A trip to Ho Chin Minh City should learn these useful tips before traveling or planning to go to Vietnam.
1. Beware of taxi drivers. If you are staying in a hotel, I strongly suggest that you arrange for a hotel pickup at the airport. It is safer and sometimes even cheaper since some taxi drivers would not use their taxi meters and ask for an unreasonably high taxi fare. Did I also mention that hotel cars are more comfortable and more luxurious?
In case your hotel pickup did not arrive (which happened to me once), look for one of major taxi companies, like Vinataxi, stationed at the airport. Do not take the smaller fleets of taxis whose drivers coerce you to ride in their cabs. You will feel unsafe throughout the journey and end up paying at least two times more. Of course, you can always take then easy route by signing up for preplanned private tours.
Traveling within the city is easier since taxis can be seen everywhere. However, you still have to carefully choose your taxi. Again, take the bigger taxi fleets to get you around the metropolis.
2. Learn to count in thousands. One American dollar is equal to 15000 Dong, which is how Vietnam ‘s local currency is called. This makes you literally a multimillionaire once you change your $200 to Dong! In addition, most of your retail transactions will be in thousands – you’ll pay your cab driver in thousands, you’ll pay your cup of coffee in thousands, you’ll purchase your personal supplies in thousands, among others. If you’re like me who is used to counting money in tens and hundreds, be prepared to go big time and count in higher multiples.
Luckily, the Vietnamese Dong usually come in denominations of 5000, 10000, and 50000 instead of 10, 100, and 500. While you need to count 30000 VND as you pay a street vendor, you’ll have a strong head start with your 5000 and 10000 bills. Just imagine what it will be if you only have 50s and 100s.
3. Speak slowly, Mr and Ms. Like some countries in Asia , majority of Vietnamese people speak in their native language. For those people who can understand and speak English, you have to talk to them slowly. I have a general impression that Vietnamese are mild-mannered people so they expect other people to behave in the same way. They will speak to you slowly and often softly, so you have to respond slowly as well. Pay extra attention to their facial expressions too when you’re talking. When they seem to be looking for someone or something else, you have to pause and check understanding. Most probably, they are already finding it hard to understand you.
You also address Vietnamese people with Mr or Ms followed by their surname. This may be quite formal for some cultures but that’s just the way it is. People really would not find it offending if you fail to do this but when you’re in a foreign country, it’s best to follow what the locals do. People will address you as Mr and Ms too.
4. Your credit is good but they need cash. Unlike other developing nations, most business establishments in Ho Chi Minh only accept cash. I personally learned this lesson the hard way when I had to skip dinner for a couple of hours. I went shopping to a local market once and spent most of my cash buying local finds. I then chanced upon a nice restaurant afterwards. Feeling exhausted and hungry, I went inside. Knowing that my money may not be enough, I first asked a waitress if they accept credit cards. To my dismay, they don’t and I ended up going back to the hotel for a late dinner. Well, I’m still happy I inquired first – I sure don’t want to be in big trouble in another country.
All major hotels accept credit cards but anywhere else, better bring your cash.
5. Find the best buys at the local markets. Souvenirs from Vietnam are expertly crafted and aesthetically pleasing. The most common keepsake items include lacquer vases and plates, ceramic dolls, charcoal, watercolor, or oil paintings, and fabrics and handicrafts. Where to find them? Go to the nearest local market. The most popular in Ho Chi Minh is called Ben Tanh, where you can find the best bargains for local products. They are exactly the same as what you’ll see in the department stores but they cost significantly less. The items are also somewhat unique to Vietnam , which make them perfect gifts for yourself and your loved ones.
Give these ideas a try and make your next trip to Vietnam a memorable one!