Is Vietnam For You?

(HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM) – I have a slight problem in that I am not you. And, not knowing your preferences, I can only give you some general advice for visiting Vietnam. Here are ten things to consider.

  • Vietnam is unlike Europe and North America

Europe and North America are very orderly and uptight. Vietnam is chaotic, yet it still functions.

Scooters zip to and fro, petty crime is a problem, and the food is so deliciously different. I love a hot bowl of Pho for breakfast and dumplings and noodles too.

Bacon, sausages, and French toast. Certainly available, but if you are the type that insists upon such a breakfast then Vietnam is not for you.

  • Speak softly and be gentle

Vietnam defeated both the French and the Americans, so you might expect a brash and tough as nails personality. The truth is, the Vietnamese are extremely quite and soft spoken. They often find that westerners are very loud. Dial it down.

  • Give some serious thought to a tour

I am a very anti-tour type of person and prefer doing things on my own. While this mentality works well in North America and Europe, where mass transit is good and traffic respects pedestrians, you should note that pedestrians are not very well respected in Vietnam. Also, public transportation is virtually non-existent.

I recommend that you seriously consider a tour where you are picked up and dropped off at airports and provided with a guide with a van. In this respect, I personally recommend Aurora Travel in Vietnam, which organized a super travel programme for me and my Square photographer. Contact them by email and ask for Vicky Nguyen.

  • See a travel medical specialist at least two months prior to your visit

What injections you need depends in large part upon where you are going and when you are going. As a minimum, your tetanus, hepatitis, and tetanus shots should be current. You may be recommended malaria meds if you are going inland. Antibiotics may be prescribed, “just in case.”

  • Be careful what you eat and drink

This advice depends on the strength of your stomach. I prefer to be very cautious on a short visit. With 5-star hotels and high end restaurants you can take great comfort that food has been prepared with lofty standards.

Street food is tantalizing, but if you can’t resist make sure there is high volume to ensure some high turnover and freshness.

Bathroom facilities are not as prevalent as they might be at home here in Canada. The last thing you need is a bout of the runs in Vietnam.

Avoid ice cubes in drinks unless you are in a 5-star environment. As my dear departed mother used to say, when Europe was more primitive than it is now, “It’s best to stick to soft drinks and beer and make sure they pop the cap in front of you.”

  • Petty theft is an issue

Unfortunately, pick pocketing and purse snatching is a problem, particularly with the slash and grab scooter method. Leave all valuables in your hotel safe. Carry a credit card and anticipated needed cash in your front pocket, for men. And woman should leave all expensive jewelry at home and clutch your purse in public.

  • Be prepared for strange time differences

From Toronto, expect an early morning departure just past midnight and an arrival in Taipei/Singapore/Hong Kong equally early morning. Sixteen hours of flying time to which you should add a layover and connecting flight to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City of 3 or 4 hours.

You’ll be frazzled for at least a couple of days. When you return you’ll also be mixed up.

If you are on any time sensitive meds, such as beta blockers or anti-depressants, check with your doctor about how to take your meds on your outbound trip. Returning seems easier than going on your body clock.

  • Currency Manipulation is a bit difficult

Considering that 22,000 Vietnamese dong per USD dollar is the exchange rate, consider that a bottle of wine at dinner may cost 500,000 dong, so performing currency calculations are far different than dealing with a Euro.

  • The Vietnamese alphabet is somewhat easier to navigate

European missionaries in the 17th century used the Roman alphabet to record the Vietnamese language and created the Quoc Ngu Script, which is now the official national language. Finding yourself around is much easier as a result.

  • You’ll require a visa

Visas are cash grabs and a visa for two with Canada Post delivery was $183. While you pour your tourist dollars into the Vietnamese economy, you’re charged this exorbitant fee. UK residents do not require a visa. Are Canadians being penalized for accepting thousands of Vietnamese boat people?

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen