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Vietnam - some general observations from 3 weeks here

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    Of course 3 weeks doesn't make me an expert, but some observations some of you might find useful it you're planning a trip here:

    Ha Long bay: I splurged on my trip here, so stayed two nights on a relatively posh boat. It was worth splurging (based on conversations with other travellers) and worth spending two nights. This gave us a full day inbetween to visit places a bit off the tourist track, and was much more memorable than those parts of the trip we shared with those on a one-day trip. Ha Long bay is a lot better than any photos or descriptions suggest.

    The overnight train (Ninh Binh to Hue): wasn't very comfortable (not much power in the AC) and there were pretty much only westerners in the 'posher' carraiges making for a pretty odd experience. I sought out any opportunity to travel by train because in India it had been a fun, unique and 'local' experience - I didn't really feel that here.

    Ninh Binh was lovely: I was amazed to meet so many people who didn't have it on their itinerary - the sights around there are stunning. Compared to the near universal dissapointment expressed by people who went to Nha Trang or Mui Ne I think it's a bit of a no brainer.

    Use this website: The hotels I visited which were recommended here were a LOT better and more reliable than those in the guidebooks. Where 'our pick' matches the 'Fish's recommendation you know you're on to a real winner.

    Take a motorbike between Hue and Hoi An: If you have the time and money. I had a lovely day visiting spots which were beautiful but without any tourists.

    HCMC: Is a cool city, but the back packer area is an absolute disaster. It's incredibly sleazy, feels a bit threatening and there's no sign of any Vietnamese people eating or drinking in any of the places there. If I go back I'll either budget up or stay elsewhere.

    Generally: This isn't the easiest place to travel round, but if you've ever got off a train in any of the Indian backpacker spots you'll be able to handle it easily (Delhi - good grief!). It's a bit of a shame to say that I have had some significantly negative experiences, but the positives outweight them, of course. There's actually surprisingly little English (I don't think I've ever come across so little even among educated people like doctors), as I don't have any Vietnamese this didn't bother me really - but in some situations where you really need to communicate it can be tough.

    Hanoi is lovely: Don't leave it as an afterthought at the end of your trip, as so many people I met did. The Old City above the lake has retained such charm and character despite how touristy it's become.

    Accomodation: If you're flashpacking, like me, you don't seem to get much more for your money above $15, which usually gives you extremely good value accomodation. I made the mistake of paying more a few times, and there was never any odds in it.

    #1 Posted: 30/9/2008 - 19:21

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  • somtam2000

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    Hi Karimster,
    Thanks for the report back -- and glad to hear you found the site handy for your trip.

    Interesting what you say about the train and comparing it to India. Would you say that if you'd been travelling in a cheaper class you'd have had a more "local" experience? Like you, I've travelled extensively by train in India and found it to be one of the highlights of my time there. In Vietnam, I found taking short hops in local trains (eg Lang Son to Hanoi) to be a very local experience -- I'll never forget all the smugglers tossing their stuff out of the windows as we approached greater Hanoi!

    #2 Posted: 1/10/2008 - 04:58

  • Ramblergirl

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    Hi Karimster

    Thanks for your trip report, it was an interesting and useful reading.

    You said: "HCMC - if I go back I'll either budged up or stay elsewhere". Where would you stay? What areas are not so sleazy? How much to budget up to get a better hotel? You also said that it would not be worth for paying more.

    Please tell more and help us to choose another area for our stay in HCMC.

    #3 Posted: 5/10/2008 - 05:45

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    Sorry for the delay in replying.

    Samtam - you're 100% right that the inauthentic experience was because I went top class. That would be a lesson learnt, I think : because I was specifically looking for the experience of the train (rather than getting from A-->B) I should have looked for a shorter trip and gone by a more normal class.

    Ramble Girl: Ha - you've spotted a contradiction in my post! The nicest area I walked around in HCMC (and I didn't get to Cholon) was Don Khoi (sp?). You'd need to budget up to stay there, I think - I don't know of (m)any budget options in that area. The reason I liked Don Khoi was that it was an obviously affluent area, but full of interesting and characterful knooks and crannies (like the Mosque and Hindu Temple, and the very interesting shops).

    #4 Posted: 5/10/2008 - 18:49

  • Ramblergirl

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    Hi Karimster

    Thanks for your reply. I have found a "nice" budget hotel in Don Khoi area, called Thang Long Hotel, std room US$27. I was thinking of booking a room from there and now you confirmed my feelings. I dont know the hotel and reviews have been a mixed bag - like usually, but I think the area is nicer than De Tham area.

    Thanks again for your advice.

