“We love tourists. Tourism in Vietnam stopped my dad from hitting my mum.”
This is a direct quote from a tour guide in the beautiful city of Hoi An, Vietnam. In two sentences this young girl depicts not only the suffering endured, but the perpetual spirit of the Vietnamese. They’ve borne hundreds of years of hardship, yet they have this welcoming openness that really does make Vietnam a fantastic place for travellers and “tourists” alike.
I read somewhere that Vietnam is a place “whose greatest charms lie in its everyday, unexpected curiosities just as much as in the more renowned tourist attractions,” and it couldn’t be closer to the truth. From the moment you touch down you can’t help but be caught up in all that is great in Vietnam.
Sure you should visit the “must-sees” – the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh. But your memories of Vietnam will be made, as cliché as it sounds, getting yourself lost on the manic streets.
What makes the entire experience better is that every time you sit to eat, enjoy a beer or take part in a tour you are helping the Vietnamese (like our guide in Hoi An) provide for their families, taking away the stresses that once plagued and devastated families.
So there you have it people – what better reason to travel, spend and drink!
Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the main centres of Nam – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh etc. so tune in for my tips. For now though, here’s some important intel for someone going anywhere in Vietnam.
Planning your pilgrimage:
What to pack:
√ Always carry tissues – there will be more than one reason you need these
√ Hand sanitiser.
√ Diastop:If you don’t eat on a curbside from a local vendor while you’re in Vietnam you’ve done it all wrong. This can wreak havoc with your guts but it’s worth it, so just go prepared.
√ US Dollars – this is good for most things in Vietnam, and you will pay your hotel in USD, there are plenty of HSBC or ANZ bank machines around Vietnam to get money out. Get the maximum out (around two million dong), it sounds like loads, but you’ll get through it.
BYO nerves of steal:
√ Everything you’ve heard about the traffic in Nam is true.
√ Best tip when walking, take it slowly across the road. It goes against your better logic, but trust me, slow and steady wins the race as motorists will go around you, they can’t plan for you if you’re running.
√ If you’re on the roads for a tour or whatever be warned, they pass each other three abreast, they pass on blind corners, they pass when a truck is coming towards you. It’s horrifying – but somehow they make it through. Tip: Close your eyes if you’re a nervous passenger.
Practice your hand signals:
The Vietnamese are great at communicating even if you have no common language, get ready to sign your way to buying food or reaching a destination.
The people are excellent
Tourism is fairly new to Vietnam, so in my opinion the place and the people still find the whole thing a novelty. As such while people are always selling you something, they’re not as annoying as vendors in say Thailand for example.
I actually enjoyed every encounter with the Vietnamese, I found them incredibly accommodating, willing to help and willing to have a laugh.
Don’t be afraid to barter
Like any markets around the world the first price they offer is not the last. So do barter – you’ll know if you’ve pushed them too low.
Interestingly we learned from a friend who travels there regularly that the people running the stores don’t necessarily own them, so they get a cut of the profit made off you. SO if you ask them what their lowest price is then offer to give them personally a little something on top of it (do it with a bit of a wink, but not too creepy) you’ll usually get a better deal.
What “motorbike” really means
There are loads of men (particularly in Nha Trang, and some in Ho Chi Minh) that will yell out “motorbike, motorbike” to you. They are NOT trying to rent you a motorbike, they are trying to sell you drugs. Be careful.
There are some starting tips, there’s plenty more where that came from so keep checking back to Pilgrim With a Plan for great stories and intel! 🙂