details. Remember to take your hotel’s business card to make your return to the hotel much easier by handing it to your taxi, xe om, or cyclo driver.
Keep your phone and wallet out of sight. Violent crime is rare, but like any large cities, both have their fair share of pickpockets. Be especially aware in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao. There is no need to be overly cautious, simply be aware of yourself and your belongings.
Where’s your wallet? Violent crime is extremely rare, but like any large tourist area it, has its fair share of pickpockets, most of whom hang out in the tourist areas. Keep your bags close to your body, avoid dangly jewellery and try not to be too flashy with your camera and phone.
Walk slowly when crossing the street. Crossing the street in Vietnam is scary and a bit dangerous but fun nonetheless. Remember that motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you, so keep a steady pace. It’s also advisable to hold out your arm to let the motorcyclists know that you are actually crossing the street.
Don’t stop, dash or backtrack while crossing the street. Remember that motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you, so no surprises. Stay slow and steady with your head on swivel.
Don’t trust the street vendor. Cyclo, drink, shoe-shinning, vendor can overcharged
- PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Don’t trust the taxi meter. Ripping off unsuspecting passengers is an art form for dishonest drivers. Stick with reliable companies such as: Vinasun, Mai Linh, CP Taxi, Taxi Group.
Don't assume that your driver knows where your destination is located. Taxi pilots in the capital city typically nab fares from all over town but that doesn't mean they are GPS experts. It pays jackpots to write down your destination or at the very least carry a small map or a smart phone with satnav capability. It's advisable to use a taxi from a well-established company and to keep your eye on the meter to avoid a potential rip-off.
Saigon's motorbike and car traffic doesn’t really flow so much as swarms and lurches in waves. If you travel to Vietnam, you would do well to leave everything you learned about traffic rules and etiquette at the airport departure gate of your home country. Officially, and in theory, you drive on the right side of the road, although in practice that is not always the case. Allow right-of-way to any vehicles larger than your own. Think carefully before riding at night as many motorbikes have broken lights. Certain times of the day are busier than others, especially during morning and evening rush hours when it seems as if the entire population is on the move. Helmets are mandatory for both driver and passenger.
To rent a motorbike you will need to provide a passport, sign a rental agreement or pay in advance. If you are living in Vietnam, you may be interested in long term rental. The renter may require you to leave your passport or a cash deposit equal to the motorbike’s market value. Make certain that your rental motorbike is roadworthy and has functioning brakes, lights, etc. The rental price is dependent on the type of bike. Two main types of motorbike available to rent are twist and go scooters or four-speed motorbikes with semiautomatic gears. It is a good idea to park your motorbike at an attended parking lot to diminish the chance of theft. Just make sure to keep your parking ticket. If you lose it, you will need to verify ownership of the bike, which means contacting your rental place.
Holdovers from Vietnam's colonial era, cyclos are bicycle taxis that can carry everything from passengers to broken-down motorbikes. Today, however, cyclos mostly ferry tourists around Hanoi's Old Quarter. You'll probably be spotted by a cyclo driver before you spot a cyclo! Standard rides include trips around Old Quarter streets including Hang Bac, Ma May and Hang Ma. Expect to pay in the vicinity of VND100,000 for one person per hour.
You'll find cyclos congregated near popular tourist spots. Common points of departure in Hanoi include Ngoc Son pagoda, Hanoi Opera House and the south end of Hang Dau Street. Aside from using a cyclo strictly for sightseeing, you can take one in lieu of a taxi or xe om (motorbike taxi) if you are sticking close to Hanoi's centre. Make sure to agree on a price beforehand and carry small denomination dong to avoid any payment headaches.
Xe om literally means, 'motorbike hug'. Catching a xe om is an easy, affordable and fun way to see the sights of Hanoi and you can find a driver on every street of the Old Quarter. Pronouncing Vietnamese street names can be a challenge so indicate your destination as you go along or write it down to show the driver. Some xe om drivers will accept US dollars as payment. Inter-District trips should cost around VND50,000, more or less, depending on how far you are going and your negotiating ability with the xe om driver.
If the xe om driver does not have a passenger helmet, find another driver. Be sure that your driver is sober and lucid before hopping on back! In Hanoi's Old Quarter you will be able to hire a xe om easily. In fact, you'll probably be offered a xe om ride before you even go looking for one. Keep small bills in your wallet as most xe om drivers do not carry large amounts of change. When paying for your ride, keep your wallet close; dishonest drivers are not averse to a snatch-and-zoom.
Pavements as motorbike parks. Parking space for motorbikes in Vietnam is at a premium and often pavements have become de facto parking lots. This means that sometimes pedestrians have no option but to share the road with the traffic. In this case, your head should be in swivel mode and your senses on high alert.
Motorbike safety. If you’re going to brave the traffic, make sure you take proper precautions. Always wear a helmet, avoid dangly jewellery and miniskirts and clip your purse to the bike to keep it safe from bag snatchers.
- COMMON SENSE
Tipping While tipping is not always expected, especially at local restaurants, International venues have become used to the practice and some will charge a small service fee on your bill.
Bargain. Remember that negotiating is not rude, but expected. Get in the spirit and secure yourself a reasonable price. Never settle for the initial offer, especially in touristy areas. In English free bargaining areas, fingers represent VND10,000.
Be a sensitive shutterbug/photographer. Most people in Vietnam love getting their photo taken (and will ask to have their photo taken with you), but there are some places (like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or military buildings) where taking photos can get you in a bit of trouble.
Enjoy yourself. There is so much to do and see, but don’t forget to stop every once in a while to pull up a plastic chair and relax. Sometimes you can learn more from a street side chat than at any museum. Even when English is a barrier, people are always welcoming.
Cover up. When visiting temples or pagodas, make sure to pack a shawl or extra shirt to cover your shoulders. Remember that you are visiting a piece of history so show it some respect and cover up those shoulders.
Keep a reasonable amount of cash on your person as travellers' cheques can only be exchanged at authourised foreign exchange banks, mostly in Vietnam's major cities. In Hanoi, Vietcombank at 344 Ba Trieu, HSBC at 83B Ly Thuong Kiet and ANZ Bank at 14 Le Thai To will all exchange travellers' cheques. You may be able to cash American Express travellers' cheques at Vietcombank on Hang Trong in the capital city. Most banks will charge a commission of around 2%, more or less, depending on what type of currency you are exchanging.
With the burgeoning access to ATMs in Hanoi, visitors to the capital city are carrying fewer travellers' cheques. If you plan to cash travellers' cheques at one of the authorised foreign banks in Saigon, be sure to bring your passport and any other official-looking ID. Note that Vietcombank will not levy an exchange fee on American Express travellers' cheques.
Vietnam's GSM 900/1800 network is compatible with most of Asia, Europe and Australia, but not North America. In Hanoi you can buy a local SIM card and minutes for around VND100,000. The most popular providers are Vinaphone, Mobifone and Viettel. Until recently iPhones were only available on the black market; find them nearly everywhere in the capital city. For landlines, the city code for Hanoi is 04 (drop the 0 if including the country code) and the country code is +84.
When you buy a SIM card you'll get a local Hanoi number. You can send text messages worldwide for about VND3,000. A new, no-frills mobile phone can be had for as little as VND400,000, sometimes with credit included in the price. The store will usually set up your phone in your language choice. Take care when pulling out an expensive smart phone on the sidewalk, particularly along busy tourist streets in central Hanoi.