Before embarking on a Vietnam private tour, it’s helpful to do a little homework regarding which areas you want to discover and the must-see attractions, although your tour operator can manage all of the details for you or even recommend where fits your criteria best. The run-up to the holiday is also the time to consider what to pack, your budget, and sorting your Visa application (if you need one of course). I’ve compiled a short list of things that I wish I had known before first arriving into Vietnam, so you’re fully prepared and can start enjoying your trip from the word go!
Hanoi (Source: Internet)
Learn (some of) the language
No one is expecting you to learn an entirely new language before jetting off on your two week holiday. However, learning key phrases will not only make completing simple tasks a breeze it will impress the locals and show you’re making an effort to respect their culture. One of the most straightforward and useful things to learn is how to address people. In Vietnam different pronouns are used to address older or younger people than you, knowing these can come in very handy when trying to get a member of staff’s attention at a restaurant or bar!
- Hello: Xin Chào
- Thank you: Cảm ơn
- Younger person’s pronoun: Em
- Older Women’s pronoun: Chị
- Older Man’s pronoun: Anh
- Excuse me: (Pronoun) Ơi
Another helpful phrase to know is không đường, which means no sugar. When I first came to Vietnam, I noticed a large selection of everyday foods had a lot of added sugar compared to what I am used to such as milk, mayonnaise, bread, and drinks. Delicious and bargain-priced fresh smoothies are available almost everywhere but often have a considerable amount of added sugar, personally, I prefer without, but it’s all down to personal preference!
It seems obvious but if you have any dietary or health requirements learn them in Vietnamese before you go. It took me longer than I care to admit to learn the Vietnamese for Vegetarian (ăn chay) before then I resorted to wildly pointing and strange hand signals to convey what I meant. It will make your life ten times easier but be aware, especially if you have a serious condition, that the pronunciation of a word is crucial. The tone in which you say a word can completely alter its meaning, so it can be beneficial to write it down if you’re unsure. When all else fails Google translate will be your best friend to avoid the awkward game of charades. On a private tour, your guide will be able to help you communicate with the locals and improve your Vietnamese!
Vietnamese people are friendly and hospitable (Source: Internet)
Shopping and haggling
No private tour would be complete without a visit to a street market. When shopping for souvenirs or really anything, make sure to haggle. South East Asian countries are notorious for overcharging unsuspecting tourist, so if the price seems too high, it’s best to walk away. The shop or market worker will almost always call you back offering a new lowered price. It’s easy to get caught up in finding the best deals, but it’s not worth worrying about getting that key ring down another 10,000 VND ($0.44), when in reality that money could mean a lot more to their business than it does to you.
If you’re planning on getting your nails or hair done in preparation for your holiday, you might want to hold out till you arrive. Beauty treatments in Vietnam are very competitively priced. A high-quality gel manicure can cost as little as 50,000 to 100,000 VND ($2.19- $4.38).
A night market (Source: Internet)
Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is home to 6.5 million people and 4 million motorbikes. The two-wheeled vehicles are the preferred mode of transport throughout the country and are daringly used to carry everything imaginable including trees, livestock, large building materials and even the kitchen sink!
I’m sure that road laws do exist in Vietnam, but it can often feel like a free for all. Traffic lights seem too often to pose as a suggestion rather than an order. However, it doesn’t take long to get into the flow of the roads and once you have the chaos is manageable. Driving in the cities can be frustrating and isn’t crucial to your visit, but driving in the countryside is another story. When exploring untouched rural treasures such as the Ha Giang loop, a motorbike is by far the superior transport method. Driving a motorbike gives you unparalleled freedom to explore at your own pace and savor the beautiful landscape but driving isn’t for everyone and there are a lot of motorcycle and private tour drivers readily available.
A woman transporting flowers on a motorbike (Source: Internet)
Taxis are mostly cheap and efficient in Vietnam, although they don’t always seem to know the way and sometimes ask the passenger which direction to go. It can be beneficial to look up the best route for your journey before departing, just in case, your driver needs any assistance. Also so you know you aren’t being taken a purposefully longer route to bump up the price. If you’re traveling solo, a Xe Om or a motorbike taxi is a great option and are very easy to find. The drivers are often sat on the side of the road waiting for customers asking passer-bys ‘motorbike?’
Some taxis in the city have rigged meters which will go up at the speed of light. One way to avoid being caught with this is to use an application such as Grab. Once downloaded onto your phone you can easily and quickly hail a cab or bike to any destination at a fixed price and with peace of mind that you’re not being ripped off. You will need Wi-Fi or data to use the app. I suggest popping into a Viettel phone or The Gioididong shop and purchasing a SIM card with 15GB of data for 200,000 VND ($8.75 US), instead of wandering around in search of Wi-Fi.
The Ha Giang loop (Source: Internet)
Hopefully, these tips have given you a little insight into what to expect on your Vietnam tour, but remember whether you master the pronunciation of Cảm ơn, manage to successful barter for the classic Vietnamese flag top, drive your motorbike through a mountain range or none of the above; Vietnam will be an unforgettable experience you’ll love just how it is!