Vietnam is a developing country that also happens to be one of the last bastions of Communism. Virtually everything in Vietnam is done differently to home & as guests visiting this amazing place, we need to accept the good with the bad, the cultural differences & maybe shelf some of our preconceived notions of what’s right & wrong. It’s time to celebrate the differences!
Crime in Hanoi & Vietnam, in general is not violent. It is more likely crime of opportunity – pick-pocketing & bag snatching. Always leave valuables in your hotel safe & get in the habit of never carrying more than you need when out on the streets. Leave your jewelry, passports, flight tickets, extra cash & credit cards in the safe in your room. If carrying a bag, ensure it is attached to you securely. As you should do in any hotel, leave all your valuable items in the safe rather than on display in your hotel room.
Vietnam is still a very poor country & although the places we travel seem reasonably affluent there are millions of people in Vietnam doing it tough. We ask you to consider this before giving money to somebody. Are you really helping them or are you appeasing your own conscience by doing “a nice thing?” It’s much better to get involved with an organization that helps people on a broader scale than to give money at street level – organizations such as KOTO Vietnam, The Christina Noble Foundation Vietnam, The Loreto Foundation, Wildlife at Risk Vietnam, Blue Dragon Vietnam etc. However, sometimes it’s nice to give something to somebody right there & then. No one wants to beg, they would prefer to be working, so show them respect & spend a moment with them.
The children of Vietnam know nothing of “stranger danger” & usually aren’t backward in coming forward. However, it is worthwhile looking at the bigger picture. Adults will sometimes use children to gain things from travelers. This can cause a multitude of problems. Children aren’t sent to school if they can beg successfully, as people look at tourists as veritable plazas of “free stuff”. Think about it – is what you’re giving really suitable or beneficial? What may seem like a good idea (educational supplies etc) is great if it is given to the head of a school or a village elder but not directly to children. This creates an unbalanced society of “haves & have not’s”. Remember if you give to one you must give to all! A great gift you can give to people is fruit. It’s healthy, it’s plentiful & it doesn’t create waste. But the Number 1 thing you can share with people is happiness by trying to connect with the local people along the way. Leaving the locals smiling makes you a great ambassador & brightens their day.
Crossing the Street
Sooner or later you will have to cross the street & for many visitors this can be a daunting experience. So here are some tips. Keep your eye on the traffic, but also look every which way as things can & do come from the most obscure places. Step off the curb & slowly walk into the traffic, keeping your eyes on what’s coming. Move slowly & predictably so the drivers can anticipate your next move. NEVER run or change direction quickly. The motorbikes will part around you. Be aware that bicycles generally don’t have brakes & as far as cars, trucks & buses go, it’s the law of the jungle – the bigger the vehicle the less likely it will give way. Its nerve wracking at first, but when you get the hang of it, it is actually very easy. If walking in a group, become a solid mass & like a rock in a stream the traffic will flow around you. Cling together like “sticky rice” while in Vietnam!
The best way is: Think of yourself as a water buffalo, walk slowly and make eye contact. The key to be safe is see and be seen.
Most prices in Vietnam aren’t fixed (unless it has a written price on it- mainly in big shopping center) so bargaining is common. Aim for about 30% off the initial quoted price. But treat it as a game. Have fun! Vietnam people are a fun loving people with a great sense of humor so use that to your advantage. Don’t push it too far and too serious. In some places ( that will be warned by our tour guides – you have to buy the things you just touch !) Always remember you will never get “local” prices & if you buy something at a price you are happy with & the seller makes a bit extra then it’s a win/win. And in Hanoi Old Quarter and other touristy places always make sure you agree with the price before you consume it.
Our number 1 “top tip” while in Vietnam is be animated & fun. What you generate will come back to you & by doing this it will make your time in Vietnam unforgettable. No 2 “top tip” is to remember you are not at home, so everything is different & hopefully that’s what compels you to travel. So don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy your time in Vietnam.
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By Pham Tuyen