Thanks to all the publications that are using these tips as there own. shame.
BREAKING NEWS, MY BOOK HAS BEEN PUBLISHED, look at KEN HORSFALL in kindle or amazon LIVE IS AN ADVENTURE. have a good read.
Most people use the internet for information:
After being in the hotel business for a short time, and havn't a clue ill comment.
Trip Adviser is the most used and from comments from many seems to be the best, but some reviewers are become professional critics, there is no differential scale between 1 star and 5 star, Hotels in the country side will not have the same infrastructure services as the city hotels. Reviewers should take this into account.The number of reviews should be considered, an 80 bed hotel should have more than a smaller hotel. There are also some people who will always be difficult, check their other reviews most of them will be negative. There are some handicaps to hotel information, like you cannot be a hotel if you dont have a bath in every room, i dont know anyone who has a bath when its 35 degrees outside, we have a 60,000 ltr bath but not acceptable. hence many B and Bs , and unsupported plastic baths with no plugs or taps sitting under the shower, so be very careful when stepping in and out, you would not be the first to fall over. All in all trip adviser is well worth looking at.
If you see that a hotel is booked out through a booking agency, try contacting the hotel direct , they could have had a cancellation but have not advised the booking agency.
A lot of hotels close bookings over TET new year.
Always carry your own toilet paper:
Have some rolled up (or a pack of tissues) in your pocket at all times. Away from the hotels, it’s mostly BYO toilet paper! Another advantage is you can use it to plug your ears and block out the sound of the Vietnamese Opera streaming out of the stereo on those long bus journeys. Instant Relief!
Don’t flush the toilet paper:
Beside the toilet will be a small rubbish bin/trash can. In the countryside, the sewage drains into a fish pond or nearby creek. The fish aren’t eaten (so don’t worry: they won’t be served to you in a restaurant), but fish don’t like eating paper. The paper also blocks the toilet pipes. So unless you feel like having a flooded bathroom, bin the paper rather than flush it. (The toilets at The Oasis can handle paper being flushed down them, though).
When using a squatter, roll up your pants legs a bit, and make sure your wallet and phone won’t fall out of your pocket.
Public Toilets – Ve Sinh:
At bus stations, ferry crossing points, and tourist sites there will usually be someone providing a public toilet, called ‘Ve Sinh’, for a cost (this is a private business). There will be a sign saying how much it costs. If not, 2000 Dong is the normal rate.
Man or Women?
‘Nam’ = Men; ‘Nu’=Women. Just remember that ‘Nam’ is ‘Man’ spelled backwards.
Most of the cities in Vietnam have very few mosquitoes now, thanks to the spraying programes. But if you are traveling out into the villages or provinces, many mossys don’t be one of those tourists walking around at night with shorts on. Night-biting mosquitoes are malarial mosquitoes. Buy some cheap cotton pants and a shirt at the market and cover up your legs and arms, even though it is hot (malarial fever is even hotter). When riding a bus, wear long pants too – mosquitoes love buses!
Use some good quality insect repellent, and ask at your restaurant if they can light a mosquito coil under your table. If there are mosquitoes in your room, spray the whole place (including under beds and wardrobes) before you go out to dinner, turn off the lights, close the windows and doors, and go eat. When you come back, they should all be dead. Run the air con or sleep under nets if they are still an issue. We make sure they aren’t at The Oasis.
Afternoon-biting mosquitoes are the Dengue Fever mosquitoes. Out in the countryside this is also an issue, so be cautious at this time as well. Cover up and wear lots of repellent. Dengue Fever is usually just like a very bad flu, which will have you on bed rest for a week or two. But it can lead to Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, which can kill you.
Over the years I’ve met many people who were walking around saying they have a headache and a fever, and have malaria. If you’re walking around, it’s not malaria. It’s more likely a hangover. Take my advice – do everything you can to avoid malaria – it’s BAD.
If you’re on the road and hungry, there are some choices that are safe to eat, and some that are not. Ways to minimize your risk include:
Eat food that is covered up (to keep the flies away)
Eat things you can peel yourself: Hard-boiled eggs, bananas, boiled peanuts, and any fruit with a skin. Beware that the eggs sometimes have baby chicks in them – it’s up to you whether you find this extra protein a bonus or not!
