So… I booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh from Taiwan because it was cheaper to go through Vietnam and then back to Spain than it was to fly from Taiwan to Spain. However, it was not a backpacking adventure in South East Asia, it was a stop by destination for me. Bear in mind that I was carrying a carry-on suitcase with wheels and a small back-pack for my laptop and few more things. My clothes were for city-life in Taiwan and the weather was similar(ish). Spoiler alert: I was NOT ready or prepared.
If you are planning to visit Vietnam, here’s a list of things I wish I knew before I set foot in Vietnam:
- Money: VND (Vietnamese New Dollar). ATMs charge a high commission, so I would suggest to take out what you are going to spend in one go so that you are not charged twice. In some hostels and touristic places you can pay by card, but cash is the most common practice (local markets, restaurants, museums).
- Traffic: There are motorbikes EVERYWHERE. Beeping, screaming, speeding, stopping, people sleeping on them on one side of the road… There are traffic lights, which cars generally respect, but not motorbikes. So, I personally waited to cross the street until a local Vietnamese person was standing next to me. I did not feel safe to cross by myself until after 5 times. You need to start walking really sure of yourself, don’t make eye contact with anyone, and never go back. I was told this by another traveller and it kindda worked.
- Pavement: Vietnam was literally at war 50 years ago, so even though it is open now, you will see broken pavement and buildings often. On top of this, there is no walkable pavement. Well, yes, but full with people selling fruits, vegetables, food trucks, motorbikes, badly parked cars… My little stop by Vietnam just went to level 10000000000…
- Luggage vs Backpack: Vietnam is a city made for backpackers. Between the traffic and the streets, wheeled luggage was the WRONG choice. Unless you are going to a resort where you don’t leave the place, be smarter than I was and take a backpack.
- Shopping: Clothes are really cheap in Vietnam and there are plenty of stands and markets where you can buy stuff. However, you have to bargain with them. When they see a foreigner, they immediately assume that you will have a lot of money, so they will ask for a very high price. I didn’t buy anything, so I don’t know how low you can go, but it is a matter of trying.
- Weather: Depends on where you go, you will need more or less warm clothes. Ho Chi Minh was 30ºC and Hanoi was 20ºC in March, 2019.
- Exploring: I wouldn’t recommend the cities, but the country side is breath taking. I went to Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Halong Bay. The highlight of my trip was Halong Bay. If you have the chance, I heard amazing things about Sappa.
- Culture: I read several articles on Vietnamese culture and etiquette and it helped understanding where they came from in all sorts of situations. For instance, I learned that they take very seriously when they host someone, so in hostels and hotels they will treat you really well. If you have an issue, they will smile and nod, even if they don’t agree, which can be frustrating if you are angry. But they generally aren’t confrontational and find it embarrassing to have an argument in public. I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to list all the cultural differences, so feel free to ask Google.