    #5 Posted: 6/10/2008 - 09:50

  • ubkraut

    Joined Travelfish
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    Hi everybody,

    Just some ideas from my last trips through Vietnam.
    In February '08 we (my wife and I) visited HCMC and Hanoi . Both places appeared to us very "touristic". Everywhere we were bothered by some "Hello my friend"
    who wanted to make a deal with us. Hard to go somewhere and just enjoy or feel the pulse of the town. 3 years earlier, Hanoi has been one of the most relaxing capital ever seen. Though I can speak some Vietnamese, it was often hard to get rid of those guys. From Hanoi , we went on to China, using the night train to Lao Cai, all the tourists bound for Sapa use this train. Many train passengers were tricked, buying and paying for a comfortable 4 sleeper compartment but had to accept a 6 sleeper
    compartment. Some had to pay around 5 USD extra for their luggage (of cause the luggage is free).
    My feeling is that meanwhile the country is full of tourist traps and scams. If you do not speak the language, a guided tour is definitely the more relaxing choice. As soon as we crossed the border to China, at Hekou, we felt such a relief, because we could easily walk around markets, and other places and enjoyed our trip to Kunming.

    In November I decided to visit Phu Quoc, the island south of Cambodia. Also here the motorbike drivers seem to get a huge share from the hotels, they try to drag you in. It is hard to avoid them, so best idea is to take in the first night any cheap hotel for 150000 Dong, (10US) and walk the next day morning without luggage around to see a nice hotel and deal the price down to 10 US for a comfortable room with windows, air-con, hot water, fridge aso.
    When there is no season it is easy to deal with them, just tell them what you like to pay, if they say no, turn around towards the exit, they will catch you and agree.

    #6 Posted: 22/12/2008 - 04:07

  • thebestman36

    Joined Travelfish
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    Something I found quite interestingly weird when dealing with Vietnamese vendors. More than once, I offered to buy a food item off of a street vendor, but offering them the same price as the locals were paying, only to have them turn me down. They would sooner let me leave and lose a sale than sell me the food item at a price that wasnt marked up from what locals were paying. After a couple of weeks traveling Vietnam, we came to the conclusion that a good majority of the Vietnamese believe it is their right and duty to cheat tourists in what ever manner they can come up with. Even when you call them out on it, they showed no sign of guilt, as if they have done nothing wrong by trying to cheat you. Its the weirdest thing, and something we have not experienced anything quite like it elsewhere in our travels.

    #7 Posted: 25/12/2008 - 04:02

  • brucemoon

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    ubkraut & thebestman36, both offer a great insight.

    As 'thebestman36' says, I also found it surprising that the 2 price system is so constant (even found it posted on hotel 'rates' boards).

    I found (find?) that learning the basic greeting is helpful to remove much of the tourist-cheat-crap: 'Sinjow gaw kwa kawm, lam ern zaa bow nyee/oo' even in my untonal western voice tended to break the ice (there after English). As 'ubkraut' noticed, when one says 'sin loy' (sorry) to a quoted price, and proceeds to walk out, the haggling (the fun part) begins. But ALWAYS be happy about the haggling process (they respect you for that).

    #8 Posted: 27/12/2008 - 16:06

  • daawgon

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    I really think that everyone who goes to Vietnam needs to take more than one trip, because the first trip is difficult. Now that I know the ropes, and all the little tricks I learned to manage money and people, I plan to enjoy myself much more. I just don't waste time worrying about the money thing so much now - if some vendor doesn't want to accept a price thats good for me, I simply go elsewhere.

    #9 Posted: 8/1/2009 - 12:11

  • alfbort

    Joined Travelfish
    20th December, 2008
    Posts: 2

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    I got pick pocketed in Nha Trang last night. It was my own fault really and there is even warnings in my guidebook about the particular area in Nha Trang where it happens. I was in Why Not Bar with a few other fellow backpackers when one of the guys had gotten very drunk and needed to be brought home. I said I would walk him the few minutes to his guesthouse, I even left my wallet with a friend in the bar but I was a bit tipsy myself and forgot to leave my phone. Once we got outside it all happen very quickly, 3 or 4 motorbike taxi guys came up around us offering us taxi rides while a woman came over and started hugging me offering her services, all this is fairly common here which is why I thought nothing of it and walked on. I dropped the guy off and walking back to the bar I realised my phone was missing at which point a motorbike taxi guy pulled up and said he could get my phone back for me for 400,000 dong. I really needed my phone back so after about half an hour of negotiating and they brought me to a quiet street away from the bar and the exchange was made. Not a very nice experience at all and I have learned a valuable lesson.

