I long for the days of sitting on the back of a scooter and watching a million Vietnamese rice paddies roll past. For the loud afternoons sitting on flimsy plastic chairs in a congested Hanoi street and dining on scrumptious Gỏi cuốn or spring rolls. For strolling the disturbing war museums and gazing at Ho Chi Minh monuments. I miss the lovely lanterns, gorgeous beaches and cycling to cooling waterfalls on hot sticky days.
And then there are the things I really don’t miss about Vietnam.
The constant queries about where I want to go from motorbike drivers. The gazillion scooters roaring around Vietnam. The hard sell from peddlers who place a hat on my head and then demand money. The vendor who sold me fruit and attempted to give me more fruit instead of my change. Or not being able to browse a shop without an attendant quoting prices at anything I linger over.
The worst were the taxi drivers who would quote one price before the ride and then demand three times as much once I arrived, asserting that I misheard. When disagreed with, they would snatch the cash from my hands or throw my luggage from the vehicle. Some taxi drivers would fix shady metres in their vehicles that would rise at twice the speed.
While touts are all over Southeast Asia, I never felt as harassed as I did in Vietnam. Like my humanity was reduced to how many dollars were in my pocket (or Vietnamese Dong as it were) and all I was worth was how much money could be shook down for. I became so drained by sheer numbers of these encounters that I would often give in just to get away.
Tips I learned the hard way:
Wear sunglasses. You’ll probably be doing this anyway, but avoiding eye contact with the motorbike drivers makes walking the streets much more enjoyable. Some people swear by wearing earphones and blotting their sales pitches out too (even if they aren’t plugged in).
When browsing wares, don’t show too much interest in any particular item. Treat everything you buy like you couldn’t care if you had it or not. If the seller sees that you really want something, then they’ll use that against you. Plus, chances are you’ll see that same item again somewhere else.
Everything that doesn’t have a price on it is up for negotiation. Even hotel rooms in the quiet seasons.
Master the slow walk-by and scan stalls without actually stopping. Don’t let yourself get talked into buying things you never wanted. When you do want to buy something, have the money you want to pay in your hand so that when they see it they’ll be more inclined to agree on that price. Otherwise start lower than what you feel is a fair price and work your way up. Ignore any expressions of shock displayed to make you feel you’ve quoted an obscenely low price. Chances are, no matter how little you think you’ve paid for something, you’ve probably still paid more than a local and a vendor will never sell anything at a loss.
This may be a little obvious but nothing is genuine. Not those “authentic” Ray Ban sunglasses, nor the “legitimate” Havaiana flip flops that the vendor insists is the real thing. However, for what you need in Southeast Asia, these knockoffs are perfectly fine. Just don’t pay more than a few dollars for them.
Taxis are a little tricky to deal with. I spoke to an expat when I was in Hanoi on how to deal with taxi scams and she said the only thing you can do is continue to insist that you hadn’t agreed to that price and threaten to call the police.
Avoiding getting to that situation is a little easier to do. Due to the widespread taxi scams in Hanoi, receptionists in your hostel will often write down your destination with a fair price on paper to be handed to your taxi driver.
Also note that most taxis usually refuse to use the metre and would rather barter for the fare. Should a taxi driver approach you outside a tourist attraction and offer to run the metre when you go to haggle, then that’s a clear indication that the metre will be rigged.
I absolutely hope that this post won’t put you off visiting Vietnam. These encounters, while difficult, are a part of the backpacking experience. The average Vietnamese citizen has so much less than us, and they’re just trying to make a living. If you do find yourself swindled out of a few dollars then just take it on the chin, it may go to a family who needs it more than you.