Eat/drink coconut or coconut juice. A doctor friend of mine once said coconut milk is so pure they can give it intravenously. The electrolytes match blood plasma. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s always a safe choice to drink.
Eat food that is HOT and fresh. Rice and meat will be OK if the shop is busy and has a fast turnover of product. It doesn’t have time to go bad. Also, the locals won’t be crowding around to eat in a place that makes them ill.
Eat food from clean places. Look at the surrounds. Check the tables, the chop sticks and spoons and plates. Try to see where the washing is being done. If it’s in a puddle out the back or in a dirty bucket next to the toilet, it might be best to go get a banana.
Eat during busy meal times, if possible. This makes it less likely that your chosen dish has been sitting around since the lunchtime rush, possibly even longer.
Good Food Choices:
Banh Bao (Chinese Steamed Cake) is great hunger filler. Make sure you get it straight out of the steamer, not from the pile on the side. Leave those ones for the next unsuspecting tourist.
Barbecued Pork Ribs or Chicken comes with a plastic bag full of sauce and vegetables, which you don’t have to eat. Make sure you get it straight off the hot charcoal.
Corn on the cob straight from the cooker, and Sweet potato from the charcoal.
Biscuits, Crackers, freshly baked bread. Many small villages have there own electric gas bakery oven.
Don’t eat at expensive tourist places all the time while in Vietnam. Be adventurous. Go outside and walk around a bit until you see somewhere busy and packed with locals (not tourists). You’ll get great food at a fraction of the price, and you’ll get to meet some locals and share in some real Vietnamese life. If there are lots of locals eating in a certain place, you can be sure it is good, safe food. If the place is hot, find somewhere to sit near a fan, or a breeze from the door or window. You will most likely have to share a table with people already sitting there: with 80 million people living in Vietnam, there isn’t enough space for everyone to have their own table. Don’t be shy. The locals will give you a nod and you can sit down. Often someone will strike up a conversation in surprisingly good English, and you’ll have a lovely time.
If peanuts, tissues, chips/crisps, breadsticks etc. are on the table or brought to you, they are not free. Don’t eat or use them unless you’re willing to pay for them.
If there is no English or photo menu, just walk around until you see something you like being eaten by someone else, and point that out to the waiter/waitress, or go to the cooking severe and show the staff what you want, point to the chilli and shake you head, otherwise!!!!
If you find somewhere good, show your appreciation by returning there, or recommending it to other travelers in the same situation.
Remember: Ve Sinh means toilets.
Try to avoid the overcrowded tourist places, and just walk around a bit until you see somewhere a bit quieter. It will probably be half the price. If you like beer, get a cyclo or moto from your hotel to a ‘Beer Hoi’ shop or Beer Hoi corner. For 5000 Dong or less, you will be mixing with all the other people who like a beer. If the place gets too busy and the chairs spread out too far onto the road, the police will swoop. If this happens, just grab your beer and walk back to the footpath. Don’t comment, just let the shopkeeper sort it out: it usually takes about 3 minutes. Not too long to wait, and an interesting show to watch while waiting!
If there is more than one Beer Hoi place around, just put your hand on the keg to see which has the coldest beer.
Beer Hoi places don’t usually have toilets, so just watch where everyone else goes.
If you like spirits, ask for what you want and then point to the spirit bottle. Be polite and friendly and they’ll sometimes give you a whole wineglass full of something for the price of a nip. What great value!
Most drinking establishments don’t charge you till you leave, so keep your empty cans and bottles together, then you know how many they can charge you, if you don’t they will pad the bill.
Many places don’t have cold drinks, but they all have ice to add to the drinks if you’d like. Just tell them whether you want it or not. Nowadays, it’s seems to be usually OK to have the ice, and it’s a good way to add extra fluids when drinking beer, to avoid drinking too much alcohol when trying to hydrate yourself.
Look on the bottle label to see if it has some kind of international quality standard mark printed on it. Hopefully then it’s not just tap water in a re-sealed bottle.
Coconut milk is very good and always pure when you’re drinking it out of the coconut, but the Vietnamese say you should only drink one per day. Next time you meet a Vietnamese person, ask them why.
Sugarcane Juice (Nuoc Mia) - This is a delicious drink, but watch to see there is a steady stream of customers and that the peeled sugarcane sticks are covered up. If there are flies hanging around the machine or it looks like it has never been washed, find another place place to buy your drink.
