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Go ahead and buy a kilo of those strange looking purple fruit, but be aware of hygiene when you’re eating street food. To be cautious, opt for vendors who already have customers. Get your hotel details. Remember to take your hotel’s business card to make your return to the hotel much easier by handing it to your taxi, xe om, or cyclo driver. Leave the plastic at the hotel. Vietnam, especially once you get out of the major cities, is still a cash-based economy. Most places won’t accept credit cards and ATMs can be scarce.
Keep your phone and wallet out of sight. Violent crime is rare, but like any large cities, both have their fair share of pickpockets. Be especially aware in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao. There is no need to be overly cautious, simply be aware of yourself and your belongings.
Walk slowly when crossing the street. Crossing the street in Vietnam is scary and a bit dangerous but fun nonetheless. Remember that motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you, so keep a steady pace. It’s also advisable to hold out your arm to let the motorcyclists know that you are actually crossing the street.
Motorbike safety. If you’re going to brave the traffic, make sure you take proper precautions. Always wear a helmet, avoid dangly jewellery and miniskirts and clip your bag to the bike to keep it safe from snatchers. Also, see if there is a storage area underneath the seat.
Pavements as motorbike parks. Parking space for motorbikes in Vietnam is at a premium and some pavements have become de facto parking lots. Sometimes this means that pedestrians have no option but to share the road with traffic. In this case, be on high alert and get back to the sidewalk as soon as possible.
Tipping. While tipping is not always expected, especially at local restaurants, international venues have become used to the practice. Leave enough for coffee: VND10,000-20,000. Take a break in the afternoon. Break up your sight seeing and go early in the morning and the late afternoon. It can get quite hot visiting all the attractions so taking a nice long break in the middle of the day from the heat can keep you refreshed for the afternoon’s activities.
Cover up. When visiting temples or pagodas, make sure to pack a shawl or extra shirt to cover your shoulders. Remember that you are visiting a piece of history so show it some respect and cover up those shoulders.
It gets cold in Hanoi. Unlike Saigon, Hanoi has four seasons with very hot and sticky summers and rather cold and humid winters. Pack accordingly if you plan to be there from November to January. The air conditioning unit that kept you cool in Saigon can also keep you warm in Hanoi’s cold winter months.
Be a sensitive photographer. Ask permission before taking anyone’s photograph. Most people in Vietnam love having their photo taken and will ask to have one with you, but it’s always nice to ask. Also, there are some places like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or military buildings where taking photos is prohibited.
Don’t trust the taxi meter. Ripping off unsuspecting passengers is an art form for dishonest drivers. Not all taxi drivers are dishonest but to be safe, stick with reliable companies such as Hanoi Taxi, Mai Linh and Vinasun.
Don’t lose your temper. In heated discussions, keep your cool and don’t raise your voice. Losing your temper is considered a serious loss of face for both parties and should be avoided. Try to maintain a cool demeanor and you will be reciprocated in kind.
Bargain. Remember that negotiating is not rude but expected. Haggle for the best price or risk paying well over the actual price of an item. Try “walking away” to get a better price. If that doesn’t work, you can always go back to the vendor later.
Enjoy yourself. There is so much to do and see, but don’t forget to stop every once in a while to pull up a plastic chair, order a 'ca phe sua da', and take it all in. While sights and activities hold interest, sometimes you can learn more about the culture by adjusting to the local pace. Remember that you are on holiday!
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