A Survival guide to Vietnam – Travel advice for first timers
As you know by now Hotels Fairy is a UK hotel comparison website. However, we do like to go beyond the hotel price comparison aspect and offer unbiased local travel advise and tips. Recently one of our fairies spent a month exploring Vietnam in the South East Asia! So here is a unique survival guide to Vietnam by Hotels-Fairy.com
Vietnam is a country that has gone through multiple of wars in the last century and as result the local economy has been devastated. However, Vietnam tries to develop itself and to move forward. And it does that, in a very fast pace.
You can see the optimism on the faces of the people on the streets, huge buildings under construction, thousands of tourists visiting every corner of the country and new roads being opened every day (there is still a lot of work on the last one).
Vietnam offers a variety of experiences to any kind of traveller visiting the country. From amazing forests, rivers, caves and wild animals to a wonderful cuisine able to satisfy even the most demanding guests!
But as always the dream of a perfect adventure or easy going vacations can easily be turned into a hell’s trip if the traveller hasn’t made the correct preparations or doesn’t follow some simple rules.
The first and the most important advice for any travellers is to check that their travel and medical insurance covers them for a trip to Vietnam or if they don’t have one, to purchase one before their trip.
Be sure to check all the small print in the contract (for example some policies don’t cover accidents occurred by motorbikes) and that the policy that is purchased is the correct one for their individual needs.
Most public hospitals (which in some areas are not that easily accessible) offer basic or inadequate health services and the private clinics are quite expensive even for western standards.
Stay healthy in Vietnam
Make sure you have packed a small medical kit with all the medicines you might need since some medicines may not be available in the Vietnamese pharmacies.
Also make sure you are aware of any allergies that you might have, Ensure that you have the correct medication for them and that you are 100 per cent certain, that you know exactly what you are eating if you are allergic to any food ingredients.
If that’s not possible due to communication issues with the local food vendors choose to eat something simple, so you can be sure that you would not fall ill afterwards. A good doctor or a decent hospital may be hours and hours away from you.
Transportation Guide to Vietnam
Unfortunately dozens and dozens of travellers I have met during my stay in Vietnam had many parts of their bodies covered with ‘Vietnamese Medals’ which is nothing else than bruises, scars and signs of motorbike accidents.
The roads of Vietnam and the way of driving have nothing to do with what you are used to, no matter where you live. The roads are very narrow, there are no lines, and the only law that exists, is the law of the jungle: only the strongest survives.
Big trucks will overtake other trucks and vehicles on the small narrow roads leaving you only centimeters to drive or sometimes you even have to drive on the side of the road in the gravel to avoid an accident.
If you are intended to use a motorbike (and you would most definitely will) make sure you pay some more money to hire a decent motorbike, and a good helmet. Also make sure you drive very carefully and on the right side of the road.
No matter how strange it sounds use the horn a lot. A LOT!
Every time a persons try to cross the road in front of you, every time you want to overtake a car or a bicycle, every time you haven’t got a good sight of a turn or any time you feel it needs to.
The locals do it a lot and very quickly you will understand that it is a necessity. Never underestimate what a careless second of driving in Vietnam can cause, not only to your trip but your life as well.
Another option if you are a new motorcycle driver is to use the Easy-Riders. Easy Riders are experienced drivers that will drive you safely to any touristic sight you want for a small fee.
Make sure they are suggested by other travellers or your hotel’s reception. Every city has its own Easy riders club and you should better contact them online when you organising your trip.
While in the big cities, try to move around with taxis that belong to reputable companies. If you are in a rush and you can’t wait make sure you arrange the price from the beginning if a taximeter is not present.
My advice in general is to better wait for a reputable company’s taxi to arrive.
Also be aware of the trick that many local taxi drivers do by asking at the beginning of the ride fifteen but in the end asking for fifty. Use your fingers or better write down the price you agree to pay on a paper.
It might seem funny but crossing streets in big cities of Vietnam can be much more challenging than what you might think.
Dozens of non-stop motorbikes and cars cross the street continuously leaving you wondering how you will be able to pass on the other side of the road. The best way at the beginning is to just follow the locals.
Day after day you will be more used to their ways. Just make sure you have a steady walk and you are not making big directional changes that will confuse the drivers.
Cross the street slowly and constantly looking both sides (there are no one way streets for Vietnamese drivers) and you will see that all the traffic will move around you.
Cash handling in Vietnam
Before setting off for Vietnam make sure you contact your bank to let them know about your trip, in order to be able to withdraw cash from ATMs abroad without any issues.
Quite often banks flag unusual credit card transactions as suspicious, if they originate in a country away from the cardholder’s residency.
It is also a good idea to have an alternate way of withdrawing and receiving cash, just in case you lose your credit cards. Like Western Union, PayPal, Traveller Cheques, etc.
On your arrival buy a local company SIM card for your mobile phone. It will save you a lot of money and you will be able to access useful apps (such as Google maps, Facebook, Hotels-Fairy.com or Maps Me) any time you want.
Shopping in Vietnam
Vietnam has amazing souvenirs to offer. Spices, statues, plates, paintings, hats, clothes, bags, anything you can possibly imagine.
Unfortunately though most of the sellers believe that since you are a tourist you can afford to pay many more times the value of anything you wish to buy.
Always follow the rule of ‘three bargains’ and never hurry too much to buy anything. Ninety percent of the time you will find the same things on sale the minute or day after.
The three bargains rule means that when you want to buy something always bargain at least three times in different shops and in different areas. This way the last time you will bargain you will definitely know which is the least price you can pay.
Be warned though! If you spend too much time bargaining with a single seller and make him bring his price really down and you don’t buy he will get furious.
No matter how hard you will bargain you will always pay much more than the locals but Vietnam is so cheap that you don’t need to worry about spending some extra cents.
At the end of the day it is part of the experience and good karma points since you help poor people earn a living. That’s why some travellers try to use Homestay (staying with local people instead of a hotel) or buy souvenirs from small shops and not the big well-known brand shops.
Health and Safety in Vietnam
Pick pocketing in Vietnam is not a common thing but unfortunately not an unknown activity as well. I speak from my own experience since I had my cellphone stolen in Dalat which made me really sad and my trip much more difficult.
So make sure you always have your trip money in a different (and safer) place from the place you keep your daily cash to spend. A money belt is also a very good idea, try not to leave your stuff unattended or your bags with open zippers.
Bring one or two padlocks from home to use them if you need to. If you are at a beach and want to swim always leave someone to watch your stuff, or ask two different groups of people to watch them for you.
Since the tourism industry has risen very fast, many companies with low or even nonexistent health and safety standards operate in the country.
If you choose to go for cannoning, or trekking in the jungle or to do any activity that requires technical equipment and instructors or guides don’t try to save a couple of dollars by choosing an unknown or the cheapest company.
Spend a couple dollars more and have fun in a safe way. Recently there have been quite a few fatal accidents involving tourists going to excursions with unauthorised travel guides.
During your travelling in Vietnam you will find many more things you need to be aware and careful, so don’t just rest with only these advises. But if you follow all of the above you will definitely be on a good start.
Vietnam is an amazing country. Be smart, cautious and have the best time of your life!
About the author
Spyros Skouris the author of the article “A Survival guide to Vietnam – Travel advice for first timers” can help you arrange your dream vacations on your visit to Athens in Greece.
He also owns an apartment in Athens which is available to rent on Airbnb.