Bottled drinks are usually OK. If you drink bottled soft drinks and are unsure about the origin, choose ones that are ‘clear’, not colored. Then at least you know that the water used to make the drink must have been clear. I know a drink manufacturer who couldn’t make lemonade/sprite etc because the water he used was so dirty.
if you are feeling the heat and perspiring a lot then you should take some Isotonic drink, the main ones in VN are Active and Revive.
If you are drinking from a straw, make sure it is new. A few places will ‘recycle’ them. Check for marks etc. When you’re finished, tie a knot in it or bite some part of it off so the place can’t re-use it for another customer.
It’s sometimes cleaner to drink straight out of the bottle or can, rather than use a glass which has just been washed in the local ditch. Wipe the top with a tissue to get rid of the dust which would have collected on the bottle or can during its journey to the shop/restaurant. It you’re in a good establishment, the glasses should be clean, but hold them up to the light to check first.
People coming from cooler climates should be drinking isotonic sports drinks (such as Active Revive Gatorade, Pokari Sweat etc.). Drink at least one per day. If you get diarrhoea, get rehydration salts (in sachets) from a pharmacy and drink them as well. The problem is that it is so hot, people drink a lot more than normal but sweat it out. If you just drink water, you are replacing the fluids you lose by sweating, but not replacing the salts and minerals. Warning signs of dehydration include tiredness, darker urine, sticky skin and itchiness. You can avoid it by replacing all the lost minerals (with sports drinks/rehydration salts, bananas, salty foods etc.) and wearing light cotton clothing rather than the ‘trendy’ hoodies, jeans, and basketball boots some young visitors to Vietnam wear.
Wear a hat in the sun, take it easier and don’t overdo the exercise, and don’t drink too much alcohol.
If you have an upset stomach, one treatment is to buy a few cans or bottles of quality lemonade (Sprite/7-up etc.). Open the cans or bottles and drink them only when the fizz has all gone.
Markets are great value and great fun. Know what price you are willing to pay and be happy if you get something for that. Don’t compare it with what a local would pay, but don’t pay more than you really want to. The seller is not your friend, and you are not there to do him a favour. Drop their first asking price by 50%, and bargain up until you reach a price they will accept. Some places will have marked prices and won’t bargain. Use these places as guides to how much you should be playing elsewhere as well. Street-side vendors usually accept bargaining. It is a way of life. Stay polite and friendly, but don’t feel pressured. If the price stays too high, just walk away and go somewhere else, starting lower next time. If the seller follows you offering lower prices, then you know that you can get it much cheaper than they originally said. One thing to know is that if you do state a price and they accept it, it is very bad manners to then refuse to buy the item for that price. Don’t walk away once the’ve agreed on your price.
In most places there is no queuing, so you must be forceful if you want to be served. People will go in front of you if you don’t stand up for yourself by blocking their way or telling them you were there first. Don’t expect others to wait in line behind you by choice.
First, don’t flash your money around. When you have to open your purse or wallet, be discrete. You will not even notice if someone is checking out what you have. Only take as much money as you’re going to need for the day when you go out. Keep smaller notes in your pockets within easy reach, and ‘top up’ this supply as needed by transferring money from your wallet into your pocket when you’re in a quiet area away from the crowd.
Beware. There are many scams out there designs to distract you so that someone can take your wallet or purse. Examples include someone shoving a magazine right in your face, asking you to buy it (while his/her friend helps themselves to your wallet), or a bicycle will run into you and in the few seconds you are disorientated by this, the rider’s friend will have taken your wallet. They will have been watching you while you were shopping to see which pocket you have your wallet in, or where in your bag you are putting it. They probably won’t bother robbing you if they see you only have a small amount of cash. The modern pickpocket goes for your mobile telephone, or bag, usually they are on motorbikes, so keep away from their path when using your phone, and with hand bags securely over your shoulder and your arm crossed, wallets in the back pocket a nono.
You will be asked for your passport or ID at the reception when you check in. Some hotels (especially those in the cities) will photocopy the passport and return it to you. Some places (mainly those off the beaten track) will keep it and report to the local police that you are staying at the hotel. After they do this they may return it, or they could keep it until you check out. This is normal procedure and nothing to get worried about. It might even be safer than keeping it with you the whole time.
Keep a copy of your passport in your baggage, and always have another copy with you as well.
