Vietnam Travel Tips

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Asia » Vietnam
December 21st 2008
Published: December 25th 2008
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Hope this helps if you are planning a trip here.

When the vendors want your attention, it is rarely...hello, how are you today? but come in my shop, you buy something from me. Eventually it wears away the happy tourist veneer that we have and we get very frustrated and annoyed. Even in the middle of a conversation in a restaurant, a woman will approach want cigarettes, postcards, gum, silk paintings, whistle, sunglasses, bread rolls, donuts, pastries, beads?... anything that is classed as totally useless to carry around while travelling and then you get home and think "why did I buy this crap?" and then think..."I'll give that to someone as a gift, probably Sue in accounts, maybe she'll lighten up when I want something next time." There is no getting away from the walking vendors, except perhaps learn to put on your best stern 'don't mess with me' face. Just remember though, that this is their livelihood and it is best to have patience.

There are 2 standards. One for the Viet and one for the tourist (irrespective of nationality). Prices are triple (at least) that of the price for the locals. We see this with the price of the bread roll in the street to hiring motorbikes or cyclos or even entry into historical sites and cost of tours. There are no regulatory boards that enforce equal trade among all suppliers. It's every man for himself. In fact, there was a law which was abolished about 5 years ago that tourists should be charged double that of the local. It seems that nobody wants to stop this practice. We have learned enough to be able to haggle the price down and using the little Vietnamese we know helps. Some tips to consider using. Start the haggle at approx. 60 percent of original asking price (that is of course that the original price is reasonable), walk away if they won't budge or you know they are ripping you off, make sure you have the exact amount in your wallet, when the bartering is getting closer pull out the exact amount you want to pay. When they see the money and if they have a chance to touch a corner of a note, you know you have won the bid. Happy days!

Buses, taxis, motorcyclists and cyclo drivers are all on commission in some form or another. If you are taken to a hotel and you like the room, the driver will get his cut or a free meal. Don't always accept the first hotel as there are hundreds in each city that are all clammering for your dollar. The haggling continues here. Some things to check when deciding on a room. Other than the usual bed check of clean linen etc, check that there is hot water and if the power is on all day. Check that the air con works, the TV works and actually has cable because the 3 vietnamese channels show only soapies. Are breakfast and internet included as well? Breakfast is always bread roll with egg or butter and jam. This can be purchased from a street vendor for around 10000vnd. Also the number of nights will determine how far you can negotiate. Oh, and also find out when they open the front doors in the morning. A couple of times I wanted to get out early and watch the world wake up with the sun and found myself banging on the rolladoor where everyone else in the hotel woke up except the man with the key.

Another thing about hotels... sometimes they will tell you that the only room they have available is, surprise surprise, the most expensive. It is very rare to find a hotel that is totally booked. We called the bluff at a large hotel in Dien Bien Phu on a supposed one room left at $25 and had the girl running after us down the street to try to get us to come back. We found a guest house across the road for $10 per night. Much nicer and friendlier family business.

And another thing about will be spending far more money if you plan your accommodation before you arrive. Be flexible and you will be able to travel throughout Vietnam for far less than what a package trip will cost. You will also get more of a cultural understanding of the people if you do it yourself.


The Vietnamese world takes 2 hours off from 11.30 to 1.30 each day for lunch (the main meal of the day) and to take a nanny nap. Life starts up at frantic pace again around 2pm. Don't expect to find a bank open during these times.

Shop around for guided tours and their pricing. AST Travel Operators in the north do not give you want they promise. 2 trips with them and 2 flops. They were the Perfume Pagoda and Halong Bay.

The street stalls for all meals have some of the best food you'll find and the cheapest.

Did I mention that everything is negotiable? 😱

Always do your research. Information from one person may not be correct, so ask the same question to others. Talk to other travellers to get the 'better' truth about destinations, activities and prices.

The Open Bus system is great but some of the beds are short. So for the tall people reading this, the best ones are at the back and to the left. You can try to trade beds with the locals who sleep in the aisles as this can be a better night sleep if your nickname happens to be 'Lurch'.

To walk across a street. Keep an eye on the traffic and walk steadily and slowly straight across. Cars have more right of way so wait until they pass. The bikes will judge your movement and swerve around you. Don't stop, hesitate or make unexpected changes in direction. This will always end badly.

Learn the basic words of hello, goodbye, please, thank you, numbers. It has been a shock to find that when we speak some words the reaction is always of surprise. The waiters or shop owners rarely hear their language spoken by tourists. And when they do it is of great amusement for everyone in the shop or restaurant. It is obvious that because the Viets know some English, most tourists don't bother to learn or use any local language in return. You will have more fun with the locals if you show an attempt to learn.

Always carry an umbrella and a cheap raincoat. Raincoats can cost about 10000vnd. Also pack good earplugs for the endless honking from the open bus you will travel on. You'll need your sleep.

Be helpful and prepared to spend a little time with the students that approach you wanting to practice their english.

Merry Christmas everyone and thank you for reading our blogs. We are currently spending time with family in Brunei and will be visiting some areas around Malaysia/Borneo over the next week or so.

Happy journeys! and Happy New Year.


26th December 2008

Great tips!
Wow, this is one of the best tips for visiting Vietnam so far. The goods and the bads are clearly defined with no bias. Only one minor thing about princes seems to be misunderstood. Prices for STRANGERS (not only tourists, but also for locals look new to the place) are double, triple. But good thing is, as you mentioned, everything is negotiable (I would initially lower down to 30-40%, rather than 60%, with smiles and some basic Vietnamese words). I believe your tips will be very helpful for coming tourists. Thank you very much.

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