First trip to Vietnam? Wonderful. Vietnam is a relatively safe country, but it can be rather overwhelming if its your first time, and you’re not familiar with the country. To help you make the most of your travel in Vietnam, here is a list of 5 Tips for First Time Visitors for their Vietnam trip that I think that would help you smoothen the culture shock, especially in big cities like Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi.
#1: Just Cross the Road
Vietnam is only starting to build its first metro line. For a city that has a population of approximately 10 million like Ho Chi Minh, that means the streets are chaotic and almost always full of vehicles, ranging from motorbikes and private cars to small trucks. And well, in Vietnam, traffic rule is a relative concept, meaning that people only obey the rule at the sight of the travel police. That makes even the simple task of crossing the road seem daunting. I have seen travelers who wait ages and do not dare crossing the busy road while the next traffic light is not in sight (and it can be one kilometer away!) To tackle this problem, it is best to just do as the local, going with a group of other passengers if there are any and just do it: cross the streets.
#2: Enjoy Bargaining
Tourists who come to Vietnam usually complain about being ripped off and overcharged for goods and services. To avoid this frequently common tourist trap, make sure to always ask for the price first especially in the market with small vendors and negotiate the price.. Bargaining is an art in Vietnam and the merchant will expect it. A good start is to have a price in mind that you are willing to pay for a product or service. A tip is to start at 30-50% price lower than the original announcement, be friendly to the sellers and pretend to walk away if you are not happy with the price. If the seller can actually offer a better price, he or she will give in at this point.
#3: Hide Your iPhone
Petty crime like bag snatching is popular in tourist areas in Vietnam. To avoid becoming a target, keep an eye on your property and avoid flashing desirable items. This includes things like a new iPhone, iPad or expensive camera. A common strategy of the criminal is to approach you while you are walking or sitting on the back of a scooter, and attempting to snatch the phone from your hand. So it is a no-no to pick up a phone call or text on the sidewalk.
#4: Avoid any Vietnam Trip during Tet (Lunar New Year)
Tet is the traditional Lunar New Year in Vietnam and usually around February. It is best to avoid taking your trip to Vietnam during this holiday. During Tet, in big cities, most of the shops and restaurants will be closed for at least 3-5 days. Many travel sites will be full of local travelers. As you can imagine, the price of hotels and service would go up naturally. So when you plan for your travel to Vietnam in spring, check the date beforehand to ensure it won’t overlap with Tet time.
#5: Explore Local Cafes and Boutiques in Hanoi and Saigon
Many travelers visit Hanoi and Saigon as only a base from which to go to other destinations. In fact, both cities are the centers of the country and have a lot going on. If you have a few days to spend in Vietnam, skip Starbucks and explore the vibrant café scenes. Vietnamese coffee culture is an attraction, and the coffee here is fabulous. Shopping for clothes might not be on top of your list in Vietnam, but having a look won’t hurt. In both cities, you can find indie stores offering designer’ clothes at very affordable prices.