    Even before this happened last night I've been pretty disappointed with Vietnam in general. I've been here for the last 3 weeks and to be honest I can't wait to get out of here. I've been traveling down from Hanoi to HCMC and the only friendly/nice people I've met are those selling me something e.g. Guesthouse staff, tailors etc. It seems if there is no money involved then they don't have any time for you at all. I understand lack of english is a big factor in communications but even basic things like asking someone for directions on the street usually gets you a rude grunt or most times they'll just completely ignore you. I've been to Thailand, The Philippines and Malaysia so far and they are far more pleasant places to visit. All that being said if I had known what I know now I would still have traveled to Vietnam. I wouldn't want to look back in 20 years time and say I didn't go to Vietnam because the locals are generally unpleasant people and constantly attempt to rip you off. Roll on Cambodia and Laos where hopefully the good times will return!

    #10 Posted: 5/2/2009 - 15:08

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  • brucemoon

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    alfbort

    You ARE learning...

    As for friendliness, I also found Vietnamese located in/around towns/ cities along the Highway 1A 'western traveller route' to be like you describe. But, that's not to say they are all like that.

    Even so, once I got off the Highway 1A 'route', or went to places along that route that westerner traveller's don't go, then I discovered kind, warm, friendly people.

    I suppose the 'key' here is that to Asian people 'face' is all important. But, we westerners see interaction on a means/end basis. Given this, its no wonder so many Vietnamese along Highway 1A treat westerners merely as a (potential) meal ticket.

    cheers

    #11 Posted: 6/2/2009 - 06:55

  • EmjayReet

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    Wow! A really interesting read with everyones replies (and great trip report).. but I actually feel sick that i have just booked to go to Vietnam... My friends have been trying to convince me to go Intrepid but one of us is leaving halfway thru the trip so can't do the organised tour thing...

    Does anyone have ANY tips on how to NOT get ripped off and enjoy the experience?! I am beginning to think Vietnam was a big mistake! Argh!!!!

    #12 Posted: 13/2/2009 - 06:47

  • somtam2000

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    Hey Emjoy,

    Not a big mistake, but travelling in Vietnam can be a bit more challenging (scam wise) than say Laos or Thailand.

    #13 Posted: 13/2/2009 - 08:30

  • brucemoon

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    EmjayReet

    As Somtam says - it takes a bit more 'awareness' than in other SE Asian nations.

    But, that said, if you want someone else to organise your journey, then you might as well ask them to enjoy it for you. Simply, organised tours are for those who don't want to enjoy the end result of one's own planning / research / journey / risk taking / and changing plans at will.

    There are enough posts on Travelfish that describe the types of scams / risks that exist. That 'data' should be enough to stand you in great stead for a great holiday (experience?).

    For some, a holiday in SE Asia is a look see, a laugh at others' oddities, and a smug feeling that home is best. To those that take risks, etc., these people get to see themselves in a new light. They see their own personality from an amazing angle.

    That said, if you don't want to live on the edge then don't leave home!!!

    cheers

    #14 Posted: 13/2/2009 - 15:09

  • EmjayReet

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    Bruce

    I couldn't agree more with what you have to say.. having already spent alot of time backpacking thru Thailand Cambodia and Laos I crave the experience and soak it up... guess I have just become a little jaded from all the negative reviews i hear/read/see about Vietnam!

    More research is needed however.. this is just the beginning of the planning! Thanks heaps for your input

    Reet xxx

    #15 Posted: 14/2/2009 - 02:36

  • EmmaHaslett

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2009
    Posts: 1

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    Hi Reet,
    I've almost spent a month in Vietnam and have travelled from Hanoi down to the Mekong where we are getting a boat from Chau Doc to Cambodia in a few days. It is my first time here, although I have travelled a lot before in India and other SE Asian countires. I would say that I have had a mixture of experiences here, some good some not so good but as long as you can laugh at the bad times then you will be fine! It is true that some people try to rip you off but if the price is still good for me then I don't mind e.g. paying $2 for something instead of $1.50. When you realise how little money the people here have that extra 50 cents doesn't seem so important
    Anyway, I would not take back any of my experiences here for the world. Have a good time and don't let paranoia about scams ruin the chance to meet some really interesting locals. (By the way we found the south to be much friendlier than the north but that could have just been chance).
    Enjoy!
    Em

    #16 Posted: 1/3/2009 - 13:30

  • EmjayReet

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    Thanks Em for your lovely reply... I do like to laugh at the adventure so it sounds like I will be just fine! Guess its a little 'disheartening' at the beginning of planning to read so much negativity.. but everyones responses have been fantastic and i feel ready to tackle the adventure!

