It’s confession time: sometimes, I’m really scared to travel to certain places alone.
Sometimes, even if the bus ride is 9 hours long, I dread the last 15 minutes because I’m going to have to rise to the occasion, watch the motorbike taxi drivers as they point directly at me excitedly, ready to grab my arm, repeatedly asking, “taxi?”, or any other tactic they can try to get a sale from the foreigner.
It can be daunting, though it probably seems from reading this blog that I’m brave and I navigate these difficulties with flying colors.
I’m not, though. Not always.
Perhaps I left Vietnam for the second-to-last country I would visit in Southeast Asia because I had heard mixed things. I was warned there were rampant scams, people weren’t friendly, and I’d have to always be on my guard.
It turns out, Vietnam is now my favorite country in Southeast Asia.
I know! After all of the negative and scary articles saying just the opposite, how can this be so?
Honestly, I was a little afraid that being an American there would cause some negative backlash, but I never lied about where I was from, because with all of my country’s faults and issues, I’m still proud to be an American (as everyone should be of where they’re from), and was glad to feel welcomed despite the turbulent past between my nation and Vietnam.
One interaction sums it all up pretty well:
A young kid sat next to me on the public bus to Yok Don National Park (where they see very few foreigners) after sitting across from me, then moving to the seat in front of me, then finally summing up the courage to move back to the empty seat next to me. We got to talking and I told him where I was from, to which he said, “You know, the American war was very bad.”
Me, hanging my head a little: “Yes, I know.”
Him: “But it’s in the past now, so it’s okay.”
He then moved on to another topic.
That was touching, and let me know that the past is past.
I think the most important thing to understand about traveling in poor countries is, yes, as foreigners we will pay more sometimes. We will get scammed sometimes, and we will be frustrated from time to time. That’s part of traveling and it’s better to just accept this than to get angry and bitter when it happens.
I think it’s also important not to always listen to what I say. Don’t listen to what anyone says. Take travel advice and suggestions for just what they are – suggestions.
Go places with a clear head and make your own decisions about a place. If I had listened to negative opinions, I wouldn’t have spent so long in Malaysia, and may have never seen Borneo. I might have never bothered with the Maldives because it was “too expensive and resorty.” Those would both have been huge mistakes!
So if you have interest in visiting Vietnam, please go. Do it, it’s wonderful.
- Only take Vinasun and Mailinh taxis, which are trusted and reputable companies that don’t fix the meters and will always agree to run the meter for you. Don’t negotiate, request the meter
- If taking a taxi from the airport, be particularly careful as they’ll try anything to get extra money out of you. Only pay what’s on the meter and try to take a Vinasun or Mailinh taxi. If the driver tries to set a flat rate ask to stop the car and get out. Usually they’ll agree to the meter over losing a sale
- NEVER take out your phone in big cities like Hanoi or Saigon. They can and will get snatched right out of your hand. Same goes for purses. If you’re going out during the evening, only take the money you need, lock up the rest of your valuables at your hostel, and leave your key with reception
- Just because one person says something is full or unavailable doesn’t mean it’s true. Shop around and you will probably find what you’re looking for
- Watch what the locals pay for things and if you feel in you’re being cheated, go elsewhere instead of getting angry
- ALWAYS count your change before leaving, especially at gas stations and convenience stores
- Learn how to say hello (Chao) and thank you (Gahm uhn), and be polite. Treating people with respect is essential when traveling and it seems a lot of people forget that. Manners go a long way
Have you traveled in Vietnam? What’s your opinion of it?