Travel Guide

Vietnam Respect

Souvenir shops in Vietnam sell lots of T-shirts with the red flag and portraits of “Uncle Ho.” Many overseas Vietnamese are highly critical of the government of Vietnam you may want to consider this before wearing communist paraphernalia in their communities back home! A less controversial purchase would be a nón lá(straw hat) instead.

It’s common to be stared at by locals in some regions, especially in the central and northern side of the country, and in rural areas. Southerners are usually more open.

Asian women traveling with western men could attract attention, being considered lovers, escorts or prostitutes by some people, but this concept is disappearing. In some cases Asian women traveling with western men could even receive some unwanted comments.

French and American travelers should tread carefully when talking about both the First Indochina War of 1946-54 involving the French, and the Second Indochina War of the mid 1960s-early 1970s involving the United States. Vietnamese people consider the first as their war of independence, while the latter conflict is viewed as a war of reunification between the north and the south. Because over 500,000 Vietnamese died in the war of independence and well over 3,000,000 Vietnamese died in the war of reunification. it’s best to avoid any conversations that could be taken as an insult to the sacrifices made by both sides during the wars. Furthermore, do not assume that all Vietnamese think alike on this matter; many Vietnamese in the South are still bitter about having lost against the North. Differences of character among Northerners and Southerners are still very palpable, with most of them disliking each other. In general, Northerners are more closed and less friendly to foreigners, particularly Americans, and sometimes even rude.

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Vietnam is a beautiful country but the pressure on Westerners to pay ridiculously inflated prices or invented charges can border on the aggressive – regardless of whether you’re American, British, Australian etc. Vietnamese “always” consider foreigners much richer than they are, so they will always (and sometimes without even trying to hide it) make you pay more (especially if you’re not Asian). The rule of thumb in Vietnam is to pre-negotiate the price of any service before it is rendered, especially bus, taxi, or motorcycle rides. One of the best investments you can make is in a cheap, durable, battery (solar powered are obviously useless at night) operated calculator, as this makes negotiations much easier, and avoids misunderstandings.

Taxi-motorbikes, known as xe ôm are available everywhere and they will constantly harass you offering you a ride (no matter if the drivers speak English or not). It’s advisable not to pick them since they will always make you pay much more than to locals and they will surely take you around for hours before getting you to the point you requested. In some cases they will take you wherever they want (tourist attractions or shops you didn’t request to go) and sometimes they will wait for you to come back (even if you don’t want them to wait) and will ask you for more money for having been waiting. Even if you speak some Vietnamese, this is not useful, since they will cheat you anyway or they will act as if they don’t understand even if they do.

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Metered taxi cabs are available everywhere in Vietnam. The most reputable ones are MaiLinh taxi (green logo) which is available throughout Vietnam and Vinasun taxi which is available mostly in the South. Vinasun taxi is actually a bit cheaper than MaiLinh in Saigon. Pre-negotiating a price for a taxi ride is the best bet for anyone appearing to be a tourist — false taxi meters have been seen to jump 100,000 VND in one shot. Settling the fare beforehand can prevent such expensive scams.

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