    Thanks
    Reet xxx

    #17 Posted: 1/3/2009 - 13:48

  • daawgon

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    Having completed 2 successful trips to Vietnam, all I can say is that I believe many tourists are simply intimidated when they come to this country. When someone quotes me a price that I dislike, I simply continue walking, and quite magiclly, the price comes down almost immediately! Maybe it's just that I've been on so many of these boards for so long that I've developed a tougher skin than most, but I find Vietnam not much more dificult than the good old USA (in fact, quite a bit easier in many regards). I will be back for a 3rd, 4th and 5th trip - I love the Vietnamese people (that's the secret - get to know these people as individuals - once they know and trust you, you have a friend for life, and you will be treated like royalty!)

    #18 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 01:04

  • brucemoon

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    daawgon

    I couldn't agree with you more. But, your recipe +'to engage courteously with locals'+ isn't just for VN, it's for everywhere.

    To those reading this 'thread' and seeking a more detailed 'report' on a trip to VN, please see our blog at:

    http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/blog-373859.html

    cheers

    #19 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 06:24

  • dageshi

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    I travelled a fair bit on trains in vn, mainly along the tourist route to be fair but my impression was that not many vietnamese travel in the first class soft sleeper beds and I've got to be honest I prefer the leather six compartments, the soft beds were just too soft! plus I think the leather is cooler.

    At any rate I'd often be the only foreigner in my cabin but then I'd always buy my ticket from the local station rather than arranging it through a guesthouse or agent. I get the feeling that the locals bulk buy blocks of tickets days in advance and then they get sold off to foreigners at higher prices so that you often end up in the same set of cabins as all the other foreigners.

    In terms of beds I'd highly recommend the hard sleeper (air con) middle bunk, I think it's the best in terms of comfort, cheapness and meeting the locals.

    As for the Saigon backpacker quarter I guess I was there over six months ago now so it might have changed, but I didn't find it sleazy at all and while certainly the main street is very tourist orientated the little side streets I found to be a nice mix of guesthouses, restaurants and viet businesses.

    But then each to their own, I like big cities, Saigon reminded me a little of Hong Kong in terms of the "go getting atmosphere", I actually preferred it to Hanoi because of this but perhaps that's just me.

    #20 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 11:18

  • amazon_blon-
    de

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    Dageshi, you're not the only person to prefer Saigon to Hanoi . I have to say that I do as well, especially for a longer visit. Hanoi is charming, but the noise and the traffic and the "hustle" from cyclo and xe om drivers takes it's toll there. The street food is, however, incredible and not to be missed.

    I disagree with one of the comments in the very first post in this string: "HCMC: Is a cool city, but the back packer area is an absolute disaster. It's incredibly sleazy, feels a bit threatening and there's no sign of any Vietnamese people eating or drinking in any of the places there." Pham Ngu Lao is one of my least favourite areas of HCMC but I don't think it's sleezy or unsafe, except maybe a touch sleezy very late at night, but hey, if you're out at that time what do you expect? Parts of Toronto get sleezy and unsafe at night! Also, in Pham Ngu Lao you CAN find pho joints and lots of coffee places that are packed with locals - just get off De Tham. And right across from Pham Ngu Loa is a little park -- every dawn and dusk (through the evening) it is packed with locals walking, doing exercises, playing, etc.

    I've been to Vietnam twice, once 8 years ago and one trip ending just days ago, and overall I think Vietnam gets a very bad rap. So bad that my partner was a bit freaked out (this is his first trip) but he tried not to listen to any of the nay-sayers, and guess what, he loved it! Perhaps the problem is that too many people expect Vietnam to be easy to travel in, and its somewhat challenging, compared to Europe. But it's not nearly as tough as India or Egypt or the even dodgier places I've been.

    Vietnam isn't for everyone - my sister, for example would hate it - but I get tired of people SLAMMING Vietnam rather than realizing the limitations of what THEY themselves are comfortable experiencing.

    #21 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 15:36

  • brucemoon

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    Hey, Am, another great post.

    I agree with you about the negatives re: VN. But, that said - and like most countries, there are always negatives - the ISSUE is to alert future visitors so that they can have an enjoyable experience (which you are doing with your post).

    I recently completed a blog on my (our) recent journey to VN, you may like to visit it:

    http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/blog-373859.html

    Are you still 'travelling' in SE Asia, or just still 'travelling' at home?

    cheers

    #22 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 17:17

  • DLuek

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    Posted from within Vietnam.

    Amazon_blonde,

    You hit the nail right on the head when you wrote,

    "I get tired of people SLAMMING Vietnam rather than realizing the limitations of what THEY themselves are comfortable experiencing."

