Vietnam travel tips (learnt the hard way) – part 1

A Vietnamese flag in Halong BayAs I round out my tour of duty in Vietnam and prepare to travel into Laos, now seems like the perfect time to reflect on a fun but extremely chaotic three weeks in the land of the dragon people (not an insult – just a colourful nickname).

During the last three weeks in this wonderful country I’ve lived life on the edge in chaotic Saigon, travelled by Vietnamese sleeper bus, visited Uncle Ho and had many other weird and wonderful adventures that will be featured here on Man vs World in the coming weeks and months.

My girlfriend and I screaming in Dalat, Vietnam
I bet you want to know the story behind this photograph.

But it hasn’t always been easy. As is my curse in life as well as backpacking, I’ve often had to learn things the hard way.

I’ve been ripped off in Vietnam probably more times than I even know about, I’ve eaten poorly almost as regularly as I’ve eaten well and I’ve stayed in budget accommodation that was far from great. And when I wasn’t making these mistakes myself, I was learning about them from other travellers.

So, without further ado, here’s the first part of a huge collection of canny budget travel tips for travelling in Vietnam:

Vietnam transport travel tips

A boat on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

  •  Always catch metered taxis and make sure the driver uses it. Preferably have this conversation with the driver before you get in the car.
  • Taxi drivers are more reluctant to use the meter if they pick you up at the airport, bus or train station because they’re more likely to get an easy pay-day from unsuspecting travellers.
  • If a taxi does not have a meter negotiate the fee before you get in the car. You’ll often be able to save half the fare or more with a bit of negotiating. Otherwise the driver will charge whatever the hell he likes.

A golden buddha in Dalat, Vietnam.

  • Try to use trusted taxi companies. Mai Linh (the green cabs) never put me wrong, with some of the company’s drivers even starting the meter before I had to tell them.
  • Try to have correct change, but if you don’t have enough smaller notes be sure to demand your change back or don’t get out of the taxi until you get it.
  • Negotiate before getting on a cyclo and if you’re travelling as a group make sure that the agreed price is the total and not the price per person. Also check if it’s one way or return.
  • Taxis will try to take you to hotels that pay them a commission so it’s worth pretending to have a hotel booking even if you do not.
  • Book overnight train journeys on the Reunification Express more than a day ahead. That’s why I ended up catching two sleeper buses.

Vietnam food travel tips

Me eating a plate of local wontons in Hoi An, Vietnam.

  • Sometimes street sellers won’t sell individual pieces of fruit because it’s not worth their trouble to do so – particularly with bananas. However, sometimes it works well to give them a 10,000 VND and ask how much fruit you will get for that price.
  • Eat where everyone else is and always ask the price first to avoid being charged at inflated “tourist” prices afterwards.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to negotiate with street sellers over the price of water. We bought a small bottle of water for 10,000 VND while the people immediately after us paid 15,000 VND for the same bottle (not the exact same one, mind – now that would be a shameless con).

Me and hundreds of kite surfers in Mui Ne, Vietnam

  • Lonely Planet recommendations are great but prices will most likely be higher than specified in the guide book. The recommendation means so much to a business in Vietnam that the restaurant will literally put it on the sign outside and bump the prices up. Meanwhile, some restaurants will blatantly lie about being recommended in the popular travel guidebook.
  • Check the address. Lots of restaurants, cafes, bars and other types of business will blatantly steal another’s name to trade off its reputation. The same goes with tour operators.
  • Local beer is delicious and cheap (if in doubt just buy local).

So there you have it, the first part of my Vietnam travel tips extravaganza. Now be sure to check out Vietnam travel tips (learnt the hard way) – part 2.

About Simon Petersen 504 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.


    • Well good luck! Hopefully you’ll only be ripped off $1 here or there before you learn; sometimes it just has to be done so you’ll know for next time.

  1. Argh in Saigon last month learnt the hard way that some will happily turn on the meters, and then it goes up a whole lot faster than the usual meters! Ended up being $10 nzd for a 5 min taxi ride. Mai Linh was definitely the best!

    • Hey Miranda. Now that you mention it, a similar thing happened to me in Hanoi when I arrived by sleeper bus. It was a particularly expensive ride from the bus station into town but I couldn’t tell if I was being ripped off or not. I was far from my brightest that morning, I tell ya.

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Vietnam travel tips (learnt the hard way) - part 2 | Man vs World
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