When one thinks of Vietnam the first thing that pops into your mind is always the Vietnamese War, in which the Americans were historically defeated by the Communist Peoples Liberation Army or Vietcong. The separate development of North and South Vietnam during this time has lead to the country being a melting pot of different cultures and ways of living, with the South expressing a distinctly Western influence and the North retaining its Vietnamese roots.
Our trip saw us being in the North, with the aim of exploring Hanoi before catching a flight South to sunny Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City technically).
Modes of Transport:
Once you’re in Vietnam getting around is really easy. The main form of transport is scooters and motorbikes as well as Taxis. The taxis are all metered, and if you come across which isn’t or it “broken” get out and stay away. To avoid issues with payment always ask the taxi driver to switch on the meter – although in our experience they generally do it anyway. You can also use Google Maps to give directions and to keep track of the route your driver is taking.
Another local favourite is the Xe Om (pronounced: Zay-Ohm) or motorbike taxis – you simply hang to the back of some of some guy who knows which pavements are best for driving on to get you where you need to be as fast as possible. If you are travelling with friends – you will most likely split up because each driver has his own opinion of which route will have the least traffic. Some words of advice: Wear a helmet – just in case. In Saigon the Xe Oms are much more tame than their Northern counterparts so keep that in mind.
A recommended area for tourist in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. Here you can find a multitude of hotels, hostels and backpackers for varying budgets. Most are decent and well priced and the competition between them is quite stiff so in most cases you can wrangle a better price if you need to. In Ho Chi Minh City, district 1 was close everything we needed and more.
In terms of cleanliness – Vietnam has a different conception to “dirt” to the West but most hotels cater to the Western concept rather than the more traditional Vietnamese concept.
All hotels have Wi-Fi – the majority of which is free – and if you are stuck with anything the Vietnamese are very helpful so don’t stress about asking someone for help – even if they don’t understand you they will probably go and find someone who does to help you out.
Wi-Fi is everywhere in Asia – and it’s free and reasonably quick. You can get Wi-Fi in cabs, tuk tuks, airports, train stations – everywhere
You can also buy a Tourist Sim Card for VND100 000 which includes VND100 000 talk time and 3 months of unlimited 3G data which makes staying in touch super simple.
In terms of medicine – you will not struggle to get ANYTHING from a pharmacy and prescriptions are generally unheard of. Codeine, anti-biotic, anything you need can generally be bought from a roadside pharmacy without a script. Come to think of it – we saw plenty of pharmacies but very few doctor’s rooms throughout our travels.
Money & Haggling:
The currency in the Dong, and you can pay in dollars but will generally end up paying a higher price if you opt to go this route.
All major credit cards are accepted (Visa and MasterCard) – if you have an American Express or Diner’s Club – good luck.
It’s always a good idea to try and bargain with most of the vendors – they generally jack the prices up a bit for foreigners and will drop to just above the normal price when challenged – just remember to be polite and friendly and you will generally come off saving quite a bit of cash!
All in all, Vietnam has been one of the best countries I have travelled too yet. I am in love!