    I'm just finishing a 2 month journey through Vietnam and have had an incredible time. I've made friends with dozens of locals here and these are some of the most warm, generous, good-natured people I've ever met. I feel like a lot of people who write things like, "I'll never be back", are experiencing more of a personal inward crisis rather than a crisis that's been caused by mistreatment of the locals. Yes, I've had a few not so pleasant experiences and people have tried to scam me more than once. But for every time I've been treated badly, I've been treated well and fair 20 times over. I could choose to only remember the few 'bads', but the many 'goods' are what has made this trip one of the most rich and memorable experiences of my life.

    Here's another great piece of advice in this thread, written by daawgon, about the Vietnamese:

    "...that's the secret - get to know these people as individuals - once they know and trust you, you have a friend for life, and you will be treated like royalty!"

    From my experience, this is so true. As a tourist, if you approach the Vietnamese with a sense of entitlement and the attitude that they're all trying to rip you off, then guess what? They'll try to rip you off. But if you're kind and smile at them, make the effort to speak their language, and show them that you're good-natured, they may genuinely want to be your friend!

    Another thing I've realized... Don't expect a whole lot of patience; that's just the culture. I travelled with two native Vietnamese for much of my trip and at times, when they had to ask the same question twice, they were met with a bit of disgust. So it's not just westerners who get the attitude from time to time! If you ask someone, "How far to the beach?", they'll answer you with a smile. But if you then start asking "Is it up-hill or down-hill? Bumpy or smooth? Are there restaurants along the way? etc. etc. etc.?", then chances are you'll be met with a disgruntled look and an answer like, "Same same but different!"

    Overall, Vietnam really is a warm-hearted place, and I encourage anyone whose willing to brush a few 'bads' off their shoulder to come here and enjoy the adventure. In the end, I think you'll be glad you did.

    Oh yes, one more thing... The traffic moves fast and there's not much space on the roads, so WATCH OUT!

    Peace,

    DL

    #23 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 17:22

  • somtam2000

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    I'm really enjoying this thread -- lots of terrific information and advice.

    The thing is, Vietnam has a lot of trouble attracting repeat visitors. Some -- as indicated above -- love it, but a lot -- more than you'd expect, leave swearing never to return. This puts Vn at a disadvantage compared to its neighbours, which tends not to get the same hostile response.

    So I'm midway through a story on this, with a working title of "How to enjoy your time in Vietnam" and I reckon some of you may have some tips.

    If you were talking to somebody about to head to Vietnam for the first time, what three pieces of advice would you give them?

    #24 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 18:49

  • brucemoon

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    Somtam...

    1/. Try to spend time in the more rural areas of VN. This is where you'll find a more authentic experience.

    2/. Do your homework and study well before you go. Learn about pitfalls, study options, and be prepared for things to go wrong.

    3/. Reflect on the fact that the Vietnamese people are of an Asian culture, with Asian traditions and expectations, these can often be quite different to western ways. In your dealings with Vietnamese people, be caring of them and their culture. But equally, don't let yourself be cheated by those who have no respect for others.

    cheers

    #25 Posted: 27/3/2009 - 19:03

  • amazon_blon-
    de

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    Brucemoon, I'm still in "asia" at the moment -- Seoul -- but we head home tomorrow. I was just about to change my tagline in my profile.

    DLuek, there is undoubtedly some profound cultural differences. The hardest one for me is the lack of personal space and privacy, especially in the north. I had a few experiences I wasn't comfortable with, but I try to recognize that it's me that's a stranger to their culture, and I'm travelling in their country, rather than vice-versa.

    Somtam, for advice, I'd say:

    1. Travel with awareness of the cultural differences that may be encountered, i.e. lack of space, privacy and the lack of patience - it will be less of a shock when something unusual/uncomfortable happens.

    2. Cultivate your own patience. Things don't happen the same way or in the same time frame as at home, but that's part of the experience.

    3. Do your research on tour companies and potential scams. There is so much information on the open buses and Ha Long tours, for example, that most travel 'disasters' can be avoided. Something bad can always happen and you can't prepare for every eventuality, but by being prepared you can certainly minimize them.

    4. Don't be afraid to skip the tours and do things on your own. This is similar to what Brucemoon says about seeing rural VN but not the same. We did trips to the Mekong Delta and Cat Ba island independently and although I wouldn't say either are "rural", I think we had much better experiences that if we had gone on a tour. Our boat driver in Can Tho, Sang, was a wonderful woman, and despite a lack of common language, I think we had some real communication with her. Our Ha Long bay experience was also anything but typical. We stayed on Cat Ba Island for nearly two weeks (albeit because we were there to rock climb) and had some great interaction with locals there, who are not all out to rip off tourists (although many are). We did meeet a few other intrepid travelers who had eschewed the group Ha Long bay tours and come out alone and really enjoyed it.