When you check into a hotel, take one or two of their business cards. You can use these to show taxi or moto drivers how to take you back to the hotel the next time you go out, or if you get lost just walking around the surrounding area, you can show it to people so they can point you in the right direction back. It also is useful if you have an accident and end up in hospital – the authorities can use it to help find out where you were staying.
Some hotels discourage or will not allow visitors after certain hours. To save embarrassment all round, it is best to ask about this up front when you check in.
Shop around. The prices vary amazingly for virtually the same tour. Don’t accept the first price, and always try to bargain to get a better deal. Most tours will be the same. The higher priced ones usually mean that you are paying extra for better tablecloths and eating in an air-conditioned room. Other than that, there is little difference in the tours..
Always use a tour company that has well-produced brochures and a professional outlook. There are many tour companies that pop up during the tourist season, make a few dollars following the other tour companies around, and then disappear, sometimes after you have paid but before you’ve taken your tour. These companies usually undercut the others’ prices but also provide less quality service.
If you prefer you can be more independent by going from city to city, hotel to hotel, arranging local tours along the way. This gives you the option of staying longer in one place, if you like it. And it gives you the freedom of only looking at sites that interest you.
Many tours will include a stop at a “souvenir shop”, “silk fan factory”, “jade factory” etc. en route. This is a way for the tour companies to make money from commissions. It’s best not to buy from these places, and it’s a good idea to check before you book your tour if this kind of thing is included. One stop (for something to eat, a toilet break etc.) is OK, and could mean you can easily buy some souvenirs. But you don’t want to be going to numerous places, or driving out of the way to get somewhere you really don’t won’t to go to anyway. If you are booking a private tour, make sure the driver knows you don’t want to go to anywhere like this.
Medicines are expensive but readily available in Vietnam, and a doctor’s prescription is more than likely not needed. If you have to go to hospital you may need to pay for your medications while there.
For first aid and everyday needs, we have a small bag that we always take with us. It contains throat lozenges, Quickeze (antacid tablets), Band-Aids/sticking plasters, Tiger Balm, Insect repellent, Sunscreen, Painkillers, and any personal medication we need. Usually we also carry a few mild sleeping pills. You never know when you’ll need them, (for example if there’s no air-conditioner in your hot hotel, or if there is one but it’s noisy). And with all the sleeper buses now in use, sleeping pills come in handy during these trips as well. Check with you doctor first if you’re considering getting some to bring along with you.
As you walk around or are relaxing in a bar etc. you could be approached by someone asking if you want buy drugs. Don’t show any interest, as it’s most probably a setup or scam to cheat you out of money, blackmail you, or sell you something substandard or even dangerous. Unfortunately, drugs are appearing more and more around the tourist areas, mainly due to tourist purchases.
You could be approached by very confident volunteer ‘charity collectors’ saying they are with Red Cross or Save the Children, or other well known charities. They might have something like a book showing overseas donors’ names and how much they gave – e.g. $30 to $50. These young ladies are usually well dressed and politely spoken. You will feel as if you should donate something to their cause. This is what they want. Just walk away, as it’s most likely a scam. If you ask for their ID card and name, saying, for example, that you’d like to compliment them to their boss, a motorbike will quickly arrive and the young lady will quickly disappear - hopefully not with the 50 dollars you just gave her!
It is sad to say, but beggars do present a dilemma. The more you give, the more you are encouraging this industry, and within seconds another beggar will arrive. Soon, you could be surrounded by many people looking for a handout. It’s a hard thing to say but you have to ‘turn your heart away’. There is currently very little begging going on in Vietnam so maybe you won’t see any of this. But begging has become a profession in some places.. Young babies being pinched on the leg to cry, that happens. People faking disabilities happens, but genuine disability happens as well. It’s a hard decision to make. If you feel the need to help out people who really need it, there are many genuine organisations who work with street children, orphans, widows etc. Give your money to these groups instead so that they can help those who really need it.
If you arrange a massage privatley, get the costing done early saves trouble later on.
Crossing the Road:
This is something we all have to learn in Vietnam. The thing to remember is that cars and other vehicles always have the right of way. It doesn’t matter what you think the ‘road rules’ are. You are small, they are big. You’ll never win an argument with them! To get across a busy road, have a look at the traffic flow. Eyeball a vehicle and think where they will be in 1 second. At the same time, they are making the same judgement about you. Don’t confuse the situation by stopping, walking faster, or changing your direction. Just go with the flow. Your other options are to ask your hotel bellboy to help you cross, or just close your eyes and stumble across, hoping for the best (not recommended).
