Vietnam is a totally unique country that does things it own way completely. When you first come to Vietnam you might feel like you have been thrown into another dimension. Therefore, it is advisable that you learn these Vietnam travel tips by heart.
As it goes with most countries, Vietnam has some very niche ways of life that you may very well not have experienced before. Hopefully the following explanations can make your experience as a Vietnam first-time traveller easier and less stressful.
Vietnam travel first survival tip: Crossing the road
Crossing the road might sound like a silly thing to be putting on a list of difficulties you will be facing when coming to a new country, but trust me, it definitely deserves its place on this list. The roads of Vietnam are a different beast entirely.
Bikes, scooters, busses, trucks, cars, and women pushing food carts make up the never ending sea of traffic that flows through the streets like blood through your veins. It. Never. Stops. Red lights also mean very little (the same with a one way street).
When you first arrive, crossing the road is going to be a daunting experience for you. Don’t worry though, you will soon be good at it and find yourself smirking and feeling accomplished when you see tourists doing the hesitant stop and go dance they do when trying to cross the street without being swept away by the wave of traffic.
The trick is confidence. The men and women of Vietnam have been on bikes and scooters since day one and they know how to drive them. When crossing the road you are not really worrying about what they are doing, but more about what you are doing. They see you and will go around you, I promise.
DO NOT start running or stop unexpectedly. This is when accidents happen. Once the light has indicated that you have the right of way (or if there is no light at all), just walk straight ahead at a steady pace. That’s all there is to it! It will definitely be scary the first few times you do but after a while it will be so natural and you will be the one confidently showing tourists how it’s done!
Buying a sim card and topping it up
There are two major mobile companies in Vietnam: Mobifone and Viettel. Getting a sim card is actually surprisingly easy! You should probably get one as soon as you land from one of the stands at the airport arrivals. The people working at these stands can speak English and will help you insert your sim card and load data or time onto your phone.
Once you have left the safety of the English speaking airport staff, you can find a sim card or top up your data or money at one of the many (in the city, maybe not so many the country) mobile phone stores throughout the area you are visiting or planning on living in.
If you do not have a mobile store near you, fret not! Practically every street vendor that sells masks, helmets, cigarettes and coconuts will be selling mobile phone data vouchers as well. Just tell the vendor the name of your mobile phone company and how much you would like to buy (usually going with 100,000 dong is good for a few weeks). If you are confused about loading the data onto your phone, as someone at the mobile phone store or you can just Google it. There are a few comprehensive articles that walk you through the whole process.
Getting around if you aren’t driving yet
As you may notice right now, most of Vietnam travel set of skills is involed Vietnamese transportation system. As a Vietnam first-time traveller, buying or renting your first scooter or bike and getting onto the streets can be a long and totally nerve wrecking process. There are many ways to get around Vietnam if you are not yet driving.
There are obviously taxis. You will see taxis almost everywhere unless you are in a really rural part of the country. A vast majority of taxi drivers do not speak English, showing the taxi driver where you need to be on your phone usually does the trick. The only problem with taxis is that they do sometimes get lost on purpose and they will try to taking a longer way for extra cost thinking you may not notice because you are a foreigner.
A more historical and fun to get around would be to accept the numerous offers you will receive from the old corner xe om men. These guys know the towns and cities inside out and will usually hand you a helmet (or not) and speed off smoke in mouth, probably no helmet themselves and take you down nooks and crannys you didn’t even know existed before popping out at your destination. It’s a pretty awesome experience although you have to negotiate your price beforehand and they do sometimes tend to try to swindle you. Trying to communicate where you want to go can also be an exhausting experience if you do not speak Vietnamese.
Probably the easiest way to get around is by using apps like Uber and Grab Bike. Uber operates well the same way in Vietnam as it does in other countries. Grab Bike is an Asian company that gives you the option taking a bike, car or a taxi. The prices are fixed before the driver arrives and how quickly a driver gets to you is subject the the availability to the drivers in your area, much like Uber. Prices also fluctuate according the time of day and which vehicle you choose. They work on a rating system and are a reputable company. The app also allows you to write your destination into the app in English.
Getting used to the language
Getting used to or learning hot to communicate in Vietnamese as a Vietnam first-time traveller is probably one of the most challenging Vietnam travel skills. Vietnamese is complicated and tonal and no matter how hard you practice (even if you get the stamp of approval from a Vietnamese speaker) the next Vietnamese speaker you try to talk to you probably just stare at your perplexed, smile and walk away.
There are Vietnamese-teaching classes but the best way to pick up on some handy day to day Vietnamese is to make a Vietnamese friend or join a club with Vietnamese speakers involved and try to use it as much as possible. Learning numbers, how to address people (there are differences in how you call a man or a woman or someone older or younger than you), and simple words and phrases like left and right, stop here, hello and thank you will be immensely helpful during your stay in Vietnam.
You will make mistakes, sometimes embarrassing ones, but it is all part of the learning process. Most Vietnamese people are so very helpful and will try to assist you the best they can.
If you plan on staying in Vietnam for an extended period of time and you are having trouble finding answers to questions you may have about the city you are going to or the country in general, the internet is a useful tool. Every difficulties when travelling Vietnam would seem easier when you had a heads-up first!
Major cities all have expat groups on Facebook, made up of local Vietnamese users and expatriates from various countries, where you can ask questions. Anything from a good restaurant to where to get your bike fixed to where to buy fabric to where to find a reputable English speaking doctor. The people on these groups are usually willing to help.
These are just a few Vietnam travel survival skills you need to “master” or at least, be prepared, when in Vietnam. As a Vietnam first-time traveller, you may encounter a difficulty not on this list but remember that you can always ask someone, and practice makes perfect.
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Phạm Thanh Quân
I am Quân, was born in Sai gon and also Transportation graduate. With a good English skill, dynamic and responsible for work, I believe that I will do perfectly this…Learn more