    5. Throw away the LP. Seriously. Or at least stray from it ...

    Must dash and enjoy my last day in Asia!

    #26 Posted: 28/3/2009 - 09:00

  • brucemoon

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    Am & Somtam

    Gee, I kept to 3: dammit!

    I do want to take to task the words Am used re: LP.

    Every time I use LP, I get so frustrated at the lack of detail, the incorrect detail, or the myriad of other frustrating aspects contained therein. And, I'm particularly p****d off with the managerial style of BBC (they don't give a damn about feedback, they only want the money).

    But, and I mean a really big BUT!

    There is nothing else that provides the perspective, is sufficiently comprehensive to be in ones pack, etc..

    LP is an essential, a basic necessity.

    Now, I'll agree with Am's thrust:

    Once the information in LP is digested, explore other options for accommodation (Travelfish, obviously), for local information, for eating out, for just about everything.

    Essentially what I'm saying is use LP as the platform, and from it explore / experience / live beyond it.

    Cheers

    #27 Posted: 28/3/2009 - 09:17

  • somtam2000

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    Places visited:
    At least 113

    Thanks for your thoughts, I've just added the story here:

    How to enjoy Vietnam
    http://www.travelfish.org/feature/140

    You're welcome to add your thoughts at the end of the story.

    Cheers!

    #28 Posted: 31/3/2009 - 10:27

  • Layabout

    Joined Travelfish
    17th March, 2008
    Posts: 27

    I am planning on travelling Vietnam in August for about 3 weeks going from HCMC to Hanoi on local transport and planning my own tours and am seeking advice on accomodation and costs and travel by train or bus and anything else useful. There is some great advice in this link already but every little bit helps Thanks

    #29 Posted: 2/4/2009 - 14:19

  • brucemoon

    Click here to learn more about brucemoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Layabout

    For accommodation, refer Travelfish options. Unlike Lonely Planet, Travelfish reviews options incognito.

    I've written elsewhere that generally, the bus operators travel long distances at night, with shorter distances in the day.

    Unless on a strict budget, don't opt for an 'open tour'. Some places you may want to visit are not on Highway 1A.

    cheers

    #30 Posted: 27/4/2009 - 17:47

  • Layabout

    Joined Travelfish
    17th March, 2008
    Posts: 27

    Brucemoon

    Thanks for the advice and the tip on the open tours I plan on doing a few trips off the main highway its the only way to see the real locals.

    Cheers

    #31 Posted: 2/5/2009 - 19:06

  • brucemoon

    Click here to learn more about brucemoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Layabout

    I was talking to some people a few weeks ago when in VN, and they were pointing out that aside from Highway 1A, there is an amazing highway from Dalat, through Pleiku up to past Hue, and then from Vihn to Mau Chai. They raved about how tourist free, and local friendly it was.

    They told me that they first travelled part of it with the 'Easyriders'. Then they got their own transport and did it themselves.

    Maybe an idea for something different.

    Google the Dalat 'Easyriders' for an email address and you'll get:

    http://www.easyrider.vn/

    and

    http://www.dalat-easyrider.com.vn/Websites/English/


    I don't know which is correct (if any).

    Cheers

    #32 Posted: 2/5/2009 - 19:21

  • Teee

    Joined Travelfish
    29th May, 2009
    Posts: 1

    Hi,

    This has been a great read! I'm off to Vietnam for 3 weeks in June /July (it's going to rian, right?!).Already re-thinking my plans of where to go...

    Couple of questions...

    As a lone female travellerhow does it fair to other parts of Asia? I've travelled solo in Thailand & Goa, again only for short stints...

    What's the diving like? Any good recomendations?

    Thanks

    Teee

    #33 Posted: 30/5/2009 - 15:55

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6293
    Total reviews: 10

    "As for friendliness, I also found Vietnamese located in/around towns/ cities along the Highway 1A 'western traveller route' to be like you describe. But, that's not to say they are all like that.

    Even so, once I got off the Highway 1A 'route', or went to places along that route that westerner traveller's don't go, then I discovered kind, warm, friendly people.

    I suppose the 'key' here is that to Asian people 'face' is all important. But, we westerners see interaction on a means/end basis. Given this, its no wonder so many Vietnamese along Highway 1A treat westerners merely as a (potential) meal ticket."

    I have never been to Vietnam, but my next door neighbors, who we are very close to, are ethnic Vietnamese and have relative there. They go periodically (twice since I've lived here) and they told my wife and I that the Vietnamese are hard people, cheap and rip off artists. Now, I am not fond of labeling people as a whole - I am sure there are plenty of decent Vietnamese people. But culturally, that was her take. Every time she goes to see family, she can't get back to Thailand fast enough.

