10 Vietnam Travel Tips

1. Learn How to Ride a Motorcycle

Vietnam has very poor public transportation in major cities, but outside of the major cities catching a grab or taxi can be difficult and expensive. On my solo trip, I found getting places without signing up for a tour challenging. Then, adding in heat and humidity made it rough to go places on foot. 

If you are not into taking tours, rent a motorbike for solo travelers who like to explore at their own pace. Although some places advertise that they will teach you how to ride a bike, most take less than an hour if that is with you, so it is best to take some lessons in your home country first. 

2. Book Travel and Tours Through Homestays or Travel Agents

If number one is not your cup of tea, then make sure you book as many tours as possible through your hostel or homestay. Not only will you meet people, but you’ll be able to see way more than you could on your own without a bike in one day. Make sure you clarify what is or is not included on the trip. Sometimes the entrance fees are not included, and you are just paying for the transportation and a guide. 

On top of booking tours, book all your long-distance transportation through your hostel/homestay. The train stations do not stop in every city, and bus companies are/seem to be individually owned. Often, bus stops are alongside the road on the opposite side of town from the tourist area with no onsight ticketing booth to be seen. I prefer to book travel through my home stays or a travel agent because they book your ticket and provide transportation to the bus stop. The lack of hassle and peace of mind that everything is taken care of is well worth the price.

For people staying in Hotels or if a particular tour/place is not offered by your hostel, there are many travel agents throughout the major cities and tourist destinations in Vietnam. I know we all fear being scammed or taken advantage of but where you’re staying can recommend a reputable one. I wish I had done this when I booked my Ha Long Bay Tour. I would have been better prepared for my tour because I could have asked questions and gotten a better deal. Not that I regretted my time, but in retrospect, going to a travel agent in person would have been better.

3. You Need at Least a Month to Do the Whole Country

Vietnam is huge; you can spend a month in Hanoi and the north alone. I think it’s true for most counties you travel to because seeing things on a map can be misleading. Plus, as you travel, you always find 100 more things to add to your list, and Vietnam is no different. If you have a short time, stick to one area of the country or split your time with 2 weeks in the top half and 2 weeks in the south. Also, always leave a few days free to take advantage of places you discover and trips you hear about once you are there.

4. Download Grab 

Grab is the Uber of Vietnam. This app does everything from food to taxi services. The taxis always show you a price or price range, and riding via a motorcycle is always cheaper. Outside of major cities, Grab’s taxi service is limited or non-existent, and they are banned at many airports. If you get stuck someplace without a Grab, ask someone to call you a taxi; they will (or contact a friend/family member). Just be sure to discuss the price ahead of time. I usually use the grab price as my negotiation base.

5. Air Conditioning is Optional

Many restaurants and even some hotels do not have to air-condition. Even at places that do often, they have time restrictions on their use. Make sure you read the details in your bookings about air. Nothing is more disappointing than laying down for an afternoon nap to find the air does not get turned on till after 5p.

6. Negotiate Payment

Most prices are negotiable in Vietnam, even in places with price tags. However, if you sit at a restaurant or get into a taxi, make sure you negotiate payment first, as they will upcharge you for being a tourist.

7. Just Because People Smile Doesn’t Mean They are Happy or Nice

One of the things you hear a lot while traveling is X are such nice or happy people. This is very missing leading. We often forget everyone has experience traveling based on their race, sexual orientation, nationality, income, and personality. Also, as a traveler spending a short time in a country, you never get to know a country and its people honestly. If you’ve lived in the country for a long time or traveled there on several occasions, you may know more about a people and a country; however, what you see in many places as a foreigner is only what they allow you to see. 

Vietnam is no different. In my experience, its people are happy and very friendly, which makes it easy to forget that in this communist country, it is illegal to say anything against the government. So when you paint the picture of your travel and experiences, be aware that you are only able to see and experience the surface of everyday life there.

8. Embrace Monsoon Season and the Heat

Yes, the summer months are atrociously hot and humid. It never seems to stop raining in monsoon season, which can make for a miserable time traveling. If you can travel outside these time periods, then do it, but for many of us whose vacation time is decided, I have some tips. First, pack umbrellas, ponchos, and sandals to through on at the first sign of rain. Embrace the heat and find a pool, cafe, or nap during the hottest parts of the day. You will have fun no matter what you do in Vietnam; just adjust your travel habits to make the weather work for you.

9. Mask Up!

Triggering much! Although covid mask mandates are over pollution is not. While traveling in Vietnam, most people come down with colds and sinus infections due to a combination of the humid weather and pollution. In major cities, the pollution is terrible, especially while riding a motorcycle. Having a mask on hand on the most polluted days is something even the locals do. Trust me, your nose will thank you

10. You are Going to Get Scammed, and That’s OK

Everyone gets scammed once in Vietnam,whether it’s paying off a police officer because they are giving you trouble on your motorbike or someone is overcharging you for something they underdeliver on, it’s going to happen. 

The scams I experienced included someone fixing my “broken” shoe, cornering me to take a picture, and letting me ”try” food but charging me anyways. I even took a boat tour where at the half way point I had to pay for food and drinks for the person riding the boat and myself but the most unnerving of them all was when a guy acted like he was sent by my tour guide to pick me up because they were too busy. Luckily I caught this one when I was looking at his tour maps, and he drove me back to my hostel to wait for my real guide. I do think he would have given me a similar tour, abit not nearly as good as the one I booked. I’m not sure I can blame the people in these instances for making money, especially if they are just trying to survive. 

To put scam culture in Vietnam in a better perspective, there are two things you need to understand. One, it’s hard for many to make a living wage, especially the elderly who never had access to education. Many people, like any country in the world, who are born poor have difficulty affording education to help them break the cycle. The Second thing is that the government does regulate how much an individual can make. This is why Vietnam’s scam culture is closer to hustle culture. While you will get taken advantage of and often get less than what you thought you were going to when it comes to booking a tour or a ride, at the end of the day, it’s out of need and less trying to make quick money.

I found after the first incident that by switching my mindset, I was to prevent these scams from ruining my day. Take a deep breath. You will get scammed/hustled at least once in Vietnam, and you’re not alone; everyone gets scammed.

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