- Take your visa seriously, very seriously indeed
It seems like common sense, but I have seen tourists turned away at the airport for visa misinformation or failing to print their visa-on arrival pre-approval paper. Double, triple check all you information, have your accommodation address ready to go for the arrival form, be very respectful to the immigration officers, no matter how cold they are. Get stamped and enjoy.
- The price for goods and services is whatever you’ll pay.
This is something that is difficult for North Americans to understand. We are used to a fixed price for everything and we generally believe what we hear and read.
Remember, it is normal in Vietnam for locals to overcharge or inflate prices when they feel they can get more money for something. It has been happening here in Vietnam since long before tourists ever arrived. It is not necessarily that they are “riping you off”. It is just the fluid way that small transactions happen in Vietnam. Sellers will make false claims, pretend you’ve agree to a higher price, or give you back less change than you’re owed. Happens every day. Be careful, educate yourself and know that…
- Some people will lie to you
This is another hard one for first time travelers to understand and it sours many trips to Vietnam. Though politically communist and still state-organized on a large scale, Vietnam is hyper-capitalistic on street-level. Tourists have only been coming for twenty years. To the Vietnamese, there is nothing wrong with doing or saying anything it takes to get your business.
In the rush for tourist cash, locals (tailors, hotel staff, travel agents, taxi drivers) will do or say ANYTHING. The good thing is, unlike Thailand, every thing is negotiable. Be very weary.
- Be prepared to walk away from any financial transaction
Vietnamese love to do business and hate to see customer walk away. Generally, they get upper hand the second you ask “how much”. Don’t let them keep you held down. Name your price. Stick to the price you want and just politely walk away if they don’t go for it. They will call you back if it is a fair deal, or offer you their lowest price while you’re still within earshot.
Don’t let them squezze any higher amount out of you. The Vietnamese respect a tough customer, even if you fell you’ve wasted their time and want to “give in”.
- Do not confuse “15” and “50”
One of those “petty” thinks to watch our for. Street vendors such as coconut sellers or shoe shiners will trick you and claim that you agreed to a higher “50” thousand dong and not the “15” thousand you were 100% sure that “15” is understood before the coconut is cracked open or your shoes are shined. Do not fall for the “50”. Once their end of the deal is met, you can’t win the argument. It’s “50”.
What I do is try to take out 15000 dong and show it to the seller before we commit. Or, I use my fingers to illustrate 1 and 5 so there is no confusion in the end. 35000 may seem like a small amount to fuss over, but being overcharged is a tourist’s No. 1 reason for never returning to Vietnam.
- Buy your train tickets directly at the train station, not from your hotel or an agent.
I love the train in Vietnam. It is a great way to see the pastoral landscape safely, peacefully and without the constant honking.
Almost indefinitely, your hotel will ask you “where are you going next?”. This is because they want to buy your train ticket, or arrange your flight or bus ticket, for a substantial “service fee” (200000/ticket, generally) that they will tell you is the actual cost of the ticket.
Take a half hour of your time, hire a “xe om” (motorbike taxi) to take you to train station and buy your tickets directly there. Or when you arrive by train buy your ticket out of town right away. Tickets do tend to sell out days in advance, so do not go the the train station with no ticket expecting to hop on the next train.