5 Tips for Avoiding Minor Annoyances in Vietnam
I had decided to travel to Vietnam for three weeks for my first official solo trip. I read many travel blogs and books to prepare myself. I couldn’t wait to taste the local food and eat oodles of pho, meet the beautiful local people to learn more about the country’s history, and gaze at the breathtaking landscapes.
But, I also stumbled upon some blogs that almost put me into pure panic mode about carelessly crazy road-raged bus drivers, the far too common occurrence of stolen passports and wallets, and the haunting risk of food poisoning. I tend rile myself up about nothing and anything; so I decided to not do that to myself anymore. I was going to go with the flow and deal with any bad luck as it came, and not to expect it.
Here are some inconveniences you might face while in Vietnam and tips for how to deal with them.
1. Avoiding hidden charges
Being charged a higher price for something simply because of how you look and where you come from can get really annoying, but that’s the reality and it’s best just to accept that it will probably happen.
For example, a typical bowl of pho (noodle soup) costs 20,000 dong (roughly $1). This particular noodle shop in Ho Chi Minh City charged me 40,000 dong. As I paid, I saw local Vietnamese paying 20,000 dong. Any attempts to ask why were lost in translation, so I just took it as a loss, and an annoyance.
To avoid this, though, it’s best to try to learn numbers in Vietnamese and always ask, “How much?” even if it’s for something as simple as soup. Also, try to download a free Vietnamese app for common phrases. If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of bargaining or speaking Vietnamese, stick to restaurants and shops that have listed prices. I would also recommend asking your hotel what the going price is for something you want. If a vendor or salesperson quotes you a much higher price, try to bargain or just walk away. Chances are, they will follow you and lower the price.
Also, common hidden charges are the “extras” on the table at a restaurant. Wet wipes, water, and ice all have a price. Unless you want to pay for them, don’t use them. So, always ask the price first to avoid any confusions or confrontations.
2. Dealing with all the stares
In bigger cities, such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, as well other backpacker hot spots, stares from locals is far less common. But, when you start to venture off to small street food stalls and the less traveled cities, you’re likely to get a few stares.
Throughout Vietnam, but especially in the small mountainous countryside of Dalat, I was stared at quite a bit. The most memorable occasion was by a group of middle school boys. I felt both flattered and uncomfortable. They all took turns taking pictures with me with thumbs up while saying, “Oyyy!” and then giggled and compared pictures as I walked away. It was charmingly sweet, but after awhile I started to feel like an alien.
Also, just traveling in Vietnam alone as a woman might garner a few extra glares.
If it’s an innocent stare, I thought it was best to smile back and say hello or take to a photo with the people staring! Most likely, they’re just curious about you because they may not encounter many foreigners—especially solo women travelers. However, if it feels more like an aggressive ogle, just ignore it, pretend to be interested in something else, and keep walking.
Confronting someone or losing your cool in public in Southeast Asia is a big cultural no-no, as the idea of “losing face” lowers someone’s honor and reputation in the eyes of their friends and families, which is hard to gain back. Even if you don’t agree with this, it’s still not worth the risk to have a heated reaction in public.
When it comes down to stares: embrace it or avoid it.
3. Dressing conservatively
Even though it’s hot, this is still an important rule to follow. I found it very useful to carry a basic black pashmina in my bag to cover up more when necessary.
4. Adding a few extra hours to travel time
Expect transportation to be late, whether a bus or a train. However, I would still recommend being on time, because it’s Vietnam and you just never know if your mode of transit may actually come early.
Also, try to tack on an extra hour or two to your travel time to account for any traffic, unplanned stops, or inclement weather.
If you’re on a budget, buses are your best bet, but you should schedule a proper amount of time to get from point A to point B. A lot of people I met along the way opted for flights because they’re typically on time and much faster.
Be aware that the “sleeper” style buses and trains are not all that sleep-friendly as they aren’t the most comfortable, clean, or quiet. Another way my pashmina came in handy was by using it as a makeshift blanket, pillow, or earmuffs during these long journeys.
5. Staying safe from scamming drivers
If you do travel by bus throughout the country, most cities provide a free shuttle transfer from the bus station to your hotel. Don’t be scammed by taxi drivers at the bus stations when the ride could be free. Confirm with your hotel to make sure this is something that is still offered.
“It’s all about the journey,” I’ve been reminded. And it’s true. In the grand scheme of things, the little troubles and hassles that create annoying inconveniences can later make for some pretty funny or helpful stories. While in Vietnam, I experienced quite a few firsts, like shooting a rifle, holding a cobra, and eating goat meat wrapped in a leaf shaped like a heart. Don’t let the little things put you out too much and enjoy yourself. Maybe even hold a cobra, too.
Traveling to Vietnam: 5 Tips for Avoiding Minor Annoyances top photo by Unsplash.