Everyone dreams of a “once in a lifetime holiday”, though in truth, many take several of these in their lifetimes, and even annually. This post isn’t for the newbie or veteran holiday makers so much, but for those who haven’t been to Vietnam yet. I have to begin with a caveat, everyone travels differently, and so the following account is based on my own personal experiences. Without further preamble, here are 5 Things about going to Vietnam.
1. Getting there is easy.
It really is. Do I need to say anything more on this? Ok, so for me to fly from Nagoya Japan to Saigon was double the price than going to South Korea or Taiwan, but I’ve already done those countries. For most people, you need to apply for a visa in advance at the Vietnamese embassy long before you fly. For certain countries who were not involved against Vietnam’s struggle for independence (including the Vietnam war), they can just arrive in Saigon and Hanoi and get a landing visa. Japanese citizens can get a landing visa, but I had to post my passport to the consulate in Tokyo a couple of months before I flew. Like many flights to and from Nagoya in the off-peak time, the flight was empty. The photo below shows that in a row of six seats,
five three were empty.
2. Plan your trip.
Don’t do what I did, and just have a vague idea to go to a scuba diving company, and then make up the rest as you go. For me, the flight from Nagoya Japan to Saigon was too short for me to work out other things I could have done whilst I was there. I kind of missed out, but still filled my time and leisurely way. No regrets.
3. No real language barrier
Compared to Japan, I think travelling in Vietnam is perhaps easier. I’ve heard lots, and lots of stories of how travellers to Japan ask for directions, but the train station staff reply in Japanese believing the traveller will understand him. In contrast, the waitresses, some taxi drivers, have better English than some Japanese-English teachers. The hotel staff learn French and English, and are very good at English (I’ve not tested their French). So, for first timers, I think Vietnam is a better welcome to Asia than Japan.
4. There are lots of things to do
This is where you realise that you don’t have enough time for the itinerary you want to have. Hoi An has the lanterns (wish I knew about that), Hanoi is a backpacker magnet for it’s rustic charm and refusal to be dragged into capitalism. Nha Tang turns out to have a seedy reputation, but the diving is good, especially for my limited level of experience.
5. Watch out!
On my first day there, the concierge at the hotel said, “don’t go walking along the beach front after midnight”. Sensible advice, I thought. On my second day, a pair of German girls told me how another German girl had her bag snatched in Saigon, as she was walking along the street by a guy on a scooter. She lost her passport, credit cards, and smart phone. On day three, a pair of English girls said that a Canadian girl also had her bag snatched also by a guy on a scooter, and she lost her passport and credit cards. On day four, a German guy at the Nha Trang airport wouldn’t tell me why, but he was getting out of the country post haste. On day five, as I was walking along the street I heard a guy saying to probably a Vietnamese lady “they took my camera, they took my money, they took my…”. On day six, in my hotel room I discovered my toothbrush was missing! (True story). I stayed in my hotel room all morning peering out the window. The point is, leave your credit cards, passport, surplus money, and other key valuables in your hotel room safe. Oh, and choose a hotel that explicitly states that each room has a safe. When you’re out walking, keep the strap of your shoulder bag over your opposite shoulder, and keep the bag in front of you. With a backpack, have one strap over one shoulder, and also have it in front of you, too. Don’t wear anything that might suggest you’ve got money (no jewellery or Louis Vuitton labels), and only carry enough money for what you need for your morning or afternoon adventure. I’ve heard of people using dummy wallets in their back pockets as a means to protect a little money pouch in the front. It seems bag snatchers work in pairs on a single scooter. The rider comes in slow and close to the nearest person to the road, and the other guy whisks the bag off of shoulder of the victim.
Probably mum, son, granddad, youngest son.
Bonus. The people are friendly
They are. They will help you and the English speaking ones are normally very happy to talk to you. Just ask them questions and learn about their life and country from their perspective. I’ve seen lots of travellers ask about things, and then answer their own questions (and merely reiterating stereotypes), but not letting the local talk. Ask your question, wait (they might need time to process your language), and then they’ll start talking, perhaps tentatively at first. But ask more questions about their responses. They’ll warm to you.