    Of course, my wife is Thai, and she's a harsh judge of the Thai people. Maybe people just tend to be harsh on their own kind. I don't know.

    #34 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 23:44

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6293
    Total reviews: 10

    I am going to go to Saigon and Hanoi next year to dance. Both have nascent Salsa dance seens and Mai, a dance instructor in Hanoi, is a lovely woman and a lovely dancer. For any Salsa dancers out there, Hanoi does have a solid budding scene worth checking out.

    #35 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 23:47

  • violets

    Joined Travelfish
    6th July, 2009
    Posts: 150
    Total reviews: 28

    I agree that the backpacker area in HCMC is pretty awful, but I find the centre of the Old Quarter in Hanoi nearly as bad. I find I enjoy both places much more if I stay even a few streets away. Last time I was there I met a couple of boys who always stayed right away from the areas suggested in guidebooks. Of course fewer people speak English but you do feel as if you're in a foreign country.

    On Trains. I travelled from just above Hue (Dong Hoi- no none goes there!) to Hanoi on a day train in a carriage almost entirely of locals. Great scenery too. To travel with locals, overnight on soft seats (quite comfortable and they give you a blanket) or one of the slower trains in a soft sleeper will both get you away from other tourists. If you travel with a little carton of milk (kong duong- without sugar) you can make your own tea and coffee using the boiling water at the end of every train carriage.

    I also did a trip on my own through Kontum, Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot. Few tourists go there still and they are interesting places, but of course facilities are fewer. In Kontum I had trouble getting bike taxis because the drivers don't speak english - I longed for the constant "where you go now?" that you get in more tourist cities. In Pleiku my driver didn't understand where I wanted to go, so drove to a local business where he knew there was an English speaker (one of the very few I spoke to in Pleiku) and she was very helpful, even coming to pick me up to take me to the bus station at 6.30 the next morning to make sure I caught my bus to BMT.

    On being scammed- I manage pretty well in Vietnam- you are the one who decides whether to buy or not. I try to remain polite and recognise that of course someone who has bought a product at a shop to onsell will charge more than the shop to make their profit- that happens anywhere. And you will always pay more where the tourists are. (In Sydney you will pay $3 for a small bottle of water at Circular Quay, where all the tourists are, when you could get the same thing at my local supermarket for 70cents)

    I travelled in Europe last year and found the same tactics (what everyone calls scams in SEA) were used there, and much worse in Turkey. I find now I don't fuss nearly so much over 50 cents as I did the first time I went to Vietnam. In 10 years my pay has risen, the cost of living in Vietnam has risen, but postcards ate the same!

    #36 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 11:56

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    Your point about Europe is well made - I can't imagine being a tourist in London - it must be incredibly expensive.

    #37 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 14:55

  • gracetandil

    Joined Travelfish
    4th December, 2008
    Posts: 56

    I had a great time in Vietnam although I was ripped off several times, but it´s part of the whole experience or unexperience. Fortunately nothing really bad happended. The street food is fabulous, the art is incredible, the people are amazing, the street landscape is unforgettable, the local colour is interesting. It´s different to the west, ok, it´s different. It is always advisable to read a lot before traveling and making a great deal of search using this travel site. Have a good trip.

    #38 Posted: 11/12/2009 - 23:47

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6293
    Total reviews: 10

    "The street food is fabulous, the art is incredible, the people are amazing, the street landscape is unforgettable, the local colour is interesting."

    Grace, a few too many superlatives here - I'm suspect. I already know I don't like Vietnamese food, so I doubt their street for is going to be "fabulous".

    I'm not denigrating the place, I've never been there, but I certainly have heard a lot of mixed reviews about it.

    #39 Posted: 13/12/2009 - 15:17

  • EmjayReet

    Joined Travelfish
    4th July, 2006
    Location Australia
    Posts: 156
    Total reviews: 3

    Having been back from Vietnam for a month now I thought I should update from my last posts since I was so negative about the whole experience prior to going......

    One word... WOW! I am officially a Vietnam convert! I LOVED this place.. and everything about it... and I loved the above description.. the food (esp the street food) was AMAZING.. the people fantastic, the colours and landscape (and with it photo opportunities) was just out of this world!

    My travelblogs have all the photos/stories at www.travelblog.org/bloggers/reet and will try to write a proper trip report here at some point..

    BUT for anyone doubting the place.. do your research, keep an open mind, be prepared for scams and have fun...

