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Sunset in Hanoi
Vietnam is a beautiful country of rice paddies, cyclos, water buffaloes and tasty food. When people first travel to the country, they know very little about it all, but after a couple of days in Vietnam, people they learn quickly. There are several key things if you know about before packing your bag to travel to Vietnam will make your trip smooth and more trouble-free.
Motorbike sin Ho Chi Minh City
A Motorbike Paradise
There are millions of motorbike in Vietnam; some even claim that if you don’t have a motorbike here, you are nobody. So the traffic in many Vietnamese cities is extremely dense and complicated. Parking space for motorbikes is at a premium, and some pavements have become parking lots. Sometimes this mean that pedestrians have no option but to share the road with traffic. In that case, be on high alert.
Vietnamese can carry almost everything on their motorbikes. If there were a world competition for how much things can be carried on a motorbike, I bet Vietnamese would be the winners. In fact, the one thing that makes Vietnam very unique of all Southeast Asian countries is that the Vietnamese transport a lot on their motorbikes, from a mountain of caged chickens to dresser bureaus and furniture - a whole gamut of things which will make your jaw drop.
Moreover, you will also have to accept the honking in Vietnam. You’ll hear a lot of car, truck and motorbike honking in Vietnam. Not kidding at all. That is the habit of Vietnamese drivers. Are you a light sleeper and booked a street view room from your hotel? Think again.
Crossing the street in Hanoi
Cross Streets Carefully
As mentioned above, traffic in many Vietnamese cities is hairy, a tangled and endlessly-streamed mess of motorbikes, an occasional man-drawn cart, some cars and trucks - and more motorbikes. Crossing the street under these coonditioncs can be intimidating, sometimes a bit dangerous - but fun nonetheless. It will take some time before you feel comfortable with it. Remember that motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you, so keep a steady pace. It’s also advisable to hold out your arm to let the motorcyclists know that you are actually crossing the street.
Watch your Belongings
Violent crime is rare, but like any large city, both have their fair share of pickpockets, be very aware in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao. Keep your phone and wallet out of sight, use your bag or camera strap. A loose strap is like a flame to a moth for motorbike-riding thieves. So make sure to put your bag or camera across your chest over your shoulder to make it a less obvious target. There is no need to be overly cautious, simply be aware of your belongings and surroundings.
Taxi in Ho Chi Minh City
Don’t Trust Taxi Meters
Ripping off unsuspecting passengers is an art form of dishonest taxi drivers. Not many drivers are dishonest, but to be safe, stick with reliable companies such as Hanoi Taxi, Mai Linh and Vinasun. Always remember to take your hotel’s business card to make your return to the hotel much easier by handing it to your taxi, motorbike taxi (xe om) or cyclo driver. If possible, you can ask someone (receptionist, bellboy, other locals) for an idea of how far your hotel is or how much it should cost to avoid trouble of being overcharged.
Take a Break in the Afternoons
Don’t forget Vietnam is a tropical country, it can be very hot and humid sometimes with temperature around 38 – 40 degree Celsius and above 80 percent humidity. Break up your sightseeing and go early in the morning and the late afternoon. It can get quite hot visiting the attractions, so taking a nice long break in the middle of the day can keep you refreshed for the afternoon activities. However, it gets cold in Hanoi and northern Vietnam. Unlike the south and center, the north has four seasons, with very hot and sticky summers and rather cold and humid winters. If you are heading to the north from November to February, you might want to bring a jumper or a heavy fleece.
Sunset in Halong Bay
When visiting temples and pagodas, make sure to pack a shawl or extra shirt to cover your shoulders. Remember that you are visiting a piece of history, so show it some respect and cover up those shoulders. If you are unsure before entering an attraction, just follow what the locals do.
Be a Sensitive Snapper
Most people in Vietnam love having their photo taken and will ask to have one with you, but do ask before you take your photo. There are also some places like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or military buildings or some temples or pagodas where taking photos is prohibited.
Shopping in Hanoi
Remember that negotiating is not rude but rather expected, even if a fixed price is advertised. Haggle for the best price or risk paying well over the actual price of an item. Try walking away to get a better price. If that doesn’t work, you can always go back to the vendor later. Many things in Vietnam are also handmade, so if you like an item and you can afford it, just buy it! Because you may not see the same thing again.
Hanoi street food
Vietnamese food is so delicious and you will want to try it all. Go ahead and buy a kilo of that strange looking purple fruit or sit down and eat that bowl of whatever noodles - but also be aware of hygiene when you are eating street food. To be cautious, opt for vendors with plenty of customers.
Food safety tips: Always eat from stalls where the food is prepared on the spot and cooked hot. Never eat raw, uncooked meats or cut/peeled fruits. Avoid salads, as you don’t know if it’s been washed with tap water. Pho is a good dish to try at a stall, provided it’s made hot. Also observe how they clean their utensils. Remember to drink bottled water only, stay away from tap water even though you are staying in a five-star hotel.
Finally, Remember that You Are on Holiday
There is so much to do and see, but don’t forget to stop every once in a while to pull up a small plastic chair, order a cup of traditional Vietnamese coffee, and take it all in. While sights and activities hold interest, sometimes you can throw away your guidebook or forget the fixed itinerary, you will learn more about the culture by adjusting to the local pace.