Taxis are often the cheapest form of transport if there is a group of you, as you pay the one price for all 7 seats. They are also air-conditioned, which is a great benefit compared to the local buses.
Taxis in Vietnam have meters. Make sure the driver turns the meter on when you start your journey. Have the address written out on a card to show the driver where you want to go. You can either print this off the Internet, copy from a book, or ask your hotel receptionist, restaurant waitress, shop assistant etc. to write down the name and address of the place you intend to go next. As you get in the taxi, count how many bags you have, so that you remember how many to take with you as you get out.
The bigger companies are the best and most consistent with service. But at times the drivers still get confused and start taking you to the wrong place. This is often a genuine mistake and not a ‘scam’, so don’t get angry.
As you get out of the taxi or bus you may be surrounded by motorbike drivers etc. asking you where you are going. Don’t get confused or distracted by them. Ignore them, and don’t forget the bags in the back of the taxi. Count your bags as the driver takes them out and make sure you have them all. Some drivers might ‘accidentally’ leave one in their vehicle.
Known as ‘Motos’, these motorcycle taxis can cause trouble for you as a tourist, because unfortunately the drivers now see dollar sign when they see foreigners, especially in major tourist areas. If you are not experienced with Motos or don’t really know where you are going, the drivers will argue and want double the going rate or more. It isn’t usually worth the hassle. If you do really want to use a moto, ask your hotel to arrange it for you, and get them to agree on a price beforehand.
These passenger-in-front pedicabs are great for looking around the local area and doing some sightseeing without having to walk in the heat. Children love them too, so if you’re travelling with kids they’re always a popular choice. If you’re just looking around, hire them by the minute/hour, not by distance. This way you won’t have any arguments afterwards. Surprisingly, most cyclo drivers speak a little English. If you find a driver you like, then arrange for him to take you around sightseeing.
You see so many tourists walking around lost, red-faced, sweaty and tired. For a very small amount of money you can be driven around in style in a cyclo. You’ll see a lot more and can hop on and off wherever you wish. They’re also great for shopping – better than lugging all those heavy bags around.
Ask the staff at your hotel to get you a cyclo driver, and they’ll find someone they know. Don’t just hop in a random one you see on the street.
Cyclo’s sometimes have a bad name, but in all my years here, I’ve never seen a cyclo accident.
Some hotels will hire a motorcycle to you for an hourly rate if you are staying there. This could be one of the staff member’s bikes. This is a good way to travel if you are an experienced rider and can cope with the traffic.
These places will hold your passport as security. If everything goes well, you won’t have a problem. But if you have an accident, it could cost you dearly and it can become a big problem.
All Day Motos:
A good practice is to hire a known moto driver from outside your hotel on an hourly rate, for example from midday to midnight. Then you can enjoy going around all the day spots and night spots without worrying about transport. These guys also have great local knowledge and can get you through the traffic quicker than a taxi can. Ask someone at your hotel to set this up for you. They might even find someone who can speak some English and give you some tourist information or suggestions along the way.
When you book a ticket at the bus station and the bus is there waiting, have a quick look at the seat they are going to give you. It might be cramped: above the wheel arch, behind the driver’s seat or with no leg room. Look for a better seat and see if you can get that one instead. This also applies to the sleeper buses. They are made for small people.
If you get to the station early, have a look first for a good seat and book that one. If you see before boarding that there will be vacant seats, then just go to the back of the bus, and usually you can have a whole row of seats to yourself. Seats are more than likely allocated from the front and in order – 1,2,3,4,5 etc., so the back ones will be the most likely ones to be empty.
Many buses don’t have a lot of luggage space, especially the express type such as our favourite the Mercedes Sprinter. If there is no room for your bags, you can either struggle along with the bags on your knees the whole way, or book another seat just for your bags. If the ticket is cheap, it’s a good way to instantly increase you comfort level.
Don’t drink too much water before boarding, or on the journey. The buses don’t stop often.
Take a note of your bus number, when you stop at the eating place and get off, the bus then disappears, you have to find it when its ready to leave, amongst the other 30 or so same looking ones.