Vietnam: English Free
Christina and I have been in Vietnam (specifically Ho Chi Minh) for just two days and already we have fallen in love. The city is so vibrant, the people so nice and the food is, as expected, delicious.
No amount of reading can really prepare you for Vietnam. It really is something that must be experienced and soaked in. The city runs at a dizzying pace and yet the people all seem so calm. The traffic here is insane but it has a rhythm that seems to make sense. Simply crossing the street is an extremely entertaining exercise each and everytime. 95% of the traffic consists of mopeds and the concept of lanes is non-existent.
Christina and I are staying very far off the beaten path, well the beaten tourist path. We have yet to see another ‘foreigner’ and almost nobody speaks english. Although intimidating at first, we have quickly adjusted. Body language, pointing and basic vietnam phrases (very poorly spoken on our part) are generally enough to get by. I figured that by now most Vietnamese would be accustom to foreign visitors and I’m sure that in the touristy parts of town they are. District 10 (our part of town) seems to be mostly unvisited by foreigners. Ventures outside of the hotel are met with interested stares and quizzical smiles.
Some of the most important things we have learned:
Wait to change USD to VND until you are in Vietnam. Rate in San Francisco airport: $1 USD –> 18,700 VND. Rate in Ho Chi Minh airport (and around city): $1 USD –> 20,900 VND. We arrived at 10:45PM and the Currency Exchange window was still open.
Prices are rarely set or displayed. Everything is a barter. If a vendor holds up five fingers this generally means a price of 50,000 VND (roughly $2.50). Bargaining is hard in non-tourist parts of town because most vendors speak no english. Christina and I have started carrying around a notebook so we can write down prices, or we just show the amount we want to pay with actual bills. We have found that most street vendors selling prepared food like Pho have reasonable prices, everyone else will try to get you to pay more than fair price.
Taxi scams are everywhere at the airport. We read extensively about how to not be ripped off, and were still taken advantage of. Agree on a price before, insist on the meter being used or buy a pre-paid rate card at the airport. The cab driver attempted to charge us 600,000 VND, when the fair price is roughly 150,000 VND. We eventually got it down to 250,000 VND, still more than we should have paid.
Everything but electronics are cheap. Average plate of Pho from street vendor is $1. Sanitation is questionable at most street vendors, so buyer beware. Nicer restaurants can be had for $2 – $3 per bowl.
Vietnamese coffee is amazing. Ca Phe or Ca Phe Da(Iced) or Ca Phe Da Sua (Iced with Milk) is absolutely delicious. Unbelievably strong, but ridiculously delicious. Most can be had for $0.75.
Riding motorbikes is exhilirating. Christina and I have only been on the back of one so far, but I can’t wait to drive one myself.
So far I have felt extremely safe. Common sense (i.e don’t flash large amounts of cash, electronics, zippered pockets, well secured backpacks) goes a long way.
Cash is king, most places you will want to be frequenting require cash.
Cellphone service is cheap. If you plan on staying for an extended period of time getting a local phone is an excellent idea. Pay by the minute is roughly $0.05/min and text messages are about $0.01/min.
. Tra Da (Iced Tea, generally made with Jasmine leaves) is like water in the USA. Given at basically every restaurant for free just like water. Unlike most Vietnamese drinks, it is not sweetened though.
Vietnam is extremely great value for the money. Our hotel is one of the nice hotels, brand new, flat screen TV, free WIFI, all the amenities of a hotel back home and only costs $26/night.