Vietnam travel tips (learnt the hard way) – part 2

The ending of a water-puppet show in Hanoi, Vietnam.Welcome to the second part of my Vietnam travel tips extravaganza, where I will share with you, the lovely people who read this travel blog, a collection of useful Vietnam travel tips learnt the hard way.

But please, whatever you do, don’t think for a second that I didn’t enjoy my time in Vietnam. I loved it. Something of a backpacker’s paradise, Vietnam is rich in culture, history and natural beauty. And it’s affordable – even if you do have to watch out for being ripped off a couple of dollars here or there.

If you missed it, don’t forget to check out Vietnam travel tips (learnt the hard way) – part 1.

Vietnam travel tips for booking tours and excursions

A view of Halong Bay, Vietnam.

  • Question everything. Sometimes dodgy tour guides try their luck and charge extra hidden fees. For example, on a tour of Halong Bay our guide tried to charge someone an additional “protection fee” which was quite clearly bull crap (pardon my French).
  • Meanwhile, you may not get a refund from a tour guide if you change your mind later on. For example, the same guide refused to refund someone who paid for an extra excursion and then tried to cancel only an hour or so later.
  • Always shop around. Tour prices can vary drastically from one place to another, as can train and bus tickets. As an example, I paid $60 for a two-night Ha Long Bay tour (the subject of a future blog post) while others on the same boat paid $10 more for one less night.

Tips for finding good budget accommodation in Vietnam

My guesthouse in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

  • Booking online is not a bad idea when you’re starting out but later you should use the internet only as a guide and then shop around for a good deal. Some perfectly decent hotels, guesthouses and hostels don’t have websites.
  • Negotiate. Many hoteliers will treat you like a complete idiot – don’t prove them right. In Hanoi, for example, I was quoted as much as $30 per night in some guesthouses, with the price quickly dropping to as low as $15 as I walked away.
  • You might be able to save as much as $3 per night by skipping breakfast. It may be the most important meal of the day but you can do better than a crusty bread roll with jam – pho or pancakes anyone?

A gold statue at a temple in Dalat, Vietnam

  • Check that you can access Wifi in your room and not just in the lobby. You’ll be surprised how often this is the case.
  • If booking accommodation online for the night after a journey by sleeper bus make sure you can drop your bags off at the hotel in the morning. The last thing you want to be doing is carrying your bags around all day when you already feel like the walking dead.
  • Most hotels are same same but different. However, good showers are few and far between. It might be worth checking the bathroom.

Random Vietnam travel tips

The view across the river in Hoi An, Vietnam

  • Facebook is banned in Vietnam but there are ways around it. Just ask Google (or send me an email).
  • Vietnam is generally a very warm and friendly country and most people speak a little bit of English. You can and should ask for directions if you’re lost. Most were only too happy to help.
  • You can always check out after one night and find somewhere else. Just because someone gets a commission for taking you to a specific hotel or restaurant doesn’t mean that they’re not good. Sometimes it really is just easier to go with the flow – after a sleeper bus, say, or in torrential rain.
  • Get laundry done more than one day before you leave. Even if you think you’re clever negotiating an earlier time to collect it, the washing will be done when it’s done. I almost missed a bus because my washing was late.

The beach in Nha Trang, Vietnam

  • Nothing is free. Shoe cleaners, for example, will fix your shoes at an additional cost that they won’t tell you about until afterwards.
  • Strange one, this, but I was reliably informed by a Vietnamese person that dirty shoes means you’re more likely to be left alone because you’ve obviously spent time in the country and will know all the tricks. Clean shoes mean you’ve just come from the airport.
  • Learn the Vietnamese words for “no”, “too expensive” and “I’d rather walk”. To be honest, I still don’t know these words but it would have been useful.

The sunset over Halong Bay, Vietnam

  • English-language books are not hard to find; in fact, they find you most of the time. Street sellers carry heavy loads of books so you won’t need to fill up your suitcase before you go to Vietnam.
  • Just say “no”. Give someone an inch and they’ll literally take a mile. Be firm but friendly. I had one hotelier follow me all around Hanoi because I was too nice to just say that I didn’t like his hotel.

