Vietnam is a top backpacker destination which means; cheap booze, good beaches, and cool culture. There’s so much to do in Vietnam, but, because of the influx of backpackers, there’s also craziness, crime and, scams to be aware of. I loved it there, but there’s definitely an art on how to survive Vietnam!
1. Crossing the street
I’m sure you probably already know, but crossing the street in Vietnam is a dangerous business! The roads there are crazy. Filled with a teeming throng of motorbikes, it feels like you’re putting your life in their hands. And, you kind of are! Motorbikes are good at weaving through all sorts of traffic, be it motor or human. This means that they will drive around you while you’re crossing the road. Cars on the other hand…I never tried this for myself, but I’ve been told many times that cars will NOT go around you. So don’t cross in front of a car, and you should be fine!
Confidence is key. Pick an opening (if you can find one!) in the traffic and walk at a steady pace across the road. If you stay at the same pace, this makes it easier for the bikes to judge when and where they need to move. Try not to run. You’ll put yourself at the risk of tripping, and may confuse the drivers.
If you’re really struggling, sneak across with a local. They do this all the time, so just follow their lead. After doing that a few times – you’ll be good to go!
2. Vietnamese food
Every blog I read tells me how AMAZING Vietnamese food is. None of them talk about the downsides! I hope you like rice! I did, but not enough to want it at every waking minute. I’ve lived in Japan for 2 years, and I still think I ate more rice in my 3 weeks in Vietnam…
As with anywhere in South East Asia, beware of some of the street food. Although it is usually the tastiest, it can often be unhygienic. Go for food that’s cooked right in front of you, as opposed to pre-cooked meals. This will at least mean it’s been properly cooked through, and is nice and hot.
Traditional food markets are not for the faint-hearted. I didn’t visit any for that very reason. Yes, it may seem cruel to many of us, but you will see dead dogs there read for sale. Remember, their traditions are different from ours, so don’t be rude. But if you don’t want to see it, then simply don’t go.
3. Biking it
A lot of people love the idea of buying motorbikes and riding through Vietnam. It sounds wonderful – so free! Although, every single person I met who’d done this was injured and struggling to sell their bike on. So maybe not quite as glamorous as one would imagine…
If you haven’t ridden a motorbike before – please don’t try here. The streets are crazy (see above!), and not first-timer friendly. If you really want to ride for the first time here, do it in the countryside, so you can get a feel for it first. I met a lot of people who did so in Sapa – and they loved it.
If you absolutely must ride across Vietnam, make sure you don’t miss the Hai Van Pass. It’s the best road in Vietnam, and incredibly quiet!
(Or you can do what I did, and just sit on the back of one. Let someone else deal with all the crazy!)
4. “You want to buy?”…. “No.”
Vietnam is still a very poor country. So, yes, there are a lot of street sellers about. Most of the time they are selling inexpensive items such as fans, or postcards. If you want to buy one, go ahead! Just try and do it in an area that doesn’t have many sellers. If you stop and talk to one – they will ALL come. Trust me.
When I was waiting to cross the street, a woman tried to sell me a hat. Stupidly, when I couldn’t hear what she said, I asked her to say it again. She took this as a good sign, and proceeded to deck me out in my own hat. I kept refusing, but then another woman ran over and tried to sell me fruit. Still refusing, and trying to get away, I ended up having a photo with them before finally running off. They wanted me to pay for the photo, but since I said no to it about a thousand times before they took it – I said no.
Just stick to your guns and you’ll be fine. Remember, you’re not being rude by saying no. Most people do, and these guys are used to it. Especially try not to buy anything from children. They are often being taken out of school to sell things. By buying their stuff, you’re enabling their parents to continue doing so.
5. Backpacker safety
It’s a big backpacker destination. You know what that means – drugs, alcohol, muggings and more. Be sensible. If you are traveling alone DO NOT walk around by yourself at night. Sure, you might be fine – but why take the risk? Lots of hostels, like the Vietnam Backpacker Hostels, run social events each night to enable you to get out and enjoy the nightlife safely. Hostel run pub crawls can be a great way to party all night! Or, get yourself on a booze cruise with a reputable company, such as Castaways, to enjoy some good, old fashioned partying!
Don’t go around flashing the cash, and making it easy for people to take your things. It happens a lot here. But, again, be sensible and you’ll be fine. I was a solo female traveler there, and had no problems. I went out and got drunk with people from the hostels, had loads of trips around the cities, and was fine. Don’t let all these tips scare you away. It’s easy to stay safe as long as you know your limits. For some awesome tips on how to stick to a budget while backpacking in Vietnam, check out Backpacking in Vietnam- A Budget Guide for some brilliant tips on keeping your costs low (while still having the BEST time!).
Have you been to Vietnam? What would be your top tips for surviving there? How else could people survive Vietnam? Let’s Discuss!
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