    HITS
    Phu Quoc Island
    Hanoi
    Sapa (dont miss this place)
    Street food
    Hoi An Motorbike Adventures

    MISSES
    Halong Bay
    Jason Superstar guide in Saigon
    Cyclo drivers in Hanoi

    I will be back!
    Reet :-)

    #40 Posted: 13/12/2009 - 15:40

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6293
    Total reviews: 10

    "One word... WOW! I am officially a Vietnam convert! I LOVED this place.. and everything about it... and I loved the above description.. the food (esp the street food) was AMAZING.. the people fantastic, the colours and landscape (and with it photo opportunities) was just out of this world!"

    Man, Vietnam must be a lot better than my Vietnamese neighbors say it is. I've lived in Africa, Europe, the US, the Middle East, Haiti and have lived in Thailand for the last 2 1/2 years... none of them were as great as this description. It's only a six hour bus ride to Hue (or is it eight - I never get a straight answer from my maid who's from Quang Binh) so I'm going to have to make it sooner rather than latter.

    #41 Posted: 13/12/2009 - 21:00

  • patrickien

    Click here to learn more about patrickien
    Joined Travelfish
    21st July, 2009
    Location Netherlands
    Posts: 23

    Me and my wife spent 3 weeks going north to south last year so basicily followed the tourist route, we thourhly enjoyed the trip and I'd recomend it to anybody, having said that we got scammed by a taxi driver in Hanoi ,we went to the temple of literature with a cyclo and decided to return to the old qaurter by taxi , after 5 minutes it became apparent that the driver was going in every direction but the right one, Itook a small street map out of my bag and made a point of telling my wife what the driver was doing at this point he changed his tactics and took us directly to where we wanted go,it cost us more than what it should have but you could see that he'd lost face which in Vietnam is the same as direct embaresment. saying that you have to be cautios about how you go about things getting annoyed will only get you into trouble.
    The only other minus point was definitly de cyclo driver we had ( for about 10 Minutes) in Hanoi .My wife was around that time about 14 stone/ 95 kilo's (she'd had 3 operations im the space of a year involving the removal of organs and doubled in weight as a direct result) we wanted to get 2 cyclo;s but the driver wouldnt have it and made clear that it would be no problem for us to take one OK ! we agreed a price that was above the regular price 'fair is fair'. after 5 minutes the guy started to regret his decision at which point he started to make insulting gestures to the other cyclo drivers cyclo'drivers about my wifes size, he' was blatently " just taking the piss " at which point we asked him to stop making comments when he carried on I told him to stop we then got out and walked away. ( forgetting to pay in the process)after following us for 50 yards or so I realised what the problem was and told him he'd get the half and nothing more after a few choice words what I didnt understand anyway he took off!!
    In the hotel in Hue we found 2 of the girls behind the counter also very insulting over the same thing, strangely once we moved further south towards Danang ,Hoi An and HCMC, we had no problems what so ever.
    While we where in Hue we managed to get a dirt cheap flight to HCMC at a small office on the side of the road, so if youve had enough of the night bus or are running short of time thats a definate + the flight worked out a third of the price of any we could find on the net.
    All in all despite the few small problems we thought Vietnam was great
    and wish everbody a great time there.

    #42 Posted: 14/12/2009 - 10:03

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6293
    Total reviews: 10

    There is a funny dynamic here about weight. My wife is 48 kg and our neighbors say she's fat sometimes and she does not find it insulting. She is short, so she is a little but heavy for her height, but I emphasize it's a little bit. But I've seen people here refer to others as fat with no apparent insult taken.

    The exception appears to be teenage girls who are pretty sensitive on the subject.

    #43 Posted: 16/12/2009 - 22:49

  • patrickien

    Click here to learn more about patrickien
    Joined Travelfish
    21st July, 2009
    Location Netherlands
    Posts: 23

    Hi, Madmac Ive seen a few references to "Fat backpaker chick/slags" in one of the threads over Laos and sure nobody seemed to react.
    Our situation is a little bit different my wife is also pretty short abot 1.58 the main difference she' turns 50 in march and I do take offence when it's teenage girls. or toothless old cyclo drivers who are taking my money and also taking the piss.By the way Im 53 and got a mouth full of false teeth but dont mind being ridiculed( pity Bruce ain't around this would have been a golden chance for him!!)
    Anyway my wifes lost 20 keys and we are going to try the cambodian hospitality out. Vietnams oke but weve heard Cambodias even better.

    #44 Posted: 24/12/2009 - 03:56

  • andrea13

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2010
    Posts: 31

    Oh gees this is so offputting. As a solo 19 year old girl would the scams etc be any worse or is it just for any tourists in general? Im finding it hard to be enthusiastic about Vietnam now and I'm kind of considering missing it out all together...Can anyone convince me otherwise? Thanks alot, this is a really helpful thread.

    #45 Posted: 30/7/2010 - 06:19

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