Destination Vietnam! By The Honeymoon Backpackers
We are Monique and Dylan, newlywed Australians who've been gallivanting around the world for almost two years on our endless honeymoon!
We are proud to be brand ambassadors for an Australian Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Organisation called FTW.
Vietnam can easily be missed on the backpacker route for more popular locations such as Indonesia and Thailand, but this destination is so unique and is worth visiting. Here in Vietnam, there is an obvious focus on family, work ethic, and respect which can be very humbling to experience. It can be a big culture shock for tourists who are new to South East Asia, so here are our 10 things that everyone should know before they travel to Vietnam!
There may be a slightly stereotypical view that men do all the hard labour while the women stay at home in the kitchen; well it’s quite the opposite here in Vietnam! As you wander around you will see many construction sites where women are employed to do all the heavy lifting while the men are on site managing other tasks.
It’s often the women working an extremely strenuous schedule day in and day out, collecting recyclable rubbish, making and selling souvenirs, cooking at their food cart and working out in the rice fields. The way in which families work together is amazing
Respect is important in Vietnam, especially to your elders. You should know how to address someone older than you before travelling in this region to ensure that you are able to act in a culturally appropriate manner. This will not only help you connect and engage with local people but show that you care and you’re not that typical backpacker on a holiday!
You can transfer many of these cultural norms to other South East Asian destinations. Avoid touching anyone on their head or showing the bottom of your feet in public out of respect to local customs. Here are three basic words in Vietnamese related to respect:
Ang - Older man
Chi - Older woman
Em - Younger man/woman
If you are unsure don't be afraid to ask and when in doubt a smile goes a long way! Oh and don't forget to take off your shoes when you go inside.
The water sanitation levels in Vietnam are not recommended for drinking, especially not straight from the tap like back at home in Australia. You can be sure to increase your chances of getting sick if you drink the tap water. Some traveller’s even go to the extreme of using bottled water when brushing their teeth however, I didn’t, and I never got sick, but this is a personal choice.
Another important tip is to be careful of where your water and ice cubes come from when you eat out or buy uncooked street food such as salad. If you are unsure it is best avoided. Enjoy street food that is popular with the local crowds, prepared fresh daily and be sure to check out the food markets!
If you’re a digital nomad or travel blogger like myself and rely on using websites such as WordPress, you may run into some difficulties in parts of Vietnam. There are many filters placed on search engines, websites, media/news outlets, and social media sites which may not operate as they do back home. While living in Vietnam I personally struggled to keep up to date on local news from my home country Australia and relied on the article grabs shared across available on social media.
One day all social media sites were blocked including Facebook. It is important that you have a form of communication when you travel from place to place, so ensure that you have access to a phone or you advise the family that you might not be reachable at times due to such circumstances. Enjoy the serenity as you disconnect, chat with each other or simply read a good book!
Dong is the local currency of Vietnam and it can be very confusing for tourists. This is because 500,000 Dong, looks an awful lot like 50,000 Dong and 5,000 Dong as the notes are all blue. The only difference is one that they’re all worth quite different amounts and 500,000 Dong has a slight beige stripe in the middle. For example, $10 Australian Dollars is around $175,000, Dong!
Much of the daily expenses like street food are minimal ($1-$2) so take smaller notes with you to save you stressing about losing money. I’ve made the mistake before of handing over the wrong amount, it is easy to do if you are in a rush, so pay close attention to your money and ensure to place your cash in multiple places for safekeeping.
Unlike neighbouring countries such as Laos and Thailand, where it’s usually cheaper to book accommodation ahead, it is quite the opposite in Vietnam. You will most likely get a cheaper price when you arrive as opposed to booking online. This is especially true for the low/rain season. However, in the peak travel seasons and during the Lunar New Year it is advisable to book ahead for your preferred dates as prices increase and rooms book out fast!
You can find a wide variety of accommodation styles to suit every budget from hostel to the hotel and much of the land travel (bus and train) can also be arranged without too much forward planning. If you have a few months to travel this destination you can be sure to plan as you go, however, if you have just a few weeks or days, some extra planning for the tourist hot spots such as Ha Long Bay would be best.
Looking for the cheapest beer in the world? You will find it right here in Vietnam! It is called ‘Bia Hoi’, which is a freshly brewed local beer. It will set you back between 10,000 Dong a litre or 5,000 Dong a glass around 30 cents for Aussie’s! It’s so cheap, but it also only lasts a day as there are no preservatives to keep it fresh & bubbly! There is a fun, outdoor, social vibe which comes with drinking beer and sharing street food with new friends when you travel to Vietnam. Following this, unfortunately, is a common issue of night-time road accidents so be sure to end your drinking session by taking a safe mode of transport and remember your belongings!
Check with the local tourism sites or with other backpackers for the current curfew times. In cities like Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh, citywide curfews are in place to prevent crime. This can totally backfire if you plan on spending a night out on the town.
At 10.30 pm in Hanoi, they roll down all the shutters and close shop for the night. This can be a hassle if you are not keeping track of the time, if you are travelling alone and have no one to walk home with or if you get locked out of your accommodation.
The roads are different here in Vietnam; I like to call it organised chaos! Crossing the road during Vietnamese rush hour is an experience in itself! If you plan on waiting for an empty space, you will legitimately be standing there all day. After spending a few months in Vietnam and managing to get from one side to the other I have a few tips for you:
Use your hand to signal motorbikes to go or stop
Find someone else who is crossing the road, stand next to them but away from oncoming traffic, follow their lead
Look for a small gap in the road & take it, slowly shuffling across the road with each gap that appears
Vietnam is famous for its amazing range of delicious coffee, known as Ca Phe, and for a good reason! The country is home to some of the most delicious coffee in the world and tourists can be seen enjoying the café culture by sitting with a glass of ice and espresso at all hours of the day.
My all-time favourite Vietnamese coffee is Café Den Da (iced black coffee) but it is also amazing with coconut milk! You can find an array of cheap street snacks to go with your cold brews such as Vietnamese bread (banh mi), coconut sweets, sticky rice and traditional breakfast porridge called congee (Chao). Wherever you wander, coffee in Vietnam won't be far behind.
So that’s it! Vietnam is a wonderful destination no matter how you intend to see it! It is spectacular to explore by motorbike and you can enjoy the coastline from the bustling city streets to the relaxing beaches on a backpacker budget, yes Vietnam has it all!
Travel For Change is so thankful that the Honeymoon Backpackers have shared their travel advice and their insights of Vietnam with us. If you want further wanderlust inspiration please follow Monique & Dylan on their beautiful journey via their blog.
Check out these awesome photos from their trip to Vietnam!