Written on September 15, 2010 at 3:30 pm by Christine Ka’aloa
5 things travelers should know about Vietnam:
1. Guard your wallet and your valuables.
Theft is still a lingering problem in Vietnam, so you should store your money and valuables in a safe place or keep it close at all times. If you don’t believe me, you can read some of the stories I came across on my trip here.
Advice: Don’t make yourself an easy target. Be aware of your surroundings and possessions at all times. Practice street smarts and keep your valuables such as your camera and purse tucked close to your body.
2. Vietnamese aren’t slick hagglers.
They just aren’t. If you want to feel like you’re being played for a targeted tourist just observe a Vietnamese street seller the moment after you ask how much an item costs. You’ll get the “deer caught in the headlights” look of surprise as they begin to scramble and calculate the markup! Some sellers have even rolled their eyes up in thought as they tally a price they think my USD can afford.
But in Vietnam, haggling is a friendly courting ritual one should be ready to play. In some areas sellers might even walk you through the steps of a first friendly kiss if you’re a timid beginner to the system. In Sapa, the Hmong will say “60,000 dong. You go down, I go up!”
Advice: Know haggling is expected and you’ll almost always will be given a markup for being a tourist.
3. There are curfews.
Even big cities like Hanoi and Saigon seem to sleep around 11:00 pm (though it might be earlier). Some bars and clubs may stay open, restaurants and businesses will definitely be closed. This means, many hostels and guesthouses seem to close relatively early, as well. Some have a night guard to let guests in, should they arrive past curfew; but otherwise, lobby lights are off, front desk person asleep on their cot in the lobby. Internet… turned off.
Advice: Confirm with your hostel/guesthouse if there is a curfew. Ask what protocol is if you come home late. If you’ve reservations but you suspect your flight may arrive late, notify your guesthouse that you may be arriving late so they don’t give your room away (read here).
4. Vegetarians Welcome
Aside from Sapa, I’m disappointed that I’ve not experienced rave-worthy food, neither in restaurants or on the streets. This doesn’t mean great food doesn’t exist (I just haven’t found it). Nevertheless, in Vietnam, there’s food-friendly shelter for vegetarians and some restaurants will even advertise vegetarian food on their signs.
At the hip Gecko Restaurant I ordered a vegetarian shrimp and vegetable curry, while downloading my email on my iPod via free WiFi ( why is there more free WiFi in Vietnam than in Korea?). I mentioned being a vegetarian and what arrived was… surprising. The shrimp looked different; it didn’t taste, chew or feel like ordinary shrimp. Convinced I got a “chewy squid and vegetable curry”, I queried the waiter/owner. He explained, “Vegetarian shrimp! Mock shrimp, not real shrimp.” There you have it! It wasn’t the tastiest mock shrimp I’ve had, but I was grateful that Vietnam recognizes my veggie needs!
5. Vietnam might just be the new spot for couples and honeymooners.
Vietnam is a very well-traveled tourist destination and you may cross other travelers’ paths and feel as if you were on a circuit tour. Also my friend Veronica and I noticed a lot of couples. A lot. Interestingly, I’m not sure if it’s the new honeymoon vacation spot for backpacking couples but when I was there, couples seemed to outnumber soloists and those traveling with friends.