I have a few tips for traveling in Vietnam. This may pertain to other countries but for this particular write-up it only applies to Vietnam. Also, as with much of what I write, this is neither thorough nor comprehensive and in no way researched and verified. If you find yourself buying a bunch of crap from aunties on the beach (see tip #1) that’s on you.
1. Do not look like you have just been shopping which implies you have money. You will be accosted by every auntie trying to sell her tchotchkes. The auntie’s also have eagle eyes and when you try to discreetly see how much cash you have, she will have counted it before you do and point out (in a very polite manner) that you have more cash than you’re implying. She’ll even personally walk you to the nearest ATM if you feign being broke. To be honest, you’ll be accosted no matter what.
2. The following was advice given directly from a Vietnamese man. When crossing the street, take it slow and do not stop or dart. The scooters know how to gauge how fast you are going and whether they need to go behind you or in front of you. To be clear, I’m not sure if this applies to cars so let’s just assume it only applies to scooters. Don’t go walking out into traffic with a row of cars. That might not end up the way you want it to. Also, please don’t get hit and then blame it on me.
3. Speaking of people selling things, don’t be a schmuck and get lured-in by a gimmick and then get stuck paying for something you never wanted in the first place. We were those schmucks (though apparently Marcus saw through the guy from the beginning). There was a man carrying a pole laden with a cooler and fresh coconuts. He pointed to Marcus and implied how tall he was and that he must be strong. Did he want to try and carry the pole? Marcus declined but the girls and I, intrigued by the idea of Marcus carrying the pole, urged him on.
After a short walk and a few pictures, the guy takes back the pole and immediately whips out coconuts, cuts the top off, sticks a straw in, and asks for 200000 Vietnamese Dong ($8.52 USD). Marcus was pissed. He haggled with the guy for a bit, growing more irritated that we were being forced to buy something we didn’t want. I, on the other hand, grew more uncomfortable of the situation and insisted we give coconut guy all that he asked for. It was a learning lesson. Mostly for the girls and me.
4. Be prepared for your children to be petted if they have unusual hair. In our case, both of our girls are very blonde. We had heard that moving to Asia this might be a common occurrence, but this was actually our first experience with complete strangers coming up and touching the girls’ hair. To be clear, while this isn’t something we would do in the United States, our girls understand that cultures vary wildly, and some people do not perceive it as a violation of personal space. With that said, this is definitely not the cultural norm in Singapore.
Anyway, our oldest eventually grew annoyed with the attention and put her hoodie up. I believe our youngest secretly enjoyed the attention and just accepted it. It wasn’t a constant petting, but it happened frequently enough. I also noticed a few times during our adventure in Vietnam that I would be walking very intimately with a person I had just met. I was even politely moved aside by a restaurant worker. Like, physically touched in a motion that meant “step-aside.” It was a bit startling but again, cultural differences.
5. Finally, for my last little bit of knowledge, using the car horn is part of driving. Like, if Vietnam released a “Sounds of Vietnam” album it should be of vehicles honking. It’s used in a much more friendly way than in the U.S. though could certainly be misinterpreted as angry. It’s used as a “I’m coming around you” for those on bikes or, serves as a warning going around a corner. It also serves as a “You pulled out in front of me” honk, a “You’re drifting into my lane” honk, a “Pick a lane” honk, and I’m guessing is morse code for a myriad of other things. In other words, the honking is no joke.
So, there you have it. A non-extensive list of tips for traveling in Vietnam.