So now you know – and knowing is half the battle. Hopefully these Vietnam travel tips will make your life just a little bit easier.

Feel free to share any travel tips I might have missed in the comments section below and please contact me if you’ve got any questions.

 

About Simon Petersen 313 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

8 Comments

  1. Hi 🙂

    I am so glad I found your website! My bf & I, we are planning a trip to Thailand & Vietnam, and your website was the most helpful and interesting of all 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Simon
    I wish I had known about your blog before going to Vietnam. Very useful for first time travellers. I’d like to add a couple of experiences that people should be aware of:
    1. Hanoi – Cyclos wouldn’t take us back to where we had picked them up and demanded more money, saying they had children etc etc. We had negotiated a return price for each cyclo before getting in too. We had no clue where we were so had to pay the extra but it left a nasty taste and we didn’t take cyclos again.
    2. Hanoi – taxi driver took us back to hotel from a restaurant at night and gave us fake notes as change – difficult to check when its dark and you’re not familiar with the currency.
    3. Hanoi- take care when taking and Electric Green Car Tour. We did this once without a hitch and enjoyed it. On taking it again we gave the driver the money but he didn’t give us change. We kept telling him we needed change and someone from the company came up before we set off and we explained. There was a heated exchange and our change was produced. Our driver was then very grumpy for the whole tour and didn’t shout out the different places as we stopped at them.
    3. Hanoi – a restaurant short changed us but quickly gave us the note when challenged.
    4. Da Nang to Hoi An – picked up taxi from airport to go to Hoi An but driver stopped to pick up a girl along the way. She spoke excellent English and it transpired that she worked at a tailor’s and she proceeded to try and get us to visit the shop the next day. Obviously an arranged pick up. Needless to say we didn’t visit the shop.

    I did enjoy Vietnam despite the one or two little scams and it shouldn’t put people off just make them more aware. Try the Indochine hotel in Hoi An, short walk from fab beach and has a free bus to town, pool quiet in August. Laos, on the other hand, proved more relaxed with no scams and lovely people, Luang Prabang is the best.

    • Wow, sounds to me like taking a cyclo just isn’t worth the hassle! Seems like they have a very bad reputation for a reason, and travellers can get scammed even if they do everything right and negotiate a price before they catch one. Transport in Vietnam can be such a mission sometimes. It’s a shame because it’s such a brilliant country to visit! Thanks heaps for the travel tips.

  3. Hi Simon. Harvesting is finished, lambs and calves have gone to market……what now?. I know- BACK TO VIETNAM !!. Have decided to catch up with mates in HCMC, then to Vung Tau for a couple of days R & R, back to HCMC to fly to Con Dao for some diving for 6 days, then on to Phan Thiet, for more R & R, Toy Hoa, and beyond. I have never been to Con Dao so will post a comprehensive report on my return to Oz. I have read and heard conflicting reports on the place.
    Be kind, Be safe. Hippy Mike

  4. Great tips there, mate. I’m off again to Vietnam next month for trip # 3. A couple of tips I have learnt (not the hard way, but from very friendly locals).
    1) Never carry your wallet around with you. If it gets stolen, you have lost all your cards, drivers license, Medicare card, photo’s etc. Buy a cheap one (10,000 dong) and only carry what you need in it. I usually plan my day as to what I will spend. I also keep a 500,000 dong note in my sock so I have a back-up.
    2) Always get a business card from the hotel you are staying at- very handy in getting a taxi back. (I prefer to walk around then taxi back).
    3) When changing currency ALWAYS count out in front of the moneychanger- they are masters at ‘sleight-of-hand’and will gladly count out 100,000 dong short and you WON’T pick it !!
    4) Always carry bags, camera etc around your neck, not over a shoulder and watch out for very friendly (and cute) kids. They work in gangs and will pick you clean without you even knowing (especially in crowded markets etc).
    5) I bought a small, cheap Vietnamese phase book for 20,000 dong ($1) and it is invaluable. You don’t have to speak Vietnamese, just show the written Vietnamese equvilent to what you want to know ! So easy.

    All in all, Vietnam is a beautiful country full of beautiful people.

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