Thursday 12 February 2015

for what I learnt in Vietnam

I spent almost two weeks in Vietnam so I do not consider myself an expert but there are certain things that one can learn about a country in that time...

Here are the 5 Things I learnt about Vietnam..

1. Traffic is out of control

From what I can gather the rules are, there are no rules! 

Being my first time in Asia I wasn't sure what to expect. It appears that for the most part they drive on the left hand side if the road, most of the time! My first experience in the traffic was in the airport transfer to my hotel in Hanoi. We made our way out of the airport and into what appeared to be about a 20 metre wide stretch of concrete with massive holes, no gutters and no lines with cars and motorbikes, scooters and push bikes going in every which direction! And it continued to be more and more crazy from there. 

Most people in Vietnam either have a motorbike (referring to motorbike and scooter in the one word)or push bike as cars are too expensive. Motorbikes seem to be able to do and go wherever they like, on the footpath, into the shop.. Wherever! 

In the main cities I visited Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh the footpaths are ridiculously crowded with motorbikes, street vendors, trees and sidewalk caf├ęs that it is almost impossible to walk along them and you find yourself constantly weaving in and out of the traffic.. 

In some cases it was pointless even trying and easier just to walk along in the gutter, but keeping a keen eye out for anything nasty (ie.. The dead rat I saw in one). For the most part though they are pretty clean! There are some what appear to be pedestrian crossings at most of the major intersections but they don't appear to have the same meaning as home. 

I am hopeful that the experience in Vietnam will help me prepare for Thailand!

2. You can carry almost anything on a scooter/motorbike/tuk tuk

As the main form of transport in Vietnam, who knew that these babies were so versatile! From carrying whole families (eg Dad and 4 kids), to luggage, furniture, to massive blocks of ice, to a tuk tuk carrying a scooter that had broken down, there is almost nothing they can't carry! 

3. Powerpoints are rare.

I am not sure that this is just relevant to Vietnam as I know this could possibly be said about Australia as well. In some hotels we were lucky to have 2 powerpoints, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom area in which to charge our electronics. In one hotel we had to move the TV cabinet and unplug the TV in order for everyone to be charging what needed to be charged. I took a double adapter which made things a little easier, but I would suggest if you are heading that way, take a powerboard with you! 

4. Sometimes you have to be (politely) rude.

The people are extremely friendly....and persistent!

The Vietnamese people know that the tourism industry is one way that they can move forward as a country and therefore most treat tourists as royalty. I say most because we were warned that unfortunately there are some people that will attempt to rip off tourists, and it did happen on our trip. Unfortunately though it means that when they are trying to sell you something they DO NOT LEAVE YOU ALONE! and sometimes you just have to be rude and ignore them (which I felt absolutely terrible about doing because it's just not in my nature!).

Even in Ha Long Bay this lady was trying to sell us stuff rowing up to the side of our boat and yelling out to us!

Everywhere you go there will be someone there trying to sell you something and never believe that an act of kindness is just that! My first experience was not long after I arrived, I went for a walk after checking into the hotel with another lady who was starting an Intrepid tour the day before me and who I met at the airport. We walked towards the lake in Hanoi to check it out and we came to a four lane main road and as described above the traffic was crazy and we had no idea how we were going to get across when suddenly 2 young ladies came from the other side to help us, "just come with us, we help you" they said as they grabbed our hands and walked us straight out into the traffic, bikes and cars whizzed by beeping at us but the girls did not hesitate! 

When we finally made the other side all of  sudden they were shoving postcards in our faces and demanding money and saying we owed them for helping us across the street. They were very full on and forceful, looking into our bags and begging us to buy their postcards. I will admit to feeling very overwhelmed and a little scared about what was transpiring as I had been in the country probably less than an hour so I handed over some money, got my postcards and we bolted as quickly as we could. 

In hindsight I am kind of glad that this did happen so early in the trip as it made me realise what I was going to face over the course of the next few weeks. So my advice is to be a little rude (not overly), don't make eye contact and just say "No thank you"... unless of course you want the postcards, t-shirts, hats, fans, random useless touristy items that they are selling then knock yourself out but don't forget to barter and never pay the first price offered!

5. I should have taken my laptop (and other packing tips)

I did not realise how 'connected' I would be!! 

While I would not have wanted to have my head stuck in my laptop the whole time, there were times where I wished I had taken it with me as my ipad does always cut it! I have said to many people that I felt more 'connected' in Vietnam than I do in parts of Australia. Last year I lived 5 minutes out of town and my service was shite!! In Vietnam every hotel we stayed in had FREE wifi (did you read that Australia FREE!!!). Almost every restaurant, cafe, beauty salon, shop also had free wifi, some were password protected but in some places the password was on display above the counter, on the menu or as soon as you pulled out your phone some beautiful little waitress was there to "I put password in for you" and BOOM you were connected!  

Even on the minibus out from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi Tunnels there was free wifi....On a minibus!! Again, not that you want to spend all your time online and miss out on what's going on around you, but 2 hours on a minibus was the perfect time to catch up with family, friends (and blogs) back home!

Disappearing into one of the tunnels...very small and very dark.

Other packing tips that I would mention for Vietnam is to not bother taking anything that requires ironing. It wasn't necessarily a big deal for me but there was one night where we went out to watch a show where I would have loved to have run an iron over my dress but there was not one in any place that we stayed. 

I would also suggest taking a face washer with you. Face washers were used for many different purposes, we were given a cold one as we entered some hotels, some restaurants had dry ones in a basket in the rest rooms instead of paper towel to dry your hands but there were none in out hotel rooms. 

Take extra bras! This was something I told a friend of mine who was heading to Vietnam not long after I was! Unless you are super good at the bathroom hand-washing in the sink kind of thing then you might want to chuck in a few extra bras. Usually I can get away with wearing a bra for a few days, perhaps with a little airing in between but in Vietnam I was actually a little surprised how much my little boobs could sweat! 

These lessons have come in handy for what to pack for my next trip to Thailand and Cambodia.

It was tough hot work, but someone had to do it!
I learnt so much more about myself and the wonderful Vietnamese people while I was there. If Vietnam is not on your travel list then I really think it should be!

Linking this up with Ann at Help! I'm Stuck! for Things I know and A Brit and a Southerner for Weekend Wanderlust

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